By MARY HEARTY
The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently pledged to invest $120 million in cassava to boost its productivity and transformation and other commodities in Africa in the next 2-3 years.
Apart from cassava, other commodities include; rice, maize, sorghum/millet, wheat, livestock, aquaculture, high iron beans and orange fleshed sweet potatoes.
Director for Agriculture at AfDB, Dr Martin Fregene: “Transforming cassava on the African continent would help African nations to cut imports and redirect about $ 1.2 billion into African domestic economies”.
Fregene made the remarks at the fourth International conference on cassava, which was organized by the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century, GCP21, in Cotonou, Republic of Benin.
The Bank’s investment in cassava also comes at a time when African governments are increasing efforts to end food insecurity and create wealth for poor farmers.
Cassava is a strategic crop for Africa’s food security because it is the cheapest staple food consumed by Africans and supports more than 350 million people.
“Another dimensions to the importance of cassava is in nutrition where cassava enhances the nutrition of children directly or as feed for poultry and other livestock,” said Dr Gaston Dossouhoui, the Minister of Agriculture for the Republic of Benin.
Cassava farming in Africa is currently facing many challenges such as lack of bad weather, management and market. These issues have been solved in other countries where cassava production has been industrialized but not yet in Africa.
African countries grow cassava mainly as a major contribution to food security and to increase their income. However, processed cassava products would be a new technology which can promote industrialization in Africa and employ thousands.
More than 450 local and international partners in the cassava sector, coming from research and development organizations, government, farming community and the private sector attended the conference. The purpose was to share knowledge on innovation in cassava and thereafter train their local farmers to use the new ideas acquired.
Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships for Delivery at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said unlocking the potential of cassava required partnerships and close collaboration of partners to address the constraints facing production of cassava.
Experts believe that the key to unlocking cassava lies largely in bringing cassava breeding into the 21st century.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture have already developed a genetic engineering platform for cassava varieties preferred by farmers that produce higher yields, more starch, tolerance to harsh weather and disease resistant.
Many African laboratories do not have the expertise for this type of advanced genetic engineering and therefore scientists, students and technicians would be trained in the platform.
The profit and non-profit organizations are called upon to partner in order to assist each other financially through the cassava transformation processes.
The government is ready to support the new technology like mechanization to promote agricultural development projects in terms of larger scale processing. The government of Nigeria is already doing so to the farmers.
In Nigeria, women and children are heavily involved in the production, processing and marketing of cassava. Their next course of action is to learn weed control in cassava fields using herbicides among other weed control mechanisms.
All these new technologies targets in improving efficacy of cassava production and processing in African continent. Cassava farmers in Africa most of whom are women will benefit more financially hence investment in education of their children and healthcare.