Dr Nanam Dziedzoave is the Country Manager of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA II), Ghana. In this interview, he speaks on how poor agronomic practices hinder smallholder farmers and went further to proffer solutions on how the rural farmers can operate competitively in the cassava sector.
The second phase of C:AVA project kicked off a few months back, what is the biggest achievement recorded in CAVA I, Ghana?
Well the biggest achievement will be the awareness we were able to create for high quality cassava flour and industrial grade cassava flour as food product and non- food product in the bakery and the ply wood industry; and the fact that we were able to create a demand for those products. Those are the key achievements and then the other achievement is the awareness among cassava farmers. We were able to create the awareness that cassava could be used for other purposes apart from the domestic products. And we have been able to mobilise a significant number of farmers who were willing to produce cassava to feed into the high quality cassava flour and industrial grade flour industry.
In Nigeria, there is campaign for inclusion of 10 per cent high quality cassava flour in wheat flour, how is the crusade for HQCF inclusion in wheat flour going in Ghana?
The crusade in Nigeria started with a policy that was adopted by the government and driven by government. The crusade started some years back for 10 per cent inclusion and then it rose up to 20 per cent. We are also adopting the same strategy here in Ghana. Currently we have a draft policy for inclusion of cassava flour in the wheat flour but that policy is targeting 5 per cent inclusion. The plan is to start with one per cent inclusion and increase it to five per cent over five years. That is to say, by the fifth year, we will be able to have five per cent inclusion. That is the draft policy submitted to the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology and Innovation. After the submission of that draft policy, the minister requested that we develop an implementation plan for the policy and have it planned together with the draft policy before it is submitted to parliament for discussion.
That implementation plan was completed about few weeks back; we will now submit that to the minister.
CAVA II’s goal is to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa, how are you tracking this goal from your own end in Ghana?
Well there are a number of pre -conditions that must to be fulfilled in order to be able to track these goals successfully. If we are going to impact on farmers by facilitating them to sell cassava, then there must be entrepreneurs who are set up to process the cassava. For those entrepreneurs to process the cassava, they must be linked up with funding sources to be able to get the funding to invest in processing equipment. So prior to the tracking, we are making facilitating linkages with a number of funding agencies. We have been talking also to a number of entrepreneurs about the opportunities for investment in the cassava industry. The fulfilment of those pre-conditions are on-going and with respect to tracking the progress, this is a matter of implementing the system of record keeping amongst the farmers and the processors to track how much cassava is coming in, how much is being processed and how much the farmers are selling. That system of record keeping is being developed and shared with the processors but is yet to be shared with the farmers.
Smallholder farmers are oftentimes excluded in large scale enterprises, how are you reaching out to this category of farmers?
The strategy for CAVA II in Ghana is to organise smallholder farmers around large scale processors so that they can learn good practice and improve their operations. The reason why they are neglected is because they are not competitive and if they continue their practices, they will not be competitive. Direct assistance in the past has not helped to make them competitive and productive, so if they have mentors who are the large scale processors, they will know how to apply good agronomic processes to get high yields. They will be able to learn how to improve their productivity and their farming practices. It will also encourage them to take farming as a business, thereby get included in the main stream cassava industry.
What are the opportunities that exist in the cassava sector for farmers and SMEs?
The opportunities for business in the cassava industry are many. We have the beer industry that is currently leading. It has the potentials of expanding and producing beer from cassava. We have the ply wood industry that has the potential of using industrial grade cassava flour as a glue extender for plywood; we have the alcoholic beverage industry, which has also the potential of absorbing cassava for the production of industrial alcohol which is imported in huge quantity into the country. The biscuits industries and the confectionery industries, all make use of glucose syrup in their operations. Glucose syrup can be produced from cassava and supplied to these markets. The bakery industry and pasta is there where wheat flour can be effectively substituted with cassava flour for the production of cassava bread, it is also a big market. Those are the potentials in the industry.
Of course it requires a certain level of sensitisation for the users to take up this products being used in the various industries. The potentials are big, what is required is what we have indicated earlier on. The smallholder farmers can tap into these industries, but they need to improve their productivity in order to be able to tap into the industry. For the processors to be able to tap into that market, they also need to adopt very good competitive strategies to be able to put those products in the market. They should be able to adopt low cost production strategies to be able to thrive in the potential markets that are there.
As new markets for cassava are springing up daily, there are fears that there might not be sufficient cassava roots to feed the emerging markets. What is CAVA’s strategy to support the farmers in order for them to meet the demands of the new markets?
CAVA in phase one invested a lot of efforts in supporting farmers to produce cassava. And the production of that cassava led to frustration when they did not get enough buyers. So the focus of CAVA II is not to support farmers to increase production but to facilitate them to increase productivity. When more players come into the cassava industry, the laws of demand and supply will determine where the effort should be and there are lots of organisations that are set up to support the farmers, the way we were able to support them in CAVA I. When the need comes to support them as a result of demand, we have the skills to support them but for now, it is not a focus to support them. The focus now is to support them to sell off the cassava that they have which they are having difficulty in selling.
So what do you see as a barrier in building a sustainable market for the value chain in Ghana and also in other African countries?
The barrier for a sustainable market in Ghana industry is creating a competitive market. The farmers as I have said are not being competitive because they are not getting the yields they are supposed to get from their farms. Farm gate price of cassava is too high and the processors cannot operate to meet the end market price. The processors also have inefficient equipment and therefore they are also not competitive. Their recovery rates are low. They could achieve 25 per cent or 26 per cent recovery of HQCF in particular but they are achieving 18 to 16 per cent. If that barrier is removed where the farmer’s productivity is high, reaching above 22 metric tonnes per hectare and the processors are investing in equipment that will give them higher recovery rate the price of high quality cassava flour could come down in a competitive manner that will enable the end user market buy from the processors. Then you can have a free flow of cassava root through the vale chain from the farmer to the end user.