The Director of Agriculture and Agro-industry of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Martin Fregene, has said increasing investment in cassava production in Nigeria will reduce the annual food importation bill of African countries estimated at about $35 billion.
The AfDB official who was represented by Tabi Karikari, AfDB’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Officer, made the remark while speaking during the National Cassava Seed Summit in Abuja on Thursday.
The summit themed: ‘Catalyzing and Scaling Private Sector-Led Cassava Seed Development,’ was organized by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) in partnership with Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System, Phase 2 (BASICS-II) and International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
It is aimed at bolstering private sector-led investment in the cassava seed sector, as well as identifying and engaging stakeholders on the policy reforms required to galvanize the cassava seed sector in order to raise productivity and drive industrial growth projections.
The development bank officials also called for the mechanisation of cassava planting and harvesting, combined with high-yielding variety and complementary agronomy practices that will lead to higher competitiveness and economic breakthrough for the cassava farmers.
Casssa is a versatile staple crop in Nigeria majorly grown by small-scale farmers for arrays of food types (Garri, fufu, cassava flour etc), a significant and affordable delicacy in the country and Africa at large.
Mr Fregene said the available technology toolkit for the cassava compact was already in use, and that the laboratory propagation technique (Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics Technology) for rapid multiplication of the seed and commercial dissemination provides high-quality disease-free stem cuttings.
“The National Cassava private sector-led Seed Development Summit is particularly important at this time as there is a growing need to leverage resources from private sector players in filling the financing gap in the sector while providing an opportunity for Agri-preneurship and agri-business growth. May I mention the need to also accelerate the deployment of other toolkits, notably mechanisation and modern processing technologies,” he added.
In his remarks, Alfred Dixon, IITA’s Director, Development and Delivery Office, underscored the imperative of deploying technologies and innovations to boost food production in Nigeria and Africa.
He canvassed for the vibrant promotion of inclusive investment in the cassava sector while calling for strategies for launching cassava into a high performing and growth-oriented sub-sector.
“We have made progress but more needs to be done to achieve the cassava sector of our dream in Nigeria. Our yield per hectare must increase significantly above 20 tonnes per ha up from the current 9 tonnes per ha to make us globally competitive,” Mr Dixon said.
He said the cassava sector needs to attract new investments to curb importation of other alternatives and save foreign exchange, saying jobs and wealth need to be created to engage the young men and women so as to have a prosperous nation.
“Cassava must remain a pillar and beacon of our food security,” he added.
On his part, Dara Akala, executive director, Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta, said his organisation has since 2016 invested almost $ 800,000 to increase cassava productivity, strengthen coordination and relationships of cassava value chain actors, and promoted improved technologies for cassava production in the Niger Delta region.
“Through this, we have effectively reached approximately 300,000 farmers with information and training, facilitated the creation of almost 2,500 jobs and a network of 150 service providers,” he explained.