Cassava now the centre of attention
By Gift Chanda, Communications Officer & Mabvuto Chisi - Operations Manager, Northern Region
It’s an extremely hot day in Fimpulu village, 35 kilometres away from Mansa town in Luapula Province, but Violet Mweba is busy tending her 1.2-hectare cassava field. If she is aware of the heat, there is no trace of this in her demeanour.
Moving along the field, she pulls a weed and reaches for a cassava branch, inspects its leaves to see whether they are good for relish or not.
Down the plant, the soil hiding the real investment—the cassava tubers — is cracking, but in a few months Violet will dig the cassava up for harvest, like a potato, and sell it to GROAFRICA Limited.
In this part of the country, farmers have grown cassava for years but finding a reliable market for the crop has been a major challenge.
Cassava farmers are highly exploited in Zambia because the crop is mainly consumed at household level without any real form of processing.
Over the years, farmers have relied on the Copperbelt and the DR Congo markets, but transportation costs coupled with loading and lodging charges has made it unprofitable for many.
The lack of a stable market discouraged some farmers from growing cassava which ordinarily requires minimal inputs compared to maize, says 40-year old Violet, a mother of nine who has been growing cassava since she was a teenager.
In September 2016, Musika supported GROAFRICA Limited to start buying cassava on behalf of Zambian Breweries in Mansa District.
Zambian Breweries uses the cassava in the production of its affordable Eagle beer, a move that promises to provide a reliable market for the crop. For Violet and her fellow cassava farmers, the future is brighter.
"The market has followed us instead of us following it and I am happy to grow more of the crop because the price is also fair,” Violet, excitedly points out.
Violet is one of the 683 farmers that were able to sell 5,652 × 40kg bags of cassava at K1.40 per kg last year through the GROAFRICA purchase point right in Fimpulu.
“From the cassava I sold, I was able to pay for my four children’s school fees. Before I would take the cassava to the copperbelt and because of the transport costs, loading and lodging fees, I would make no profit,” she says.
Another farmer, Patrick Chama, 64, sold four tonnes of cassava at a GROAFRICA purchase point right in Fimpulu village and was paid K5,600 on the spot in the 2015/2016 season.
Musika Managing Director, Mr Reuben Banda (r) congratulates Mr Patrick Chama who
managed to complete building his house using proceeds from cassava sales
He used part of the income to purchase building materials to complete his house after working on it for nearly four years using the annual income generated from maize and cassava. He planted 11 hectares of cassava during the 2016/2017 season, and was yet to sell 20 tonnes that were ready for the market. According to Chama, GroAfrica has delivered more than just a market for their cassava.
“There is knowledge and the better seed we are planting which will see our yields double,” he says.
A research conducted by Musika revealed that a lack of access to markets in most parts of Zambia is constraining the uptake of improved technologies by smallholder farmers, depriving them of better yields and higher incomes for their crops.
As an organisation that stimulates and supports private sector investment in the smallholder market, Musika’s interventions have not only increased access to seed for diverse and resilient crops such as cassava, sorghum and legumes, but also improved access to transparent and assured markets for a diverse range of agricultural products.
Last year, substantial progress was made by Musika in terms of non-maize market development, with 75 per cent of the additional 28,948 farmers accessing market services from client in diversified crop markets.
The Zambian government on the other hand has realised the huge potential for the plant as a driver of rural development.
The market for cassava’s commercial and industrial use has started to grow as its root starch was now on demand from food and beverage companies. It can also be used in plywood and pharmaceuticals, as well as feedstock for the production of ethanol biofuel.