From Emmanuel Uzor, Abakaliki
In the face of the soaring price of Abakaliki Rice, which was hitherto the saving grace for the poor, Ebonyi residents may have devised another means of survival. A bushel of Abakaliki Rice that was sold at N3,600 is now being sold at N10, 700, a situation that has left the people of the state with no other option than to seek alternative means of survival, hence the timely intervention of cassava.
Cassava, a major staple food in Nigeria and widely consumed daily by more than 100 million people in the country comes in different species; the white, purple, and yellow species, among others.
But the most common is the white one. However, the yellow type which is very scarce unlike the white contains vitamin A.
As part of efforts to re-introduce the cultivation of cassava as credible alternative to the rising price of rice and other food commodities, the member representing Ohaozara/IvoOnicha Federal Constituency known as Ohanivo, Mr Linus Okorie recently mobilized over 3,000 farmers across the federal constituency on a three-day enlightenment and empowerment campaign on the importance of Vitamin A fortified cassava and maize.
Addressing the farmers at Ishiagu, the headquarters of Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, the programme’s technical partner and Country Manager of HarvestPlus in Nigeria, Dr. Paul Ilona, told the rural farmers that though the cassava stems he brought came from Oyo State, after the programme, the cassava stems would henceforth be sourced from Ebonyi State.
“The organiser of this programme wants us to live well. Vitamin A is crucial to our living. The important thing is to eat nutritional food,” he explained.
He also disclosed the uses of the Vitamin A Cassava in making chips, biscuits, bread, flour, Foo foo, tea, among others, adding that the use of crude implements for farming would soon be over in Ebonyi State as they would be replaced with mechanical tools.
“A farmer is a businessman and should be conscious of that,” he said.
Ilona also taught them basic techniques of farming and planting the cassava for bumper harvest, such as spaces to give while planting, how to sow the stems and maintain it till maturity and encouraged them to embrace business farming since every farm crop has value-added bye products, whether in cassava, maize, rice or palm produce.
Earlier in his address, the initiator of the programme, Hon. Okorie, said that most Nigerians did not get enough micronutrients, such as vitamin A, zinc and iron required to lead healthy productive lives from the foods they eat, noting that micronutrient deficiencies could lower IQ, which could cause stunting and blindness in children, lower resistance to disease in both children and adults and increase risks for both mothers and infants during childbirth.
“It is estimated that about one million of the three million child deaths that occur each year as a result of under nutrition are due to hidden hunger. Biofortified crops, which have been bred to have higher amounts of micronutrients, can help provide these needed vitamins and minerals. They can be effective in reducing hidden hunger, as part of a strategy that includes dietary diversification, supplementation, and commercial fortification, among others.
“The white cassava that we have is not very nutritious and research has discovered that it is best to fortify basic crops that are consumed every day, such as cassava, maize, potato and yam. So, instead of buying Vitamin A for eyes, for growth, for healthy living, why don’t you put it in the crops and they are working with IITA, Roots Crops Research Institute, Umudike, and coordinated with HarvestPlus International. First are cassava and maize; others are coming,” he said.
In his reaction, Mr. Offor Agwu, one of the participants, said that the programme had opened their eyes to the benefits of hybrid Vitamin A fortified cassava and maize, adding that they were well educated on new techniques of farming, taking farming as serious business.
On her part, Mrs. Mary Okonkwo from Amagu-Ishiagu, said: “I learnt how to plant cassava and maize. I will do my next planting according to the way we have been taught, particularly on the method of planting the cassava stem for better growth. There is difference on how we used to plant the cassava and how we have been taught to plant it now. Before, we used to plant more than four stems of cassava on one heap but we have been told to space the stems and reduce the number per heap for better yield.
“Also, we have been taught how to use the Vitamin A cassava to make flour, chips and all that, we are grateful. I thank the organiser because this is development and a new thing for us. This is something we didn’t know but he brought experts to teach us these modern techniques in farming and doing business with farm produce,” she said.
For Orji Anyim, the exercise came at the right time when the people of the state are crying over the high price of rice and other commodities.
“I learnt many useful things like the process of transforming a farmer to a real farmer and to become rich than remaining ‘every year young’. I’ve learnt some aspects of business like the agro-based mechanism, how to transform the old farming practice into the new farming tactics that can give better living condition.
“We have good soil for the Vitamin A cassava and maize but the land tenure system in Igbo land may affect greater production of the crops, but we will manage to grow the crops,” he said.
Also, the Chairman of All Farmers Association in the state, Elder Livinus Oko, at the closing ceremony at Otika town hall, Onicha-Igboeze, said: “This is what we have been telling our brethren, that farming will make one independent, financially and otherwise.”
At the end of the three-day programme, the elated farmers nicknamed the new breed crop “Linus Cassava,” as a credible alternative to fill the gap created by the scarcity of rice in the state.