If cassava can earn money, keep your Aid!
My early childhood was spent in the hands of my grandparents in a refugee camp, South Western Uganda, a place called Rwamwanja.
Just like any refugee camp, life was never easy. There’s only one good side of growing up in such an environment, it shapes and prepares you for tougher hurdles in future. Back then, our staple food was cassava and not the Matooke that most Ugandans graciously adore. Matooke was no doubt, a luxury.
This root crop was largely planted on small holdings for home consumption and occasionally substituted by some UN humanitarian hand-outs, the yellow corn flour; we called ‘iposho.’
I vividly recall the ‘poisonous’ one (kitaminsi) which used to be fermented, then dried up and eventually crashed into powder to form the cassava flour. The younger generation enjoyed it while the older ones detested it.
That was then. Fast forward and Cassava is making national headlines, this time on an investment front. Who would ever dream of Cassava forming a serious business? Certainly a few.
This fibre has been part and parcel of Rwanda’s livelihood—it has been in our midst for centuries and as such we tend to relegate its value to that of a last resort, sought when either our pockets are running dry or when drought leads to endemic hunger.
Even on our plates, it’s relegated to the periphery.
Therefore because of this perception, the thought of growing cassava for commercial reasons is something that could take long to sink in the minds of many.
That is why a multi-million dollar plant opened to add value to this crop could bear some psychological effect and ideally brings the rural person closer to a better understanding or appreciation of the monster ‘value addition.’ It could be transformational in many aspects.
To an ordinary person, this Rwf6 billion processing plant able to take in 144 tonnes of cassava to produce 45 tonnes of flour per day, might sound like any other ordinary investment story.
It is different. It’s different in the sense that it touches on a raw material for which we have centuries of experience in producing. It touches on a product we might have attached less value other than filling our stomachs.
It serves as an eye opener to the many things within our midst, which we might be taking for granted but which have enormous potential to draw wealth. I mean, if cassava, why not potatoes, carrots or milk? In other words, it opens our eyes wider.
As a person who enjoyed this product in all its forms, raw, roasted or boiled, it gives me great hope and inspiration that indeed our agricultural is transforming.
The hope that even as countries like Canada announces cuts in aid, my traditional food item, one that I can plant even if I was sleep walking, is providing an alternative solution. Indeed why would someone control our lives simply because of a mere $3 million that largely goes to the NGO world.
The Value of this cassava plant is almost 3 times the value of what Canadians have been providing and yet the Canadians will hold us hostage for their support.
True, any assistance, however small is important. But the humiliation that comes with this kind of assistance is what I consider inexcusable or a bitter taste. The ridicule and humiliation of having to be listed among a group of countries losing support, some of which are simply failed states, is in my view simply despising.
Yet, in actual sense, the biggest beneficiaries of this $3 million might be their own people as they are the very people who run these sponsored NGOs.
Therefore, a project like this one on cassava is comforting to say the least.
In fact for us to build sustainability, we need more of these plants across the country. We need to start with identify the most prominent agricultural activity for each province, and then specialize in a value addition project for that particular province.
Since the Southern province has Cassava, the Northern Province could have a Potato processing plant while the East installs a banana or milk or rice processing plant. The West can sustain fresh vegetables or coffee processing. If no investors are willing to come on board, Government can adventure alone and later sell to investors.
And the market is in abundance. Take an example of this new cassava plant. Our brothers from DRC enjoy a meal of cassava flour accompanied by pounded dried cassava leaves. Therefore, in addition to the local market, Eastern DRC is another potential destination. With the many airlines plying the Kigali route today, Brussels and Paris is another potential market.
In short, if cassava can bring in dollars, who needs to pay homage to someone offering a paltry $3million?
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Contact email: arthur.asiimwe[at]gmail.com