Feb 4, 2009

Cassava: Gabon seeks Nigeria’s help

BusinessDay - Lagos, Nigeria; February 2, 2009.
Nigerian unchallenged world leadership in he production of cassava is paying off with Gabon now tapping into the nation’s cassava resource. Gabon, a West Central African country which has a rich agro ecological zone, plans to develop its cassava industry by tapping planting materials, skills and information from Nigeria, a Gabonese top official has said.

The country intends to improve cassava production, making it a source of income for farmers and a major tool in poverty eradication.

“The Nigerian government has agreed to offer assistance to Gabon by providing planting materials among others. We also see the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as an important partner in assisting Gabon in this regard,” Francois Banga Eboumi, Gabonese Ambassador to Morocco who is also the Special Adviser to the President of that country said during a courtesy visit to IITA on Tuesday in Ibadan.

In the last 42 years, the Ibadan-based IITA in collaboration with national and international partners has developed and released several cassava varieties in Nigeria and beyond, making Nigeria— for instance—the world’s largest producer of cassava with 45.7million tonnes per annum.

Despite the offer of planting materials to Gabon, Eboumi said his country would want to acquire the skills and capacity to develop the cassava industry on its own. Said he, “We are not only asking for fish, we also want you to teach us how to fish.”
According to him, Gabon would want IITA to build the capacity of Gabonese scientists and also help the country with improved planting materials and information that would increase the yield of cassava and other crops in that country.

Like in every other African nation, cassava plays a significant role as a source of dietary intake for the people of Gabon. Eboumi said there was need to boost production in order to keep pace with the ever increasing demand for the crop.

IITA’s deputy director-general (Support), Lakshmi Menon, pledged the institute’s support in helping the country in realizing its food security goals.
According to her, the institute’s vision is to become a leading research center in finding solutions to hunger and poverty in Africa.

“Therefore I see your request for partnership appropriate,” she said.
She commended the government for taking the initiative, saying that the development of agriculture would have a trickle down effect on farmers by improving cassava productivity and increasing farmers’ incomes.

Dave Watson, IITA’s director of Projects Development and Management, said the partnership was a good starting point. For him, having the government’s interest and an organization like IITA that can easily tap international assistance is a good start”.

Said he, “Africa has complex problems that plague agriculture and people’s lives. We develop agricultural solutions with our partners to tackle hunger and poverty. Our award winning research for development (R4D) is based on focused, authoritative thinking anchored on the development needs of sub-Saharan Africa. We work with partners in Africa and beyond to reduce producer and consumer risks, enhance crop quality and productivity, and generate wealth from agriculture. IITA is an international non-profit R4D organization since 1967, governed by a Board of Trustees, and supported primarily by the CGIAR.”

Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava with a current statistic of 49 million metric tonnes a year (FM AR 2007) which is grown by over 40 million farmers in the country. Cassava is fast becoming a potential engine of growth in many developing countries and exerting a powerful influence on world trade, courtesy of efforts of governments and the private sector in developing unique, value-added, cassava-based products for human consumption and industrial purposes. The federal government of Nigeria and other agencies (National and International) have established various programmes for the development of the cassava agribusinesses. These include, the Presidential Initiative on Cassava, the Cassava Mosaic Disease Prevention Programme (CMD), the Cassava Enterprises Development Programme (CEDP), the Cassava Multiplication Programme (CMP), Root and Tuber Expansion Programme (RTEP) etc., all working in tandem to increase production and processing, and to promote willful consumption of cassava products through increased marketing opportunities’ Policy focus such as increasing duty tariff or total ban on the importation of corn starch and wheat flour plus the 10-20 percent ethanol blenching policy will further create enough stimulation and motivation for farmers to increase cassava production. thus increasing processing and marketing activities to meet the rising demands from households and industries.

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