As you step out of the streets of Maiduguri and Jalingo, capitals of Borno and Taraba states, different aromas of fast food attract potential buyers. Daily Trust on Sunday reports that because of the economic situation in the country, many Nigerians now resort to boiled sweet potatoes and cassava because of their affordability.
Taimakon gaggawa, also known as “emergency aid,” is increasingly becoming popular and the most sort after by the poor and even the middle class because of its affordability.
Majority of commuters and passersby in Maiduguri and Jalingo are now smartly bypassing suya and roasted chicken spots that used to be everyone’s favourite to buying sweet potatoes and cassava cuisines due to hard economic realities.
Daily Trust on Sunday toured the streets and other public places in Maiduguri and Jalingo, where a very large number of vendors sell cassava to regular customers for breakfast and lunch.
Also, buyers of boiled and cassava tubers interviewed by our correspondents said that as the prices of cereals soar, sweet potatoes and cassava became the choice of the poor, and probably the future of Nigerian fast food.
A housewife, Aisha Abubakar, said sweet potatoes and cassava had become saviour to millions of households in Nigeria.
“If you go to the market today you would see a mad rush for cassava, sweet potato and their products: garri, tapioca, cassava flour, cassava cake, ‘dan wake’, potato flakes and other delicacies in the streets because they are among the cheapest so far.”
“Everyone is looking for a way to deal with the difficult economic situation and these tubers are now their options,” she said.
One of the sweet potato vendors, Mustapha Ali, who claimed to have spent 15 years in the business, said it had become the only staple food people buy without break because of its affordability, and it requires less ingredients to prepare.
“Last year, we were very few in this business because not many people bought it as it was just considered a snack. They took very little of it, but because of the economic hardship now, the demand has increased and many have resorted to it. I now cook and sell at least two bags of sweet potatoes every day,” he said.
Another seller, Modu Mustafa, said that despite the high demand, the price of sweet potatoes still reduced from N23,000 to N18,500 per bag.
“Few days back, we used to buy a bag of sweet potatoes between N23,000 and N25,000, but as God would have it, it is now N18,500, making life easier for the poor,” he said.
Yusuf Aminu, a sweet potato consumer said the increased demand for the food in Maiduguri was overwhelming.
“If you go to the markets and roadsides, it will look as if it’s only sweet potatoes that everyone is selling, both cooked and raw. Both the poor and the middle class patronise it,” he said.
In Taraba, findings revealed that cooked cassava is now a major staple in most homes in the capital city as majority of the residents have resorted to it.
A Jalingo-based journalist, Ya’ u Ibrahim, said that in the face of the high cost of foodstuff, cassava products became the solution.
“You don’t need ingredients to cook cassava, all you need is groundnut cake and spices and you will have a delicious meal for the day,” he said.
Ibrahim said he opted for cassava when rice, yam and maize became costly, adding that he only spends N1,500 on cassava to feed his family.
“I used to spend at least N4,000 to have a rice meal for my family. When the situation became tough, I resorted to cassava, which usually costs N1,500 to feed the entire family.
“Also, cassava is still cheaper even though prices of food items have dropped in the state,” he added.
A civil servant, Mallam Umaru Abubakar said he opted for cassava when he could not afford to buy rice or maize because of its cost.
According to him, in the past he did not like eating cassava but the situation has forced him to eat it regularly.
“Two months ago, my salary was not enough to buy a bag of maize because it was sold at the rate of N57,000, but with N1,000 l can buy cassava to feed my family,” he said
More farmers key into cassava, potato farming
As farmers realised that there’s high demand for cassava and sweet potatoes, many have diverted to farming the crops in the northeastern states.
According to a farmer, Tarfaya Joseph, in previous years, cassava farming was not a moneymaking venture but chiefly for consumption before the harvest of main crops like yam, maize and rice.
“However, in the last two years, and this year in particular, demand for cassava has tripled that of previous years, leading to an increase in the price of cassava products,” Joseph said in Jalingo.
Another cassava farmer, Adamu Gassol, told Daily Trust on Sunday that in previous years, a 100kg bag of dried cassava was sold at N2,000, and sometimes, it was difficult to even find a buyer.
He said that even garri, which was a main cassava product, was very cheap, but now, a bag of dried cassava is sold at N32,000, while that of garri is N50,000.
A resident of Jalingo, Baba Wuro said, “In Taraba State, consumption of cassava products was more among the riverine communities, but now, it is a household name among all communities in the state.”
He said that in few months now, cassava products have helped many households because people could not afford to buy maize, yam or rice to feed their families.
He said that with N500 one could feed his family of two, and that was why majority of the people opted for cassava as main food.
“Unlike maize, yam and rice that are very expensive, few months ago, cassava was cheaper, that’s why people resorted to it as an alternative source of food,” he said.
Traders switch to cassava, sweet potatoes
Daily Trust on Sunday also gathered that many traders that were into textile, shoes, fruits and provision have switched to cassava and sweet potato.
A textile materials trader at Jalingo Main Market, Ibrahim Suleiman, said he had opted for raw cassava.
“I was inspired by how women from villages were bringing raw cassava and making brisk business. After much thought, l abandoned the textile business to join the cassava trade; and l made good fortune from it,” he said.
In Maiduguri, Malam Muhammadu, a fruit seller close to Legacy Estate, said the economic situation in the country forced him to abandon the business he spent decades doing.
Women lead cassava, sweet potato farming, processing
Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday also revealed that women dominate the value chain of farming and processing cassava and sweet potato.
Apart from farming, the women are also into processing cassava for many products, including flour, garri, fried sweet potatoes, potato flakes, tapioka and others
At Kofi village in Gassol Local Government Area, women formed themselves into cooperative societies and cluster groups and were assisted by a federal government agency with tools and loans.
A member of one of the cooperative groups, Lami Bulus, said she engaged in processing raw cassava, and they were making huge profit, from which they paid school fees and catered for other needs.