Cross Border Trade in Cassava Based Products

The cassava export trade in Dawanau market in Dawakin Tofa Local Government Area of Kano State started as a response to the need for food during the deficit seasons in the Sahelian countries and not necessarily as an ethnic (niche) market as some have speculated. The trade is, therefore, driven by the need to sustain the food security needs of such countries as Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and some parts of Northern Cameroon. Two major cassava products, gari and cassava chips milled from cassava chunks, are exported from Nigeria to these Sahelian regions. In Dawanau market, value is added to chunks by breaking them down to chips. These are further milled to flour at the destination.

Cassava chunks are transported by road from Doma and Adogi in Nasarawa State, Tala and Mutum Biyu in Taraba State, and the Zakibiam area in Benue State. The minor supply zones are Talata Mafara, (Zamfara State), Ringim (Jigawa State), Danbatta (Kano State), and the Ilorin area (Kwara State).These latter areas are sources of supply during times of scarcity. The core supply States are Nasarawa, Benue, and Taraba States for cassava chunks. The major supply markets for gari to Dawanau market are located in Delta, Edo, and Benue States. Other minor supply zones for gari are in Kogi, Nasarawa, and Taraba States. Delta and Edo supply the best quality gari. The relative volume of trade across the border is in the ratio of 60% for gari and 40% for chips. Trade in cassava products has been increasing over the last 20 years as the population increases in the destination countries such as Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

Export/destination markets: Nearly 50% of gari is sold to indigenous traders from Niger republic. The balance is sold to Mali, Chad, and Northern Cameroon. Areas in Northern Cameroon (Garoua, Kaele, Maroua, Mokolo, and Kousseri) prefer high quality gari from Nigeria.

In general, cassava chips are exported through the informal trade to Niger (Maradi, Zinder, Matameya, Dan Magaria, Dousou, Tawa), to Mali (Bamako) and to Burkina Faso (Ougadougou). There are two cross-border trade routes for cassava products to Niger. The first is a direct route from Kano through Danbatta, Kazaure, to Sandaru and Daura (both in Katsina State) to Tessau. The second is from Kano, through Katsina to Maradi. This route also supplies all the other border towns in Katsina State, such as Jibiya. There are also two northeast routes from Kano, and Maiduguri to Kousseri (Cameroon) or Ndjamena (Chad) or through Maiduguri and Maroua to Garoua in Northern Cameroon.

Traders from Niger (Dan Magaria) come to Dawanau market to buy cassava products on Fridays and those from Maradi buy on Tuesdays. The traders come a day early to purchase for the next market day in the destination towns. Traders from Katsina (through Jibiya to Niger) buy cassava products from Dawanau market on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays but not on Wednesdays.

Map of Nigeria showing major gari and chips supply zones to Dawanau market in Kano.
The language of trade is mostly Hausa. The currency of trade is the Naira. Traders from other countries are made to exchange their money at the Bureau de Change at Wapa in Kano. Traders importing cowpea from Niger also assist with the exchange.
In Niger, cassava chips are consumed as dan wake, a popular food made from cassava flour, cowpea flour, ground dried vegetable leaves, groundnut oil and pepper.
What drives this cross-border trade is the desire to meet the food demand in the destination countries, especially during the dry, hot, and hungry-season months. This period ranges from February through March to April every year. Because they can to store the products in warehouses, Dawanau traders have been able to stabilize supplies so that there are few seasonal trends in the market during the year. However, the month of August is critical as gari trade is at its lowest.

In Niger, cassava chips are consumed as flour mixed with cowpea flour and ground dry vegetable leaves and eaten with groundnut oil and pepper in a popular food called dan wake. Gari in Niger and other destination markets is taken with cold water and sugar. Eating gari in the form of eba is not common in the Sahelian region.

Cassava is not the only commodity exported from Nigeria across the border from Dawanau market. Other products are yam, sorghum, maize, sweetpotato, Irish potato, and wheat. Commodities imported include cowpea, millet, animals, hides and skins, fresh milk, and date palm.

Market Association: Historically, Kano has always been a center of business. The Dawanau market in Kano State started to develop in 1985, about 20 years ago. It is also a depot for cassava products, gari and chips, from all parts of the cassava producing zones of the country. The market is currently the largest in terms of cross-border trade since the war in Cote d’Ivoire has affected other trade routes, such as the Sikasso (Cote d’Ivoire), Korhogo (Mali), and Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso) triangle in the Sudano-Sahelian belt of West Africa. The Danwanau market was a wholly private-sector initiative. In the early 1980s, the Local Government Council at the price of N50/plot allocated land to interested traders, all individuals built their own shops. Warehouses were also built on individual effort. At present, an apex body, Danwanau Market Development Association, governs the market. The Secretary of the Association, Alhaji Ahmed Imam, was interviewed. Dawanau market is divided into five sections. Zone B or Yan Gari is the cassava section. This section also has its functionaries. The Chairman, Gari Dealers Association, is Alhaji Abu Mohammed; the Vice Chairman is Alhaji Mohammed Danjuma; the secretary is Mallam Yau Tumfafi. The Association is open to all ethnic groups and, in fact, its commodity chain activities cover all ethnic groups in Nigeria. There are 2048 stores in the cassava section in Dawanau market dealing with cassava products alone. There are also other gari and cassava stores and dealers in Kano city. Stores can be rented depending on the size and location. Some stores are rented for N30, 000/yr others for N15, 000/yr. To join the trade, you have to register with the Gari Dealers Association, then you are attached to a dealer/trader over a period of at least one year as an apprentice. After one year, your master will guarantee that you behaved well and can be a trader. Association dues are N5000 Welfare dues are N100/month, and a monthly toll to the LGA is N50. The welfare association presently gives a purse of N10, 000 on the death of a member. Taxes and tax clearance are done with the State Ministry of Commerce.

Even though traders in the market do pay tax, there is very little government support. Traders maintain that they would be willing to pay more tax if the government could fence the market to ensure security, provide electricity and water, and tar the roads inside the market to help reduce losses especially during the wet season when roads in the market are terribly bad and sometimes impassable. The Traders Association does not have the political clout to influence decisions in government to assist them.

Key actors in the cassava trade are itinerant wholesale traders or dealers (delali), transporters, porters, millers, and dan komision. The latter are agents who identify and arrange transportation for traders. They usually liase with truck drivers on behalf of traders and are paid a commission of about 10% for this function. Transporters currently charge about N500/bag for a 15 t load small lorry capacity and N400 for a 30 t load (trailer capacity). The rate may reduce to N350 if the trader personally arranges his own transport. Transporters prefer to travel overnight from the supply markets in Nigeria because there are fewer police and road safety disturbances/checks. Railway transport is not used even though it would have been cheapest to do so. However, railway lines do not run from many of the supply markets in the south. As cross-border traders prefer to buy in chips form, the millers located in the market provide the service of breaking down cassava from chunks to chips. There are over 100 mills providing this service in Dawanau market. Millers charge a fee of N40/100 kg bag to break the chunks to chips and N250/100 kg bag to produce cassava flour. The mills have diesel and/or petrol engines. Porters for loading and offloading charge a fee of N20. Itinerant traders may travel to the source markets to buy cassava with/or without their money. Dealers take the goods from the farmer or trader and sell on their behalf in Dawanau market. They charge a commission of N100/bag sold of either product.

Traders in Dawanau market obtain market information from the source markets in the south through using mobile phones. Information is also obtained from drivers, other traders who have recently arrived from the southern markets, and from former or serving apprentices purposely located in these markets.

Trade Barriers: Traders interviewed from Niger Republic informed us that there are several (4-6) checkpoints on their way to Niger. Except for one point on the Niger border, all check points are located in Nigeria. Drivers pay a sum of N2000 to customs and other officials per (10 wheel) lorry load at each checkpoint. At the checkpoint in Niger, drivers pay only N500 to officials. The traders who hired the vehicle pay this sum jointly to the driver who pays at the checkpoints. Cross-border trade is not considered to be smuggling but these “predatory” techniques employed by government officials are considered to be barriers by cross-border traders. Very little paper work is done or records kept at the borders to determine the volume of trade.

Volume and Value of Trade: Cassava product prices are seasonal. The months of highest prices are February, March, and April. This is considered the peak season in Dawanau market. The months of lowest prices are October, November, and December. This period falls within harvest time, especially for the grain crops. Depending on the source market, traders buy cassava chunks for between N1500 and N2000 and sell at between N3000 and N3600 /50 kg bag. Gari is also purchased for N1500 to N2500 from the source markets and is sold at N2000 (35kg bag) and N3900 (50kg bag). However, we observed that traders make money through speculation, by buying when prices are cheap, storing and selling when prices are high. This explains the reason for the numerous warehouses in Dawanau market. The Gari Dealers Association just started keeping records from 7th March 2005 on the number of lorries that offload at the market. The estimate on the volume and value of trade for week 9 of 2005 is presented in Table 1 below. This gives an indication of the value and volume of trade in cassava exports across the border in northern Nigeria. Even though the volume of gari sold in week 9 in the market is less than the volume of chips, the value of gross income from gari is 1.37 times higher than the value from chips.

Table1: Estimated volume and value of cross-border trade in week 9 for gari and cassava chips, Dawanau, Kano, Nigeria
Cassava chips
Volume (t)
Value (N)
Volume (t)
Value (N)
Estimated on the basis of number of lorries that off loaded in a day. Gari is estimated at a price of N50, 000/t and chips at N35000/t
Table1 indicates that the volume of cassava that leaves Nigeria’s northern borders is rather large. This trade should be encouraged, as it is likely that it brings a substantial income into the Nigerian economy. However, further comprehensive surveys on the value and volume of import and export trade in staples will be required to ascertain whether Nigeria has a net trade balance in its cross-border trade.
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