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Starch importation: Nigeria losing $45m despite being world’s largest cassava producer
Starch, a byproduct of cassava, is an essential raw material in a number of industries not just locally but globally, as well as a local delicacy in some parts of the country. It is, often a highly sought after commodity both by consumers and manufacturers. 
Though starch can be produced from grain or root crops such as maize, wheat, sweet potato and rice, among others, cassava starch is usually the most in demand owing to its many remarkable qualities, including “high paste viscosity, high paste clarity, and high freeze-thaw stability,” which offer many advantages to several industries.
Some of the advantages of cassava starch over starch produced from other sources include its high level of purity; excellent thickening characteristics; bland taste; desirable textural characteristics; relatively cheap source of raw material that can equal or surpass the properties offered by other starches (maize, wheat, sweet potato and rice).
Other qualities of cassava starch that make it a preferred variety include its ease of extraction using a simple process when compared to other starches; the gummy or sticky nature of its adhesives, which work more smoothly, and provide stable glues, and its clear paste.
Cassava starch is highly valuable in the food, paper, textiles, adhesives, beverages, confectionery, pharmaceuticals, and building materials industries. With the foregoing, it is estimated that Nigeria’s starch needs run into several thousands of tonnes annually, worth billions of naira.
But the country is yet to meet its industries’ starch requirement despite being regarded as the world’s largest cassava producer. Nigeria has not been able to tap fully into the cassava processing industry to feed its industries, a situation which has exposed it to high import bills estimated to be about $45 million annually, for the importation of starch. This, in effect, results in exportation of jobs and post-harvest losses of the huge cassava produce of farmers in that agricultural value chain.
This inability of the government to invest in cassava processing for the extraction of starch and other equally important industrial byproducts of cassava, including glucose syrup, ethanol, and flour, among others, has, over the years, posed a serious concern to cassava farmers, manufacturers using these byproducts for production, as well as other stakeholders.
They are of the opinion that the government could boost its efforts to wean the country off its sole dependence on oil revenue through adequate investment in cassava processing, which would, in addition to creating jobs and catering for local industries, also generate revenue through the export of starch and other cassava byproducts.
Among such stakeholders is the National President of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Pastor Segun Adewumi, who spoke to Daily Sun on phone.
He noted that Nigeria has the cassava to produce good quality starch for the nation’s industrial uses even as he lamented the continued unavailability of processing facilities.
Adewumi, who decried the high level of post-harvest losses suffered by the nation’s cassava farmers due to lack of processing facilities, said, “it’s very painful that our cassava is wasted because there is no market for it. In Katsina State alone, we have registered 20,000 farmers to farm cassava but the fear is who will buy it. We have limitless domestic and export market potential worth over N3 trillion but the cassava is wasted.”
Responding to a question on the possibility of private sector individuals or cassava farmers’ association in the country  establishing cassava processing facilities, he explained: “Establishing processing facilities is beyond what we can do without government support. If you want to do this, you will need about 1,000 units of processing factories across the country to absorb the cassava produced and each of them will cost nothing less than N1 billion. Government should create the enabling environment for this by reviewing land use policies and making access to financial support from banks possible. That is how it is done in other countries.
“There is money in Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but the bottlenecks connected to the fund cannot allow us to access it. The commercial banks are demanding for impossible collaterals and they don’t accept our lands as collateral. Nigerian farmers are suffering because of these bad policies. For instance, if you want to get a loan of N2 billion, they will be asking for N4 billion as collateral and which farmer can afford that?”
Adewunmi further stressed that, “foreign investors cannot bring in their money because of fear of unstable value of the naira. Those who brought in dollar at the rate of N180 to $1 are now paying back at N350 to $1. Last week, myself and the President of FACAN (Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria) had a discussion with the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, and he promised to meet with the CBN governor on the issue. We hope that things will change now that the Agric Minister and the CBN governor will meet on this issue of farmers’ access to fund.”
The NCGA President explained that, “the quality of starch imported into the country is not good. Some of these importers go outside the country and use GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) products to make starch and that quality of starch is not good for our industries. We have the cassava to produce good quality starch for our industrial uses; to get the processing facility is our focus.”
He urged the government to make the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), which he said is a laudable programme, to support commercial farming so that it can bring more development to the economy.

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