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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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