Cassava is the third most important source of carbohydrate in the tropics, after rice and maize, and the staple diet of around half a billion people. In Central Africa, smallholders grow approximately 27 million tonnes a year and the crop has been identified as having great potential in terms of increasing productivity and adding value.
In December 2017, CTA and la Plateforme Sous-Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale organised a regional forum on cassava in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The aim was to explore how to develop a regional cassava value chain that could help to increase productivity, job opportunities and income for large numbers of people.
“The forum helped us to consolidate our ideas about establishing a cassava programme as a CTA regional flagship project for Central Africa,” recalls Vincent Fautrel, CTA’s Senior Programme Coordinator for Agricultural Value Chains. “This would include two main elements: upgrading the processing capacity of cassava cooperatives, and linking cooperatives to buyers and processors.” In Nigeria and Ghana, significant progress has been made in substituting imported wheat flour and maize starch with cassava flour. It was agreed at the forum that similar measures should be considered for Central Africa.
Following the forum, CTA commissioned a comprehensive study of the cassava value chain in Central Africa. This would take the best part of the year to complete, but Fautrel was eager to build on enthusiasm generated by the forum while the study was still being undertaken. In early 2017, CTA launched a call for proposals to support cassava value chain initiatives. This led to the establishment of four projects in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Cameroon. Between them, these 2-year projects will benefit approximately 100,000 smallholder producers and processors. Women constitute the main body of the cassava labour force along the value chain, so they will be the main beneficiaries.
Three of the projects – one in each country – are devoted to upgrading the capacity of women through training and the provision of new equipment. The fourth, in northern Cameroon, involves a partnership with the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) to explore new techniques for processing cassava.
In CAR, training courses on cassava processing were held with the largest cassava processing women’s group supplying the capital, Bangui. The project also invested in basic infrastructure. In DRC, a strong business plan was created by a cooperative of 300 women smallholders to increase cassava sales and profitability, and the project paid for the installation of two large containers in a Kinshasa market. In Cameroon, the capacity building project has provided training in production methods, soil management, disease control and financial accounting to a large number of women.
Particularly impressive progress has been made by the partnership between cassava cooperatives in Cameroon and CIRAD. The process of roussiage or retting, which involves soaking raw cassava in water to break down the tissue and remove cyanide, normally takes about 3 days. “Now, in northern Cameroon, the cooperatives working with the project are achieving the same results in half the time, thanks to the introduction of new techniques, such as the so-called ‘starter optimisé,’” explains Fautrel.
The cooperatives are disseminating new technologies which could lead to a significant increase in productivity and income for the women farmers involved. “This has been such a success that the cooperatives have been inundated with applications from women who want to join,” says Fautrel.
These initiatives could be the beginning of something much bigger: a regional flagship project which will significantly increase food security, encourage greater regional trade and improve the lives of hundreds or thousands of people.