For long regarded as “poor man’s” food, nine new improved cassava breeds have been released. These new varieties are high yielding, fast maturing, drought and cassava mosaic virus resistant and with low cyanide levels.
Developed at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the new varieties will be the backbone of a 3 year cassava project by Farm Concern and Alliance for Green Revolution Africa (AGRA) recognizing the potential of cassava as the ‘poverty and drought fighter’ crop in Africa.
The yield potential for the traditional cassava breeds is less than 10 tonnes per hectare.
However “the new varieties harvest per hectare ranges from 40 to 56 tonnes,” said Kennedy Okech of Farm Concern.
Maturity will also be faster. Anne Mbaabu, AGRA’s Market’s Director projects that the cassava will take 6 to 7 months when irrigated and 8 to 10 months without irrigation to mature.
“Other common varieties take 18 to 20 months to harvest,” she said.
Though rich in carbohydrates and starch, if cassava is processed poorly it can result in cyanide poisoning. However cyanide levels will be lower in the improved breeds. Cyanide can cripple and is linked to ‘konzo’ a crippling disease that causes stunted growth in children.
The pilot project dubbed “Cassava Village Processing Projects” is targeted at 30,000 small holder farmers across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In Kenya, it will be concentrated in cassava growing areas of Mbeere, Makueni and Busia. In addition to processing cassava industrially at village level, the project will also present cassava as a food security crop.
For every yield 1/8 will be for home consumption and a quarter to a half for industrial use. The farmers will be clustered into 120 cassava processing units each with 2500 farmers’ set up as commercial villages. The commercial villages will be provided with a machine that can process half to a tonne of cassava to chips daily.
Already the Association of Kenya Feeds Manufacturers (AKEFEMA) is looking to source the chips as carbohydrate addition to their animal feeds, as opposed to maize which they contend is costlier. The AKEFEMA projects will lower the cost of animal feeds by 20 to 30 percent.
“Pressure on maize is forcing us to think of partial substitutes….cassava chips will fill this gap,” says Martin Kinoti AKEFEMA Secretary General.
Other cassava value addition ventures will include using cassava for adhesives manufacturing, cassava bread, crisps snacks and human flour. Already in Western Kenyan farmers are able to make flour from the cassava that retails from Sh50 to Sh120 per kilogram. Okech contends that without value addition the farmers don’t stand to make much from cassava.
“In its raw form one kilogram of cassava is around 10 shillings” he said.
In Africa, cassava is consumed by roughly 800 million people. The three year project will be the first of its kind in the region and aimed at gradually turning East Africa into a multi billion hub for the cassava industry. Thailand accounts for three quarters of world cassava exports annually: the industry there is worth 1.5 billion dollars.
Yet Nigeria, according to Food Agricultural Organization figures, has since the 1990s been the world largest cassava producer, followed by Brazil and Thailand. Its annual yield is estimated at 34 million metric tonnes. But its export quota is dwarfed by Thailand’s.
In Brazil, cassava is the driver for the dairy and beef and bio fuels energy sector.
The new cassava varieties can be sourced from KARI Katumani branch however “new seed multiplier sites will be introduced at the growing areas,” said Okech. These areas are Busia, Makueni and Mbeere. “But KARI has the best seed,” he said.
Written by James Karuga for African Laughter
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