Personal Reflections on the ZABC Cassava Initiative
Yes we can innovate with cassava!
In the last few months, a small Zimbabwean consortium called the Zimbabwe Agricultural and Biodiversity entrepreneurial Consortium (ZABC) has engaged on the cassava (Manihot esculentus)crop as a basis for crafting a proposal. The intention is to produce cassava for domestic and international markets. Given that the cassava crop is not new to Zimbabwe and has been grown in marginal communities, where some fit is consumed, it has never found favour amongst Zimbabwean households for consumptive purposes. In Zimbabwe cassava production is negligible, the much said talk about cassava in the Chipinge only cover 12 farmers with 0.5 hectare lands(Chasi (2003); in terms of volume of output as well as market potential. However, in view of declining soil fertility and worsening drought situations, cassava could become an important crop in the food basket and as a buffer against drought shocks. Yet, our quick survey at the firm level, shows that though there is market demand, there are serious doubts on its potential for direct consumption amongst the Zimbabweans. This of course requires further research at the level of the consumer, in both rural and urban areas. Be that as it may, there is greater scope for using cassava as a blend in the food and industrial chain.
Lets be realistic on the broader issues
Cassava, is being grown in pockets of Zimbabwe as a peripheral or orphan crop; Chiredzi, Honde Valley, Mudzi, and Shurugwi. Our survey showed that there is lack of sustainable cassava production and processing models that are market driven, and lack of programs that can respond to market pull. The result is that there are on-going pilot projects, mostly led by the University of Zimbabwe through the Development Technology Centre. In general, our interaction with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development (MoAMID) shows that there is limited conducive policy and institutional environment to support the development of the crop at the national level, because of competing interests from other crops, particularly maize.
It is however, the unavailability of market intelligence information to guide the development of the sector at the national levels that perhaps creates ignorance amongst stakeholders on both the national and international markets. The result is that there is low utilization of cassava in industry by private sector (food, feed and energy). In fact, for those few communities producing the crop, the heavy reliance of traditional processing methods results in low throughput and quality. Yet, cassava requires different stages of development and diversity of utilization and better standardization interventions.
It is however, at the production level that there are serious handicaps towards commercial production. The poor organization of producers to effectively exploit economies of scale during procurement inputs, accessing technologies/training and supplying markets is a matter of concern to stakeholder in the higher value chain. Results by DTC for instance, shows that on-field research has to be up-scaled to improve yields through better tendering of the crop. However, given that the crop is produced in marginal areas, poor infrastructure (in the form of roads, electricity, extension services and credit facilities) tend to increase production costs and make cassava products uncompetitive. There is also a negative stigma associated with cassava consumption, especially cyanide poisoning. .
Competing challenges and myths
Maize is Africa’s most important food crop in terms of calories consumed. It is held up as a model food crop to meet Africa’s growing urban demand for convenient food products (Mashingaidze, 2006). But maize production is risky because of undependable rainfall. Cassava tolerates poor soil, adverse weather and pests and diseases more than other food staples. The carbohydrate yield from cassava per unit of land is higher than from other major staples. Compared with other major staples, cassava thrives across a wider range of ecological zones. Cassava appeals to low income households because it offers the cheapest source of food calories. In addition, the fast post-harvest deterioration of cassava has not been resolved. The need for rapid chipping and drying adds to the complexity of expanding smallholder production. Increased investment in genetic analysis, coupled with applied breeding programmes, have clear merits to the fast uptake of cassava.
The stigma that cassava is primarily a subsistence crop was valid in the past when 90 to 95 percent of the people of Africa were in farming. However in the late 1990s in Ghana, roughly 60 percent of the cassava planted was sold as a cash crop (Nweke, Spencer & Lynam 2002). The stigma that cassava depletes soil nutrient because of the cassava’s high yield of carbohydrate is a myth. The COSCA collaboration study of cassava in Africa soil studies show that cassava fields, some of which have been under continuous cultivation for at least ten years, are as fertile as soils of other crops. The common stigma that some cassava varieties contain cyanogens, which are lethal, is also a half-truth. Today, the cases of cyanide poisoning from cassava consumption are rare; the fear of it should not discourage public or private investment in the cassava food economy.
What the world can do! So we can
Maize is grown by nearly every smallholder particularly in Southern Africa while cassava is grown by a few. Therefore the potential to increase cassava production by increasing number of growers is enormous, with a huge impact on household food security. Cassava is a major source of calories for roughly two out of every five Africans. In some countries, cassava is consumed daily and sometimes more than once a day. In the Congo, cassava contributes more than 1000 calories per person per day to the average diet. Cassava leaves are consumed as a vegetable throughout Central Africa and in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone. Cassava plays different but important roles in African development: famine reserve, rural food staple, cash crop and urban food staple, industrial raw material, and livestock feed. Cassava was initially adopted about 400 years ago as a famine-reserve crop. In the Congo where the crop was first introduced, millet, banana, and yam were the traditional staples but farmers adopted cassava because it provided a more reliable source of food during drought, locust attack, and during the “hungry season”. Farmers in Asia and their marketing partners who provide cassava chips for the animal feed export industry have proved that with adequate infrastructure, smallholder produce can be dried locally and reach market chains with relatively low losses. In many parts of rural Zimbabwe, however, this type of infrastructure is not in place and it will take many years to establish.
Potential must be transformed to reality
I do believe that as frost free crop which performs outstandingly in deep, well drained, inherently fertile soils however cassava can fairly do good in rugged, tattered, impoverished, fragile and fried soils of the rural communities. Cassava can do well in almost all varied forms of soils and agro-ecological zones of Zimbabwe. A lot of effort needs to be given to Zimbabwean cassava varietal development, fertilizer development and crop protection elements. The current crop management strategies using the traditional cuttings as the dominant propagatory means, is prone to pathological carry over. Cassava is regarded as an orphan crop because it is usually ranked as a tertiary crop, gets the last attention in terms of all input requirements. The crop requires up-to two years to get to physiological maturity. Cassava lignifies when it exceeds two years in the permanent field resulting in quality deterioration. The output is very bulk therefore needs ready and efficient market for absorption. Under the rain-fed conditions, experiences from Malawi suggest 2 tonnes per hectare as yield, however literature indicate that 8 tonnes is possible. In irrigable lands and at research sites, 60 tonnes have been recorded especially at Chiredzi Research Station.
Cassava has the potential for multiple uses; food, industrial use, adhesives, ethanol, starch in the pulpy industry and as an animal feed. In Zimbabwe, the crop suffers from social resentment as a food crop hence the populace is only prepared to venture into cassava cropping in crippling droughts years. Evidence of the 1992 and from 2000 (period of incessant droughts) but people never took the innovation seriously. There is no social sustainability of the crop, efforts have been made to try to demystify on the toxicological elements of the crop but it seems there is more to it for the real adoption of the crop.
Cassava can be used as a feedstock in biofuel production however, a proper comparative analysis and its propensity to be a distinct biofuel agent is demystified by its perfect substitutes like sugarcane. The economic impact from the sale of co-products reduces the production costs. Assuming a viable existing local outlet market for co-products in Zimbabwe, a reduction of biofuel production costs can be realized from potential income generation from the sale of co-products and in particular from sales on co-generated electricity. For sugarcane, sugar, spirits, baggase for electricity, molasses, manure are all valuable co products.
As an agronomic crop, sugarcane is the easiest to manage as feedstock for ethanol for the following reasons; 1)one planting is done every 4 years; 2)the crop does not succumb to moisture extremes due to its deeper root system and longer field duration (10-14 months); 3)in the advent of strong winds, its stems lodge and later recline back when the weather becomes favourable; 4) sugarcane tolerate some delays in harvesting (12-14 months). Sugarcane yields the highest net ethanol ( 2.507l/ha to 4.711l/ha) at 7 to 11x more than corn, 4 to 9x more than cassava and 18 to 20x than sweet sorghum. In terms of resource use (labour, capital and production inputs like fertilizer), sugarcane is the most efficient. Per kg fertilizer, sugarcane can produce 5 to 7 l ethanol, while cassava produces o.89 to 1.68 l ethanol.
But there are stakeholders with a belief!
Delta has been running the show as well. Companies make some propositions and big plans on the crop on the map, has to be proved through the sanctioning the project, it’s easier said than done. Hunyani Paper Mills promise to be the giant consumers for cassava starch, Colcom for the sausages and Delta Beverages Corporation for alcohol and other beverages. The cassava market in Zimbabwe seems to be just a nightmare maybe unless and until someone thinks of exporting. DTC has done research, in the spirit of putting cassava on the map as an animal feed. One hundred and eighty (180) Cobb-500 day old chicks were used to assess the opportunity of reducing the cost of maize-based diets for broiler production. Effects of incorporating cassava flour into the diets at proportions of 0, 25, 50, 75 and 100% on the performance of the carcass composition were investigated under natural conditions in Zimbabwe (Chasi (2003),. The reduced performance observed with an increase in the inclusion level of cassava in the diets can be attributed to the associated poor digestibility. As postulated by Muller et al. (1994) the amylolytic activity of cassava is 30% that of maize. This result in poor nutrient absorption and assimilation, and less protein accretion
My final take on cassava in the context of ZABC
Cassava has all the qualities of distinct performance in harsh, variable climatic conditions however there is need to do inclusive work and massive trainings on sensitization of the communities as well as mindset change. A step further on commercial production; guaranteed markets for the cassava output may convince practitioners to adopt the new enterprise. Price incentives and other lucrative parcels in policy makeup can be instrumental in attracting clients to grow cassava rather than the alternatives. Evidence suggests that the embryonic cassava need some time to be really competitive in the biofuel sector to dislodge the dominant sugarcane.
planting material, increase knowledge in how to produce cassava and processing, technologies and linking growers to identified markets. Long-term research on the cassava of the future should be consolidated through capacity building and market development.
ZABC has commenced on an important initiative, and it is my humble belief that collective action will raise the profile of cassava in Zimbabwe and help change the image of cassava from a “poor man’s crop” to a multi-purpose food and cash crop that can meet rural and urban food security needs and employment and income generation goals. The cassava sector in Zimbabwe has a common feature namely smallholder production, processing and marketing. However, since there are different levels of cassava development and it follows that the exchange of technological and institutional learning can occur through information technology, farmer-to-farmer visits, that can help smallholder farmers keep abreast of “best practices” in production, harvesting, processing, marketing and methods of food preparation.