A press statement issued by the conference secretariat late last week said that scientists, experts and scaling partners of the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) were expected at the fourth annual review and planning event on ways.
The statement said that the Zanzibar meeting would discuss and profile the progress made in cassava agronomy and how such efforts were addressing the low yield per hectare on farmers’ fields in Nigeria and Tanzania.
The key datum is that across Africa, yield per hectare of cassava is about nine tonnes, while in Asia it is more than 20 tonnes, implying that Africa shortchanges itself in this aspect of world trade, seriously hampering its capacity to compete in export markets for the industrial crop – and earning little.
The four-day (Monday through Thursday) meeting has plenty to think about as its cassava initiative is now poised to enter into its fifth year, meanwhile as yield per acreage is still far below that of Asia.
With four years of work in the bag and this disparity still on the table, chances of the funders pumping in more cash for five more years thin out. The question is whether they may despair about the crop or be satisfied with their achievements in Asia, as the 20 tonnes per hectare isn’t a work of nature but a feat of technology and credit systems.
Looking at preliminary profiles of what the conference is set to discuss – and come up with, it is clear that there is scant room for much headway, as the African crop is anchored in traditional farming systems with all sorts of impediments.
There is first the problem of seed varieties and then pests, the inhospitality of markets to chemical additives and Africa’s reluctance on the adoption of uniform seeds based on genetic modification conducted abroad. This isn’t just an African phobia but is anchored in global environmentalist themes.
The cassava crop is one whose social and economic parameters are different in character, as it is grown by smallholder farmers but even those growing it don’t always take it as a major food crop except when poverty hinders them from obtaining maize, flour or rice, not to speak of wheat flour.
The market for cassava isn’t a very dynamic one as the growth in population, including sharp increases in the more accessible urban population, yields little business value for cassava farming.
Indeed, cassava is hardly ever on the menu of any restaurant or open ‘eatery’ in towns; it is at most a street bite or used by some people with tea in the morning, but not lunch or supper.
The cassava project coordinator, Dr Pieter Pypers, is on record as having affirmed that this year’s meeting – in Zanzibar – will have less of plenary presentations but more of poster sessions, a world café, breakout sessions and information booths where scientists, knowledge exchange experts and partners will showcase and share ideas.
The event will also be about scaling and dissemination of new information and on how the project has started gaining momentum with Akilimo, a tool to use for extension activities.
Even by just going by the tentative agenda, the Zanzibar conference holds a lot of promise for cassava farmers, consumers and stakeholders across the world. Accordingly, we wish it success.