Experts: Shifting Focus to Yam and Cassava Could Rescue Nigeria from Food Crisis

In recent weeks, there have been protests against hunger in many cities across our country. People are reacting to the extremely high prices of goods, especially food items. This food crisis reached a tragic peak when seven people lost their lives in a stampede in Lagos on February 25th while trying to buy rice being sold at N10,000 for a 25 kg bag by the Nigeria Customs Service. Reports also emerged of hungry Nigerians breaking into warehouses, attacking trucks carrying food, and looting them in places like Abuja, Katsina, and others.

Renowned economist Dr. Dele Sobowale, in his recent article “Rice,” described this tragedy as clear evidence of the deep poverty in Nigeria today. He argues that we made a mistake by letting rice, a crop that isn’t native to us and puts us at a disadvantage, become such a dominant part of our diet. According to him, “At the start of our history, we did not eat rice. We had a variety of foods that provided more calories per kilogram than rice.”

The focus on food should be the top priority for every government. This means being careful in choosing the foods that governments promote. Rice has become our main source of carbohydrates, leading to a threat to stability due to mental and physical laziness. Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava (60 million tonnes) and yams (70-75% of global output). Unfortunately, we have strayed from these crops where we have a competitive advantage.

Farmers, experts, and concerned citizens are calling on the Federal, State, and Local Governments to invest more resources and provide farm inputs for the massive production of basic foods, including cassava and yam. They argue that focusing solely on rice is not wise, especially since certain regions of the country are better suited for other crops.

The Chairman of the Benue State All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Saaku Aondongu, believes it’s time for Nigeria to prioritize yam and cassava production to dominate the international market. He points out that competing in rice production is challenging, so the attention and funding currently directed towards rice should shift to yam and cassava. These crops have been staple foods for us historically, and we can produce them in large quantities for both domestic and export markets.

Former South East Coordinator of the Nigerian Cassava Growers Association and traditional ruler of Oriendu Autonomous Community, HRH Eze Philip Ajomuiwe, supports the call for more investment in yam and cassava production. He emphasizes the need to equip youths for mechanized farming and provide them with land, seedlings, and tractors. However, he highlights the issue of insecurity, particularly attacks by herdsmen on farmers, as a major obstacle.

The Board of Trustees Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Chief Israel Amanze, believes the focus should be on revitalizing agriculture as a whole, not just yam and cassava. He argues that Nigeria has a comparative advantage in other crops like maize, wheat, and rice, and all staple foods should be produced to boost food security.

A retiree from Bayelsa State civil service, Chris Odi, points out that Nigeria, despite being the largest producer of cassava and yam globally, is not among the top exporters. He stresses the need for modern farming methods, improved storage, and government support in providing fertilizers, pesticides, and good roads for transporting produce.

Mr. Samuel Ese, a farmer and media practitioner from Bayelsa State, believes Nigeria should prioritize cassava due to its comparative advantage over rice. He mentions the various derivatives of cassava like garri, fufu, starch, and flour, which are more affordable than rice in the market.

Mr. Benedict Okpolua, an agricultural policy maker in Delta State, believes Nigeria should not abandon rice production but should also focus on cassava and yam. He calls on the government to support farmers with inputs like fertilizers to boost production.

Senator Chris Ekpenyong, a farmer and former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, urges the government to facilitate production of all staple foods across the country. He emphasizes the importance of empowering Nigerians and providing security for farmers to enhance local production and food security.

Mr. Blessing Adima, a farmer and political activist in Delta State, highlights the challenge of herdsmen occupying farmlands, hindering large-scale farming. He stresses the need for security to encourage farmers to produce more.

Comrade Alagoa Morris, an environmentalist in Bayelsa State, advocates for both rice and cassava production. He believes with proper leadership and investment, Nigeria can excel in both crops.

Professor Andrew Efisue from the University of Port Harcourt warns against concentrating on one crop due to climate change. He suggests diversification to ensure food security.

Joseph Ambakaderimo, the founder of FTZPDI, calls for action rather than just talk, pointing to past successful agricultural programs that have been abandoned.

Mr. Confidence Mac-Eteli, a former member of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, believes Nigeria should focus on cassava production due to its value chain and comparative advantage.

Arc Kabir Ibrahim, the National President of All Farmers Association, emphasizes the importance of ramping up yam and cassava production nationwide to ensure food security.

Fatima Gunmi, the National President of SWOFON, advocates for increased production of rice, cassava, and yam to improve food security and affordability.

Engr Daniel Ijeh, an agribusiness expert, acknowledges the unique qualities of yams and rice and believes Nigeria should produce both.

In conclusion, there is a strong consensus among experts and farmers that Nigeria should not solely focus on rice production. Instead, there should be a diversified approach that includes prioritizing cassava and yam production, which are crops with significant comparative advantages for Nigeria. This strategy, along with government support, modern farming techniques, improved infrastructure, and security, can lead to enhanced food security and economic stability for the nation.

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