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BY MARY HEARTY ,KIAMBU,17TH JULY 2018-The African Development Bank (AfDB) has pledged to invest $120 million in cassava productivity and transformation in Africa in the next 2-3 years. This is to boost cassava market and other commodities.
Other commodities include; rice, maize, sorghum/millet, wheat, livestock, aquaculture, high iron beans and orange fleshed sweet potatoes.
Cassava has several other advantages over rice, maize and other grains as a food staple in areas where there is a degraded resource base, uncertain rainfall and weak market infrastructure. It is drought tolerant; this attribute makes it the most suitable food crop during periods of drought and famine.
Director for Agriculture at AfDB, Dr Martin Fregene: “Transforming cassava on the African continent would help African nations to cut imports and redirect about $ 1.2 billion into African domestic economies”.
Dr Fregene made the remarks at the fourth International conference on cassava, which was organized by the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century, GCP21, in Cotonou, Republic of Benin.
The Bank’s investment in cassava also comes at a time when African governments are increasing efforts to end food insecurity and create wealth for poor farmers.
Cassava can be produced with family labour, land and a hoe and machete, making it an attractive and low-risk crop for poor farmers.
Also, cassava is available to low-income rural households in the form of simple food products for example, dried roots and leaves which are significantly cheaper than grains such as rice, maize and wheat. Similarly, urban households in many parts of West Africa consume cassava in the form of gari (sweet, thinly sliced young ginger that has been marinated in a solution of ginger and vinegar).
Cassava has historically played an important famine-prevention role in Eastern and Southern Africa where maize is the preferred food staple and drought is a recurrent problem.
However, cassava has been neglected for numerous reasons by researchers, African policy-makers and by most donor and international agencies. Cassava is a marginalized crop in food policy debates and burdened with the stigma of being an inferior food, ill-suited and uncompetitive with the glamour crops such as imported rice and wheat because of several long-standing myths and half-truths.
Many food policy analysts consider cassava as an inferior food because it is assumed that its per capita consumption will decline with increasing per capita income.
Cassava is a strategic crop for Africa’s food security because it is the cheapest staple food consumed by Africans and supports more than 350 million people.
Cassava has the potential to increase farm incomes, reduce rural and urban poverty and help close the food gap. Without question, cassava holds great promise for feeding Africa’s growing population.
“Another dimensions to the importance of cassava is in nutrition where cassava enhances the nutrition of children directly or as feed for poultry and other livestock,” said Dr Gaston Dossouhoui, the Minister of Agriculture for the Republic of Benin.
Cassava farming in Africa is currently facing many challenges such as lack of bad weather, management and market. These issues have been solved in other countries where cassava production has been industrialized but not yet in Africa.
African countries grow cassava mainly as a major contribution to food security and to increase their income. However, processed cassava products would be a new technology which can promote industrialization in Africa and employ thousands.
More than 450 local and international partners in the cassava sector, coming from research and development organizations, government, farming community and the private sector attended the conference. The purpose was to share knowledge on innovation in cassava and thereafter train their local farmers to use the new ideas acquired.
Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships for Delivery at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said unlocking the potential of cassava required partnerships and close collaboration of partners to address the constraints facing production of cassava.
Dr Dashiell believes that the key to unlocking cassava lies largely in bringing cassava breeding into the 21st century. This is by introducing new disease-resistant varieties that produce more yields per hectare, mature faster and cope better with drought than the traditional variety.
“Training leading farmers in the area on how to look after the new variety and then share their knowledge with other farmers is key,” said Dr Dashiell.
Dr Dashiell explained: “The other is by increasing cassava consumption and boosting nutrition by teaching farmers new cooking methods, including chips, chapattis, cakes and crisps, allowing them to fetch a higher price than unprocessed cassava alone.”
Dr Dashiell stated last but not least is through training farmers in post-harvest conservation methods such as chipping and drying, to help reduce losses and make sure food is available for longer.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture have already developed a genetic engineering platform for cassava varieties preferred by farmers that produce higher yields, more starch, tolerance to harsh weather and disease resistant.
Many African laboratories do not have the expertise for this type of advanced genetic engineering and therefore scientists, students and technicians would be trained in the platform.
The profit and non-profit organizations are called upon to partner in order to assist each other financially through the cassava transformation processes.
The government is ready to support the new technology like mechanization to promote agricultural development projects in terms of larger scale processing. The government of Nigeria is already doing so to the farmers.
In Nigeria, women and children are heavily involved in the production, processing and marketing of cassava. Their next course of action is to learn weed control in cassava fields using herbicides among other weed control mechanisms.
All these new technologies targets in improving efficacy of cassava production and processing in African continent. Cassava farmers in Africa most of whom are women will benefit more financially hence investment in education of their children and healthcare.