A Nigerian academic has gained international recognition for a project that’s set to create a new market in his home country. Dr. Kolawole Adebayo’s initiative transforms cassava waste into fodder for goats, with benefits for both farmers and goat keepers. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, which is indispensable to West African diets. Up until now, farmers simply burned the chaff from the crop, resulting in little benefit to anyone, and damaging people’s health and the environment with harmful smoke. The World Bank says Adebayo’s innovation could alleviate poverty in one of the world’s most underdeveloped areas.
“West Africans would be lost without cassava!” exclaims Kolawole Adebayo, who’s a senior lecturer in agriculture and rural development at the University of Agriculture at Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria.
The crop is grown in 21 of the country’s 36 states and throughout West Africa’s tropical belt and is the region’s staple food. Nigeria alone produces more than 40 million metric tons of cassava annually, ensuring that it’s the world’s leading provider of cassava.
Adebayo says over 90 percent of Nigeria’s cassava output is processed and eaten locally.
“The consumed part of cassava is the root, which is a starchy root; it looks like potato,” he explains. “The root is very high in carbohydrates – in fact it’s more than 95 percent carbohydrate.”
Because of this starchiness, cassava – after a long period of boiling to soften it – is used to make a variety of extremely filling meals. These include a mash known as garri, and a thick porridge called fufu. The concoctions are mostly eaten as accompaniments to meat or soup dishes.
Adebayo explains, “In the poor areas of West Africa, there’s often very little meat available, because it’s expensive. The cassava porridge is used to make the meal last longer and to make sure that bellies are filled.”
Cassava is sometimes also fried up into chips, and ground into flour.
“This crop keeps West Africa alive,” says Adebayo.
“Out of the blue”
There are, however, significant drawbacks to Nigeria’s massive cassava output.
“Because Nigeria is the largest producer and consumer of cassava in the world, there’s a lot of waste in the form of cassava peels that [are] generated,” Adebayo says. “For instance, if you uproot one ton of cassava root, the amount of cassava peel and chaff that’s going to be thrown away as waste will be about 30 percent of that. That’s about 300 kilograms for each ton of cassava root at the stage for processing. It leads to a big, big mess.”
In West Africa, he adds, cassava waste has always been considered an “inconvenience,” rather than a potential resource.
“In many centers where cassava processing is done, this waste is essentially thrown into a dump. Most of the time, if the dump gets large enough, they set fire (to) it and that emits carbon dioxide and other forms of pollution in the atmosphere.”
The agriculturalist recalls the day when, “out of the blue,” he was struck with a “wonderful idea” for a solution to the various disadvantages associated with cassava production.
“I was watching goats at a dump. They were eating the cassava peels that had dried in the sun. They were eating in a way that showed they loved the cassava waste,” Adebayo tells VOA. “And then suddenly I thought, wait a minute: suppose we use the cassava formally as animal feed! The idea (behind) this project is, supposing we now consciously take the cassava peel and chaff, dry it, and package it in such a way that we can then sell to the owners of the goats for feeding their goats.”
He then began thinking about ways in which the cassava waste could be dried.
“I came up with the simplest and cheapest method: Being in the tropics, what comes to mind readily is the sun, to use the light and warmth of the sun to dry the cassava.”
Sun-dried cassava = fatter goats and happier farmers
Adebayo’s now encouraging the farmers to build “drying platforms made of concrete” on their lands.
“These can be built (cheaply) by local masons. The cassava peels can then be spread on these to dry out in the sun,” he adds.
Adebayo explains that once it’s dry, the cassava chaff can be stored for a “long period of time, up to six months. It can then be sold in the local markets to goat keepers” who he plans to educate about the benefits of feeding the cassava peels to their goats “as a supplement.”
He’s convinced that both the goat keepers and the cassava farmers of Ogun State will embrace his idea “wholeheartedly,” and the World Bank agrees.
“This is an excellent project, with wonderful potential; it is simple and appears feasible,” says Juergen Voegele, head of agriculture at the organization. “We really think it has growth potential, with a chance of spreading throughout the region.”
Adebayo adds, “If within the life of this project, which is two years, cassava processors and goat keepers start getting used to drying the cassava and its value as a tradable commodity and using it to feed their animals, there will be spontaneous diffusion of these concepts among neighboring communities. The success will spread by word of mouth.”
He says his colleagues at the Abeokuta University have completed a study that “shows that if the goats are fed with this supplementary cassava diet, high in starch, they are likely to gain weight much faster than if they are left to roam about freely. Fatter, healthier goats equates to more money for the goat keepers.”
If applied successfully in Ogun State, where cassava production leads the economy, 200,000 farming families who cultivate land, engage in primary food processing and keep livestock in mixed farming systems will benefit from Adebayo’s project, says the World Bank.
“Ogun State is the largest producer of cassava in Nigeria…. Thousands of people grow cassava here, so this project could potentially benefit millions of people who depend on the cassava growers for food and income,” Adebayo says.
He explains that Ogun State is divided into four agricultural zones, and he plans to identify three suitable locations within a “local government area” in each of the zones where the project will be implemented.
“We’ll create a whole new market, with 12 processing centers,” Adebayo enthuses. He says his project will link 3,600 cassava growers and 600 goat-keepers, and increase farming incomes by about $300 per year – a substantial amount for people in such an impoverished region.
“We have a lot of very small cassava processors in Nigeria, who earn between $190 and $300 a month. Then we also have some very large cassava processors, who earn up to $3,000 a month - but there are only a few of them. Generally, the cassava growers are women, and they’re very poor,” Adebayo says. “(They) use small-scale technology for everything, whether harvesting or grating or preparing the cassava for consumption. They cater to very specific, very small markets.”
Project will “eliminate fights”
Adebayo says the goat keepers in Ogun State are generally also very small-scale, keeping only between five and 35 goats each.
“Mainly the practice is that they leave these goats to wander around free-range, and to feed on locally available grasses as their main forage.”
This, he says, often results in tension and “open conflict” between goat keepers, farmers and members of local communities.
“…. Goats are very naughty animals,” Adebayo comments, “they go into people’s farms; they go into people’s houses and mess up a lot of things.”
He says his project will hopefully “eliminate fights” in local communities as a result of the “bad behavior” of goats.
“By having the supplementary feeding, it’s our hope that there’ll be fewer goats wandering around causing trouble, because they’ll be fed in enclosures with the dried cassava.”
Adebayo’s initiative will also benefit goat-keepers who are threatened by dwindling access to forage for their animals.
“There’s also the problem of growing urbanization. Many of the areas where goat forage used to be available, are disappearing. Homes and villages are being built on this land where the goats used to feed. This means that to keep the level of goat keeping at the current level or to have more, there is a need for supplementary feeding in an area where so much cassava waste is available….”
Voegele says it’s initiatives such as Adebayo’s that give him hope that Africa is successfully confronting the many challenges facing the continent’s agricultural sectors.