Poundo yam, which is largely enjoyed in Nigeria and in the Diaspora today, is a technology pioneered by the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, FIIRO. However, the Institute is still in the business of turning research into food that is commercially viable. In this interview with ABIOSE ADELAJA ADAMS, the director general of the Institute, Dr. Gloria Elemo, speaks on how FIIRO is adding value to a variety of Nigerian cuisines as well as creating employment opportunities.
About the Cassava Flour Policy, I understand the Cassava Flour Bill has suffered some set back in the past. What is happening to it now?
It is true that the Bill suffered a setback but it was because the legislature wanted it to be properly packaged and for the proponent of the Bill to address all pertinent issues that were raised by the legislature.
What is being introduced this time to ensure the Bill is passed?
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is championing the Bill with relevant stakeholders like FIIRO, Flour Millers Association of Nigeria, NAFDAC, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), etc. The Bill has been redrafted by a committee set up by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, comprising of FIIRO, SON and NAFDAC. To give the Bill a national outlook based on crops of relative advantages in northern and southern Nigeria, Sorghum has been included with provision that other crops can be included in future. So, as it is now, the Bill is addressing local content development in the flour milling industry in Nigeria and not just about cassava.
Recently, precisely on Wednesday, October 17, 2014, a stakeholders’ meeting on Cassava Policy to give policy backing to the Bill was held at FIIRO at the instance of the Minister of Agriculture. With all these background work, I am sure that the Bill will sail through this time around without any hindrance.
What is the content of the policy?
The policy is that there should be gradual incremental addition of up to 20 per cent inclusion in bread of cassava flour, and if this is the agreement of everybody, I don’t think it will bring any rejection of the Bill right now.
Some people who have tasted the cassava bread think it has a sour aftertaste?
If you eat the cassava bread in FIIRO, there is no after taste. Here at FIIRO, we have been working on cassava bread for decades. Since then there has been improvements. It tastes just like the normal bread everybody is used to and that was the whole idea; not to introduce an entirely new product but to manage what we have to taste and look like exactly like what is existing. It has been managed through what is known as ‘recipe manipulation’ and ‘recipe readjustment’ along with the existing recipe. There is no fear of rejection. The bread tastes exactly like any of other normal bread. In fact, studies show that people have not been able to detect which one is the cassava bread from the normal bread. We have the recipe and it is standardised, and because of that the FIIRO recipe has been adopted as the nationwide recipe and we have been doing a lot of training nationwide with Ministry of Agriculture to train master bakers in the baking of cassava bread at 20 per cent inclusion.
It is said that Nigeria spends about $4 billion on wheat flour import annually. With this policy to substitute with cassava flour, how much would Nigeria be saving in terms of foreign exchange?
In terms of foreign exchange saving, a whopping sum of N127Billion will be saved at 20 per cent substitution of high quality cassava flour in wheat flour. This figure will, however, be N63.5Billion at 10 per cent substitution.
Is bread going to be cheaper than it is now as a result?
No matter how you look at it, whether in the short term or in the long term, bread is going to be cheaper and affordable through inclusion of cassava flour. Prices of bread could be reduced by 20-45 percent at 20 per cent inclusion in the long term, if policy adopted.
How do you address the bias against cassava bread due to its said possibility of increasing diabetes?
I differ in your opinion regarding bias against cassava bread because public response to cassava bread is very good. We have carried out consumers’ acceptability studies on cassava bread produced at various levels of inclusion of high quality cassava flour and the response is very encouraging.
Having said this, one may not rule out some resistance from some quarters due to reluctance to change but change is one thing that is inevitable. Some have actually said that cassava bread would cause diabetes or aggravate diabetic condition but as scientists, we have been able to debunk this through Glycemic Index (GI) studies using human samples. The subjects consumed the cassava bread and we monitored the effect on the blood glucose. Interestingly, at 20 per cent inclusion, even at 10 per cent inclusion, there has been a slight drop in the GI for both bread than it is with bread baked with 100 per cent wheat flour. So there is no threat and it is not the cause of diabetes. Rather, I will even say it is better to use it for management of diabetes. Cassava bread is safe just like wheat bread for human consumption.
Are there plans to export cassava?
It will get to a time when we are definitely going to have more than enough cassava we can export. Presently, there are demands in the export market for cassava but because it is out food security crop we are using it extensively for foods like garri, fufu, so it is not easy to meet export demand. But by the time the value chain is pulled, there will be need for us to increase production. A country like China are in high demand for our cassava.
You have quite a lot of products to your credit. For instance, the plantain flour, odourless fufu, instant soups, and so on. What is the uptake rate of your researches?
An Adoption Study conducted in 1996 showed that the adoption rate of the Institute’s technologies was 41% but by 2009 the rate has dropped sharply to about 10%. A recent Adoption Study, however, revealed that the level of adoption has gradually increased to about 16% due to the Institute’s aggressive commercialisation effort in the last three to four years. In fact, the percentage level of industrialisation in Nigeria is not very encouraging and it is due to all these infrastructural problems and access to funds.
Why is this so?
I know it has not been easy for the entrepreneur, in terms of access to funds. That is why we are collaborating with the Bank of Industry (BoI) so that anyone we certify as a FIIRO beneficiary will have access to some intervention fund, which government is setting up to assist the job creation programme. We are also working with Bank of Agriculture, and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprise committee and council that will definitely look into areas that will create access to funds for SMEs. We are not only looking at the skills acquisition, we are also spreading out our tentacles to see how the skills we are trying to impart or transfer can be utilised and not be mere academic work.
You said there are 250 research outcomes ready for commercialization. Could the Institute have developed up to 250 technologies?
The institute has not done badly in the realisation of its mandate from inception. Research and development is not cheap and it takes time. For a product to come out, it takes 4-5 years to get it to development level. And for us to say a product is commercialisable, we have to pass it through the pilot stage, after laboratory work. At the pilot stage, the product developed is translated into concrete product that can hit the market. At that pilot stage you test the commercial and technical viability; at this point you can now say a product is ready for the market because you have data to back it. At that stage a product can fail and it goes back to the basic again. So, to get a product out takes time. Actually, the Institute has developed over 250 technologies. The 250 technologies was at 2010. We have developed more products since then and by 2015 we are going to update our records and see how far we have gone in five years of active research. By my estimate, we should be hitting like 325 technologies by 2015. Even with our estimated 325 technologies by 2015, we could do better if funding situation is enhanced.
Are the labs equipped for internationally competitive researches?
Thirty years ago, those labs were the best of labs in Nigeria but due to the age of the Institute, these laboratories are dilapidated and those equipment of thirty years ago are now obsolete. This was why I made the clarion call to His Excellency (President Goodluck Jonathan) when he visited the Institute during our Investment and Technology Week 2014 for upgrading of the laboratories for cutting edge research.
So how were you able to come up with all these products?
I’m not saying the labs are totally dilapidated, we have 50 research labs, we could be better. The fundings are limited, we can do better.
How do you fit into the government’s policy of creating 3,000 jobs by 2015
The Institute has the capacity to create two million jobs annually through its National Techno-entrepreneurship Development Initiative (NTDI). Through this programme, the Institute will fully deploy its over 250 technologies to address the burning issue of unemployment and reduce it to barest minimum thus improving national security and economic prosperity.
The programme has the objective of training and empowering 2,000 youths and women annually but has the capacity to train two million youths and women annually at the rate of 2,500 participants from each of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria at full implementation.
During the Investment week, the president gave N220 billion to some 100 youths. Has it been disbursed?
Not only to them. It is an Intervention Fund for the SMEs. Those ones were lucky because they were trained by FIIRO. They are given a fiat to benefit straight. Its like an approval.
Since FIIRO is an accredited technology provider for entrepreneurs, anyone that comes in through FIIRO, will be given priority as being serious enough to benefit. We have started, we have put them in clusters as per the program they trained on and submitted to the council for further approval. When they get the money they will announce it.
How long will this take?
I don’t envisage this to be a long process since it is a presidential directive.