Region could look into cassava sector

Agriculture remains the source and cause of the largest news in the region. Inflation, particularly the rising price of food in all of the region, seems to have hit many headlines.

This can be attributed to the unpredictable weather patterns and to a great extent poor planning and anticipation by both farmers and governments alike.
However, there seems to be an opportunity in all of these situations when it comes to the issue of food security.

For every challenge, there is an opportunity. The answer, in part, lies with a primary solution to rural household food consumption and to a large measure household/commercial gains. One such product is the cassava crop.
Carbohydrates is one of the three major nutrients which supply the body with energy after fat and protein.

Cassava is the third-largest source of carbohydrates for meals in the world, and has been described as the ‘bread of the tropics.”
Cassava is grown all of over the East African region. It is a drought-resistant crop, not labour intensive, easy to tend and is used both as a bread and its leaves as a source or gravy.

It can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, roasted and fried. Cassava is also dried and milled as a flour.

Cassava has proven unlimited uses. Besides its nutritional attributes, cassava is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, bio-fuels, alcoholic beverages and animal feed. Cassava starch is now a major ingredient in the paper industry.
Starch is also used in textile manufacturing. It is a popular base for adhesives, particularly those designed to bond paper, glass, mineral wool and clay.
There have been attempts by some countries in the world, notably India, Vietnam, and China will grow cassava on a large scale. In Africa, Nigeria has shown the way and has reaped dividends.

In the region, a project spearheaded by the Rwanda army is setting a precedent whose success could be a case study of how organised commercial agriculture could spur rural development.

However, a regional scheme, funded by member countries, bolstered by integrated scientific research and collaborative initiatives is a good way to garner integration and get our communities out of poverty.

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Urged to rethink the plan to develop cassava plants

Cassava products have been selling like hot cakes. Meanwhile, the consumption is expected to increase further in the next years. However, development programmers still have been called to reconsider the plan to develop cassava plants.

The rise of the cassava plants
It is now the second time that Vietnam has witnessed the boom of cassava plant since 1975. The first time occurred during the first years after the country’s union, when the rice and maize output was low. Just within three years, since 1979, the cassava growing area increased by two folds, to the record high of 461,400 hectares, while the output also climbed to the record high of 3.422 million tons.

Later, when Vietnam became a rice export power, cassava plants became less attractive in the eyes of farmers, who preferred to grow rice to earn money.

However, cassava plants, once again, have become “favored” by farmers, which have hindered the development of many other kinds of plants. The cassava growing area has increased by 7.6 percent to 496,200 hectares, while the output has increased by 15.7 percent to 8.522 million tons.

Vietnamese farmers have been rushing to grow cassava because they can see the high demand from the Chinese market.

In 2010, Vietnam exported 1.7 million tons of cassava products in total, of which, China alone consumed 92.4 percent. The percentage was 94.1 percent in the first two months of the year. Fresh cassava has also been carried out continuously to China across the border gates.

Why cassava?
While Vietnamese farmers feel happy with the money they earn from exporting cassava to China, experts have called on to reconsider the plan on developing cassava plants.

Nguyen Dinh Bich, a well known trade expert from the Trade Research Institute, said on Thoi bao Kinh te Saigon, that Vietnam is not the country which has advantages in developing cassava plants for export. In the world, only the countries with large area and thin population density can reserve many areas for growing cassava. This explains why in the world, only four countries have the cassava growing areas of more than one million hectares, namely Nigeria (3.8 million hectares), Brazil (1.8-1.9 million), Thailand (1.3 million) and Indonesia (1.2 million).

Besides Ghana, there are only three other poor countries in the world which have the cassava growing areas exceeding Vietnam’s, including Angola, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Regarding the yield; though Vietnam’s cassava output in 2009 was high at 16.8 tons per hectare, which was much higher than the average yield in the world, the figure is still lower than the average level of 20.2 tons per hectare in Asia and 22.7 tons per hectares in Thailand.

The demand for cassava is believed to increase sharply in the time to come, as enterprises need cassava to make many kinds of products. Cassava is being used in making seasoning powder, used in food industry. Especially, the demand for animal breeding alone is at 1.5 million tons per annum. Besides, Vietnam also has five ethanol factories and tens of other factories making alcohol of different kinds, which also need cassava.

However, Bich has pointed out that Vietnam cannot compete with China, even though the cassava yield has been increasing considerably in recent years. Since the cassava prices have been increasing too sharply, many enterprises have to shift to use other kinds of materials, which explain why the imports of maize and wheat have been increasing rapidly.

The third problem that experts have pointed out to persuade development programmers to put a brake on the cassava growing area development, is that while growing cassavas mostly serve the demand from foreign countries, Vietnam would lack land to develop other important farm produce, because the agriculture land fund will not be enlarged.

Statistics show that while cassava plants see “hot development”, the growing areas of many other kinds of plants has been decreasing. The cotton growing area, for example, has reduced by 6.9 percent per annum, while the sugar cane area by 1.3 percent per annum. Especially, the cashew growing area has been decreasing for the third consecutive years by 11 percent in total.

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