In recent times, the desire of stakeholders to facilitate sustainable development of cassava value chain in the agriculture sector appears to be growing as the call for the protection and improvement of the livelihood status of vulnerable small-holder farmers in Ghana gains attention.
Until recently, the impression had been created that stakeholders were oblivious of the benefits to be derived from cassava business, if it is given a boost to become attractive.
Though there have been government and donor agencies (RTIMP, WAAPP, CAVA, IFAD, FAO, EDAIF) interventions in the past, we seemed not to put our acts together, making it look like an unprofitable venture. A typical example, is the Ayensu Starch Factory which has not been able to operate at full capacity because of our inability to encourage cassava growers to scale up production to feed the company, among other reasons.
More disturbing, is the fact that the exclusive agro climatic conditions needed for the production of cassava roots are favourable to our motherland, but we have so far, failed to make maximum use of it, either through our actions or inactions, inspite of the availability of resources such as, land and research agencies to make the cassava business thrive.
According to statistics, more than 90 per cent of Ghana’s small-holder farmers, are engaged in the cassava value chain, implying that, there is the need to develop the industry to become lucrative. It therefore requires the country to take advantage of mechanization of cassava for commercialization purposes.
Experts have confirmed that cassava is a potential crop for commercialisation with several uses such as being processed for food, feed, ethanol and other industrial uses. In view of this, the call for maximization in cassava yields and production has become relevant and necessary.
Also known as manioc, tapioca, yucca or sweet potato tree in other jurisdictions, cassava is a flowering plant that belongs to the spurge family. Its sweet, chewy underground tuber is one of the popular edible root-vegetables. Cultivation of cassava started in South America about 4,000 years ago. It was brought to Africa in the 16th century where it instantly became one of the most important crops.
Cassava is the third highest consumed staple in the tropics, after rice and maize. Noted for its high carbohydrate content, it is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people, with over 200 million population in sub-Sahara Africa, relying on the crop for over half of their daily food energy.
The herbaceous shrub, thrives well in sandy loams with little or no fertilisation. It is also one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils. Cassava is best planted on well ploughed, harrowed and ridged land. This makes harvesting far easier, thus reducing post-harvest losses during uprooting. When combined with mechanization, cassava produces a maximum output yield of up to 24 tonnes per acre.
In global ranking, Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, followed by Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, with Ghana, being the seventh world producer of the crop.
Agriculture experts say cassava does well in almost all the climatic conditions except in swampy areas. Perhaps this accounts for the reason why the crop is grown in almost all parts of Ghana. Statistics show that the country produces annual tonnage of about 15.5 million metric tons (SRID/MOFA 2013) with more than 40 per cent surplus.
In 2013, there was a surplus of 7.2 metric tons of fresh cassava roots alone. This surplus is as a result of post-harvest losses or farmers ‘refusal’ to uproot due to inadequate market for their produce. This may imply that, there are more than enough raw materials available for future processing.
There are about 18 improved varieties so far developed awaiting utilisation and marketing in the value chain. They include ampong, sika, otuhia, broni bankye, afisiafi, agbelifia, Doku dwoade, esam bankye, tech bankye, nkabom and abasafitaa. These varieties are product specific — starch, gari, ethanol and high quality cassava flour (HQCF).
Interestingly, the Ghanaian economy alone requires more than 200,000 metric tonnes of starch. These are used for industrial products such as brewery, pharmaceuticals and ethanol (used for alcohol or fuel).
Currently, Guinness Ghana Brewery Limited and the Accra Brewery Limited as well as the pharmaceutical companies are in dire need of cassava flour and starch to manufacture their products. These companies rely on imports for their raw materials. In the same vein, GIHOC Distilleries Company Limited, Kasapreko Company Limited, Agya Appiah Bitters Limited and other distillery firms, all import ethanol for their distilleries.
Companies like Olam Ghana Limited, Irani Flours Limited, Takoradi Flour Mills and Flour Mills Ghana, also import wheat to mill in Ghana, whilst up to 10 per cent well refined cassava flour can be substituted to make bread without any change in taste and flavour.
The challenges facing our economy, undoubtedly, are very huge and insurmountable. The country’s unemployment rate is 4.6 per cent and this is likely to get worse with the projection of Ghana’s population (26.98 million) to double in the next 30 years. Fuel price is now liberalised to the dictates of the dollar. Bread made from imported wheat is almost eaten by everyone on daily basis. Wheat imported into our economy and mill into wheat flour annually is over US$700 million.
It is interesting to note that even egg trays, candles, mosquito coils, maggie cubes, tomato paste, confectionery products, cartons, sausages, akpeteshie, sugar, textile, livestock feed, etc., are all produced with major cassava component. In fact, cassava has over 2000 derivatives.
Therefore, if the country really wants to take advantage of mechanization of cassava for commercialization purposes, it would be extremely important to bring stakeholders in the cassava sector together to fine tune the value chain and synergize the process for a better Ghana.
It is for this reason that the Ghana Cassava Centre of Excellence (GCCE) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), must be commended for taking the initiative to make cassava business attractive and thrive in Ghana.
Whilst the GCCE is seeking to bring producers, researchers, processors, investors, agencies, farmers and market players together from September 13 to September 18, in Accra, to look critically at the impediments and interventions in the cassava value chain, with much emphasis on harnessing and complementing the efforts of value chain actors, the FAO is kick-starting a project that aims at reducing rural poverty by using cassava value-chain as an entry point for employment and income creation in northern Ghana.
The mid September meeting, known as the International Conference and Exhibition on Cassava Utilisation and Marketing, is endorsed by Ministry of Food and Agriculture and Ministry of Trade and Industries.
The conference is aimed at providing a comprehensive opportunity for stakeholders to interact, network and share ideas on cassava utilization, whilst the exhibition would provide companies and organisations the opportunity to showcase their products and services and take advantage of this unique and large audience.
Topics to be discussed at the conference, include the overview of the value chain: the challenges and bottlenecks in the utilization and marketing of cassava roots, promoting cassava value chain for sustainable development and economic transformation in Africa and international trade of high quality cassava flour, starch and ethanol: the role of an international chamber of cassava.
The rest are national policies at supporting the transformation of the cassava value chain, renewable energy production through cassava waste management, the role of small-holder farmers and out-growers in the commercial production of cassava roots and the prospects of pharmaceutical raw materials from cassava.
Certainly, cassava value chain is a very promising industry which can be the game-changer towards national prosperity and growth. Consequently, the country should, as a matter of urgency, develop a sustainable cassava programme that can take advantage of adequate raw materials availability, sound post-harvest management practices and increased processing of fresh cassava roots.
In addition, there should be a national policy on high quality cassava flour, which can be mixed with the wheat flour to boost the rural economies. There should also be a policy on starch for industrial purposes.
If Ghana takes full advantage of mechanisation of cassava for commercialisation purposes, it is likely to dominate the Asian market, provide employment and income for its people, and strengthen the economy.