Cassava farmers scramble to meet the demand from Okinawa

Cassava farmers in Batu, East Java, be besieged importers from Okinawa, Japan. "The market in Okinawa is very promising, but we had difficulty getting supplies from farmers in sufficient quantities," said Luki Budiarti, Chairman of the Joint Group of Farmers in Sub Bumiaji Arjuna Partner, Stone Town, on Thursday (17 / 2).

According to Luki, who is also the owner of CV Arjuna Flora, in at least six times a year shipment volume of cassava to Okinawa with an average of four containers. One container with a capacity of 635 tons and valued at USD 250 million. In total the farmers can be pocketed at least $ 1 billion. Yam-shaped pasta that is sent is frozen, the cooling in temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius.

The difficulty of getting supplies because not many farmers who are interested in cultivating sweet potatoes or cassava on a large scale. As a result, Mitra Arjun forced to seek supplies from farmers in other areas, such as Nongkojajar in Pasuruan and Mojokerto.

To overcome this, the government is expected to foster farmers involved, as well as build its processing industry facilities. In Okinawa, the cassava is processed into one chinsuko making materials. These cakes have a variety of flavors, types, and forms to become a preferred tourist souvenirs.

Read More......

Cassava farming is a goldmine for youths

Feeding a population of 150 million is a big challenge because of the high cost of labour and equipment needed in farming. In this interview with BUKOLA FASUYI, the Managing Director, Sam Mike & Vic Nigeria Limited, Segun Adewunmi, looks at ways of addressing the challenge; opportunities available to youths in cassava farming. Excerpts:

You have expressed displeasure on the policies of the Federal and state governments. What do you want them to do?

You are very correct. I think we should have a National Advisory Board or Committee comprising stakeholders in commercial farming who will use their experience as the basis for their advice and proposal, especially to the Central Bank on the right and correct ways to finance agriculture. Right now, the approach is based on the belief that finance through loan is the only problem of farming. This is very incorrect. The real problem is lack of planning and commitment on the part of the government to build the people who will build the nation through agriculture. For example, there is usually three yearly glut and scarcity circle in the cassava market.

In the year of scarcity, farmers rush to the farm and this results in a glut in the following year to the extent that cost of harvesting and transportation of the roots to the market usually surpasses the value of the product. The real fact is that cassava being a world prime product should not suffer any glut. Our glut is caused by the cost of production of cassava, especially in the south which is about N18,000 per tonne compared to other countries that produce a tonne at N2,500. These countries sell to the world market at between N4,000 and N5,000 per tonne and still make profit. But the Nigerian farmer who sells below N22,000 per tonne will run into a loss. Whereas the Nigerian environment has a comparative advantage over the countries that produce cassava cheaply if only the various governments live up to their duties and responsibilities.

What is the way out of this doldrum?

Please permit me to use the situation of the Southwestern states of Nigeria as an example. At the time when the transporters of agricultural products had some issues with the road officers and their products could not come, did you not see the food crisis that ensued? Many social activities were cancelled because people could not get pepper, onions and tomatoes. Chief Obafemi Awolowo built the former Western Region now know as Southwestern zone into a zone that became the envy of other geopolitical zones mainly on agriculture. He scored the first place in education, media, industries and road infrastructure not only in Nigeria but Africa, with the money made from Agriculture. The succeeding governments have run the same geo-political zone into hunger and serious food crisis. Food secures the people more than military weapons. We have a good example in the situation of the Soviet Union. If (God forbid) something happens to the River Niger bridge, how will the south feed?

Another area where the government should show responsibility is in empowering the people. I am aware that Southwest states have the following cassava processing industries.

• 400 metric tonnes per day in Ibafo Lagos Ibadan Expressway;

• 150 metric tonnes per day at Aiyede Ogbese on Owo Akure road;

• 150 metric tonnes per day at Asejire near Ibadan;

• 150 metric tonnes per day in Ososa near Ijebu Ode; and

• 60 tonnes per day at Ikoya in the riverrine area of Ondo states.

The five processing factories with a single shift will consume 910 metric tonnes of cassava roots. If the shifts are doubled, it can use up to 1500 metric tonnes of cassava daily. There could be other factories that I do not know. Within this geopolitical zone alone and upon the existing processing industries that we know we need a minimum of 500,000 metric tonnes of raw cassava roots per annum. Both cultivation of 500,000 tonnes and the industries that will consume the products will give employment to at least 10,000 skilled and unskilled youths. But the government is not doing anything in this direction.

With the prevailing situation, do you think the programme is feasible?

I interacted with one of the top officials of a state government in the Southwest recently. We were impressed by the performance of the government, because within two years of governance the entire infrastructure of the state have received a tremendous uplift. The reservation expressed by the government official is the feasibility of the cassava programme, moreso now that the Federal Government has lifted the ban on importation of agricultural products including industrial starch. My explanation is this, one of the factories listed above produces among the world’s best cassava starch which it sells at N128,000 per tonne but the imported industrial starch goes for only N70,000 per tonne. This particular company goes to Nasarawa State to buy cassava at N6,000 per tonne. Cassava has 70 per cent water and must be processed within 24 hours of harvesting to prevent fermentation. That company’s logistics to transport the cassava quickly cost another N6,000 per tonne. This brings cassava input to between N12,000 and N13,000 per tonne.

The factory requires five tonnes to produce a tonne of starch. It means cassava requirement alone cost the company N65,000. She goes to Nasarawa State to buy because Nasarawa and Kwara states provide a good environment that enables the farmers to produce and sell at good profit of a tonne for N6,000. The Southwest state is more well-suited for cassava production than Nasarawa if the government will clear the land freely for the farmers and provide other enablements that Nasarawa State provides. If this particular factory whose product is superior to the imported industrial starch can find cassava at N5,000 locally, the cassava input for a tonne of starch shall be N25,000 so that the fear of imported industrial starch will not arise. While the government of this particular state is doing wonderfully well to improve the state I would wish that it goes further to empower the people not by doling out cash to them but create environment for them to prosper.

How will you assess Osun State, the only state in the Southwest that has just announced its plan to cultivate 30,000 hectares for cassava production?

This is a welcome development but how will this be done. For example, like some other states, the state may desire to go for farm settlement or village farm system leading to misplaced priority and complete waste of fund (by placing emphasis on housing rather than focusing on the real objective which is agriculture). What we need at this time is serious mindedness on the part of the government and the people towards building individuals as potential farmers. Farm settlement was the idea of Israel to settle the arriving Jews with a measure of cultivable land and cottage homes for each family. Chief Awolowo copied this by establishing farm units in different parts of the Western Region far from the major towns.

He, therefore, built some modest structures that the farmers could use during the week days. Even though the intention was good, it did not succeed with the succeeding governments. Most of those structures even those made by the Federal Government for the same purpose have been abandoned. With the advantage of mobile phone and improved transportation system, this method of farming is outdated. Besides, we are advocating commercial farming. We want the money to go to direct farming. We do not want a situation where N5 billion is allocated to farming and 70 per cent is used to provide accommodation and recreation facilities; N5 billion if properly spent, will clear the land, relocate refuse and demarcate into blocks of five hectares each, 25,000 hectares of cultivable farmland. If we give a block to every participant we shall have 5,000 fully employed youths apart from other service providers.

Our plan is that the successful ones will have additional five hectares, the following year and this will continue until each farmer has 25 hectares. But a situation where N3.5 billion out of N5 billion goes to building and provision of recreation facilities the remaining 1.5 billion will cater for only 1,500 farmers. Besides, one of the objectives of a programme like this is to develop the rural areas. There is no way we can have 2,000 hectares and not have 10 to 20 villages within the area of the land. Let development come naturally as it came to the university towns of Ago Iwoye in Ogun State and Akungba in Ondo State. Money meant for agriculture should go directly to agriculture.

Another problem is that where such housing programmes are provided if any amenities break down the participants will commence agitation and riot. Let us do pure commercial farming, devoid of over pampering that reduces the whole programme into a joke and destroy the continuity beyond the regime that initiates it.

When I was the Chairman of Ondo State Cassava Growers Association, registration fee nationwide was N600 but I insisted on N2,500 for Ondo State. My point is that if I would have to sign a loan form for anyone, that person must demonstrate to me that he can work. Let him go and do labour work to earn N2,500. It is time we stop the short-sighted approach to serious matters such as agriculture. Whatever money the Osun State government raised for agriculture should go to direct farming. The project will attract needed infrastructure into the rural area if such are necessary.

Read More......

Second helpings of Cassava pudding

FRANCIS MUTUNGI, a farmer in dry eastern Kenya, stands engulfed by his cassava plants, the bright green leaves spreading out like six-fingered hands to touch his shoulders. Some have been dug up; their roots (the edible bit of the plant) lie like giant beached starfish.

Luckily, he planted a variety resistant to a disease that is ravaging Africa’s second-most-important crop in terms of calories. A neighbour’s cassava is barely knee-high; its leaves are blighted, its roots shrivelled and rotting.

Cassava (also known as tapioca or manioc) is the world’s fourth-largest calorie provider. It grows in hot, arid regions where other crops will not thrive. It resists drought and climate change better than cereal crops like rice. It has to be processed within a couple of days of harvesting, and is vulnerable to huge post-harvest losses (40% in some places). So it is not much eaten by city dwellers.

But it has one amazing plus. It will keep in the ground for years. That makes it “the perfect food-security crop”, says Claude Fauquet, of the Danforth Plant Science Centre in St Louis, Missouri, which researches Africa’s overlooked crops. You plant it alongside maize or beans. If those fail, eat the cassava; if they thrive, save it for another year. (Less happily, with no need to stop for the harvest, wars in cassava-growing lands can be continuous.)

Now two viruses—cassava mosaic disease and brown streak disease—are destroying up to half the crop in areas they infest. In Africa, where the diseases are rampant, farmers get about 8.5 tonnes a hectare; in Vietnam, where they are unknown, the yield is 17 tonnes; in South India, 26 tonnes. The result is that cassava remains a subsistence crop in Africa, but in Asia is something on which you can build a business (it can also be used to make clothing, paper and biofuels). Mr Fauquet reckons a yield of 20 tonnes a hectare means money in the bank; 25 tonnes means a house and private school for the children. But below 12 tonnes, it traps a farmer in poverty. The diseases make a vast difference.

One problem is that viruses cannot be killed by fungicides and other agrochemicals. Another is that planting stem cuttings, the usual way of propagating cassava, passes down disease more readily than propagation by seeds. Mr Fauquet has managed to breed disease-resistant plants in his laboratory. But field trials have only just begun for mosaic disease and do not start for brown streak until later this year. He thinks genetic modification of this humble crop, so far from the world of advanced science, will provide the most comprehensive defence and be the best way to boost yields.

Read More......

Cassava packs a protein punch with bean genes

A DEADLY poison could save the lives of millions of African children, thanks to the discovery that cassava can be duped into turning about half of the cyanide it makes into extra protein.

Although cassava is a major source of carbohydrates for 700 million people, mostly in Africa, it normally contains only small amounts of protein. Claude Fauquet of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis, Missouri, and his team bumped up the protein content to 12.5 per cent by adding bean and maize genes to make a protein called zeolin. They were surprised to find that the plant used its natural supply of cyanide to provide the building blocks of the new protein. "Cyanide is a source of nitrogen within the plant," explains Fauquet.

While non-modified cassava supplies just one-fifth of daily protein requirements, the extra protein is enough to supply the needs of infants on a typical cassava-based diet (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016256). Fauquet says his root could save 1 in 4 African children from a potentially fatal condition called protein-energy malnutrition.

However, it will be some years before it is rolled out. Although identical to the one eaten by a billion people worldwide, the added bean protein resembles one that causes rare allergic reactions. So the team has developed another version with extra protein from sweet potatoes that won't cause allergies. "We hope to launch it in Africa in four to six years," says Fauquet. He adds that the project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is purely humanitarian so the cassava would be offered free to poor farmers.

Other modified staples include the "protato" developed in India, and aubergines, recently denied approval in India because of objections from groups opposed to genetically modified crops.

Read More......

Resistant Cassava Types Still On

It is estimated that viruses are causing $60m (about Shs138b) in losses per, annum out of the revenue contribution the government is supposed to realise from the production of cassava.

That is why Ugandan scientists are investigating ways to come up with cassava varieties resistant to cassava mosaic virus and cassava brown streak. The team still has a long way to go because they aim at eradicating four types of viruses that are destroying the crop from farmer's fields in cassava growing countries throughout Africa.

Crop scientists at the National Agricultural Crop Resources Research Institute in Namulonge are currently conducting research using both the conventional and biotechnology method in a bid to come up with cassava varieties that are resistant to virus.

The research work that has been going on since 2005 is an initiative of a United State research based centre, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre in collaboration with USAID and Uganda government.

The chief investigator of the project Dr Titus Alicai said in 2005 the National Biosafety committee housed at Uganda National Council for Science and Technology gave his team a permit to proceed with the research where the team undertook to study the general behaviour of the virus before embarking into real research work.

The team in the 1990s did conduct research in a bid to eradicate cassava mosaicvirus which was a major problem that time. However later in the year 2000, scientists discovered another deadly virus, the cassava mosaic Virus.

The two viruses have since been identified having two types of viruses each namely, Cassava Brown Streak Virus (CBSV), Uganda Cassava Brown Streak Virus (UCBSV) which was first spotted in Uganda, African Cassava Mosaic Virus (ACMV) and East African Cassava Mosaic Virus (EACMV).

The ongoing research is aimed at finding solutions to curb all types of viruses.

According to Dr Alicai, it is estimated that these viruses are causing $60m in losses per, annum out of the revenue contribution the government is supposed to realise from the production of cassava.

Further estimates show that farmers especially those in the districts of Mukono and Luwero are experiencing 100 per cent loss as a result of cassava brown streak epidemic.

As the team was studying the behaviour of the virus, they got an alternative method of breeding varieties using conventional breeding. Conventional breeding is a means of developing new plant varieties by selecting the best varieties with the existing gene in plant species. Here, scientists transfer the genes by crossing the female part of the plant to the male part.

Conventional breeding employs processes that occur in nature, such as sexual and asexual reproduction. The product of conventional breeding emphasises certain characteristics which are not new to the plant

As far as the research at Namulonge is concerned, the team obtained resistant varieties from Tanzania and Colombia, and crossed them to some screened local varieties here. The breeding process here involves cutting part of the male flower from the foreign cassava and crossing it to the female flower of the local variety in order to come up with a new variety.

The team also screened about 1,000 local varieties and conducted the same crossing exercise. So far the team has identified six varieties that seem to be resistant to the viruses but are being evaluated at selected farmer's fields throughout the country to establish stability of yields and tolerance to the virus.

Once the evaluation process is done, the team will collect the data and apply to the Variety Evaluation Committee at the ministry of Agriculture to give them a go ahead to release these varieties to the farmers.

Dr Alicai is optimistic that his team will release the six varieties to farmers by next year. However the research team is not convinced that the conventional breeding method will solve the problem of eradicating the virus the reason they are conducting research using the Biotechnology method. What is different here is that the resistant genes are introduced to the local varieties in the laboratory.

Last year the scientists were conducting research to establish resistance against the EACMV. The work that was concluded in September showed some good results but for purposes of validating the exercise they are repeating the research work.

According to Dr Alicai, the next exercise is to test the same genes against the rest of the viruses. Later the team will merge the exercise against all the viruses in order to come up with cassava varieties that are resistant to all the four types of viruses.

The team hopes that by the year 2015 they would have identified the best gene that is resistant to all the viruses. The challenge of using the biotechnology method according to Dr Alicai is that since the work is done in the laboratory, there is need for reagents that are used to contact the research to always be in place but sometimes they are not available because sometimes the suppliers take long to supply them.

Read More......