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Garri, no longer poor man’s food

Posted by The Punch on 2005/08/05 | Views: 1024 |

Garri, no longer poor man’s food

The Federal Government in a bid to shore up its sources of foreign exchange earnings, has started the massive export of cassava chips to China with a target to realise $5billion annually from it. LOUIS IBAH writes that with this development, one of cassava’s bye-products,

The Federal Government in a bid to shore up its sources of foreign exchange earnings, has started the massive export of cassava chips to China with a target to realise $5billion annually from it. LOUIS IBAH writes that with this development, one of cassava’s bye-products,

At the popular Garki Model Market in Abuja, Mr. Ibrahim Shitu, opens his garri retail shop on an early Monday morning to customers; but not with the usual enthusiasm he had attached to the business two years ago.

“Prices have been fluctuating and profit margins too difficult to predict,” Shitu said in a chat with our correspondent.

Shitu, like many other retailers of the produce are abreast with the ongoing policy of the government to boost foreign exchange earnings from cassava exports. The policy, which was kick-started in April, 2005 with the first shipment of more than 500,000 cassava chips to China targets realising about $5billion annually into the government coffers.

Some of the benefits of cassava as listed by Minister of Commerce, Alhaji ldris Waziri, the saving of about N28 billion which is expended annually on the importation of flour in the bakery sector as well as another N1billion from imported sweeteners for the pharmaceutical and alcohol and beverage industries which could be extracted from cassava. Besides, cassava chips, Waziri said, also had about 12 vitamins which could be processed, packaged and sold as fruit drinks to children.

Already, plans are underway to establish a factory that will produce fuel from cassava leaves in Idah, Kogi State in a bid to fully harness the potential in cassava as an alternative source of fuel.

“The fuel will be cheaper and will burn cleaner than natural gas and will be used like kerosene in homes; but it is not kerosene,” the minister stated recently.

Waziri, who said about 1,000 products could be derived from cassava noted that, it particularly constituted a waste to destroy fresh cassava leaves with such fuel potential. Cassava leaves, he said, could generate $4billion annually if dried and exported as animal feeds. He revealed that the government of Denmark had already placed order for 500,000 tonnes of cassava leaves from Nigeria.

Interestingly, while large-scale cassava farmers and exporters are smiling at the prospects these businesses hold in transforming their fortunes, the reverse is the case for domestic retailers and consumers who are groaning under the effect of the export which has led to escalating cost of garri, a bye-product of cassava and a major staple food in the country.

Consumers, particularly students, complain that high costs are depriving them of a cheap source of food.

“It is no longer the poor man’s food we grew up to know. Price of garri is rising and the same with sugar so much that even students who rely on sipping garri with sugar to augment their feeding in the hostels are finding it somewhat difficult. These days, even rich students jealously guard their garri bags as it is now ranked amongst the food of the rich,” Mr. Eno Ekam, a final year Law student at the University of Abuja and a former member of the Student’s Union Government said in his reaction to the export initiative.

“But why are we so crazy about the financial benefits that will accrue to the government from exports of food while we are not self-sufficient in the food we produce for domestic consumption?” he queried.

In the market, for instance, one metric tonne of cassava chips now go for N20,000 as against the N14, 000 it went for between January and March, 2005. And at both the Garki and Wuse markets in Abuja visited by our correspondent, an average price for a 100 kilogramme bag of white garri varies from N4, 000 to N4, 200, while for the yellow-oiled-coloured it goes for between N5,200, N5,400 or N5,600. Retail prices display a similar trend. For the white variety retail prices fluctuate between N80 and N90 a ‘modu’ (a popular Nigerian standard measure which equals approximately three litres as against the N50 and N60 it went for prior to the cassava export regime, while the average price for yellow variety is N100 a ‘modu’, a departure from the usual average of N90 a ‘modu’. “Retailing garri is no longer the very lucrative business it used to be two years ago,” Shitu said.

But the most worrisome threat is an informal market for cassava export in the border town of Dawanau, Kano State, which the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture recently disclosed, was also responsible for the sharp increases in the prices of garri.

The IITA’s Market Information Systems said manufacturers from the states of Delta, Edo, Kogi, Nasarawa, Taraba and Benue form the major ‘suppliers’ of garri to the Dawanau market from where it is sold to Nigerian businessmen who subsequently export the produce (60 per cent raw garri and 40 per cent chips) to neighbouring countries of Niger Republic, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Cameroon.

“In Dawanau market, value is added to the garri or dry cassava chunks by breaking them down to chips or further milled to flour on arrival at the country of destination. It is a trade that has been going on in the last 20 years to sustain the food security needs of these countries,” the IITA noted.

To critics of the cassava export initiative, Waziri has this to say: “We had a glut of cassava early in the year and it was a big concern to farmers who could not recover their investments. But as at today, export of cassava has not only increased revenue for farmers, but employment for hundreds of others who are now venturing into cassava business and this gain, especially to the economy, outweighs the increase in garri prices in the market, and this is a cheering news to government and nothing to be ashamed off.”

“Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, but most of this is consumed locally as staple food with insignificant revenue earned from export. On the other hand, Thailand which produces less than half of Nigeria’s cassava earns a lot of revenue from the export of the product,” Waziri said.

“Every day new products are discovered from cassava and there is a large market overseas for sales. This is thrilling news for our rural cassava farmers and rural dwellers. Everyone comes from a rural community and this product offers an opportunity to boost the economy of these communities, people don’t need to travel to urban cities to earn a living any longer,” he added.

However, as lofty as the export initiative is, government should strive to maintain a comfortable gap between exports and domestic consumption. In this regard, the demand by farmers for a 50 per cent subsidy on cassava inputs, machinery and equipment should be granted to accelerate and boost the cultivation of the crop in the country for both exports and domestic use. In the same vein, improved and high-yielding breeds of cassava stems should be made available to farmers all over the country at subsidised rates.

Similarly, government should accede to farmers’ demand for the establishment of a National Agricultural Development Fund to provide the finance for investors in the cassava business.

But it is perhaps, the increase in the sensitisation and awareness in the rural communities of the prospects the produce holds that should be pursued vigorously, so that they too, could take maximum advantage of the export initiative to improve on their earnings and that of their communities.

The PUNCH, Friday, August 05, 2005

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Comments (3)

Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown