Recent press reports from Southern Africa and West Africa have highlighted the very different approaches that can be adopted in promoting cassava processing and trade.
In Malawi, the production of high-quality cassava flour (HQCF) has been developed by a farmer’s association, Nkhotakota Cassava Processors Association (NCPA). This has required a high level of organisation and training to ensure that appropriate strains of cassava are produced, handled and delivered for processing in ways that allow for the production of HQCF. It has also required sustained efforts to identify and develop reliable markets, which was seen as the key to expanding production of HQCF. The Association developed local companies, including bulk buyers Maldeco Fisheries and Universal Industries.
NCPA has focused on local market development in order to provide a reliable outlet and reliable income to farmers growing cassava within the framework of the association, which manages the milling and market of HQCF. Demand is now growing, and a national association of cassava processors is being created to bring together the five existing processors’ associations in order to meet this growing demand. Efforts are under way to improve basic infrastructure in production and processing zones (e.g. ensuring access to potable water), improve the technologies being used, and enhance the skills of farmers and processors’ associations, including in the vitally important area of marketing.
If the production of cassava flour in Malawi stands at one end of the spectrum, cassava production and processing in Nigeria is at the other end, with Nigeria being the largest producer of cassava in the world (18% of global supply). In Nigeria, efforts continue to promote the blending of cassava flour with wheat flour through mandatory blending requirements in bakery products. However, these efforts are running up against not only technical constraints but also commercial competition. Press reports at the end of July 2014 highlighted how Nigeria was set to “earn at least $1.3 billion from cassava chip exports in 2014” out of current production, which was valued at US$18 billion in Nigeria’s Business Day online news.
According to the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, contracts for the export of 3.2 million tonnes of cassava chips were secured in 2013. In 2014, it appears that a broader range of export market opportunities are arising. According to the Minister, “if we move that to Europe, we can earn $1.3 billion, if we supply China, we can earn $803 million.” The Minister has therefore expressed “great interest in seeing how [Nigerian exporters] can penetrate” these potential markets.
This competition from export markets highlights the increasingly diverse uses to which cassava is being put. In Asia, cassava is being used for both industrial and energy purposes. Moves towards “developing cassava for industrial purposes for the domestic and export market” are now under way in Nigeria.
The increasingly diverse demand for cassava, locally and globally, potentially opens up real opportunities for cassava producers in Africa. The question arises: what path for the development of cassava production and processing offers the best returns for cassava farmers?
Clearly issues related to the scale of production come into play here. With 18% of global production, Nigeria needs to find a market for 45 million tonnes a year. In Malawi producer associations are seeking to find markets for HQCF totalling only hundreds or thousands of tonnes. The marketing challenges are thus quite different.
This can pose a dilemma for national policy makers. Trade officials may be primarily concerned with immediate balance-of-payments issues and may wish to focus on readily available export markets for cassava chips, rather than investing in long-term processes of local market creation for higher-value cassava products.
Agricultural and rural development officials, by contrast, may wish to promote greater local processing and the development of local cassava value chains. This, however, can require considerable investment in local infrastructure, training, processing equipment, market development and the establishment of harmonised quality standards.
These factors can give rise to difficult policy choices. Failure to achieve a balance between the development of particular markets can see efforts to move up the cassava value chain undermined by the commercial gains to be made from serving rapidly expanding global demand.
The very different revenue estimates put forward by the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture for supplying the EU, compared to supplying Chinese markets, highlight the very real commercial pressures that exist in terms of targeting the highest-priced export markets.
Such a short-term export focus may not, however, deliver the long-term rural development gains potentially opened up by the growing commercial use of this versatile root crop.