Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Return of the cassava: New ways of making popular foods using old crop take village by storm
Cassava, an old neglected crop that is often remembered when all other crops fail, has gained new recognition and prominence among the residence of Tongwe village in Tanga region, Tanzania, who have discovered new ways of utilizing the crop that is adding new and more nutritious twists to their local menu.
The farmers are also earning a higher income from processing the crop into high quality cassava flour (HQCF), a versatile flour developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that can be used for baking and making confectionaries as a substitute for wheat.
They are mixing cassava and wheat flours to make popular foods such as cakes, chapati (round flat fried bread), and mandazi (small squarish donuts) that were previously made with wheat flour only. This has made them more affordable for the villagers.
Christine George, 29, makes chapati which she sells to school children and the local community. She says mixing cassava and wheat flour has increased her profit margin. The married mother of one who is also a cassava famer mixes the two in the ratio of one to three – one cup of wheat flour to three cups of the high quality cassava flour. She also adds eggs and margarine to make them tastier and more nutritious.
Mary Lipande, 59, also sells snacks to school children made from a mixture of cassava and wheat flour. She says with the money she is making she is able to help her husband meet the needs of the family including school fees for their two children in secondary school, clothing, adequate shelter and health care.
“Today, I do not wait for my husband to do everything. He only contributes,’ she says laughing.
They are both members of Wambato farmers group (Wakulima wa Mhogo Bagamoyo Tongwe ‘Cassava Farmers of Bagamoyo Tongwe’) that is involved in growing and processing cassava. The group has been a beneficiary of initiatives by the national roots and tuber research programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Sokoine University of Agriculture and IITA’s Unleashing the Power of the Cassava in Africa (UPOCA), all in Tanzania.
According to Tabu Maghembe, the extension officer from the Ministry of Agriculture who trained Christine, Mary and their fellow group members on production of various products and recipes using the high quality cassava flour, people in the village now prefer the chapati and mandazi made from the composite flour which are tastier and more nutritious.
In 2009, under UPOCA, Maghembe was trained on the production of the high quality cassava flour and on products and recipes for the flour. A follow up training focussed on quality control and safety issues and on packaging and marketing. She faithfully passed on all the new knowledge to the group.
‘We were also trained how to make the cassava products more nutritious by adding soybean flour to provide protein. However, in Tongwa village, since we do not have the soybean, we substitute with eggs, milk and dried fish,” she said.
The group has a well equipped cassava processing centre constructed by Sokoine University of Agriculture in 2007 in response to the groups cry for lack of markets for their cassava. This in turn was a result of the rapid adoption of new high yielding cassava varieties introduced by the roots and tubers programme of the ministry of Agriculture as all the local varieties were under attack by the deadly cassava brown streak disease (CBSD).
According to John Msemo, the country manager for the UPOCA project in Tanzania, they were impressed by the group’s hard work and initiative and decided to continue to build their capacity from where the ministry and the university had left.
He says he is also happy with the way the group members have put into practice everything they have learnt. For instance, the group was now drying the grated cassava on raised racks and spread on polythene bags where as before they were drying them on the ground spread on palm mats risking contamination from dust and domestic animals.
The result today is a group whose members are enjoying a greatly improved standard of living from the good income made from the sale of high quality cassava flour to supermarkets and shops in Morogoro and Dar es Salaam as well as around the village.
Maghembe says before the trainings, the group was processing 500kgs of fresh cassava roots per month. But now as a result of improvement in the flour quality, better packaging, and marketing skills learnt, they are processing five to six tonnes per month and selling at 800 Tshs/kg (0.5USD).
UPoCA project funded by USAID is in response to the 2008 food crisis in Africa and promotes cassava as an engine for rural economic growth and improving livelihoods with spill over benefits to urban populations. It is being implemented in seven countries in Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.