A staple crop that is widely grown in the region, producing an average 27 million tonnes per year, cassava also presents massive scope for value addition, providing incomes and employment, especially for women and young people.
The forum brings together more than 120 of the main players from the various links in the Central African cassava value chain, to share knowledge and experiences between different initiatives aimed at addressing the challenges to better cassava production, post-harvest management, processing and marketing. The event, which runs until December 9, is being staged alongside the annual Salon International de l'Agriculture et de l'Agroalimentaire de Yaoundé (SIALY).
The aim is to produce a common agenda, building on synergies to scale up projects and attract public investment, which will be crucial to ensuring growth and sustainable development of the sector.
"Cassava is an agricultural crop with the greatest potential for productivity and the creation of added value," said Michael Hailu, Director of CTA which is organising the four-day forum, together with the platform for farmers' organisations in Central Africa the Plateforme Sous-Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d'Afrique Centrale (PROPAC) and support from other partners. "It is and continues to be the object of a number of projects in Central Africa. Unfortunately, the experience and knowledge generated by these projects are not transferred adequately within the region, and neither successes nor failures are properly capitalised on. This is a situation that does not help with the scaling up of projects or increasing private investment."
To address this challenge, the forum has been organised with a hands-on approach. The first day's programme offered field visits to innovative pilot research and processing projects, and in the coming days, training will take place on key cross-cutting areas such as knowledge management, ICTs and innovative value chain finance. A strong focus will be on strengthening links between small-scale producers and agribusiness, with business-to-business (B2B) sessions organised to help forge links between producers, traders, processors and financial institutions. Successful business case studies will be presented, both at the forum and afterwards, through a Community of Practice set up to share knowledge and best practices.
"Cassava is widely cultivated and consumed in Central Africa," said Elisabeth Atangana, President of PROPAC. "It has an important impact on poverty eradication and its contribution to food and nutrition security is inestimable. But cassava is also a strategic crop that has great potential for improved productivity, the creation of value addition and regional trade. The cassava value chain is of tremendous importance to us. Cassava is a goldmine that can make a significant contribution to reducing poverty in our country, ensuring jobs for women and young people and reducing our excessive dependency on agricultural imports."
Also on the agenda this week is the importance of stronger interprofessional organisations, issues linked to the development of cassava-based nutritional products and ways of ensuring that women and young people are closely involved in cassava value chain initiatives. There is strong potential for both groups, especially youth, the conference heard.
"Agriculture must be seen as a business, and we should interest youth in it and show that cassava can produce money," said Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister for Rural Development in Cameroon. "You can use cassava in bakeries, breweries, to make starch, garri and many other things, and each part of these long value chains can make money. The market is there."
The Regional Forum on Cassava in Central Africa forum is being organised by CTA and PROPAC, with support from the Regional Centre of Applied Research for the Development of Farming Systems in Central Africa (PRASAC), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Agricultural Research Institute for the Development IRAD, the Agricultural Investment and Market Development Project (PIDMA), the Cameroon Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER) and the Cameroon Ministry of Mines and Technological Development (MINMIDT).