Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Extension worker retires to lead way in cassava processing

Two years ago, a great belief in the power of the cassava and impatient with the slow uptake of processing technologies motivated Ernesto Lopes to leave his job as an agricultural extension officer, after 25 years, to set up OLIMA Ltd to practically show that the crop can be a source of food and money. OLIMA means to farm in one of the local languages spoken in Nampula.

“We started promoting cassava processing from the 90’s in Nampula province which is Mozambique’s number one producer and consumer of the crop. However, up to now, the technologies have not picked up. So I decided to take it up upon myself to show by example,” he explained. “Many times people need to see things practically to believe.

The 47 year old father of nine set up a processing centre in an abandoned garage of the Caminhos de Ferro de Mozambique (Mozambique Railway) borrowing old machines that were lying idle at Mozambican Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM) at Nampula - a chipper, 2 graters, and a press to extract water from the grated cassava.

In March 2010 he started processing very slowly, experimenting with piles of cassava purchased from nearby farmers and processing into high quality cassava flour and starch. After a training by the Unleashing the Power of the Cassava in Africa (UPoCA) project of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) funded by USAID, he added rale.

As his products improved, his orders increased. He says he is now buying truckloads of cassava from the nearby farmers who are only too happy as it saves them a trip to the market and he purchases at a much better price.

UPoCA also worked with him to develop a business plan in which he projects to increase his production to five tonnes of high quality cassava and one for starch, dried chips, and rale.

Currently, he has seven permanent employees and in a month sells approximately 500kgs of the flour, 100 kgs of starch, and 50 kgs of rale to local consumers who come to buy at the processing centre or at OLIMA offices in Nampula town.

“The government should also lead the way in exploiting the wide range of opportunities the cassava offers. For example promote the use of cassava in the bakery industry, ” he said.

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