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Project Manioc 21: Towards commercial cassava cooperatives in Central Africa

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In Cameroon and DRC, the Manioc 21 project strengthens cassava value chains and modernises cooperative production and processing

Blog

By providing key management tools, CTA’s project Manioc 21 is supporting cooperatives in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to adopt new business models and modernise their capacities in cassava processing and commercialisation.

The industrial processing of cassava into cassava starch and high-quality cassava flour in Cameroon and DRC is often described as a potential opportunity for local agro-food industries, such as bakeries, to reduce their imports. However, in the current economic conditions of Central Africa, this has not yet become economically and financially sustainable. Furthermore, the total actual industrial offer is still very limited compared to the total urban household demand for traditional cassava processed products (cassava cake, chikwangue, chips, flour, etc.).

In 2018, in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the Regional Platform of Farmers' Organizations of Central Africa, CTA launched the Manioc 21 project to build stronger value chains around the popular crop for which, cooperative production and processing methods could be modernised. Ten cooperatives – five in each country – are benefiting from the project, which together, consist of over 10,000 members. After just over 18 months of implementation, the positive results of the project are already measurable thanks to the training approach used to reach the objectives. The cooperatives, for example, have been able to create employment opportunities, reduce and improve their processing and production times, and make better management and business decisions.

The aim of the project is not only to support the cooperatives to increase their productivity, but also to assist them throughout the entire value chain. With that in mind, the project identified some of the bottlenecks of cassava’s production, processing and commercialisation, mainly: low productivity, limited access to mechanisation, equipment and infrastructures, high processing costs, limited storage capacities, limited access to market, and finally, difficulty in accessing adequate quality packaging. To overcome these shortfalls, the project provided a series of comprehensive trainings to more than 6,000 members to reinforce farmers’ capacities.

Thanks to the training received on the retting process, which covered the usage of a new starter to allow for reduced retting time and improved product quality, the cooperatives were able to significantly reduce their time spent on this processing stage – from 96 to 24 hours. The starter was started by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development and the National School of Agro-Industrial Sciences as part of a pilot project financed by CTA in 2017. As reported by Marie Joseph Medzeme Engama, PROPAC’s regional coordinator: “All the participants were enthusiastic about the new method and realised the difference in quality between the final products when using the starter during production”.

More than 3,600 members of the 10 cooperatives were also trained on good practices linked to food hygiene during the processing phase. Emphasis was placed on sensitising participants to the potential human and environmental threats when these practices are not followed. The content of the training followed the norms of the Codex Alimentarius established by FAO and WHO. To meet product quality demand, the cooperatives were instructed to make use of the knowledge received to ensure their products display the proper white colouration of the processed cassava, without a putrid odour that might arise from the fermentation process, as well as product tenderness and good taste. To achieve this, the proper humidity rate must be applied during processing. By adopting these practices, the cooperatives are providing healthy and safe foods that comply with national standards.

To strengthen the cooperatives’ ability to identify an appropriate packaging and commercialisation approach, an expert in marketing conducted a thorough analysis of each cooperative profile and specificities to define their strategy. The marketing plan provided cooperatives with a benchmark of market prices for their products and an array of products offered by competitors, allowing them to make informed choices when setting their prices and defining their target markets and branding strategy. It is worth noting that given the high competition for cassava commercialisation both in Cameroon and DRC, the strategies emphasised the provision of higher quality products as a competitive advantage. In addition, the beneficiaries were able to take part in coaching sessions on commercialisation and branding.

To ensure the sustainability of cooperative activities, packages, equipment and infrastructure have also been provided as chosen by the cooperatives and in consultation with the different experts. Using food-trucks and tricycles, the cooperatives will soon be marketing their products in the capital cities of Kinshasa and Yaoundé. It is hoped that urban consumers in these areas will appreciate the high-quality cassava-based products commercialised under the Manioc21 brand.

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The Manioc 21 project modernises 10 agricultural cooperatives in Central Africa

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While the history of agricultural cooperatives in Central Africa since the 1980s has been marked by many failures, mainly linked to weak institutional governance and the lack of any economic response to the needs of local operators, the last 10 years have seen the emergence of a much more positive trend. Cooperatives are gradually modernising and becoming more professional. Establishing a farmers’ cooperative and associative movement in this region is a key prerequisite for agricultural development.

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