Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Matsol Farms: A Cassava Company Trudging on Against all Odds

Femi Adegbite (4th from the left) with some of  his workers .

Matol Farms Limited is one of the SMEs in the cassava value chain in Nigeria, which has been able to carve a niche for itself, despite the myriad of setbacks in the industry. The cassava processing company was supported by the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa Project (CAVA II), Nigeria, to explore alternative markets for HQCF in the face of reversal of government’s intervention on HQCF substitution.
Femi Adegbite, the brain behind Mastol Farms Limited, set up the cassava processing company on an approximately three acres of land in Abeokuta in Ogun, State, Nigeria in 1997. The company fully started production in 2005 with a single cyclone flash dryer, though not without challenges. “We started with a single cyclone flash dryer and our initial product was cassava starch. At the onset, we had serious market challenges; while the cost of our production then was about 100 per kg, the customers were offering us N80, 000 per ton. At that time, the international price for cornstarch was very low; it was pegged at N60, 000 per ton, so we couldn’t compete with their price.” Adegbite revealed.
Production of Chin-chin at Matsol Farms Limited 
Having suffered fall-behind growth, the Federal Government formulated a policy on cassava substitution in 2006, to encourage the production and utilisation of cassava in Nigeria.  Replacement of 10 percent High Quality Cassava Flour for wheat flour was one of the key initiatives devised by the Federal Government, to drive the production of cassava in the country. To ensure that the policy of 10 percent inclusion was sustained, flour milling companies who refused to accept HQCF, were sanctioned by the Federal Government.
“The government closed down some of flour mills in Nigeria that were not making use of HQCF. After the clampdown, the mills started buying from us again, and we were able to supply 110 tons of HQCF to some flour mills. We supplied to Dangote, Flour Mills of Nigeria and Honeywell. However, when hands changed at the government level then, the tempo went down. The flour millers refused buying HQCF at that time, as a result of that, we closed down temporarily.” Femi Adegbite added.
To the relief of the cassava processing companies, last year, Federal Ministry of Agriculture took the cassava substitution policy to a new dimension. “They provided some incentives to the processors and made a promise that they are going to have some kind of policy dialogue with flour millers. The ministry then provided some funds to Bank of Industry (BoI) for the benefit of processors, this was to enable us to expand our production and our capacity. They brought in a six cyclone flash dryer late last year; however the flour mills stopped buying from us again,” Adegbite explained.
When it became clear that the flour millers were not willing to mix at their own level, Cassava: Adding Value for Africa, (CAVA II), Nigeria started sensitising the SMEs to find alternative markets for HQCF, which will be sustainable. CAVA II Project in collaboration with organised two Pre-mix training in collaboration with First Blends Ltd. At the training, different pastries were produced using different percentages of cassava to substitute wheat flour.
 “We were trained on how to use different percentages of cassava flour to make bread, chin-chin, puff puff. We started experimenting in our company and the result with chin-chin is very good. We can make close to 30 percent profit in chin-chin production, but the challenge is that we are still producing at domestic level. We started producing Chin-chin (a type of pastry) made with 75 percent HQCF, not only to make money but to demonstrate to the confectionery industries around, that if they substitute a percentage of HQCF for wheat flour, you can still get a good product,”Adegbite added.
Today, Mastol Farms Limited is up and running again, having adopted the alternative markets introduced by the CAVA II Project, Nigeria. “We have gotten a company producing biscuit, they are use about 10 percent High Quality Cassava Flour to produce their biscuit. The company uses about five tons of HQCF in a month and we supply to them. We have also continued with our Chin-chin production, though we produce at domestic level. The product is well accepted and it can compete favourably with other products in the market.”
Having found an alternative market for his HQCF, are bad days in business over for the entrepreneur?  “Not at all, we still have some challenges. We need equipment so that we will be able to demonstrate to other bakers that they can substitute cassava flour for wheat. Then again, when you look at our six cyclone flash dryer, it can process four tons of HQCF in a day; while the single cyclone can process two tons per day, which makes our capacity about six tons per day. So when you multiply six tons per day by 20 working days, you will be getting about 120 tons, however we are only utilising 10 percent of our capacity.”
Cassava processing factory at Matsol Farms Limited.
Mastol Farms Limited hopes to expand the market for HQCF in Nigeria and create awareness for its use among bakers and wheat millers. “If this succeeds, we can achieve about 25 percent substitution, and be able to reduce the wheat flour that the country is currently importing; which is estimated to about four billion dollars per year.”

Matsol Farms Limited has not just found an alternative market for the HQCF­- in chin-chin production, he has also made his cassava processing company a model for baking industries, who before now have doubts of the use of HQCF in baking.