With China signing cassava export agreement with Ghana in 2013, a number of excited local and Chinese companies are knocking on the doors of Ghanaian farmers and literally appealing to them to produce cassava for the huge Chinese market.
According to Mr. Jack Yang, Managing Director of Tema-based Grand Rise Food Company Limited, China’s current annual import for cassava chips alone (konkonte) or dried cassava, stands at four million metric tonnes “but annually too, there is a short-fall of two million metric tonnes because the demand outstrips the supply”.
Mr Yang says, “Vietnam is the only country that is able to export two million metric tonnes of cassava chips (konkonte) annually to China, thus, there is a huge cassava export gap that ought to be filled by Ghana and this can drastically reduce rural poverty and unemployment, besides improving the livelihood of millions of poor farmers and generating neat foreign exchange for Ghana”.
Indeed, cassava is a multifaceted crop which is finding many industrial applications including well-drilling, adhesives, foundries, wood furniture, bio-fuels, dusting powders, plastics, packaging, corrugated boards, textile industry, paper industry, drugs, concrete stabilizer and alcohol products.
Excited by the emerging cassava revolution in the country, The Ghanaian Times interacted with Mr. Yang and Rev. Alex Joe M.Y. Awaga, a retired official of the Bureau of National Investigations, who is now into big-time farming in the Volta Region. Mr. Yang’s registered company in Ghana and Rev. Awaga are acting as “cassava-John-the Baptist,” spreading the cassava-export news among Ghanaian farmers and preparing them to join the cassava revolution.
Mr Yang, however, says cassava is indispensable to food security in Ghana, assuring that his company will equally support Ghana to breed cassava for the benefit of the entire nation.
“My company alone is targeting to export about 40,000 metric tonnes of cassava chips (konkonte) from Ghana annually to China but initially, we are starting with 10,000 metric tonnes,” says Mr. Yang, adding that “we are, therefore, encouraging cluster or group farming because only large farms will secure the large quantities of cassava chips (Konkote) that are needed by the Chinese industries”.
According to Mr Yang, his company is also urging farmers, who are commercially inclined, to take advantage of the new market opportunities in cassava export to generate very decent income.
For a start, Mr. Yang said, a farmer could begin cultivating a-one-acre cassava farm before expanding it, assuring that warehouses would be opened in all the districts of the country to purchase cassava chips (konkonte) from farmers.
“My company has done test-trial in the Volta Region and currently we buy and pay on the spot, a-50-kilogramme of cassava chips (konkonte) at GH¢25 and by estimation, a-one-acre cassava farm could yield more than GH¢2,000 after harvesting and processing”, he added.
According to Mr Yang, farmers in five regions of the country have been targeted for registration and training so as to derive from the benefits of the cassava revolution. The regions are Central, Volta, Brong Ahafo, Ashanti and Eastern. The regions, he said, were selected based on their natural fertile land for the cultivation of cassava.
Mr Yang said cassava is one of the richest fermentable substances for the production of alcohol-fuel in China and “there are six huge factories in China whose huge demand for cassava chips (konkonte) are not met annually”.
Experts say the fresh roots of cassava contain about 30 per cent starch and five per cent sugars, while the dried roots contain about 80 per cent fermentable substances which are equivalent to rice as a source of alcohol.
“My company has been licensed by the Ghana Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate to export cassava chips (konkonte) to China and we have begun education and sensitization programmes for farmers in the Volta Region and we urge all interested farmers to register with us,” Mr Yang said.
Mr. Awaga, who is the cassava project co-ordinator for the Volta Region said by the end of October 2015, workshops and seminars for cassava production, processing and storage will be intensified in all the districts of the Volta Region to equip farmers with new knowledge.
“Consequently”, Rev. Awaga said “we are propagating the cassava ‘gospel’ by involving churches, chiefs, agricultural extension officers and other identifiable opinion leaders in various communities so that we use cassava as raw material-base to contribute to Ghana’s agricultural transformation and economic growth”.
Many farmers in Ghana, especially women, depend on cassava. For such people and their families, cassava is vital for both food security and income generation.
But with the emerging revolution, the key to unlocking the full potential of cassava in the country lies largely in bringing cassava breeding into the 21st century.
By George Frank Asmah