KELLY NJOMBO, Lusaka
IT IS a known fact that transforming a traditional crop like cassava into an industrial product requires increased productivity, strong market linkages and improved access to mechanisation to promote value addition, and food and nutrition security.
For a long time now, cassava has been considered as a subsistence crop, with about 93 percent mainly grown for home consumption and low commercial activities of about seven percent taken into informal and formal trade channels.
However, with increased production and well developed market linkages, there is no doubt that cassava has significant potential to diversify Zambia’s agricultural production, contribute to economic development and improve farmers’ income.
Despite the cassava sub-sector being lucrative, it is faced with various challenges such as low productivity, lack of market information and linkages, poor access to mechanisation and low private sector investment.
It is for this reason that Government is pushing for the expansion of investments, through private sector engagement, to potentially create more employment through value addition and to significantly contribute to economic growth.
Therefore, Government, through the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC), launched the cassava commercialisation programme worth K8 million to support women and youth in the cassava value chain.
CEEC director general Likando Mukumbuta explained that the programme, which is being implemented in Kasama, Mansa, Solwezi and Kalumbila districts, targets to benefit over 12,000 smallholder producers.
It is notable that with vast investment in the cassava value chain, the sub-sector has recently recorded steady growth following various investments by some private sector companies in the agro-processing and manufacturing industry, creating a ready market for cassava producers in various parts of the country.
One such company is Zambian Breweries (ZB), which targets to increase its support to about 5,000 small-scale farmers through its cassava value chain project to promote value addition and income generation.
Since the start of the company’s initiative in 2016, the brewing giant, along with its partners, has ventured into an outgrower scheme, which started with 1,000 small-scale farmers in Luapula Province.
The project, which is being implemented in partnership with Musika and GroAfrica Limited, now provides a market for more than 4,000 small-scale farmers in Luapula and Northern provinces, specifically in Chembe, Samfya, Kawambwa, Kasama, Nchelenge and Mansa.
ZB corporate affairs manager Ezekiel Sekele explains that the company targets to buy about 4,500 tonnes of cassava this year, compared to about 3,000 tonnes in the previous year.
Mr Sekele notes that the firm is committed to enabling the country to achieve crop diversification by encouraging farmers to plant more cassava for value addition and the production of Eagle Lager, a beer steadily dominating the market.
“Zambian Breweries is committed to ensuring that the cassava value chain boosts sustainable socio-economic growth and promotes crop diversification. The cassava project is set to benefit all members of society, from small-scale farmers to consumers.
“The project now provides a market and livelihood for more than 4,000 small-scale farmers, stretching into Kasama district and the project is poised to reach 5,000 small-scale farmers by the end of this year,” he explained.
The project is also contributing to an increase in demand for improved cassava varieties in Mansa, creating income opportunities for farmers who are establishing themselves as seed multipliers and suppliers.
Peter Mushanshiko, 56, a beneficiary of the project, is exploiting the unmet demand by farmers for improved cassava planting materials.
According to Mr Mushanshiko, the improved variety matures early between 12 to 18 months compared to the traditional variety that takes three years before farmers could begin to harvest and sell the crop.
In 2016, Mr Mushanshiko grew the improved Mweru variety and started harvesting the stems to make cuttings for sale at a profit, and that from the two hectares; he managed to harvest 120 bags of cassava cuttings in 2017 and sold each of them at K20.
Another private firm with plans to invest in the cassava value chain is Premiercon Starch Limited (PSL).
PSL plans to construct a cassava-processing plant in North-Western Province at a cost of US$3.5 million and is expected to establish a cassava outgrower scheme to reach a target of about 80,000 metric tonnes of processed cassava annually.
The processing plant anticipates to be producing about 17,200 tonnes of starch per annum, and is expected to create over 120 direct jobs when fully operational.
Therefore, it is evident that with the interest from various processing companies to invest in the cassava value chain, there is need for more farmers to grow the crop to increase productivity, as it is a money spinner and market availability is not a challenge.
To increase cassava production, Government has been urged to consider developing policies that will enhance and create effective demand for cassava products on the local and regional markets to grow the value chain.
Indaba Agricultural Policy and Research Institute (IAPRI) research associate Stephen Kabwe believes that stakeholders in the cassava value chain also need to review and develop a new cassava strategy to further guide investment and job creation in the sub-sector.
“Government should also consider developing a set of policy measures that can help enhance or create an effective demand for cassava products. This can be done through improving access to international, regional and local markets for a range of cassava products such as food, feed and industrial inputs. We also need to increase cassava productivity as this is negatively affecting income generation among producers,” Mr Kabwe observed.
According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and IAPRI, cassava production currently stands at over one million metric tonnes per annum, with between 450,000 and 550,000 cassava-growing households countrywide.
It is evident that with concerted effort by key stakeholders in the cassava value chain and Government, the sub-sector will attain sustainability and profitability and attract more investment in the long run.
KELLY NJOMBO, Lusaka