The festivity took on a carnival air with troupes of traditional dancers from all over the country displaying cultural costumes, as well as, crops and livestock from their ethnic groups. The farmers who gathered at Eagle Square in Abuja for the recent AGRIFEST did not just celebrate the newfound respect for farming and farmers, they also saluted the courage and creativity of the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, who has led the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the President, writes Gabriel Ewepu.
The demand for High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) for cassava bread is driving a 520% expansion in cassava processing in the country in the last three years. From just one medium-sized factory and three functional small High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) Mills, in 2011, there are today nine medium-sized mills, either fully functional or at advanced stages of planning, and 40 small HQCF mills.
The wheat milling industry has also embraced the cassava inclusion in bread program. Two of Nigeria’s largest wheat millers, Flour Mills of Nigeria and Honey Well, that together account for 70% of wheat milling capacity, launched 10% cassava composite flour for bread in November 2014.
Installed capacity of HQCF will rise from below 36,000MTs to over 222,000MT once all the new processing plants are functional. These HQCF mills are expected to process over one million MT of cassava from farmers.
The partial substitution of cassava flour for wheat in bread and confectionaries is estimated by the wheat milling industry to save the country about N224billion in foreign exchange savings, lowering our food import bill. Bakers today find that there is a commercial benefit – a savings of N2, 400 to over N4, 000 on every 50Kg of flour, from the inclusion of cassava flour in wheat flour – due to the additional loaves.
Such astronomical growth in cassava processing capacity would not have been possible if the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA), had not taken active steps to encourage the wheat milling and bread baking communities to include cassava flour in their products, and worked with cassava processors to produce HQCF.
So it was not surprising at the recently held Agricultural Festival (AGRIFEST 2015) in Abuja that over 40 industrial and master bakers came from all over the country to exhibit their commercial brand of cassava bread.
The President of the 450,000 strong Master Bakers of Nigeria, Sir Simon Abanulor, stood on the podium and said ‘never in Nigeria’s history has any government recognized Master Bakers and never in the country’s history has any government supported Master Bakers with N1.6billion worth of baking equipment and training of our members”.
To ensure that the country produces enough cassava for the new industrial products as well as traditional foods, 130 million stems of improved cassava have been distributed to farmers. The 2013 NAERLS west season survey revealed the huge impact of reaching farmers with improved stems; the study estimated that cassava production in the country is currently at 65million MT, much higher than FAO estimates of 55million MT. In addition, 29,500 Ha of small-sized (1-10Ha) mechanized cassava
A truly revolutionary trend that is changing the face of Nigeria’s new agriculture is the story of young Nigerians being attracted to agriculture. In December 2014, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan launched the Youth Employment in Agriculture Program (YEAP), to develop a new generation of 750,000 young commercial farmers and agribusiness leaders for Nigeria.
Positive changes are also happening in the mechanization of agriculture in the country as AGRIFEST 2015 also revealed that a N50 billion fund has been provided to support the establishment of 1,200 Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprises across the country, to remove the drudgery out of agriculture
This is a total of 6,000 units of tractors and implements, 15,000 power tillers, 20,000 planting and post-harvest equipment that will be deployed to mechanize an additional 4million Ha of land . As the ATA slogan goes, ‘it is time to commit the hoes and cutlass to the museum where they rightfully belong’.
Other farmers at Agriculture Festival 2015 celebrated the amazing advances made in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. In testimonials, young and old farmers who produce rice, maize, sorghum among others eulogized the new dawn of agriculture in the country.