Thursday, May 24, 2012


I believe you must have read the IITA warning to Nigeria concerning the exportation of cassava. It was reported, virtually verbatim, online by many newspapers covering business news on Nigeria. In that report, the IITA station manager, Mr. Olusegun Adunoye reiterated that rather than exporting cassava, Nigeria should invest in refining it internally for production of derivatives like bread, confectioneries and pastries.

His foreboding brings up questions such as: “If Nigeria is more efficient and effective in producing cassava, why should she not be exporting it even if she builds industries for refining derivatives from cassava?” His warning makes one believe that there should be a real fear lurking behind the warning.


Refining cassava internally for revenue generation and creating employment for the millions of unemployment youths is laudable. Everyone should be all out for it. Exporting and refining abroad, then importing these cassava derivatives, true, will make us pay more than we will earn because the process of refining adds value to cassava as a raw material for the production process which makes the value of equivalent imports higher than the value of exporting these cassava. No one likes spending more than he earns.

But I do not think that Adunoye realizes that we are already an import dependent country. So whether we export our cassava or not, it will never change the fact that Nigerians will still be importing refined cassava derivatives. Our exporting cassava does not depend in any way on the importation of cassava derivatives. So spending on cassava and its derivatives will always be a fact of life. Why should we not be exporting so as to earn money that can mop up the country’s reserves or prevent us from running into debt?

His warning raises lots of questions on the reader’s mind. I believe there is an underlying untold story to that warning.


One of the untold stories is what some writers call the farming problem. Due to the nature of market demand for agricultural products, increasing output of these at a rapid rate might end up reducing the total revenue for the industry or farmers as a whole. This is a fact of the industry and there is nothing anyone can do about it. If our cassava is sought for abroad, we have no option but to increase output and wish these problem does not befall our farmers. On the other hand, I have come to realize that when people kick against a process that should be natural, then they are acting out of experience based on what might have happened in the past or from fear of a past event.

We have lots of experience from the past that should make IITA or Adunoye afraid of opening up the cassava industry to the prying eyes of experts from abroad (e.g biotechnology). One of them is the Oil industry. Because the country was afraid foreigners would take over Nigerian Oil, government embarked on a lame indigenization program. Yet, the major players in the industry are still multinationals and our indigenous companies are still struggling along. We can also draw an example from the fate of southern African countries. In a bid to inexorably expand output, they opened up their land to foreign investment and ended up losing it.

I think that should be the fear that might be lurking at the back of Adunoye’s head. Exporting our cassava would mean increasing output in that sector and if the demand is very high, we might have to depend on science and technology for improved and mechanized farming methods, including investment from abroad. Nigerians are not adept in biotechnology but western companies or multinationals are. Opening up the cassava industry to them might result in our going the way of the oil industry or of Southern African countries who are forced to go on GM (genetically modified) foods and food aids.

That might be the real fear behind Adunoye’s warning.

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