Monday, October 18, 2010

Group riding high, thanks to an old friend, cassava

“With the money I made from the sale of my cassava roots and stem (as planting material) and the dividends I received from the group, I have now finished constructing a video den, purchased a TV and a DVD player, and installed a solar system to power them. I will be charging the villagers a small fee to watch news and movies,” Peter Mtoi, 61 year old shows us his latest acquisition with pride.

By his side, his wife, Mary Mtoi, 51, adds that they have also purchased a commercial charcoal oven to bake bread and cakes made of mixed cassava and wheat flour to sell to the village and nearby shopping centre.

The Mtois living in Tongwe village in Bagamoyo District, Pwani region are members of a local cassava farmers group, Wambato (Wakulima wa mhogo Bagamoyo Tongwe) which has been processing cassava into flour thereby getting more income as compared to the sale of fresh roots.

Ten years ago, things were very different and they had almost given up growing cassava following its devastation by the cassava brown streak (CBSD) which causes a dry rot in the tubers rendering them useless – they are not edible nor can they be milled into flour. All their local varieties were susceptible to the rot disease and they were desperate.

The Roots and Tuber programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Cooperatives introduced and tested together with the farmers six varieties growing elsewhere that had shown good levels of resistance to the disease.

‘Out of the six varieties they brought us for testing, we found Kiroba to the best. It was high yielding, resistant to the disease and sweet,’ Mtoi said.

They were also trained on good agronomical practices to get maximum yield such as when and how to plant, spacing and selection of good planting material. Soon the group was back to the cassava growing business.

Cassava cassava everywhere

However, following the rapid adoption of Kiroba and better farming practices, there was now more cassava than the markets could absorb, prices plummeted and the farmers were in despair again.

The Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) came to their rescue and constructed a processing centre equipped with simple machines to process cassava into flour which has a longer shelf life and fetches more money than the highly perishable fresh cassava roots which start to rot three days after harvesting. To show its commitment, the group purchased the bricks and provide labour for the construction.

From 2009, the group has been receiving support from the Unleashing the Power of the Cassava in Africa (UPOCA) of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in tackling emerging challenges to take their production to a higher level.

In 2009 the project trained Tabu Maghembe, the government extension officer working with the group and selected representatives on production of high quality cassava flour and new products and recipes using the flour; quality and safety management, and labelling, packaging and marketing.

The group warmly welcomed and implemented all the new ideas received on their own costs. It has since constructed a toilet at the centre, raised the racks for drying the cassava to avoid contamination by dust or domestic animals, and started using plastic bags to spread the cassava chips to dry.

‘As you can see we have notices for everyone to wash their hands before touching anything as per the hygiene quality and standards training, ‘Maghembe said. “We are working towards getting our flour certified by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards.”

A credit scheme

The group has a bank account and pays dividends to its members twice a year from some of the profits made. It also buys their cassava for processing and pays them a daily wage for their labour during processing. The neighbouring community is also benefiting from a ready and better priced market for their cassava.

It also acts as a saving and credit society for both members and surrounding farmers who borrow money for emergencies against the cassava in the field. Once they harvest it, they sell it to the group to repay the loan with a small interest.

One challenge for the group is transporting their dried cassava chips over long distances for milling. The mills are also not exclusive for cassava products and the flour is sometimes contaminated with maize and other grains flour. John Msemo, UPOCA country Mananger says the project will purchase a milling machine for the group and they construct the building to house it.

For the group, this is just but the begining:‘We are ready to continue to grow from strength to strength. We started from the farm and now we are processing and selling to supermarkets in big towns. We are now eyeing markets outside the country,’ said Maghembe.

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