by Ezinne Enyinnaya
The cassava bread initiative came into play in 2003 under the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo. At that time, the Federal ministry of Agriculture was led by Olusegun Aganga and he pioneered the introduction of cassava flour as a substitute for wheat flour in the production of bread in Nigeria. This initiative had its benefits spelled out: reduction in Nigeria’s importation of wheat (thereby saving the country hundreds of billions of Naira annually), improved standard of living for cassava farmers and creation of more jobs in the agricultural sector.
The campaigns for this initiative hit the streets, with public displays of government officials consuming cassava bread, including the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Like the craze of any new product, Nigerians anticipated the consumption of cassava bread. Though many criticized the initiative, yet everyone wanted to see and even have a taste of this ‘wonder bread’.
Over a decade later, we are yet to see cassava bread break the Nigerian market. Despite the fact that the Goodluck Jonathan regime picked up this initiative as part of its strategies for agricultural revolution, the cassava bread policy is yet to be fully implemented. Even the remarkable speeches delivered by the current honourable minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, have not been able to drive this product in the Nigerian economy. One would wonder, why is cassava bread yet to become a common household commodity? Given that Nigeria has the market for it. Well, it is not always a matter of potential, especially in the case of this nation.
First of all, publicity is not all it takes to sell a product. In terms of publicity, the government has done quite well with respect to campaigns and other public activities, but other relevant factors are still being largely ignored. The fact remains that millions of Nigerians live below the poverty line, that is, many Nigerians live with below $1 a day. So how many people can really afford to buy food that could get stale in a day or two, as in the case of bread?
Also, because there is low demand for cassava bread, bakers hesitate to engage in the production of a commodity that won’t sell, and so they end up not producing this bread. Hence, cassava bread becomes extinct. This is why many people (including myself) have not set their eyes on this bread, despite the fact that its been over 10 years since the launch of this product.
In more economic terms, the profit incentive is not being properly utilised in the production of this product. If bakers had a larger profit margin or a cassava bread subsidy of some sort, then maybe they would be more keen to drive the sales of cassava bread. Hence, economic forces are not being properly used to drive the sales of this product. Unfortunately, some of the bakers who have genuine interest in cassava bread production lack the knowledge required to mix wheat flour and cassava flour as well as the equipments required for this type of production. The cassava flour processing equipments have been confirmed to be in only three states in Nigeria- Jigawa, Taraba and Ogun.
Furthermore, common meals such as garri and fufu which many Nigerians consume on a daily basis, already contain cassava. So why would one want to consume yet another meal with cassava in it? Hence, it is not a norm for people to search for cassava bread, as they would for wheat bread.
It is mind boggling to hear that recently, the House of Assembly rejected a bill which sought to make the use of cassava compulsory in bread making. The fact that, there is still no established legal framework to support the cassava bread policy is a major challenge. Research experts are advocating for this bill to be passed, as it will be extremely difficult to have the cassava bread policy fully implemented without such a law.
Its been over 10 years since the cassava bread initiative was introduced, but frankly it still seems as though the initiative is in the pipelines. Despite the campaigns and large publicity, cassava bread is yet to break the market in Nigeria, so when do we even begin speak of the bread breaking the market in Africa?