10,000 acres of cassava to support the Ayensu Starch Factory

The Ayensu Starch Factory at Bawjiase in the Central Region, which has remained idle for almost four years, will soon be given a new facelift by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Mahama Ayariga, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, said during a visit on Friday.

He said the ministry was aware of the numerous challenges facing the factory and would map out strategies to ensure that the factory became fully operational early next year.

He said one of the key elements of the industrial policy of the ministry was to have a strong industrial material base to feed growing industries in the country.

Mr. Ayariga said the ministry would collaborate with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to cultivate about 10,000 acres of cassava to support the factory to reduce the importation of starch into the country.

Samson Abbey Armah, Logistics Coordinator of the factory, said the plant had been grounded since 2006 due to inadequate supply of cassava, the raw material needed to feed the factory.

Mr Armah appealed to the ministry to expedite plans to restore its operations.

Mr. James Biitir, the farm supervisor, said "the Ayensu Starch Factory does not produce poisonous cassava, and our cassava is good for food and industrial starch in all circles".

He appealed to the ministry to help improve the working conditions of the workers on the cassava farm.

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Cassava processing centers

The Cassava Value Chain Development Project has inaugurated two additional processing centers in Lanta and Adjahonmey in Benin Republic, bringing the total number of processing centers in that country under the project to four, thanks to the Netherlands–based Common Fund for Commodities (CFC)—the initiator and financier of the project.

The additional two centers will help resource_poor farmers in Benin to add value to the root crop and create more markets for its products.

In 2009 the Cassava Value Chain Development Project, which is being implemented by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, commissioned two cassava processing centers in the Republic of Benin . Impressed by the work done, CFC approved the upgrade of two additional processing sites for the smallholder communities.

Beneficiaries of the project commended IITA and CFC for citing the project in their communities.

Mrs. Kodo Lydia , a women leader, whose group benefited from the project at Lanta said the processing center was a dream come true.

“When we were told of the assistance, we never believed but today we are glad and the processing center will ease our burden and increase our incomes,” she said.

The commissioning attracted the attention of policy makers, non governmental organizations, and other stakeholders.

Coordinators from other CFC_West Africa countries; Nigeria and Sierra Leone also attended the commissioning and thereafter, participated in the experience_sharing meeting among the countries.

The three country coordinators lauded the CFC for the livelihood_boosting project.
According to Dr. Sahr Fomba, the Country Coordinator for Sierra Leone , the project’s focus on the rural population and medium scale farmers is turning around the fortunes of cassava in Sierra Leone .

“Already the model setting up the processing centers is attracting other donors to the project. They want to adopt the same approach,” he added. Fomba said farmers now have more hygienic cassava products such as garri and cassava bread that are widely consumed in Sierra Leone .

For Mrs. Omololu Ope_Ewe, the Country Coordinator for Nigeria , the project is adding value to cassava and opening new markets for cassava products especially in the northern part of Nigeria .

“One of the centers is now processing odorless fufu flour that is in high demand. We are presently assisting the center to get government approval for commercialization,” she said.

“To us in Nigeria , the project is timely and we are glad CFC invested in Nigeria ,” she added.
For David Agbewonu, Country Coordinator for the Republic of Benin , the project is a reference point to other donors in the country. “This is because of the impact it is already having on the communities,” he said.

With its relative ease of cultivation backed by research activities at IITA, cassava has gained appeal from farmers ranking among the most preferred crops for cultivation in Africa .

Breeding work at IITA and national partners has equally boosted the production of the crop with some countries doubling yield.

Prof. Lateef Sanni, IITA_CFC Coordinator, said apart from building and equipping the processing centers, the project would provide the necessary trainings to make it sustainable

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Davao region pushes cassava production

The Davao Region is looking at taking advantage of the growing demand for cassava, an official of the regional Agriculture office said.

Herna M. Palma, Department of Agriculture regional coordinator on corn and cassava, said the domestic demand for cassava has risen to five million metric tons a year and the figure is expected to double by 2014.

In some hinterland areas, particularly in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, the plant has become a main crop for farmers.

Ms. Palma said that getting adequate supply has gotten tougher in recent years as Luzon-based companies start to buy in commercial quantity from Mindanao.

Cassava is used for feeds, confectionery, medicines, glue, liquor and ethanol fuel, among others.

For food requirements alone, demand for cassava will increase to 1.3 million metric tons by 2014 from 654,000 metric tons this year, Ms. Palma said. For feeds, demand will reach 8.2 million metric tons four years from now, from just about half of the demand this year.

Norlito P. Agduyeng, regional technical director of the Department of Agriculture, said the increasing demand for cassava has offered a window of opportunity for farmers.

"We have a ready market for our cassava products, which includes San Miguel Foods, Inc., and other small and medium buyers. All we have to do is to produce high quality and quantity cassava," said Mr. Agduyeng. The government will help farmers increase production by providing them with planting materials that yield better, technical assistance and even post-harvest facilities, he added.

In a related development, Datu Gabriel Sayad, leader of the Council of Elders of the Ata-Manobo tribe, said his community has signed with a consolidator that buys cassava for giant food conglomerate San Miguel Corp.

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Cassava Saving Millions Starving Africans

“We must sing for you, great cassava, we must sing,” wrote Flora Nwapa, a Nigerian novelist and poet, in praise of cassava during the 1967 Nigerian civil war.

Many would not have deciphered the important message contained in this phrase but it has come in handy since cassava has been touted as the only staple food that could get Africa out of hunger bondage.

Ukambani is a place where the great cassava is getting such praises, the hardy tuber will save millions of residents who have survived through perennial droughts.

It is not only Ukambani where the crop has found its way back to the farms, other regions in the country prone to hunger and famine are giving it a shot.

Field trials have begun in a bold effort to make cassava, the primary source of calories for 800 million people worldwide, a better provider of nutrition and increase its revenue-producing potential, especially for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

The three-year-old BioCassava Plus project, funded since 2005 by more than 12.1 million U.S. dollars in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has attracted a team of international scientists that is genetically engineering a range of valuable traits into the low-protein, virus-prone root crop that has a short shelf life and long processing time.

According to Richard Sayre one of the scientists who spoke to Xinhua, the project has eight objectives five of which are nutritional. The scientists sought to put the minimum daily allowances of protein, vitamins A and E, iron and zinc into a single 500-gram adult meal of cassava.

They also plan to make the crop more resistant to viral diseases, which reduce yields by 30 percent to 50 percent in many areas of sub-Saharan Africa; extend the plant’s shelf life from one day to two weeks; and reduce cyanide toxicity.

The cassava plant requires a three- to six-day processing regimen that must begin immediately after harvest to remove compounds that generate cyanide.

“Where we stand now,” says Sayre, “We’ve demonstrated proof of practice for all the target objectives in three years.”

The scientists have created individual plants with each trait, and ultimately they will combine most or all of the traits into a single plant.

Cassava is grown widely in tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is the developing world’s fourth most important crop, with production in 2006 estimated at 226 million metric tons, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Cassava is the staple food of nearly one billion people in 105 countries where the root provides as much as a third of daily calories. However, average cassava yields are barely 20 percent of those obtained under optimum conditions. To engineer a better cassava plant, the scientists began with a model cultivar from Africa, a variety of a plant that is created or chosen and maintained through cultivation.

For each targeted trait, the team transferred into the cassava plant genes from other plants, including cassava, and sometimes bacteria, that could confer the desired traits. The transgenic plants then went through a rigorous biosafety approval process in the United States and were tested in model systems, like human cell lines and sometimes animals, before they were allowed to be grown outside in field trials.

BioCassava Plus now has field trials in progress at a US Department of Agriculture site in Puerto Rico and is working with partners from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

“We have at least three traits in the field and we anticipate having two and maybe more coming by the end of the year,” Sayre said.

The next step is to hold field trials in Africa with partners in Kenya and Nigeria in 2009. After these trials, the scientists can begin the process of combining traits into a single plant.

“Africa is in the process of establishing biosafety regulations for transgenics in most of the countries,” Sayre said. However Kenya and Nigeria, have rules in place.

A preliminary cassava product release, potentially within five years, will have four or five traits, including virus resistance, higher protein, iron and vitamin A.

In Kenya, cassava is grown on more than 90,000 hectares with an annual production of about 540,000 tonnes. Cultivation is mainly in Western (60 percent), Eastern (10) and Coast provinces (30). The crop has been grown by peasant farmers for subsistence.

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Boosting cassava production

Cassava can be found in most parts of the world, but it is mostly found in Africa and Nigeria is the largest producer. But many people do not have the knowledge of how to plant and process it for export . It is often produced only for local consumption.

Against this backdrop, the Cassava Enterprises Development Project (CEDP), a Public Private Partnership (PPP) programme is being jointly sponsored by USAID and Shell Petroleum Development Company to promote cassava production and processing technologies in the South-South and South-East of Nigeria since June 2004. The project was funded with about US$11.9m. While Shell contributed 75 per cent of the total amount, USAID paid 25 per cent, with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as the implementing partner for the programme.

The projects were demonstrated in the key SPDC states such as Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Abia, Akwa- Ibom and Cross River. Though the project did not go without some challenges, it managed to scale through to achieve the aim for which it was designed.

To ensure the success of the programme, the IITA commenced a series of training courses in all the Shell states to educate core farmers on how to plant and process cassava. The training modules and activities included agribusiness and access to credit, competitive cassava production techniques, machine operation/product development, and community analysis. It was anticipated that the four courses/activities would be spread across 200 participants per state. However, it was later reasoned that it would be more cost-effective, and would generate a greater impact by allowing 50 participants per state to benefit from all the four modules. Participants were tested before and after each course to determine existing knowledge and knowledge gained.

The purpose of community analysis was to identify and analyse with community members, their constraints, opportunities, prospects, and priorities with respect to cassava enterprise development.

Participatory tools and techniques were used to explore relevant issues relating to livelihood, wealth and social status, crop production, processing, marketing and problem prioritisation as they affect cassava enterprises. The resource persons were Dr Udensi Udensi and Chyka Okarter.

Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, the Project Manager for CEDP, Dr. Gbassay Tarawali, explained that the four local government council areas that were involved in Delta State are Isoko North and South, and Ughelli North and South; all located within a radius of 10-50 km from Otor Owhe where the analysis was conducted. 42 participants were selected from across 17 communities, comprising 21 men, 11 women and 10 youths (six males and four females) who were involved in focus group discussions.

Crop production and general farming activities were identified as the prominent sources of livelihood involving men, women and the youth, with more than 50 per cent of the women engaged in cassava production. Cassava, yam, plantain, banana, maize and sweet potato were the priority food crops, while oil palm, pineapple, sugarcane, and paw-paw were the major cash crops.

Among the cassava enterprises, the priority activity of the men was the production of stems (30 per cent) and tubers (50 per cent). Making gari was a major enterprise for 80 per cent of the women and 30 per cent of the youth, while trading was the major non-farm livelihood activity for all the three groups.

The major problems with cassava production, common to men, women, and the youth were weeds, high cost of fertilizer, lack of capital/credit, lack of improved varieties, and technical know-how, the land tenure system, and the high cost of labour.

The common problems with cassava processing for all (men, women and the youth) were lack of machines/equipment, high transport costs for moving tubers from the farm to processing points, and poor access to clean water. Proximity to market as well as low and fluctuating prices, poor access roads and trade unionism were the major problems of marketing the produce.

Speaking about the programme, the project coordinators in the South-South and South-East, Dr Udensi Udensi and Chyka Okarter, told the Nigerian Tribune that the project was an intervention for poverty alleviation for farmers on the field and not just farmers who are not practising. It was being used to keep the women, youths and some of the men busy and be able to improve their lives and those of their families. Something that had been a bit difficult hitherto.

The project also afforded the communities to have some corporate farmers unlike the poor farmers of those days who could not even provide enough to eat, talk less of having something to sell to others.

However, today it is a success story for both the farmers and the sponsors of the projects, because they have achieved something from what they learnt about the new improved cassava.

The Nigerian Tribune spoke with some of the beneficiaries of the CEDP project in Warri, Asaba and Port-Harcourt zone who attended a workshop to display the products they derived from cassava and the cassava stems that could be purchased by farmers to get a better cassava plant during harvest time.

Dr. Amoudou, who was part of the training team, stated that, “We teach people how to make a number of products from cassava and today we are proud of what they are making of it. We also ensure they just don’t bag them in any kind of sack as they used to do, like the use of cement, fertilizer or even chemical sacks to bag edible products. Now they package with the name of the company, the address and NAFDAC registration numbers.”

According to him, people have started exporting cassava products for sometime because they now have hygienic methods of packaging. Up till 2009, Africa was the largest producer of cassava with Nigeria as number one followed by Cote D’Ivoire, but unfortunately, Nigeria was the smallest exporter of cassava.

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Wasps to Fight Thai Cassava Plague

BANGKOK — Entomologists deployed the first wave of an army of 250,000 tiny wasps over the weekend in a campaign to eradicate a plague of mealybugs that threatens to devastate Thailand’s $1.5 billion cassava crop.

The wasps, each smaller than a pinhead, home in on the mealybugs, piercing and laying their eggs inside them. The larvae devour the mealybugs from within, emerging in a few days from their mummified shells to seek new hosts.

It is the latest battle in a competition between farmers and predators for the crops that sustain them both, with this species of mealybugs feeding exclusively on cassava and the wasps feeding exclusively on the cassava-eating mealybugs.

“In that sense, it’s the perfect biological control,” said Rod Lefroy, regional research coordinator in Asia for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, a nonprofit group that has coordinated the release.

The use of wasps, which has been effective in Africa, is expected to also succeed in Thailand, the world’s leading exporter of cassava, which is also known as manioc, tapioca and yucca.

In Africa, where the use of wasps to kill mealybugs was pioneered, a new plague is already threatening vast cassava plantations: a disease known as brown streak, for which no cure has yet been found.

“It’s going to be an international game of cat and mouse,” said Tony Bellotti, an entomologist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia who is a specialist in wasps and mealybugs. “As the cassava mealybug finds its way to new countries, we can send in the wasps.”

Early signs of mealybug infestation have been reported in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, Thailand’s neighbors. “Cassava production in Southeast Asia has enjoyed an extended honeymoon, relatively free of major pest and disease outbreaks,” Dr. Bellotti said.

Thailand, the third largest producer of cassava, after Nigeria and Brazil, accounts for 60 percent of worldwide exports of the root, which is used in foods like noodles, the flavor-enhancer monosodium glutamate and products including toothpaste.

Much larger areas are cultivated in Africa, but Dr. Lefroy said that about 50 percent of production there was consumed locally as food.

Most of Thailand’s exports go to China, which produces 40 percent of its own huge demand for the plant. China’s consumption is expected to double in the next few years, making cassava an increasingly lucrative crop.

The mealybugs, with a life cycle of about a month, can spread quickly, with each insect laying an average of 440 eggs and producing 10 generations in a year. The bugs feed on the tips of cassava plants, stunting their growth with a toxic saliva.

The threat to Thailand’s industry emerged in force last year, when 20 to 25 percent of the crop was destroyed, frightening farmers and driving up prices.

Hundreds of farmers attended the ceremonial first release Saturday in Khon Kaen, some of them gathering up handfuls of wasps for themselves, Dr. Lefroy said.

The tiny wasps neither buzz nor sting, he said. “You’ve got to be an entomologist to even think of them as wasps.”

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Trade in cassava stems hits N150million

Researchers estimate that farmers in Nigeria traded improved cassava stem worth more than N150 million in five years.

Lateef Sanni, a professor at the International Institutes for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said this at the Food and Culture lecture organized by the Public Affairs Section of the United States Consulate General, Lagos and IITA in Ibadan. Mr Sanni said that this increase came between 2003 and 2008, and attributed it to the cassava revolution in Africa. He added that the cassava stem is a part that is often neglected for having no commercial value. The lecture brought together experts in the food and agricultural sector. Stakeholders reviewed the US agricultural experience and brainstormed on areas that Africa could tap into. In his presentation, ‘Roots and Tubers: Food Security Crops in Nigeria,’ Mr Sanni said cassava was a food security crop in Nigeria and a major provider of employment and income. He said the crop appeals to farmers because of its affordability, ease of cultivation, and high return on investment. “Apart from the stems, cassava roots and leaves are now offering additional income streams to farmers,” he added.

More funds

Despite cassava’s role in the food web, Mr Sanni said more attention by way of support to research was still needed; more importantly, in cutting down post-harvest losses through investment in processing technologies and the creation of an appropriate policy framework were necessary to sustain cassava’s role in ensuring food security in the future. William Masters, professor from Tufts University said that the US government was reviewing its commitment to African agriculture with plans to increase funding for the sector and to achieve productivity growth. Mr Masters, an agricultural economist, explained that consumers in wealthy societies no longer need higher farm productivity for their own prosperity, but instead are seeking foods that embody their cultural values. Giving a scenario of killing the ‘golden goose that laid the golden eggs,’ he, however, expressed fears that consumer preferences for organic, local and traditional foods in the US might limit their support for the kind of agricultural innovations that are needed in Africa.

Agricultural revolution

According to him, the agricultural revolution in America and Europe which sustained industrialization was a product of technological improvement in agriculture and that campaigning against new advances that hold the key to cutting down hunger and poverty in Africa was synonymous to killing the golden goose that laid the golden eggs of new crop genetics and agronomic methods.

Notwithstanding the limiting preference of the US market, African experts at the session agreed that taking Africa’s agricultural sector out of the woods would require the adoption of new technological tools. Paul Ilona, IITA Senior Cassava Trials Manager, said farmers needed improved seeds, fertilizer and other farm inputs such as pesticides to boost productivity. “Anything to the contrary was a disservice to farmers in Africa,” he said.

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Cassava Becoming Mainstay Of Ghana’s GDP

Government will from next year ensure that the cultivation of cassava in the country is given a major boost to help address the challenges bedeviling the sector and help placed the Ghanaian economy on a sound footing.

The Minister for Environment and Science, Mrs. Shirley Aryeetey, disclosed this when delivering an address at a conference organized by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) last Friday.
The conference, which was under the theme “Improving Cassava Yields in Africa Drought-Prone-Environment”, was aimed at discussing how cassava yields can be improved in drought-prone environments like Africa.

She welcomed the idea of improving upon the production of the crop adding that “cassava has undergone transformation from being a resource poor farmer’s crop to industrial crop”.

The Minister, on that score, labeled the move as a “laudable idea because Cassava has contributed about 22% of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ever since it was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th Century”.
“The improvement in the cultivation methods will help the nation to improve upon its food needs and also bring foreign exchange into the country,” she added.

The conference brought together researchers from advanced Agricultural Institutes and National Agricultural Researchers across the globe and was organized by the Centre under its Generation Challenge Program (GCP).
The GCP was created in 2003 with the aim of establishing a global network of partners from advanced agricultural institutes and national agricultural research programs to collectively work to improve crop productivity in drought-prone environments.

The partners, since the inception of the program have been able to work together to create public goods from the raw materials of plant genetic diversity and the advanced tools of genomics science for use in plant breeding programs.
Cassava as a crop, according to GCP, was introduced in the 16th Century by the Brazilian-Portuguese culture and has over the years become a major staple for Sub-Saharan Africa because of the many advantages gained from the crop.

The estimated worldwide production of cassava is about 300 million metric tons of fresh roots. The largest producers are Nigeria, Brazil, Congo (Zaire), Thailand, Indonesia and China. High domestic consumption of cassava in Nigeria, Congo and Brazil means their net exports is negligible.

Thailand and Indonesia are the largest suppliers of cassava chips into the world market covering about 80% and 10% of global exports respectively. In 1996 for example Thailand exported about 5 million tons of cassava products. In that same year, Ghana’s total production of fresh cassava was about 5 million tons. Local demand was 3 million tons, leaving a surplus of 2 million tons, which can yield about 700,000 tons of dry cassava products, like chips or starch.

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