The African Development Bank (AfDB) is intensifying its financing for the production of crops with the highest potential for industrializing the African agriculture.
Top on the list is cassava, which could be used to produce ethanol for industrial use and other frequently utilized home products, according to a Senior Advisor at the Bank.
Martin Fregene, an Advisor to the Bank's Vice-President of Agriculture, Human and Social Development in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, said the Bank's Feed Africa Strategy, which advocates for large-scale investment in the cassava crop and its rapid industrial processing, provides the best avenue for more farmers of the crop to benefit.
Fregene made the comments at the 7th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Abidjan during a session on the "Rise of the African Food Economy: Cassava Value Chains", which took place on Thursday, September 7.
"Africa accounts for 50 percent of the cassava produced in the world and accounts for just 5 percent of all processed starch in the world. How is this possible and why shouldn't we achieve our goals of industrializing our crops," Fregene queried.
Researchers, financiers, owners of cassava-processing factories and contract farming organizations attended the session to discuss ways of reversing the cassava industrialization paradox.
Fregene said through the Feed Africa Strategy, which focuses on building the cassava value chain, the African Development Bank has partnered with research and development organizations to create cassava varieties with higher ethanol content and longer shelf lives to reduce post-harvest losses during factory transportation.
Naoko Koyama, a Financial Strategy and Business Development Expert, said the cassava crop could enable African countries such as Nigeria to substitute imports worth US $680 million - an amount that is currently spent on the purchase of industrial ethanol and products used in the manufacture of spirits, beer and industrial sweeteners.
"Developing the cassava value chain is one of the best opportunities that Africa could capture by industrializing," Koyama told the meeting.
The session highlighted how cassava offers the best opportunities for the industrialization of Africa's agriculture due to the demand for industrial products developed from the crop.
It also noted that the demand for the crop exceeds 7.6 million tonnes; but with a current capacity for 2.5 million tonnes available.
"The right interventions in this sector could spur huge Gross Domestic Product growth from local suppliers," Koyama said.
Current efforts to grow the cassava value chain target 200,000 smallholder farmers in three countries with the mission of cutting US $275 million worth of ethanol imports.
According to Raja Rajasekar, Director at Allied Atlantic - a Nigeria-based alcohol distiller which produces 9 million litres of ethanol every year and boasts a daily production of 30,000 litres - the lack of proper road infrastructure in West Africa makes it much harder for cassava farmers to deliver raw materials to factories.
Rajasekar said his factory runs just 60-80 percent of its capacity because it is not in a position to meet its 250,000 tonnes of cassava deliveries daily, although production capacity has been rising from 25 percent.
Oluyemisi Iranloye, the Managing Director at Psaltry International Company, Nigeria, said, "We could be more competitive if our cassava varieties could contain at least 30 percent of starch, but we currently have only 15-17 percent of starch, which makes this venture a less profitable undertaking for us. The farmers want to sell at higher prices, while we incur higher cost of processing of ethanol content."
Financiers of African agriculture promise input financing and have agreed to partner with development financiers, including the AfDB, to finance new entities willing to partner with the farmers in producing cassava crops for industrial production of the commodity.
Research institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation have also pledged to intensify research in the cassava varieties to create better, faster yielding varieties with better ethanol and starch content.
To succeed entirely in building the new cassava value chain, participants at the AGRF recommended that investments worth US $600 million are required to be undertaken by State Governments in places such as Nigeria, to provide the requisite environment for the entire cassava value chain to thrive.