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The reward of cassava diversification

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When you hear stories of Esther Juni and Chrissy Katundu, you will agree that cassava is a crop that is fast becoming a reap-big to farmers and others.

The two are cashing in on cassava diversification. Their rural folk too tell similar stories.

“Long time ago, my colleagues and I thought cassava is just for eating – a popular breakfast snack, and, in some instances, flour for msima [in some areas]. Now, as you can see, I am one of those people that make many products from cassava, it is my livelihood, just like it is for numerous other colleagues,” says Juni, Chair of Tiyamike Mathiya Cooperative in Mulanje.

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“Now, we make High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF), which is used to make scones, mandasi [flitters], and many things. We also sell HQCF and allied products to industries such as Universal Industries,” she says.

Juni, whose cooperative comprises scores of men and women whose lives have now transformed because of cassava, says if many took the crop seriously, farmers would transform and move away from crops that they inject more capital in in terms of fertilisers and chemicals.

“With new technologies, we don’t need chemicals for cassava, we don’t spend on pesticides. We spend little but the profit is big,” she says, adding: “Just imagine we sell tubers, HQCF flour, stems (for seed) and more so high-earning by-product – starch.

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“Starch fetches K500 per kilogramme on the market. Industries use starch for making glue, coating of things like sausages and many other products,” says Juni, stressing if the cassava industry were adopted on a larger scale, it could be a catalyst for bringing rural industrialisation in the country and obviously create more jobs locally in the process.

She tells of a story how she and her colleagues grew from individual subsistence cassava growers to a cooperative.

“It was all because of Cava [Cassava: Adding Value for Africa Project], a project that is promoting farmers, processors and all value-chain players to engage in cassava farming business. They convinced us that their focus is to promote cassava as source of income and not just as food crop, and we have just proved that,” Juni says.

Cava Project is a collaborative project between Natural Resources Institute (NRI) in UK, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Nigeria and the Chemistry Department at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College.

Cava (Malawi) Business Development Expert Edmund Mfutso says the main objective of the project is to increase incomes of smallholder farmers and all stakeholders in the value chain through participation in profitable and sustainable cassava value chains.

Besides Malawi, he says, the project is also implemented in other four countries, namely Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania. Cava is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and receives technical support from NRI.

“The first phase was implemented from 2009 to March 2014 with the main objective of developing value chains for High Quality Cassava Flour as partial substitute for wheat flour in confectionery products and replacement for corn starch in paperboard and textile industries. The second phase from April 2014 to March 2019 has diversified into a number of products from cassava including starch, ethanol, glucose and livestock feeds,” Mfutso says.

He says Cava has also received financial support from USAid through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to improve access of improved varieties and clean cassava planting materials by farmers from November 2015 to October 2016, which has extensively assisted to accelerate the initiative.

And, indeed, that is evidenced on how individuals such as Geoffrey Chikaonda and Katundu have transformed not only economically but capacity-wise.

Chikaonda, a lead cassava farmer and also Chair for the Nkhotakota Cassava Producers’ Association, testifies to how the initiative has broadened his reap from cassava products.

“Just imagine that we don’t throw anything from cassava, I produce HQCF, I am into cassava seed multiplication and making of kondoole [fermented cassava flour used for cooking nsima]; and, of late, we are producing ethanol from cassava peels which is used in ethanol stove. And the stove serves the environment from depletion as people can easily get the oil from us and use the stove for cooking, that is why we say cassava is a product that makes us reap in diversity on all fronts,” he says.

Katundu speaks highly of the initiative.

“I have diversified from only making flour for baking cakes and mandasi and cooking nsima. Now I am making wine and juice from cassava, so, indeed, cassava is a crop that can save farmers from economic hardships,” says Katundu, Founding Head of the Roots and Tubers Farmers’ Group, based at Domasi in Zomba.

That is why Mfutso says the concept also hinged on the realisation that cassava has over the years been grown in Malawi as a subsistence crop, yet the potential is more than high that it is a reliable cash crop that could generate the much-needed foreign currency for the country.

“That is why we say when farmers are considering which crops to grow this season, they have to seriously think of cassava. Cassava can make farmers reap big from its products such as HQCF, starch, animal feed, fish feed, starch, and at the same time be used for food,” Mfutso says.

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