Nigeria: Queuing Behind Cassava Bread Initiative
President Goodluck Jonathan appears relentless in his bid to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production through import substitution of wheat with cassava flour in the manufacturing of bread.
In 52 years of Nigeria's history, bread has transformed from being an elitist food to a staple food, mass produced and mass consumed. Consequently, bread consumption gradually transformed into an avenue for worsening Nigeria's dependency syndrome. Most countries caught in the syndrome remained perpetually in economic pit. A country's dependence on technology could even be managed, though deplorable. Dependence on food by a nation is a crime against self, particularly when the country has got the capacity and potential to liberate self from slavery.
Those who have bought into the cassava for bread project to my mind are rightly consumed by patriotic commitment to seeing a Nigeria that could get liberty in producing what it will consumes. And to make Nigeria become a nation that will walk tall among other nations after guaranteeing her food security.
As part of the sustained campaign started many months ago by the Minister for Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, Cassava Bread Initiative was inaugurated in Ado Ekiti in the presence of the state governor, Kayode Fayemi. At the ceremony, the two gentlemen expressed the desire to reduce importation of food items. They lamented the waste in the idea of spending huge sum of money on food importation into Nigeria.
Despite resistance and criticisms accompanying the policy, it is no doubt a courageous step to take and has thus far carved a niche for President Goodluck Jonathan who had given his blessing to the initiative. The President also showed good example by ensuring that bread manufactured using cassava flour by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA, entered his own personal menu in the Presidential Villa in Abuja. During the presentation of the bread to members of his cabinet, the President noted the need for Nigerians to buy what is made in Nigeria.
According to reports, Nigeria will save N300 billion annually from substituting wheat with cassava. In 2010 alone, Nigeria imported wheat worth more than N636 billion, rice worth more than N356 billion and refined sugar worth more than N217 billion. The total amount expended on importing just three items of food in one year was N1.21 trillion which is almost equal to the capital budget of the nation in 2012. The argument has been stretched further that if in the next few years the sum of N1.21 trillion could be returned back into the economy, it could regenerate more income within and form the bedrock for transforming Nigeria: more jobs will be created, agro allied companies will grow and values will be added. This is aside from the export potentials and earnings that could come from being the highest producer of cassava in the world.
Import substitution strategy for development has always been theoretically sound, yet campaign against it continues to grow in Nigeria. It is however surprising that such negative campaign could erupt from the lower chamber of the National Assembly. The Chamber vehemently kicked against the policy in May 2012 during a debate that was very hot but lacking in substance. In a resolution, federal legislators enjoined government to seek alternative to the use of cassava elsewhere and not in bread, claiming that "30 to 40 per cent of Nigerians are diabetic and it will be unfair to compel them to eat cassava products since most diabetic patients are barred from consuming foods such as cassava.
Some actually were unhappy with the attitude of our legislators whom they claimed must have been making laws for some people from another planet. A poser was raised that, if cassava was so injurious to our health, 99% of people from the South (Ibo, Ijaw, Edo, Ishekiri, and Yoruba) who consume heavy cassava products like Garri, Apu and Lafun should have been wiped out by diabetics ten times over. The political manipulation to derail the campaign for cassava had failed. In one of his presentations, Adesina described anti-cassava campaigns as one against the evidence of science.
However, President Jonathan needs to be cautious and take calculated steps geared towards making the policy a success because backward integration policy is not new in Nigeria and had failed in the past. It even failed in the area of substituting of wheat with maize and cassava flour in baking bread, and not for lack of good intention. In the early 1990s General Ibrahim Babangida tried the policy and was opposed by wheat merchants, flour millers, marketers and bakers. This campaign for cassava after 20 years of initial introduction is an indication that good things don't come easy.
Therefore, the success of the on-going initiative will depend on the extent to which government can get millions of consumers of bread behind the project. And the experiment may require change of taste and ways of doing businesses which have been built for more than 40 years. The support for cassava product will not come from forcing it down on Nigerians. Success will come from getting the private sector, from production to marketing, to identify profitable ventures from the initiative.
It is intriguing that in Nigeria today we have a Minister for Agriculture that is consumed by the passion to protect the interest of Nigerian farmers. However, he should be made to know that protecting the interest of thousands of farmers that grow cassava is as important as protecting the interests of other stakeholders like entrepreneurs, millers, bankers, marketers, bakers, merchants who collaborate in transforming cassava to bread. They all need each other to survive in the Nigerian economy and to continue to be in business. Conscious effort must be made to purge self of the conspiratorial tendencies of dependency theorists who see nothing good in capitalism and businesses. By doing this we will avoid coming back here in another 50 years to start a fresh campaign for, "produce Nigeria, and buy Nigeria ".
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