The competing needs for cassava cuts across both human and animal consumption. It is fast becoming a popular raw material in industrial production and is now a preferred material for making biofuels. As Africa's population continue to grow rapidly, the demand for food staples like cassava has increased.
Africa is yet to fully exploit the huge returns from the global cassava trade. However, the price of cassava and its derivatives have increased sharply in the past few years. The population explosion in Africa has made it difficult to produce enough cassava to feed many ‘common’ Africans. In addition, the raging economic growth of China has made it the largest buyer of African cassava, which it uses to feed livestock (cattle, pigs etc.). China is currently responsible for more than 60 percent of global cassava consumption, and is still buying more from Africa
Cassava is cultivated in around 40 African countries. Major producers include Nigeria, the Congo and Tanzania according to IFAD and FAO report of 2000.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and its partners are working to provide African cassava farmers with regular and reliable access to high quality planting materials to boost yields and incomes
Speaking ahead of the launch of the Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seed System (BASICS) programme, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said the programme provides a window of opportunity for cassava farmers to create new lines of income while at the same time catalyzing the diffusion of new varieties
In June, this programme benefited from a new investment of $14.3 million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to consolidate and expand this work in both Nigeria and Tanzania under the project name of BASICS-II.
The goal of the project is to provide farmers with access to affordable, quality-assured seeds of the cassava varieties in demand by local food and processor markets through the establishment of a commercially viable seed value chain operating across breeder, foundation, and commercial seed levels.
BASICS-II will create a more efficient dissemination and trigger the adoption of new varieties to improve productivity; raise incomes of cassava growers and seed entrepreneurs; enhance gender equity and contribute to inclusive agricultural transformation in Nigeria and Tanzania.
According to Dr Alfred Dixon, IITA Director for Development & Delivery, and Technical Adviser to BASICS-II, “the coming of BASICS-II would not only create seed enterprises, it would also spark the diffusion and adoption of improved disease-free cassava varieties that would offer farmers higher yield.”
Over the years, IITA and its national partners have developed over 40 cassava varieties but the diffusion and adoption of these varieties have been low due to the absence of a functional seed system to incentivize their multiplication, distribution, and sales.
The 5-year project will be led by IITA, working in partnership with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), IITA GoSeed, Umudike Seed, Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Ltd., Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), and Tanzania Official Seed Certification (TOSCI).
Lawrence Kent, senior programme officer, Gates Foundation, said “this new phase of the BASICS project will strengthen and expand its innovative approach to the supply of cassava planting materials, helping farmers in Nigeria, Tanzania, and eventually additional countries to access and purchase disease-free stems of the most productive, most demanded, and promising cassava varieties.”
Known as a poverty fighter, cassava is grown mostly by resource-poor farmers, but its productivity has been constrained by lack of access to improved varieties with national average yield reported at less than 10 tons per hectare in Nigeria. Even when the best of agronomic practices is employed, yields remain poor if the seeds are not right.
Through the activities of BASICS-II, it is envisaged that this narrative will be changed, says Prof. Lateef Sanni, Project Manager, BASICS-II.