The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said on Tuesday that cassava is a crop that helps fight poverty in Nigeria.

Ogbeh said this while speaking at the Annual Planning Meeting of NextGen Cassava Breeding Project at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan.

The minister was represented at the occasion by the ministry’s Director of Root and Tubers, Dr Olusegun Ayeni.

He said that traditionally, cassava was processed into garri, fufu, etc but that recently, the country experienced increase investments in cassava processing such as cassava flour, ethanol and starch.

He said that the entrance of the cassava processing companies was increasing the demand for cassava in Nigeria and that it was good news for farmers.

Ogbeh said although Nigeria was a major producer of cassava with over 54 million metric tonnes per hectare, the yield per hectare of the crop in the country has not been impressive.

He stressed the need for researchers to address the issue, emphasising that science is critical for a transformation change of the cassava sector.

The minister identified the issues contending with cassava productivity to include climate change, pests, diseases, etc, adding that tackling them would require new breeding options that are quick to address the limitation.

He further remarked that the Federal Government had made a commitment to re-position agriculture for economic and inclusive growth.

“We have launched the Agricultural Promotion Policy, 2016 to 2019, tagged: ‘The Green Alternative.’

“The Green Alternative Policy has five major strategic thrusts: achievement of self-sufficiency and sustainable food security, reduction in import dependence and economic loses through value addition.

“Stimulation of agro-exports for enhanced foreign exchange earnings, enhancement of job and wealth creation and achievement of economic diversification to make it less crude oil-dependent,” he said.

Also speaking, the NextGen Cassava Breeding Project Manager, Dr Chiedozie Egesi, said disease pathogens and climate change threaten cassava production and jeopardise the income and food security of smallholder farmers.

“Cassava is a clonal propagated crop and seed set is difficult. New varieties with enhanced productivity and nutritional traits typically take up to 10 years to develop.

“Cassava is predicted to be one of the few crops that will benefit from climate change because it requires few inputs and can withstand drought, marginal soils and long-term underground storage.

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“Through the project, we have been able to raise the status of cassava yield from where it was, we are addressing the issue of global changes of population and the climate,” he said.

Egesi also said since 2012, scientists on the NextGen Cassava project have been working to significantly increase the rate of genetic improvement in cassava breeding and unlock cassava’s full potential.