Over the past five decades, Africa's food security situation has hardly shown any substantial improvement. Every year seems to bring a new food crisis in some country or region. After the famine in Niger and reports of acute food shortage in Darfur, Chad and now Malawi, it is critical that a collective approach is taken to address this issue.
It is against this background that cassava can be viewed as Africa's food security crop. As a hardy crop, cassava meets the needs of African farmers who work under harsh environmental conditions.
It is drought tolerant and serves as a food with many advantages over crops like maize, rice and wheat which often fail because of Africa's erratic rainfall patterns, lack of fertiliser and poor soils.
Cassava can be for Africa what rice and wheat represent to Asia and Latin America. Through the intervention of the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), several African countries have been experiencing growth in cassava-based food products.
It is a staple food for people in Angola, Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Tanzania--to mention just a few.
It is equally becoming a major food crop in countries of the Sahel: Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal. It supplies daily calories for more than 200m people in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nigeria is the world leading producer of cassava with more than 34m tons per annum.
The Olusegun Obasanjo administration in Nigeria has played a positive role in raising farmers' awareness on general agricultural development with a special focus on cassava.
In 2002, President Obasanjo launched the Presidential Initiative on cassava as a forum to motivate farmers to increase cassava production for both domestic and export markets. Later, the National Assembly ratified a bill to make it compulsory for Nigerian bread bakers to include 10% cassava flour into wheat flour in the production of composite bread for the nation with effect from January 2005.
That singular policy has officially opened a new vista for cassava production in the country. Private investors are now directly involved in cassava production, processing and export.
In April, the first ship load of 40 metric tonnes of cassava chips left Nigerian shores bound for China. Since then, exporters have been clamouring for large-scale cassava production, while a huge local market has opened up for cassava industries.