Cassava commercialisation good for agro sector


COMMERCIALISATION of cassava could bring a lot of economic benefit to the country looking at the immense potential the crop has.
This is because the crop has a wide range of product variations from industrial, commercial and consumption.
The country’s cassava production has grown rapidly from 137,000 tonnes in 1996 to its current level of more than a million tonnes.
In some provinces more than 80 per cent of the farming community depends mainly on cassava as a staple food and as a source of income through local sales and informal exports to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola.
Already the Private Sector in Zambia has a project proposal on cards to establish starch and high quality cassava flour production plant, which has the potential of supplying the whole region and will further provide an opportunity for cassava growers to have readily available market for their produce.
The Community Market for Conservation (COMACO) and Sylvia Solutions have proposed to set up the starch and flour production plants estimated to cost approximately US$20 million in Lusaka.
In terms of harvests, cassava harvests around six tonnes annually per household on one to two hectors of land while the average family labour rate is estimated to be around K5, 360 per day.
The six tonnes sells for K100 per kilogramme of fresh root while the total labour cost is around K564, 000 per season, including weeding, it being the highest cost, representing 23 per cent of the sales value.
The return per person per day is around K5, 700 (US$ 1.14). If a value is applied for labour, the cost of production can be about 94 per cent for the sales value.
It should be noted therefore that with further support and investment, with guaranteed markets, cassava production could triple and hence more income for the farmers.
Recently Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) granted Zambia Breweries (ZB) an investment licence to start processing cassava to be used for alcohol brewing.
ZDA director Glyne Michelo said the Agency granted ZB an investment license to start processing cassava which he said was expected to boost the cassava agricultural sub-sector.
“Let me disclose that ZDA has just granted ZB the licence to start processing cassava for brewing of alcohol at its recently commissioned Ndola branch,” Mr Michelo said.
This was expected to boost the economy of the people in the rural parts of the country especially in the areas where the crop is grown.
He said more farmers would benefit as the company would engage in out-growers schemes which would result in the boost of income for them.
ZB has assured that it would set up satellite out grower’s schemes in cassava producing areas, which is expected to result in an increased market for farmers.
Zambia Federation Associations of Women in Business (ZFAWB) executive director Maureen Sumbwe said farmers had no market to sell their crop, hence the development will enable a lot of members who grow cassava to sell the crop.
Most of the farmers have been grappling with the challenge of where to sell their produce.
Ms Sumbwe said this would lead to mass production of the crop by the farmers due to high market prospects.
Vice-President Guy Scott commissioned the K450,000 (about US$90,000) cassava Chibuku plant in Ndola which would be completed by December, 2013.
Dr Scott urged investors in the country to utilise the local raw materials instead of importing from other countries.
“Zambia is the only country in Africa with sufficient resources. There is no need to use raw materials from other countries,” Dr Scott said.
Agriculture and Livestock Minister Robert Sichinga said Government is in the process of re-aligning the agriculture sector which would encourage farmers to grow crops that were cost effective in the particular region.
Mr Sichinga said some crops have proved to be more costly than others hence the need to introduce crops that were cost effective and valuable.
“The Government is working on re-aligning the agriculture sector so that farmers get value for their produce,” he said.
He called for the change of mindset for the country to move at the faster pace.
“You find people calling rice a snack which is wrong, rice is a meal just like those from maize,” he said.
Mr Sichinga said countries like Nigeria had been able to save over US$2.5 billion because of embracing crops like cassava which he said was cheaper than maize and wheat flour.
He said in that country cassava was used to bake bread and cassava mealie meal which if replicated in the country would result in a lot of economic benefits.
A few weeks ago the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Cassava cluster programme was launched which is targeting 150 farmers and semi processors spread across three districts in the country.
The objective of the cluster programme is to promote value addition by supporting the formation of national and regional clusters in agro processing such as cassava, as a mechanism of boosting job creation, intra trade and poverty alleviation.
Launching the cluster Programme Commerce Trade and Industry Permanent Secretary Stephen Mwansa said the programme was timely and relevant to Zambia as she favours a robust Agric-food sector such as cassava the cassava sub-sector.
Mr Mwansa said, the clustering approach was a positive way of doing business in this changing environment especially in the agro-foods sector.
“The COMESA Cassava cluster programme is in line and complements on the Zambia Cassava strategy that was launched in 2011.
The overall purpose of the strategy is to empower sector beneficiaries to achieve the vision statement and to improve overall sector performance by using an effective value chain based participatory approach in the design, identification of market opportunities and implementation,” Mr Mwansa said.
He expressed confidence that, the Cassava Cluster Development Programme in Zambia would go a long way in contributing to a vibrant private sector led economy.
Mr Mwansa however said this could only become a reality if Cassava farmers and processors’ capacities are enhanced with business. Among the Districts that have been targeted are Petauke, Serenje and Mansa.
Farmers were carefully selected through a profiling exercise conducted by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).
The cassava cluster farmers and processors were interviewed using structured questionnaires with the aim of deriving information that would be useful in cassava sector cluster development.
The combined sample of all three cluster areas such as Mansa, Serenje and Petauke districts had a representation of 18 per cent of respondents who were farmers only, while the rest of the respondents were engaged in both production and processing and represented 82 per cent of the sample.
Cluster development expert Angela Mulenga said in establishing the clusters in the three districts COMESA worked hand in hand with the District Agriculture Officers, District Commissioners and traditional chiefs.
Ms Mulenga said it was anticipated that the programme would be extended to other districts in the coming years depending on the availability of resources.
“The implementation of this programme comprises four main activities, namely: the profiling of cassava small and medium entrepreneurs (SME)s, capacity building of enterprises production and business management training, facilitation of intra trade development of suitable financing models for SMEs, and lastly market linkages,” Ms Mulenga said.
In addition, she said work was in progress to incorporate a component on government procurement at national level which was expected to boost the growth of the cassava agricultural subsector in the country.
Government procurement has been used in several countries to support the growth of SMEs in the manufacturing sector.
Regrettably, the situation in the region points to the fact that most beneficiaries of government procurement are merchants who are into importing business which should not be the case.
The measures, suggestions, strategies being put in place to popularise and commercialise cassava in the country will go an extra mile in solving economic challenges people in the rural areas of the country face.
The fully fledged beer processing plant, cassava cluster and the proposed starch and cassava flour plant by COMACO and Sylva Catering respectively, will economically revolutionalise cassava growing in the country.
Government through the ministry of Agriculture in the country should use extension officers countrywide to popularise the growing of Cassava and then link them to the industries.