the poor man's
crop, has now become the golden crop of Africa. The following essay
by Taye Babaleye of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
(IITA) in Ibadan,
Nigeria, gives a suitable background for our non-technical discussion of the
cassava crop, its potentials, production as well as its marketing problems.
Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Zaire, Ghana, Mozambique, Niger, Guinea, Angola,
Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe , there is an
assurance of a new wave of cassava production that will go a long way to
situation in the continent. Read on...
Food Security Crop
by Taye Babaleye,
esculenta) originated in the Americas. It is a shrub with an average
height of one metre, and has a palmate leaf formation. Cassava belongs to
the family of rubber plants with a white latex flowing out of its wounded
stem and leaf stalk. The stem is the planting material from which grows the
roots and shoots. Cassava produces bulky storage roots with a heavy
concentration of carbohydrates, about 80 percent. The shoots grow into
leaves that constitute a good vegetable rich in proteins, vitamins and
of the biochemistry of the crop has proved that the proteins embedded in the
leaves are equal in quality to the protein in egg. Cassava leaves and roots,
if properly processed, can therefore provide a balanced diet protecting
millions of African children against malnutrition.
Nigerian civil war, Flora Nwapa, a Nigerian novelist and poet wrote in
praise of cassava:
We thank the
For giving us
We hail thee
You grow in
You grow in
You grow in
You grow in
You are easy
We must sing
we must sing
We must not
Because of its
massive leaf production which drops to form organic matter thus recycling
soil nutrients, cassava requires little or no fertilization and yet will
maintain a steady production trend over a fairly long period of time in a
continuous farming system. With its ability to suppress weeds particularly
the improved varieties which develop many branches early enough to form a
canopy shading weeds from solar radiation, cassava as a crop is a friend of
the small scale farmer whose weeding operation is drastically reduced. Whereas
other crops such as yam, maize, banana and plantain, cowpea or sorghum and
millet are eco-regionally specific, cassava is probably the only crop whose
production cuts across all ecological zones.
Talking about cassava's
adaptability to the tropical African environment, Alfred Dixon, a cassava
breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in
Ibadan, Nigeria says "Cassava is to the African peasant farmers what rice is
to the Asian farmers, or what wheat and potato are to the European
farmers."; Advances in cassava research and its adoption rate by African
farmers. Cassava, the neglected crop of the down-trodden, is fast becoming
an elite food crop in sub-Saharan Africa, thanks to the research efforts of
scientists at IITA and national agricultural research systems in the
Two major diseases of cassava-the
Bacterial Blight and Leaf
Mosaic-have been controlled through genetic breeding and the incorporation
of resistance genes into high yielding cassava varieties by IITA. Also,
through its ambitious, Africa-wide program of the biological control of the
cassava mealy bug, IITA has waged a successful war on a devastating pest.
Africa's most friendly crop from the vagaries of some of the prevailing
diseases and pests, IITA now has many improved cassava varieties available
that are high-yielding and early maturing. The unattractive six tons-per
hectare-varieties which are late maturing have now given way to varieties
that yield 20 - 30 tons per hectare in just twelve months.
has embarked on a campaign strategy to constantly transfer these improved
varieties to African research institutions. IITA's new research thrust is
pushing cassava yield to more than 40 tons per hectare on the farmers'
fields. Dubbed "super cassava", the new varieties will be available to
farmers in a few years' time. Equally, IITA-in collaboration with the Centro
International de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) in Colombia-has been pushing
improved, drought-tolerant cassava varieties to the drier areras of the
Sahel, the Kalahari and the high altitudes of Eastern and Southern Africa.
has been gradual, first on a farmer to farmer basis in Nigeria and in other
countries with strong collaboration with IITA. Later, Nigeria s National
Seed Service (NSS) and the National Accelerated Food Production Program (NAFPP)
became interested and multiplied the improved
distribution to farmers. Recently, however, African governments'
interest in the rapid multiplication and distribution of IITA-improved
cassava varieties has added a new impetus to the adoption rate by
farmers in almost all of sub-Saharan Africa.
In Malawi, an
IITA cassava multiplication and distribution project funded by the United
States Agency for International Development (USAID) has successfully taken
off. Also, there is the FAO/IITA and East and Southern African Root crops
Research Network (ESARRNET) helping to spread IITA improved cassava
varieties to farmers. The network which is being funded by FAO covers all
countries in East and Southern Africa. In Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Zaire,
Ghana, Mozambique, Niger, Guinea, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, Tanzania,
Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe , there is an assurance of a new wave of cassava
production that will go a long way to alleviate the food situation in the
realization of this feat will depend largely of course, on the individual
government's positive approach toward assisting farmers in procuring
improved planting materials and educating farmers on the new processing
techniques to eliminate or minimize loss.
of the countries are on the right path. In Nigeria, for example, both the
government and farmers are taking advantage of IITA's proximity to adopt new
technologies on cassava production and utilization. Since 1990, FAO figures
have consistently shown Nigeria as the world's largest cassava producer -
moving from its fourth rank to beat Brazil, Thailand and Zaire to the
second, third and fourth positions. The achievement-according to FAO-is
largely due to the availability of improved varieties from IITA.
factor is the Nigerian government's creation of a conducive atmosphere for
cassava expansion and spread. In 1986, the Nigerian government introduced
the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and banned the importation of rice,
wheat and maize thereby encouraging farmers to increase local food
production. At the same time, the government adopted aggressive and positive
campaigns to popularize the improved cassava varieties, urging all relevant
national institutions to embark on the multiplication and distribution of
cassava planting materials in the rural areas.
the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and
international non-governmental organizations became fully involved in the
multiplication and distribution program.
five-year multi-locational testing program spanning all the cassava growing
areas, Ghana recommended last year three of the best IITA cassava varieties
for adoption by farmers in that country. The varieties TMS 30572, TMS
4(2)1425, and TMS 50395 were given local names that mirror their
characteristics and food qualities both in the farmers' fields and when
early this year, private companies in Ghana who are desperate for planting
materials made a request to IITA to supply cassava planting materials valued
at about $35,000 from accredited Nigerian farmers and seed companies. After
years of testing in which IITA's improved cassava varieties outscored all
available materials, the Ugandan government in April officially recommended
to farmers three IITA varieties for massive adoption.
To beat the
drought problems in Mozambique and other Southern countries, IITA has
promptly introduced germplasm adapted to the high altitude and drier
ecologies from CIAT for testing and selection in the sub-region of the
affected countries. Following the bitter experience suffered by Zimbabwe as
a result of the 1992/93 drought that seriously affected that country's maize
production, an S.O.S request was sent to IITA to recommend what other crops
could be planted to cope with such an emergency situation. IITA recommended
cassava as an alternative to maize to safeguard the interest of peasant
farmers and prevent any calamity in future.
vegetatively propagated crop, cassava multiplication is generally slow.
However, as a result of the crop's potential in alleviating hunger and
malnutrition, rapid multiplication techniques are being developed by IITA
scientists to cope with the demand.
If the present
awareness on cassava adoption is sustained by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa,
it is believed that-given adequate government support-the food situation
will soon improve.
Apart from the
procurement, production and utilization strategies, the governments need to
organize and put in place extension strategies that facilitate the spread
and adoption of improved varieties. They should provide good access roads to
the rural areas. Governments should also embark on good marketing.