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HURIWA Tasks FG On Cassava Bread Project

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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During the administration of the immediate past Federal Government of Nigeria one important Agricultural milestones was the introduction of the Cassava Bread project which was targeted at fundamentally reducing the percentage of use of imported wheat in the baking of bread for local consumption.

With the coming into office of the current government headed by Muhammadu Buhari a former military General and a reputable owner of a thriving cattle ranch in his Katsina homestead the expectations of a lot of Nigerians is that Agriculture will occupy the front burners.

Understandably President Muhammadu Buhari has clearly made it known that his administration is focused on finding other avenues of industrialisation to compliment the seemingly mono product economy whereby the nation has over the years relied on crude oil as the largest source of foreign revenues. Regrettably however the Agricultural sector doesn't look like it is in the right frame of mind to meet up with the demands of diversification as enunciated by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The current minister of Agriculture and Rural development Mr Ogbe has yet to brief the nation on what was the current administration intends to perpetuate and sustain the patriotic CASSAVA BREAD PROJECT by finding ways and means of dramatically reducing the percentage of wheat used in the baking of bread consumed in Nigeria because of the enormous foreign exchange frittered in the importation of Wheat.

As an organisation concerned about the promotion and protection of human rights which one bit ably includes right to quality nutrition HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA met recently with the nominee of tge minister of Agriculture who us a director in charge of Roots and Tuber division Mr Samuel Olusegun Ayeni on June 6th 2016 during which period of interface he told us what stage the Cassava Bread project has reached and admitted that there are challenges which the ministry hopes to overcome in few weeks to invite a Nigerian born America based scientist to introduce BAKE SURE mechanism for greater reduction in the percentage of wheat in the baking of bread by Master Bakers in Nigeria who are over 450,000.

According to this Agricultural official who was asked to speak to us the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development trained up to 740 master bakers while Billu/Milanda Gate foundation trained the remaining which comes up to 2000 on the introduction of 10 percent of Cassava into the baking of bread. We are planning for more of such trainings giving that there are over 450,000 bakers in Nigeria. N3.4 Billion out of the Wheat levy fund was domiciled in Bank of Industry and granted to support master bakers.

Yes it is true that we encourage the US based Nigerian scientist who developed Bake Sure Program on reduction of Wheat on the baking of bread. We have some challenges which hopefully when we overcome them soon we will invite him because we are pleased with his innovative project which is capable of achieving a lot of milestones in saving Nigeria a lot of foreign exchange.

Nigeria spends almost 600 billion Naira yearly in importation of Wheat. If this is cut down dramatically, through the use of Bakesure ingredients in cassava bread baking, hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities would be created.

We are not aware that Bill/Milanda Gate foundation gave money to farmers in Kogi, Benue States. We are keen on this Cassava bread project although there is not budget subhead in the 2016. The Wheat levy fund is with Ministry of Finance.

CASSAVA BREAD INITIATIVE: THE WAY FORWARD

HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) agrees with the position affirmed by Mr. Dominic Daniel, Chairman Elect of the National Executive Committee of the Association of Master Bakers and Confectioners of Nigeria in a document that is in our possession .

About N635 Billion. Wheat is the most expensive single product imported into Nigeria yearly. It should be more now with the very high cost of the USA Dollars against the Naira.

Qes: What remedy can mitigate this huge drain of Foreign Exchange?

Ans: The substitution of 20% of Wheat flour with High Quality Cassava Flour in Bread and Confectionary. This has been a long running government Policy whose implementation has been dragging for many years now. It was designed to save about N127 billion annually in foreign exchange and employ millions of Nigerians in cassava farming, processing and related industries.

Qes: This new government is about Change and Diversification of national economy through agriculture. What is government’s stand on Cassav Bread initiative to reduce this foreign exchange drain and generate employment?

Ans: Surprisingly they are silent on this. There is even no mention of Cassava Bread on the 2016 Budget. The initiative has stalled since the new government came into power.

Qes: Very shocking! What do you think has caused this?

Ans: I believe the problem began with the last government that moved the Cassava Bread Initiative from Ministry of Science and Technology to Ministry of Agriculture. While the Initiative is still experimental, Science and Technology should have continued with experimentation and training of Master Bakers until the conversion is made before transferring to Agriculture for maintenance of Policy. The best move by this government will be to return the initiative to where the experimental stage belongs: science and Technology. HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA also agrees with this conclusion.

Qes: The rising cost of Wheat has caused incessant strikes by Master Bakers in different parts of the country and increased the price of bread on the street. Can cassava bread lower the price of bread?

Ans: Absolutely yes! With 20% cassava and the use of the proper Bread improver, the cost of bread production will drop and so will the price of bread in spite of High cost of wheat.

B: Ministry of Agriculture and Stakeholders blame the Bank of Industry for the Delay of Program.

Qes: Federal Ministry of Agriculture’s representative, Assistant Director Mr. Olusegun Ayeni, in the Guardian newspaper publication blamed the bank of industry for stalling the cassava bread initiative. What is your reaction to the government’s position?

Ans: Yes and No. Yes because they delayed the disbursement of equipment loan to Master Bakers to key into the program. No because the initiative has moved beyond that stage. The Ministry began the equipment empowerment program in reaction to the fact that the Bread improver they had introduced to us, imported from South Africa, required the use of highly sophisticated bakery equipment unaffordable by 98% of our members nationwide. This empowerment program was targeted to just less than 2% of our members in the first instant.

The program (at hindsight) is definitely unsustainable as no government would avail the entire 450,000 members of our association with N10 million to N14 million equipment. However, even with this level of equipment, the finished cassava bread hardens like brick within a day of two, making it unacceptable to the consumers.

But the same federal Ministry of Agriculture made a major breakthrough! They discovered a USA made Bread Improver called Baker Sure, which can be used in any bakery environment with the most basic rudimentary equipment! They initially demonstrated the efficacy of this Bake Sure Improver to only members of our National Executives, witnessed by Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi Lagos and the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta.

It was a resounding success because the improver yielded so much dough as not one has seen before. Such is a dream for any baker! Lack of yield had been the single variable that made our members nationwide to shun cassava bread program so this was a major breakthrough for the government and for us. The finished bread received extreme;y high acceptability by the members of the public surveyed after the test in lagos.

Government promised to demonstrate this new improver in every zone of our members to see and donate a box of starter pack to each baker in the country so they would begin to practice in their individual bakeries. This move would have made every baker in Nigeria to switch to making cassava bread with its huge benefits to the country. From the high yield, the baker will cut back the need for wheat to 50% only and this will save NIGERIA 50% on the Foreign Exchange needed for Wheat importation! Millions of people will jump into cassava farming, processing and related fields.

Qes: What you described is incredible! If this is so, why will a government of “change” not quickly jump into the implementation of this improver testing program for all masker Bakers nationwide?

Ans: That is the million Dollars question. Before, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Abuja was begging the Master Bakers to join the Cassava Bread Program. In fact, they were willing to empower each Baker with equipment worth millions of Naira to lure them in but are reluctant to provide a sample pack of Bank Sure to each Baker at the cost of N32,400 with its huge benefits.

As soon as they showed this new USA Improver to members of our National Executives, they have suddenly become lukewarm and lost all interest. Now that we discovered that this improver will reduce cost of production, we have been the ones chasing the government officials. It is a strange turn of events. Unfortunately, this Improver is not in the country and it is the Ministry that brought it.

We have made several attempts to meet with the Honorable Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, but they would not let us see him. It is frustrating how things suddenly turned out. Please try your best to go interview the Honorable Minister of Agriculture with all the facts I have provided you.

They have all these records as they were the ones that began Cassava initiative and pushed our membership hard to join. We are interested because this cassava bread program when done with this Bake Sure will certainly lower our cost of production and reduce the price of bread. It will generate millions of jobs and reduce the pressure on the Naira at the foreign exchange market.

Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko National Coordinator