Cross River cassava processors groan despite efforts to modernize production

Madam Affiong Robert is over 70, but she is actually under 60. The grandmother of three from Ikono Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State has lived in Okoyong, a historic community in Cross River State since she was 20 years old. Since then, she has engaged in agricultural activities, including being hired for a nominal fee to weed farms, cultivate or harvest cassava, although she also owns her own farms and sometimes hires co-workers to help her.

Perhaps, because of the tedious manual labor on the farms on a daily basis, year after year, Madame Robert has become bony, sickly and aged. She would not allow herself to be photographed despite pleas, arguing that she is not the head of the cassava sellers and that her portrait could offend the eyes.

“Our women refused to come together so that we could unite for a common front. They argue that each of them has farms, so they see no reason to band together. So we have no leaders.

“What we do is that every Friday, once it’s Okoyong Usang community’s turn, we converge on this junction market with quantities of our processed cassava. We are very numerous. As you can see, we usually stretch along this route. Each of us has the right to sell. But the prices of our processed cassava per bag fluctuate between N11,000 and N12,000 on average against N8,000 previously.

She said that almost everyone who comes with barely returned quantities with their goods because there are usually ready buyers who mostly come with medium-sized trucks every week.

But why are buyers flocking in numbers from Akwa Ibom state, where cassava is grown in almost all local government areas as it is their staple food? Affiong said the amount of cassava produced in this state is not enough for their huge population and cannot be compared to the amounts produced in Cross River State.

According to her, the state has more land and is the largest producer and supplier of cassava, which is why Nigeria is ranked as the top producer in Africa.

“There is no more land in Akwa Ibom State for mass cassava cultivation like we have here in Cross River.

Ready buyers

No less than 12 trucks loaded with 35 kg bags of crushed cassava, ready to be processed into fufu or fried into garri, leave Atan Okoyong or Okoyong-Usang Abasi every Friday of the month. Each truck loads up to 50 bags or more, depending on their size.

These trucks are hired by large buyers to buy the processed cassava in bulk at lower costs and resell or further process it for the range of by-products to be sold at much higher rates out of state.

In these local communities, a 35 kg bag of ground or processed cassava costs N11,000 or N12,000. , confirmed the findings.

This would mean that if 50 bags are sold at N12,000, then up to N600,000 is generated from women per week. Or averaged, at N11,000 times 30 bags, N330,000 is generated. When you multiply that by 12 months, you marvel at what a subsector like that can bring in a small community.

A close look at other cassava producing local government areas such as Biase, Akamkpa, Akpabuyo and Obubra would show that if proper attention is given to cassava in the state, it could boost both the farmers’ and the state’s economies.

However, it is an infinitesimal sum of this amount that actually accrues to women, who toil, grow thin and age rapidly due to the energy they put into growing and trading cassava throughout the year.

Huge labor costs

The women will have to pay the young men they hire to plow the soil for the cultivation of the harvest, which lasts the whole season.

They also pay for the evacuation of the harvested cassava to the roadsides, where the okada riders will charge them heavily to travel to their homes or to peel them. And they will pay those who grind after it has been soaked to ferment before frying it into garri.

To bag the processed cassava, in the form of garri or fufu, they will pay. They will additionally pay to be moved to outlets. So you notice that the N12,000 per bag doesn’t really compensate them for the intense heat and stress they’re going through, and the medications they’re buying to help themselves. Rather, it is the buyers and intermediaries who profit from the profits.

Affiong said, “In Odukpani and nearby Akpabuyo local government areas alone, there are hectares of land available for cultivation. In addition, we process cassava for commercial purposes. Most people here are either cassava or palm fruit growers.

Plant needed

She said that due to the volume of cultivation and the procession of the harvest, it was important for the government to step in and help them establish a cassava processing factory in Odukpani to reduce their stress in terms of cost, time and constraints.

“We need the state government to help us establish a fufu factory so that we can all get our cassava to process even at a cost. We suffer too much. Our husbands owned farms but it was the wives who worked the land and farmed roughly. But when we sell, we bring the money to our husbands to appropriate.

“Looking at me, you would think I was very old. It is because of the daily labors in the cassava farms. I do paid jobs on farms for people. Many of us do, even though we also own farms.

“We don’t make much profit because we pay young men to help us cultivate, harvest, evacuate and lift heavy bags. All labor costs impact what would have been our profit,” she said.

Corroborating the explanation of Afong, a community leader and cassava farmer in the state, Chief Ekpe Effiom said, “Odukpani is not the only local government area renowned for growing and processing cassava. Akamkpa and Akpabuyo in the southern district also have huge agricultural settlements owned by elderly peasants, mostly women. Obubra and Yakurr are more famous as they seem to have the largest cassava plantations in the state. It is the women who most often toil day and night to cultivate these cassava fields, up to the points of processing and sale.

“They tend and do the weeding manually or use herbicides, which they complain are expensive and pose dangers to the crops.”

Another elderly woman from Ikot Esu Farm Colony near Creek Town in Odukpani popularly called Eka Mercy who hails from Etinan Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State spent over 45 years in this community with her husband, popularly called Akpan Mbioto, growing cassava all year round.

Eka Mercy, who looks very frail and bony, soaks cassava in large barrels for fermentation. She also grinds and ties heavy wood together, a form of local technology that extracts water from sacks of ground cassava.

His children are all married and live in urban centers, so none of them are available to help him. Her only son lives in Calabar and regularly crosses the river to pick up garri and other foodstuffs after his mother struggled to produce them.

“After all the long and tedious processes, I would pay boys to carry the bags to Creek Town beach, from where speedboats would evacuate them early Thursday morning to Obio Oko beach in the marina district. from Calabar. We usually sleep at the beach until Thursday morning, which is usually a big market day there.

“When I come to Calabar beach with, say, five 10kg bags, I sell them all, sometimes at N3,500 or N4,000 per bag. But these amounts are not proportional to the stress involved,” she said.

The President of the State Cassava Growers Association, which has more than 5,000 members, Venerable Augustine Oqua, said that to reduce the primitive and stressful method of growing and processing cassava, farmers and the government should think about mechanization.

“We don’t have enough mechanization; we only see peasants doing manual work. The number of those who grow cassava and produce its by-products is grossly insufficient to feed the staggering population of consumers in the state and country. We need the government to open up land for cassava growers. We have to switch to mechanization.

“The issue of tractors is also important. We don’t have enough tractors in the state. I doubt we have up to three working tractors. Cassava production requires a lot of technical know-how. We need to support individual farmers with inputs and fertilizers to boost production,” he said.

He said he is happy that the state government has supported cassava farmers by establishing a processing plant in the Obubra area, although far from Odukpani, another epicenter of cassava production.

Oqua said the plant will gobble up to 240 metric tons, or 12 trailers of cassava per day. But the challenge of feeding the plant daily is huge

He recommended that more land be opened up to grow cassava flour to feed the factory so that they can sell the finished products to buyers.

Addressing the plight of women recently, Governor Ben Ayade explained that his government had established a multi-million naira cassava processing plant in Obubra to increase economic output and reduce strains on smallholder farmers in the state. .

He said the factory would enable women and others to benefit more from cassava by-products, such as garri and starch.

Ayade explained that the choice of Obubra was because they produced the largest amount of crop in the state.

He said the plant has the capacity to produce commercial starch and modified flour from the crop.

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