Solar drying grated cassava

High rates of post-harvest loss have always been a problem for cassava farmers. But with the introduction of processing machines, producers in Benin are extending the shelf-life of this key crop. And earning higher incomes in the bargain.

New machinery is helping cassava farmers in Benin to cut crippling crop losses and earn higher revenues. “Today, we process our cassava and sell when the price is high”, said Willi Lodjihounde, President of the Hounvi Cassava Processing Centre. “Before, whether the price was good or not, we had to harvest and sell the cassava to prevent it from decaying in the field.” Cassava is a staple food for more than 600 million people in developing countries, but post-harvest management remains a major challenge. Cassava roots degrade naturally within just 2 to 3 days and post-harvest losses average 35 to 40%.

A cassava value-addition project implemented by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is helping to solve the headache of rapid cassava deterioration. As well as lengthening the shelf life, the scheme is helping farmers earn higher incomes by adding value. In Benin, the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), which is also operating in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, has set up cassava processing centres for rural communities in Adjahonme, Amakpa, Houvi and Lanta. Villagers now process cassava to make tapioca, gari (a granulated form of cassava), and fufu (a porridge). They also use solar dryers to process cassava and stop it from rotting. As a result, farmers’ revenues are greatly increased

Mobiles and motorbikes

Many farmers have invested some of their extra income in mobile phones which they use in business transactions. Some have bought motorbikes to take their products to market. “I have been able to buy a phone which I use in monitoring market prices and contacting our customers”, said Susanne Honore, who is secretary of the Hounvi Cassava Processing Centre. As the range of products increases, so too do the markets. “We have demand for our products not only in Benin, but also in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo”, she added.

Processing cassava into gava becomes easier.

The CFC group divides members into two – those working on the farms and those in the factory. The factory group buys cassava from the group working on the farms. Proceeds from the sale of cassava products are shared three ways: one-third goes towards salaries, another pays for the purchase of cassava from the farm group and the final share is put aside for re-investment and maintenance.

Women in the lead

Initially dominated by women, the success of the Hounvi group has begun to attract men. One of them is Emmanuel Katakeno. “I was a commercial driver before, but now I have joined the Hounvi group”, he said. “I have been able to buy a motorbike from the income I make.” The Hounvi group has also branched out into keeping pigs, using once discarded cassava peel to feed the animals.

Cassava leaves are fed to pigs.

Similar successes have been witnessed in the two other countries where the cassava processing scheme has been introduced. In Nasarawa State, Nigeria, village processing centres have opened up job opportunities for people in rural areas and are prompting renewed interest in cassava production among farmers. Women working in the Joe Begg cassava processing centre – one of several such units now operating in the state – say they earn €7.50 a day.

“Apart from women who make a daily living, the centre gives work to transporters bringing cassava to the factory, and workers employed here, and provides a market for cassava tubers in Nassarawa, Abuja, and environs”, said Chief Joe Jatau, who is manager of the cassava processing centre. “This, in turn, generates other activities in the state.”

Godwin Atser

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