The New Face of Garri

Any time that James Akpanudoh has his favourite meal of Eba, gari soaked in hot water, particularly in the evenings, he found out that his whole system shut down. He began to get really worried after a speculation at Oshodi Market that about 90 per cent of all the garri in circulation in Nigerian markets today are cyanide-prone and therefore unfit for consumption. When I asked Ugochukwu Udeh who sells Gari in Anthony Village how it is possible to recognise that kind of garri that is potentially dangerous, he had this to say, quite emphatically: ‘There’s only one difference. Garri that has plenty of starch because they grind and fry it the same day has cyanide’’ According to him, the reason why consumers seem to prefer the yellow, so-called cyanide type is because it has a lot of the starch that gives it a smooth tactile feeling, malleable in the guts and easy to swallow with whatever kind of soup. The shop adjacent to Ugochukwu’s is run by Amina Ogunbadejo. She told me that Ijebu garri had less cyanide and is a favourite of people who prefer to drink garri or prepare it as eba.

But are these mere allegations or sublime speculations? Are there any health implications for the vast majority who have Gari on their tables as a staple meal? Is the Ijebu the very best-quality gari to consume? At Ijebu-Ode where the garri is produced, the Oba supervises the community–owned cassava processing industry located in Odoshinmadegun. According to Oba J.B Otukoya, the Oligun of Iligun North Local Government, ‘Ijebu garri goes through a long process during production. All of this takes about a week or thereabouts. One of the things that we don’t compromise here in this factory is the hygienic-quality of our gari. But I must correct this impression that gari can be produced in a single day. It is nearly impossible to do that. However, as a result of the high demand for the commodity, you find people rushing the production of gari, thereby processing it in the most unhygienic of conditions’’.

Odama Joseph, a former employee of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA, claims that he has produced garri as an independent producer for 15 years. He posits that every garri is safe, whether Ijebu or other gari from other places. He said that despite the fact that the local species of cassava stem is somewhat high in cyanide content that does not in the long run leave it unsafe for consumption, no matter the processes involved in its production. He disagrees with the Oba, and affirms that gari from whatsoever species of cassava could be produced in a single day, even though this does not make it unsafe to eat. What the problem is, according to him, is that there is a lot of apathy by the local farmers for the high yield, low-cyanide variety and multiple pest and disease resistant breed of cassava stems that the IITA has introduced to farmers’’. This may not be unconnected with the fact that the local farmers, already used to the local variety that is the variant of the high-yielding species are sceptical. According to him, this skepticism may not be unconnected with the suspicion from the local farmers that chemical and agricultural processes involved in the improvement of these high species cassava may pose dangers to health.

At the end of the day, it was Niyi Adetoro, research supervisor with IITA that dispelled every doubt concerning the safety of gari as a meal. He said that, ‘’at every point in the process of producing any variety of cassava into garri, there’s a massive loss of cyanide gas. Cut the cassava, peel it, grind it, press it, ferment it and fry it – as it goes through all of these processes, whatever cyanide remaining in the cassava evaporates in the intense heat it passes through when frying’. According to him, ‘excessive’ intake of gari can never be responsible for any irritation of the eyes or any of the other problems that have been alleged to be associated with gari. Those conditions are usually allergy-related conditions that have nothing to do with gari or how it is processed’’, he asserts. ‘’ But through painstaking research, the IITA has made a breakthrough in the cultivation of cassava as a crop, and in the production of a new variety of garri’’, Adetoro says. He told me that the new garri yields high, resists diseases, matures in a shorter time than the local breeds and when it gets to the frying stage, there would be no need to add any oil because it is naturally yellow in colour. That is not all. Adetoro insists that this new garri is much more malleable than the local breed and has the kind of nutrients that are not in the old breed of cassava and garri. ‘’When the time is right, the IITA will introduce this garri to the public’’, says Adetoro.

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