Harnessing the economic potential of cassava production in Nigeria

Cassava ready to be processed

This article is an excerpt from a recently published report by PwC Nigeria

Nigeria is the largest cassava producer globally, accounting for about one-fifth (21%) of total production worldwide. The demand for cassava and its constituents is high in the domestic economy. However, the supply has been unable to meet the huge demand.

PwC estimates that Nigeria would need about 28.3 million metric tonnes of fresh cassava root planted annually on about 1.2 million hectares of land to meet the country’s demand for some of the cassava by-products and derivatives listed here: ethanol, cassava-based constituents in sugar syrup, high-quality cassava flour, garri (a fine to coarse granular flour of varying texture made from cassava roots), cassava-based adhesives such as cassava starch, caustic soda, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid and sodium silicate.

Overall, from the total output of 59.5 million metric tonnes of cassava produced in the country based on 2018 estimates, Nigeria has the economic potential to generate revenues of $427.3 million from domestic value-addition and derive income of $2.98 billion in agricultural exports of cassava. Furthermore, the local value-addition to cassava via local manufacturing and processing could potentially unlock about $16 million in taxes to the government.

Part of the reason for the inability to satisfy domestic demand and boost production for the export markets is linked to the traditional method of cassava farming which has led to low yields and post-harvest losses over the years. Furthermore, the perishability of the crop and poor logistics along the cassava value chain can also lead to huge losses.

The importance of value-addition to cassava via local manufacturing and processing to support local industrial activities cannot be overemphasised. There is significant local industrial demand for the derivatives and by-products that the commodity can provide, in addition to local consumption for primary output of cassava. This is because there is a three-yearly glut cycle that occurs in cassava farming in Nigeria. The cycle implies that harvesting of cassava is characterised by a cycle of glut that occurs every three to four years and results in excess output of cassava for local consumption. This excess output leads to depressed prices in the local markets due to over-supply following a period of scarcity and high prices.

This glut can be eliminated if the value-chain for cassava is diversified to include industrial processing, as the crop is primarily being used almost entirely for traditional foods (e.g. garri), of which local consumption is often not enough to absorb the glut cycle that occurs periodically. It is therefore important that government improve access to finance, enhance the cassava value-chain from end-to-end, incentivise and stimulate domestic production and manufacturing of cassava derivatives, increase agricultural extension services for cassava farmers and ensure more funding for agricultural research and development.

Demand vs supply of selected cassava products in Nigeria

Over the years, the supply of cassava derivatives or by-products in Nigeria has fallen short of demand. For instance, the demand for high-quality cassava flour for bread, biscuits and snacks is put at 500,000 metric tonnes per annum but supply is less than 15,000 metric tonnes. In addition, while demand for cassava starch stands in excess of 300,000 metric tonnes, supply remains below 10,000 metric tonnes, thus giving rise to a demand gap of over 290,000 metric tonnes.

The infographic below shows the potential demand for some selected cassava products in Nigeria. Despite the demand for these products, the required supply is still very low. More startling is the near-zero supply of ethanol (a constituent of cassava) in the country despite a huge potential demand of over 1 billion litres needed for industrial and domestic purposes. Specifically, Nigeria needs over 400 million litres of ethanol for industrial uses.

Potential demand for some selected cassava products

The country has always resulted to the importation of ethanol to bridge this gap. In 2018/2019, Nigeria imported about 68 million litres of ethanol valued at about $26 million from the United States. Recently the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) disclosed its plan to cultivate about 32,000 hectares of cassava and 15,000 hectares of sugar cane in Kebbi state and another 20,000 hectares and 15,000 hectares of sugarcane and cassava plantations respectively in Kogi State. The output from these various plantations is intended to serve as a feedstock for the NNPC’s proposed 84 million litre-per-day ethanol plant in the Corporation’s quest for renewable energy sources. As at June 2020, about 2,675 hectares of cassava plantations have been cultivated in Kebbi state.

Given that a tonne of cassava produces 166 litres of ethanol, the country would need to produce 2.41 million metric tonnes of cassava to be able to meet this huge demand gap.

The table below shows the total number of fresh cassava roots needed to meet the estimated demand in each of the selected cassava derivatives – alongside the acreage of yields required.

Fresh cassava roots and acreage required to meet demand for selected products

Challenges of cassava production in Nigeria

Some of the identified challenges of cassava production in Nigeria include:

  • Cassava production is mostly traditional and a lot of valuable products are lost through rudimentary methods.
  • Due to perishability of cassava roots, inefficiencies in marketing and logistics lead to high losses of the fresh cassava.
  • Despite having a competitive advantage over the South in terms of lowered production cost and the porosity of its soil, the Northern region does not produce enough of the crop as it is not one of the staple foods in the region.

Cassava derivatives


1. Enhance the productivity of farmers: Farmers need to get regular training to ensure they are using the best production methods. The capacity of producers also needs to be strengthened to ensure that they can deliver quality produce in a timely manner and increase yields to reduce the supply gap.

2. Adopt enhanced farming techniques and technology: There is need for investment in mechanised agriculture in addition to other equipment and tools, as well as the adoption of enhanced farming techniques in the planting and harvesting of cassava.

3. Improve the cassava value-chain: The process of supply from farmers to processors needs to be streamlined and clearly outlined in order to ensure that cassava tubers are delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner.

4. Invest in the production of other cassava derivatives: Significant portions of cassava harvested in Nigeria are processed into garri and fufu. There is a need to consider investment in the production of other cassava derivatives such as sweeteners, ethanol and monosodium glutamate (MSG). For instance, significant opportunities exist for cassava-based ethanol production. Nigeria can leverage its position as the largest cassava producer in the world, by prioritising ethanol production from cassava with a view to creating rapid growth across ethanol-based industrial activities.

5. Increased access to funding: Cassava production is capital-intensive, and a large chunk of cassava produced in Nigeria comes from smallholder farmers. There is a need to ensure unhindered access of cassava farmers to funding to guarantee their ability to use best-in-practice tools and technologies.

6. Ensure improved funding of research and development activities of the agricultural research institutes, with a view to conducting research to produce new cassava varieties, that can withstand unfavourable weather conditions that will germinate and grow better root tubers.