As aged as she appears, Modupe works hard daily to meet the demands of her garri customers in Ilorin. “If I don’t finish this sack of garri that I’m frying, my customers will be disappointed,” she muttered while adjusting the firewood under the frying pot.
Sweating profusely, she shouted at Kehinde, a teenage girl, who helps her with the sieving of the raw garri grains from cassava residue, to quicken her work so that she could finish the sack before nightfall.
This routine process is applicable to virtually every garri producer in Osi town. Besides being farmers, they traditionally process garri.
Recently, the Nigerian government has emphasised the need to harness the country’s agricultural potential to diversify the national economy and ensure self-reliance in food production. However, while the government has made a recognisable investment in other areas, especially rice and wheat, through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, the garri industry does not claim same attention.
Needless to say, garri is one of the routinely consumed and dominant foods among Nigerians. While it’s consumed raw with water, sugar (and milk and groundnut by people with relatively greater means), it used to make eba, eaten in households and sold in restaurants all over the country.
However, there is a processing centre built by the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), a project of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
OSI PEOPLE, GARRI PROCESSING AND CHALLENGES
Osi town, with the motto ‘Home of Quality Garri’, is one of the ancient towns in Ekiti Local government of Kwara state. The language of the people is related to that of the residents of the new Ekiti state in the South Western region of Nigeria.
Garri is processed from cassava. The process includes peeling of cassava, grinding of the cassava, extracting water from the grounded cassava with the use of a jack and frying the extracted grains. As tedious as the process is, women and young school boys and girls form the largest percentage of people in the business of garri production.
Aduke Moses, 60, is one of the producers of garri in the town. Mrs. Aduke has been in the business for 40 years ago. She explained how tough, yet profitable the business is.
Also, Bukola Ogunleye spoke about how the non-payment of local government workers in the state has affected her family financially and she had to resort to the garri business. She narrated that the business has been a support to the family.
Another producer, Samuel Abiodun, the Otun Olofin of Osi town, manages the NCAM micro-processing centre at the outskirts of the town. The 72-year-old chief explained how people (Youths, mothers and old people) who need money come around to peel cassava or grind it.
He buttressed that; based on the discretion of the King, the operations going on there are for private business purpose owing to the lack of funds to pay operators and fund the processes.
They all confirmed that garri processed in Osi are sold to people who sell within and outside the state. The producers affirmed that they sell to retailers and distributors in Oyo state, Lagos state, Ekiti states.
However, despite the economic potential, the state government has “turned deaf ears” to the yearnings of the people for support. Mrs Aduke related her unfortunate ordeal in an attempt to seek government help and loans to boost her productivity and enhance the processing of garri.
“Government has failed us,” she said. “Ever since the retirement of the Old man who owns the place I manage now, we’ve been applying for loans to run this place and replace some of our facilities and equipment which are old but they’ve always been turning us down.”
30-year-old Juliana, after being trained by NCAM, produces garri as a private business using the Centre built by Federal Government. Juliana explained how they go in search of water at nearby wells and the challenge of getting water during the dry season.
She added that after the training by NCAM, they were not funded. Water facilities have not been functioning and the well dug was badly done as a project. “We can’t use the water from the well because it’s not good. It’s contaminated. All complaints are not productive because the contractors left with a promise of returning but haven’t surfaced till date.”
Apart from the need for a borehole facility, which is the song of lamentations of the producers, the unavailability of enough cassava for the processing is also a major challenge.
On a visit to the palace of the King, Oba Saliu Adasofegbe, he related the need for tractors for farming activities because the lack contributed to the reason the cassava available is not enough for the producers, thereby leaving them at the mercies of neighbouring towns.
The monarch, who ascended the throne 28 years ago, asked the government to provide tractors for each of the local government wards, asides the Garri micro-processing centre, which is limited in capacity.
INTERVENTIONS, PROMISES AND PROSPECTS
25 years ago, a woman came to the town to train old people in entrepreneurship skills such as baking, knitting, hair making. Later on, the woman through a non-governmental organisation built the first mini-Garri processing industry.
According to a chief, Abiodun Samuel, the building of the industry collapsed and after few years the Federal Government started a building project, which was not used as a result of the incompleteness of the building.
Recently, In March 2017, the Federal ministry of agriculture through National Centre of Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), executed the only government-built garri processing industry which exists presently.
The chairman of the local council, Yinka Ayeni, explained the plans of the administration to embark on the project ‘Operation back to farm’, which is to cultivate a large expanse of land for cassava, yam and maize plantation. The clearing of the land commences this year with the aim of feeding the nation.
Moreover, he promised to look into the construction of boreholes after our correspondent pointed to the problems faced by garri producers.
In an interview with Owolabi Michael, the Managing Director of the Agricultural Development Project(ADP), a department under the Kwara State Ministry of Agriculture in Ilorin, he decried the efforts of the ministry in terms of rural agricultural development in the state.
While highlighting the roles of ADP, he explained that the department, which is to cater for this development is under-funded and incapacitated. The department receives irregular N700,000 monthly instead of the statutory N3,000,000.
“ADP is the implementing arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, that is, field officers. Our main functions are extension services and agricultural rural development.”
He talked about the neglecting of the second function owing to the withdrawal of external donors like World Bank and Food Agricultural Organisation but the extension delivery is still on. As such, There’s no department catering for agricultural and rural development presently, which ADP is supposed to be in charge of.
After recounting the impacts of the World Bank, Federal Government during past administrations and other sponsors towards encouraging agricultural development, he lauded the posting of N-power volunteers, which provides field extension workers. This he noted as “the only contributions the department has received from the President Muhammed Buhari’s tenure.”
However, he said that during the tenures of Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yaradua, there was National Programmes for Food Security (NPFS) and Root and Tuber Extension Programme (RTEP). “They empowered so many people in Osi. “But immediately these programs finished, there was no sustainability. There was a garri microprocessing centre but it’s no longer functioning,” Mr. Owolabi explained.
On using government funds to support the producers, he said garri processing is private business and, thus, those into it should source for funds themselves.
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