Opportunities facing the cassava subsector are that there is renewed interest among various players including government, NGOs and international research centers and donors aimed at boosting cassava production as well as value adding activities. Cassava may have a lot of potential in the food security sector, biofuel and other industrial uses; can this be tapped for Zimbabwe’s smallholder famer transformation? In Zimbabwe cassava production is negligible and has not been the focus of agriculture policy. However, because of economic challenges, declining soil fertility and worsening drought situations, cassava is becoming increasingly important in the food basket and as a buffer against drought shocks. Cassava (Manihot esculentus), is being grown in pockets of Zimbabwe as a peripheral or orphan crop; Chiredzi, Honde Valley, Mudzi, and Shurugwi.
In the process of taking cassava on board as a competitive crop, a real assessment need to be done, it should not be a prescribed crop. The evidence is already brewing to a retreat or ceasefire crop; symposiums are done excluding the ultimate farmers who are the critical actors, responsible for the implementation of the programme. In this game of exclusion of the voiceless, cassava has to be assessed as an independent crop pitting against the competitor crop for its justification as a candidate crop. This makes the whole process a farce, are policy makers going to eat cassava, most of the purported consultations have been targeting middlemen and marketers. The ailing history of cassava calls for a detailed consultation from the grassroots farmers and the ultimate consumers of the cassava products especially as a food subject.
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. Primitive crop development strategies are still being employed for example use of the traditional cuttings as the dominant propagatory means, which are 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. Not for profit organization have raised the flags for the crop, 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.
Researches act as centre of all innovations; in light of this the University of Zimbabwe has done some 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. 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
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. 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. Increased investment in genetic analysis, coupled with applied breeding programmes, have clear merits to the fast uptake of cassava.
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.
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.