Rwanda is parenting the cassava— the orphan crop by streamlining efforts that will ensure a steady and growing production, the annual agricultural report has revealed.
It is believed that cassava has a potential of feeding Rwanda and other countries and also sustaining the economic needs of people today.
Since last year, government through the Crop Intensification Programme (CIP), has facilitated farmers to plant cassava by availing disease-resistant varieties of cassava stems.
There has been a joint research by International Society for Astrological Research (ISAR) and East Africa Root Crops Research Network (EARRNET), to produce and multiply disease free and resistant cassava.
Rwanda’s move to intensify cassava production comes at a time food insecurity has been exacerbated by the current rapid rise in food prices among other challenges.
World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf at the 25th FAO Regional Conference for Africa, in Nairobi cited climate change, greater demand for food products in emerging economies, agricultural production used for biofuels, rapid population and urbanisation as well as trans-boundary animal and plant diseases part of the cause for food crisis.
Under such circumstances, FAO says tropical root crop cassava could help protect the food and energy security of poor countries now threatened by soaring food and oil prices.
Therefore, investing in cassava research and development could be worth to boost yields and industrial uses.
All the efforts under the backing of Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and FAO, have greatly resulted into increased availability of disease free seedling.
However, the country’s efforts to ensure a stead cassava output acting as food security concedes well with FAO’s call.
The global conference held in Gent, Belgium, cassava scientists called for a significant increase in investment in research and development to boost farmers’ yields and explore promising industrial uses of cassava, including production of biofuels.
Scientists under an international network called the Global Cassava Partnership further said the world community could not continue to ignore the plight of low-income tropical countries that have been hardest hit by rising oil prices and galloping food price inflation.
Cassava is the developing world’s fourth most important crop widely grown in tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America, with production in 2006 estimated at 226 million tonnes.
The average cassava yields are barely 20 per cent of those obtained under optimum conditions. It is the staple food of nearly a billion people in 105 countries, where the root provides as much as a third of daily calories with enormous potential.
Cassava is also the cheapest known source of starch, and used in more than 300 industrial products like beer making. One promising application is fermentation of the starch to produce ethanol used in biofuel.
However, this has sparked criticisms worldwide that policies encouraging a shift to biofuel production should carefully consider its effects on food production and food security.
Notwithstanding the growing demand and its production potential, cassava remains an “orphan crop” according to FAO.
This is because it is grown mainly in areas that have little or no access to improved varieties, fertiliser and other production inputs. Small scale farmers are often cut off from marketing channels and agro-processing industries.
Governments have also not yet made the needed investments in value-added research that would make cassava starch products competitive on an international scale.
The meeting in Gent believed to be the first global scientific conference of the Global Cassava Partnership, a consortium formed it was reviewed the current state of cassava production worldwide and future prospects.
The meeting resolved that set of investments are needed if cassava is to realize its full potential in addressing the global food and energy crisis.
They included establishment of a cassava chain delivery system to channel technical advances to poor farmers, improvements in soil fertility through better management and increased use of inputs, improvements in basic scientific knowledge of cassava, including genomics, expansion of cassava’s market share through development of post-harvest products, and training for the next generation of cassava researchers in developing countries.
But Rwanda is not sleeping at all.
The country has responded well with lot of efforts that ensure sustainable cassava production.
The government has put into place measures like organising farmers into cooperatives and value addition. This is said to ensure an outlet for the expected increases in produce.
The private sector is being encouraged to introduce post harvest handling technology including processing and marketing for the expected boom harvests.