The National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has conducted a survey of the experience and challenges faced in the Nigerian government’s cassava blending programme. The aim of the programme is to “cut the country’s annual spending of about N625 billion [€2.84bn] on importing wheat by 30 per cent”. In terms of uptake of cassava bread, the NANTS report “showed a 94 per cent interest among Nigerians interviewed”, but found that the “cassava bread production level to date remains insignificant and is domiciled largely among corporate bakers”. While government officials acknowledged that there are “teething challenges” faced by the programme, they maintained that the government is “creating market opportunities so that those who can produce will come on board”.
The NANTS report identifies six main challenges faced in the implementation of the cassava blending programme:
- shortage of cassava for industrial use: 80% of cassava produced in the country is already used for direct consumption, so only 20% is available for industrial use;
- technical difficulties in ensuring the required quality of cassava flour, in part due to lack of adequate training;
- unclear labelling requirements, so consumers are not generally aware of the use of cassava in bread production as a replacement for wheat flour;
- unfounded concerns over health threats arising from fears over possible fungal threats arising from the use of cassava flour;
- the need to build technical capacities along the supply chain to provide quality cassava flour for use in cassava/wheat flour blends in bread production;
- access to funding for the initiative: according to government officials, N9.9 billion [€45m] have been allocated to the initiative, and the institutional structures for the government measures are now in place, but “no money has been released so far”.
A review of the uptake of cassava bread in Katsina State by the newspaper Leadership in December 2013 suggested that there was little consumer awareness of cassava bread, and where there was awareness, noted apparent consumer resistance to blended cassava/wheat bread on the grounds of the taste attributes of the bread produced. Problems related to the shelf life of cassava blended bread were also reported.
Government officials, however, have maintained that at the 20% blending rate required, there should be no adverse effects on the product, asserting that “cassava bread is receiving a positive response”.
Representatives of the Katsina State Bakery Association welcomed the government’s cassava initiative but argued that “the Federal Government must endeavour to establish companies that will produce cassava flour if it really wants the initiative to succeed, because as it is now, there is no cassava flour.”
According to press reports citing the Chairman of the National Root Crop Research Institute, Nigeria is expected to have doubled its cassava production in 2013.
Two years after the launch of the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, which saw the introduction of the cassava bread initiative, Nigerians are yet to see any significant results. No significant reduction in the wheat import bill has occurred, and none of the employment creation and livelihood enhancement effects of the initiative have yet materialised.
A lack of appropriate technology in individual bakeries and shortcomings in rolling out the training programme for bakers have meant that cassava bread production has largely taken place on the basis of limited supplies of pre-mixed bread formula. This highlights the importance of initiatives to support training and the introduction of new technologies at the bakery level.
The absence of a legal framework to drive the cassava bread policy constitutes a further challenge. Such a legal framework could be used to address labelling issues that arise under the cassava initiative.
However, for the full economic potential of the cassava initiative to be realised, government incentives and support measures will need to be effectively in place to:
- improve the quality of cassava production;
- stimulate investment in cassava flour processing equipment; and
- train bakers in the use of new bread production techniques appropriate to cassava/wheat flour blends.