Kwara: The Changing Fortunes Of Cassava Farmers

Female cassava processors are making gains from the cassava trade in Tankpafu community in Patigi Local Government Area of Kwara State. Over the years, reforms initiated by the village head were made in the cassava economy, deepening the sector and releasing more money to women. Most women are unbanked, and there is an indigenous Nupe method of saving money known as Kpati. A solar project that will be useful in the drying of garri is slowly rotting away and a lot of the processing is done manually and in the open, exposing women to the elements.

“I started building this house four years ago from the proceeds of this business. So far, I have made use of 80 bags of cement and hope to provide a roof for the house later this year,” says Fati Yahaya, 50, a mother of eleven children an active participant in the cassava trade.

She added that there were 50 women in Tankpafu building houses from the proceeds of the cassava trade.

The community, which is ringed by bad roads, and without power supply for 24 months, is famous for cassava trade, involving garri, flour and starch. Everybody in the community is a cassava farmer. And they know that to get excellent results, there would be harvest within a year of planting.

Saturday reports that each year, 10, 000 bags of garri are produced in the community. This figure does not cover the quantity sold locally, using the popular system of measurement called mudu in local parlance. So the statistics may be higher.

The community produces 15 trailer-loads of raw cassava annually, the village head added. And today, a sack of garri in Tankpafu is sold at N40,000, up from N23,000 in 2023.

Salimatu Adama, 51, a widow and cassava farmer also said, “I began building my house 10 years ago and now live in it with my eight children. I spent over N3million building the house, which has a total of 12 rooms.”

Another woman, Aishatu Abubakar said, “I use the profits to take care of myself and my children. If my husband does not have money, I use my money to buy foodstuff for the house and also pay their school fees.”

This shows that cassava business has given the womenfolk in the community some measure of financial freedom.

Isa Zhitsu Suleman, the village head, confirmed that the women of Tankpafu had done well in the cassava trade. He expressed faith in the capacity of women to engage in trade successfully and improve on whatever is given to them.

 “If you give a woman N50,000, within six months she will make N100,000,” he said.

He also said that since the community does not have a bank, the women developed an indigenous method of saving their money.

“The women have a system of saving money in a wooden box since they don’t have access to any bank. They cannot write and cannot do any bank transaction, so the easiest way they can save their money is within their houses. They make a kind of saving box or bag called Kpati in Nupe.

“Very few among them are literate. That’s why Kpati is the best form of saving for them. But there are challenges in Kpati in most cases because somebody can come and steal the Kpati. They normally have that challenge. This is why we don’t appreciate the local way of saving,” Suleman who holds a master’s degree in Public Administration said.

The nearest bank to Tankpafu is at Patigi, the headquarters of Patigi Local Government; and it is the only bank in the entire local government. His fathe,r who was the village head before him, was a retired agricultural officer in the Department of Beekeeping.

Shedding more light on Kpati, Umar said, “This traditional method of saving does not require any signature nor Automated Teller Machine card. It has a padlock, which is opened whenever it is necessary. When the need arises, the women take a decision at the meeting of cassava producers and open it. A woman in the association can also have her personal saving box.”

 Saturday reports that since most of the locals don’t have bank accounts, it follows that none of them would have received the conditional cash transfer in the wake of COVID-19. Communities lose many things if they are located very far from the state capital.

Also, Fatima Idris, 35, said she began building her house in 2018 and completed it in 2021. She spent N2m to build the house.

On the challenges of the business, she said peeling the cassava was difficult as women could cut themselves with knives.

On the good side of the trade she said, “Many women are building houses here, and some have gone on Hajj from the proceeds of cassava. I hope to go to Mecca this year.”

Labourers from neighbouring communities are not engaged to work on farms in Tankpafu. And there is a reason for this. “We don’t bring any labourer from outside to work here. We encourage our women to do the work.

“Once the women make one bag of guinea corn, you make 10 mudus from it. That’s the way we are doing it. The same thing applies to rice, melon, and groundnut. If they do the melon they will divide it by six mudus and take one, and you as a farmer will take the rest. The woman will make one and the farmer will have four.

“There are many ways women make their money locally. This thing is a continuous process. Part of it is from me and part are ideas from neighbouring communities,” the village head said.

The process of producing garri is not only rudimentary but tedious, Mohammed Yahaya, who bears the title of Ndawodi and is the leader of the farmers in the community said. Explaining the process of production he said, “When they grind the cassava they will load it in sacks and keep in a position for two to three days. They will load it on a jack and put pressure on it until the water in it is extracted. From there, they will take it to a frying pan. They will fry the garri and look for a tarpaulin or a cemented area or bag made like a tarpaulin and spread it. When the garri dries, they will put it in a bag on the same day.

Fatima Abubakar, 85, the head of the Ennasalama Cassava Producers Association, which has a total of 30 members, said the trade was turning lives around in Tankpafu.

“From the proceeds of cassava trade, women build houses and sponsor their children to school. Some even buy cars, pick-up vans and other vehicles to convey cassava from farms. They also support women in paying hospital bills,” she said.

On the uses of cassava, the village head said, “They are now selling the bark of the crop at eight N800 a bag. It was not like that before. Before now, they would throw it away after peeling, but people are coming to buy it to feed animals. There is more money there.”

At a point, the people of Tankpafu were regarded as unskilled or poor actors in the cassava ecosystem, he said, adding, “As at 1983, people were embarrassing us. They were saying the people of Tankpafu ate unprocessed cassava. But today, they are saying that people of Tankpafu are collecting lots of money from cassava. Today, many of them are copying us. They came to us and we gave them land to grow cassava. The crop is a big thing in Tankpafu.”

Explaining that garri from Tankpafu is free of impurities and very popular, Suleman said, “When the garri dries, they will pack it into a bag on the same day. In this way, particles or substances like sand or dust will not get into it. If they follow this process from start to finish, there will be nothing like sand or dirty substances in the garri.

“During the weekly markets in the neighborhood, traders will wait until those from Tankpafu arrive before sales commence. This is because the community produces good garri; and it is the largest producer of the commodity in that locality.”

Yahaya also said there’s a price control group known as Ndawodi, made up of elders or leading farmers of cassava producers in the community. “The price of our garri, which is better in standard, cannot be the same with theirs. When the women come back home, we sit and deliberate on it and fix the price for our garri.

“Different buyers come to Tankpafu.  There is no market in the community; it is the quality of the product that makes them come. We have associations controlling the price in Patigi Emirate, which is part of the government, but we have our association here, which is stronger and bigger. And the Patigi Emirate will listen to us,” he said.

“All the buyers will come here before they enter Patigi. They come to do market survey.  When we conclude discussion I will link the buyer to the Ndawodi committee.

“The Ndawodi is always a man, not a woman because the people who come to buy the product are all men. So men should face men rather than women facing men,” the village head said in response to a question on Ndawodi.

On the challenges facing the cassava economy, Yahaya said, “We lack garri drying areas, so most of the women use large tarpaulins. If the government can assist us in this area, it would help.”

 Saturday reports that the roads are in bad shape. He also said, “The trailers are usually empty when they arrive, but when moving out, it would be as though they were sinking. It would help if the government would assist us by improving the roads.”

Speaking on economic relationships in his community Suleman said, “The first stage is during the rainy season when the men lack money. So the source of our money always comes from women during such season. This is because whatever they produce during the rainy season they will sell it and use that money to grow more cassava. At the end of everything, we don’t pay cash, we pay with cassava. That is the short description of the relationship we have here.”

A robust system of loans exists in the community. On this he said, “Most of the women will not allow their husbands to go outside and seek loans. She will rather give the loan to her husband, and whatever he gets, he will pay back with cassava, process it and do starch and chips. After they sell it they will see their interest and bring whatever they spent and buy another cassava and take their interest to make contributions. They have monthly contributions known as Dashi in Nupe.”

“In terms of cassava growing, Patigi has an advantage as the people are now farmers. Expansion of cassava occurred immediately after I came to the throne. I am the one who expanded it. I engaged the women in the processing of cassava.

“When I came in, we had to quickly engage them in garri processing so that they can save a little money from there. If they had some money they would even build houses. And I have noticed that many women have built houses and fenced them. Some of them are widows, but they are not many. Those that have fenced their houses are growing in number,” the village head said.

Going down memory lane, Suleman said, “In the past, our women were selling firewood; they would carry it on their heads all the way to Patigi. And the highest they would get from it was N300, but when I came, I told them to discontinue the trade. What would you buy with N300? So I decided to boost the financial strength of the women in my community. I encouraged them to develop interest in cassava processing.

“Our women go to the market to sell garri, and when they return, we ask how much a bag is sold. If there is need to increase the price, we increase it, and if there is need to reduce it, we do that. I am the one that formed the committee to do intensive findings.”

Speaking on Tankpafu garri, Zainab Idris from Patigi said, “Tankpafu is popular because its garri is good. Every market day, before they start selling, traders in other communities listen to their women first.

“Three days ago, there was Gbugbu market in Lafiagi, as well as Patigi market. The two markets hold at the same time.  Traders at Gbugbu market take note of the price at Patigi, to the effect that whatever amount the latter fixes for its garri, the former will follow.”

Idris Bida Isa drew attention to a solar dryer, an abandoned project that would have improved cassava processing in the community, saying, “This is where they are supposed to be drying garri. It was built by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for the use of local processors. It was built in 2021 but not yet completed because some of the nets needed for the dryers have not been brought. According to them, with the solar dryer, in one hour the garri will dry. Unfortunately, people have to use the old time-consuming system they are used to.”

 Saturday reports that there are other solar projects targeted at garri processing in the locality, which have not yet been commissioned. These include two solar dryers in Mandzkwa and another one in Lade. All are rotting away.

Suleman further said, “We need tractors from the government. We need the government to assist us with good roads because all the roads that lead to our farms have been eroded.  If there is good road, we can bring out our farm produce. We have to use motorcycles to bring our produce out of the farms in the rainy season. If the government can assist us, the agricultural output in Tankpafu village will improve.”

Speaking on voluntary contributions among the women, Adamu Jiya, the deputy village head said, “There is a Patigi market taking place once every 9 days. When they come back from the market they make contributions. At times, in some groups they will be up to 30 in number. After the market, they may contribute N2,000 or N5,000 each. When they gather this money they give it to the collector, who will use it to buy whatever she wants.

“During the next market day, it will be time for another woman to collect. At times they will create a list to be followed. When your number is called, it is your turn. Through that process, they save money and use it to do something tangible because N5,000 multiplied by 30 is a huge amount.”

According to Suleman, there are no unemployed people in Tankpafu as anyone who loses his or her job can easily go into farming. He said it was hard to speak of unemployment in a farming community because everybody is a farmer or combines farming with other jobs.

The same applies to poverty. He said, “Since they are doing business, poverty is eradicated. People here are naturally engaged in one or two things that will always bring money.

“There is no allocation coming to Tankpafu from the federal or state government. We have had to create an avenue for the women to get money.”

Last year, 50 farmers and extension agents in Kwara State were trained on cassava production. And Google indicates that cassava production in Nigeria increased from 9.6million tonnes in 1973 to 60.8million tonnes in 2022, growing at an annual rate of 4.20 per cent.

 Saturday reports that all the roads leading to Patigi are in poor condition and this can deter potential investors and actors in the cassava trade. In addition, the roads that converge on Tankpafu, as well as its feeder roads, are all in bad shape, affecting life, education, economy, transport and farming.

Tankpafu is an example of many ungoverned spaces, where hard-working farming people living on fertile soils are surrounded by so much neglect and abandonment. The women speak about this as they engage in the labour-intensive process that slowly turns cassava into a great money-making venture.