06 August 2012. Press reports in Nigeria indicate that on the eve of the introduction of a 15% increase in duties on wheat imports, the annual cost of Nigerian wheat imports had risen to US$4.1 billion. This measure, which according to USDA increased the import levy from 5 to 20%, was introduced as part of the policy to promote a substitution of cassava flour for wheat flour in bread. The measure is to be accompanied by an additional 65% levy on wheat flour, to bring the applied duty to 100%. As part of this policy, the government of Nigeria has not only increased import duties but is also offering corporate tax rebates to millers, with duty-free imports of all equipment for processing or blending cassava flour.
While bakeries are to be allowed 18 months to comply with new requirements, 10% blending of cassava flour with wheat flour is to be introduced in 2012, increasing to 40% by 2015. This is seen as creating new market opportunities for Nigerian farmers. In addition, despite initial political controversy over the health effects of the use of cassava flour in bread, the president of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria has come out in favour of blending requirements, arguing that by lowering the glycaemic index of bread, cassava-blended bread would help combat diabetes and would in addition be more nutritious.
There remains scepticism over the initiative, given the failure of a similar 10% blending requirement in 2005. Faced with opposition from millers linked to the quality of the cassava flour produced, blending requirements were first reduced and then abandoned. The 2005 experience and similar shortcomings in the 2002 presidential initiative on cassava have been cited as past examples that have discouraged investors from engaging with the new policy.
However, some companies have publicly endorsed the initiative and pledged support for the government’s blending objectives, and in June 2012 the Association of Small Scale Agro Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN) came out in favour of the use of cassava flour in bread. However, ASSAPIN warned that the government needed to consult and carry small-scale farmers along with the new initiative.
The current ‘cassava bread’ initiative offers considerable potential for job creation (estimated by the government at 1.3 million jobs), as well as increased returns to cassava farmers and foreign exchange savings.
However, cassava is a versatile crop with multiple uses. In addition to growing international demand for cassava as an animal feed, there is a range of existing national and regional markets for cassava-based food products. For example, gari, a manufactured cassava product, is consumed widely in all parts of Nigeria and in the region.
Expanding the use of cassava flour in food products will require the development of an efficient and well-integrated production and marketing system, in order to assure a steady supply of cassava products of stable, high-quality standards, with specific properties at appropriate prices. The Nigerian government aims to meet this challenge in part by expanding production from the current 35 million tonnes (Nigeria is already the world’s largest producer) to 51 million tonnes. However, a shortage of contiguous land for commercial development, linked to Nigerian land tenure systems, suggests the need for a greater focus on expanding smallholder cassava production.
At a regional level, the Nigerian government’s decision to ban cassava flour imports from March 2012 (despite the absence of any current trade) sits uneasily with regional trade policy commitments and regional initiatives to promote cassava production and intra-regional trade in cassava products.