By Gabriel Ewepu
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Funta Services Nigeria Limited, John Funsho Tehinse, in this interview urged investors to take advantage of huge Garri supply gap estimated at 2 million metric tonnes in terms of processing, packaging, and supply, as he spoke on other pertinent issues affecting cassava value chain.
What promoted your passion for agribusiness?
Nigeria is an agrarian Nation with over 70 per cent of its citizens living in rural areas involved in small holder farming and informal non-farm activities and employments. In contemporary Nigeria, Agro business offers one of the greatest opportunities for citizens to create wealth through sustainable self-employment and income generating activity. As a food technologist, my participation in agribusiness is to add value to Nigeria’s food commodities, reduce rural poverty by increasing farmers’ incomes and achieve rural development through the establishment of agro-industrial complexes
What was your vision and drive to delve into the cassava value chain?
Nigeria is the world largest producer of cassava tubers. Although Cassava is often described as God’s gift to poor countries, it is presently under-utilized in Nigeria and suffered from huge postharvest losses. Cassava is mostly utilized in the production of traditional food staples such a s garri, fufu and cassava flour, while its utilization in the production of key raw materials for the food, pharmaceutical and related manufacturing industries is at its infancy, In Nigeria, traditional foods made from cassava suffer rejection at international markets as they are generally regarded as unsafe and of poor-quality. There is presently a huge and increasing demand for safe and quality cassava-based household products by the populace. Our vision is to contribute to bridging this demand and be a key player in the establishment and operation of modern small-cassava processing plants to produce safe and quality household and industrial products that can be sold locally to reduce import dependencies and also exported to serve as formidable sources for generating much needed foreign exchange earnings for the country.
What has been the journey so far as far as cassava processing into garri is concerned?
The history of traditional garri making in Nigeria is old and interesting. Garri making in Nigeria has been a source of intensive research in recent years. In the past decade the garri processing has witnessed considerable mechanization and modernization with the development and introduction of modern equipment and global best practices. Today, many MSMEs involved in garri processing are adopting these new technologies leading to production of safer and better-quality products that meet the ever-changing consumer needs and concerns
What is your mode of processing garri?
Unlike garri produced by traditional methods, Funta Garri is produced and packaged under hygienic environments and using modern technology to properly convert the fresh cassava roots to a product that is free from cyanide, contaminated foreign matter and disease-causing agents. Funta Garri is packaged in branded polyethylene bags or polypropylene sacks of different sizes to meet the various needs of the customers.
Why did you choose to package your garri in small packs?
To enhance product shelf-life, encourage product safety by limiting contacts with pests, contamination from microorganisms, toxic chemicals, sand, dust and other environmental hazards.
How do you source your cassava tubers?
From rural smallholder farmer clusters within and around the processing plant
How many Nigerians have you employed directly and indirectly?
21 employees presently. Projected to rise to 50 in the next one year or so
What were your challenges when you started garri processing and did you overcome them?
Lack adequate financial resources leading to reliance on inefficient traditional methods. Inability to invest in modern mechanized food processing equipment and more advanced processing techniques because of our relatively low financial capacity. Although, government is providing funding options through organization such as the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Bank of Industries (BOI) and the Nigeria Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank, more is needed to be done There is need to reduce to barest minimum the current administrative bottlenecks confronting owners of MSMEs from accessing credit. There is need also to and ensure governments at all levels provide greater and adequate financial support is channeled towards supporting the development of rural MSSMEs to provide innovative and lucrative food processing opportunities and products.
The existing Central Bank Agribusiness/Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS) available for food processing is grossly inadequate to purchase critical equipment that meet initial processing, packaging, and working capital challenges. Poor funding impacts negatively on the capacity of Food MSMEs to manufacture quality and safe products and lowers product competitiveness at local and international markets.
Do you think garri processing is attractive and lucrative for investors to come in?
Yes. A recently conducted survey showed the total annual demand for is estimated at 3 million metric tonnes, while the current supply gap is estimated at 2 million metric tonnes. However, with the current rapid urbanization across the country and in other sub-Saharan African countries, there is increasing demand for convenience foods. Garri is a key convenience and staple food acceptable to both the rich and poor across the country, leading to huge demand for dry, crispy, free-flowing granular product with a slightly sour taste, cream-white to yellow colour, and fine particle size as against the traditionally produced product that is generally regarded as unsafe and of poor quality.
In the next 10 years to come, where do you want Funta Garri to be?
To become a world-class Agro -processing company providing demand-driven products and services to meet consumer demands in line with global best practices
Are you satisfied with government policies, programmes and interventions for those along the cassava value chain?
NO. This is because despite various government interventions, the Nigerian food industry has not been very effective in reducing the widespread food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition, chronic food shortages, erratic and poor-quality food supply. Nigeria remains a food-deficit nation. Government policies and programs should enhance a better synergy and linkages between agricultural production, food processing and other value addition strategies
Despite Nigeria celebrating World Food Day recently and announcing that Nigeria currently stands as largest producer of cassava, but the issues of access to finance, mechanization, fertilizer, technology, post-harvest losses, lack of value addition, insecurity, others have remained insurmountable, what do you think should be the challenges mentioned government should address urgently in order to reduce high food prices?
A key contributory factor to this ugly situation is the near absence of food MSMEs to create sustainable linkages and synergy between the agricultural production and food industry sectors. There is need for government at all levels to promote rural-based Micro, Small and Medium-Scale Food Processing Enterprises (Food MSMEs) which has the capacity to provide value-added products, income and employment in the rural areas, where majority of citizens live, strong backward linkage to primary agricultural production, create a source of exportable products to earn foreign exchange, provide training and other benefits to unskilled labour and stimulates increased agricultural production and processed foods of exportable quality,
The 2022 Budget is before the National Assembly after Mr President presented it, what is your view about the allocation given to the agric sector?
For many years, Nigeria policy has bee skewed towards agricultural production without concomitant attention to value addition leading to high postharvest losses and loss of revenue arising from sale of agricultural produce in their primary form. Unfortunately, the current 2022 budget for the agricultural sector is not significantly different from its predecessors.
Being a stakeholder in agriculture what is your assessment of policy implementation and sustainability?
Nigeria today is food deficient nation, relying on food imports to fill the huge gap in the supply and demand equation. Although governments in the last three decades have tried to reverse this ugly situation, the efforts are yet to yield desirable results. The rural areas where a larger segment of the country’s population live face enormous challenges bringing about a corresponding decline in agricultural production. It is crystal clear therefore that agriculture alone can neither meet the national food demand nor sustain overall development of rural economy. However, government focus on the development of rural Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) clusters can occupy a unique and significant position in a nation’s food supply chain by bringing stability to the agricultural sector through the interconnection and synergy with rural smallholder farmers. Governments must realize that until and unless the food MSMEs are able to establish and maintain an intimate and symbiotic relationship with agricultural sector and larger food processing subsector of the food industry, local production of food and food products to meet local needs and for export market will continue to be a mirage.