The session, broadcast live by Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) in collaboration with Spore magazine, was staged as part of the Regional Forum on Cassava in Central Africa, being held this week in Yaoundé, Cameroon and organised by CTA and the platform for farmers’ organisations in Central Africa the Plateforme Sous Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d'Afrique Centrale (PROPAC) and partners. The focus of the four-day event is on building and sharing knowledge for all actors in the cassava value chain.
CTA Director Michael Hailu highlighted the importance of adding value to cassava, as a strategy for improving livelihoods for rural communities in the region
"At the moment, there is very little value addition," said Hailu. "The challenge lay in developing the abilities of producers and processors to communicate the valuable market opportunities that exist," he added.
According to Elisabeth Atangana, President of PROPAC, who spoke during the debate in French, it is critical to support smallholder farmers in increasing production and upgrading quality so that they can become part of profitable cassava value chains.
"Most of the cassava in Cameroon is produced by family farmers, and these smallholders not only supply their own communities, but also urban consumers and beyond," she said. "PROPAC is trying to strengthen their capacities to develop an agribusiness approach to cassava production."
Any strategies for farmers will need to be tailored to their needs and circumstances, including research efforts aimed at boosting yields and combatting pests and diseases.
"Many of the techniques available are easy and affordable for smallholder farmers," said Dr Rashid Hanna, Director of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for Cameroon. "Farmers require simple solutions, so the work has to be done with their participation. It is important to work with all the actors in the value chain, including consumers."
Sharing experiences in cassava value chain development can help to drive the sector in Central Africa, said speakers taking part in the TV debate.
"We are not starting from scratch here. Nigeria has been processing cassava on an industrial scale for decades," said Professor Ben Bennett, Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Institute in the United Kingdom. "We need to learn from successful and not so successful stories."
He points to Thailand as a model for efficient cassava management, with a well established infrastructure and a highly developed road system to get the raw product to processing centres and markets.
"Cassava is astonishingly perishable. It deteriorates drastically 72 hours after you pull it out of the ground, so you have to be very well organised," said Professor Bennett. "Cassava can be processed at small scale and large scale. Countries like Thailand are doing this successfully. There is no reason why Central Africa cannot do the same."
- Watch the debate in French
- Field report: Making the most of cassava – women processors add value in Cameroon
- Video: cassava in all its forms
- Cassava – a goldmine for Central Africa