Giving hope to cassava farmers in Zambia

For the last five years, IITA has been intensifying its cassava value chain research in Zambia, supported by different development partners and donors. These include the Mitigating Cassava Disease Threats for Improving Cassava Production in Zambia project, a subcomponent of the Zambia Feed-the-Future research-for-development Program funded by USAID; the Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC) in Africa project funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB); and the Smallholder Agribusiness Promotion Program (SAPP)-Cassava Intervention Plan funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL)

For the last five years, IITA has been intensifying its cassava value chain research in Zambia, supported by different development partners and donors. These include the Mitigating Cassava Disease Threats for Improving Cassava Production in Zambia project, a subcomponent of the Zambia Feed-the-Future research-for-development Program funded by USAID; the Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC) in Africa project funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB); and the Smallholder Agribusiness Promotion Program (SAPP)-Cassava Intervention Plan funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL)

These projects point to a common denominator: that the provision of suitable and adapted cassava varieties, and corresponding good agronomic and cultural practices, is key to a sustainable cassava sector. They supported IITA’s cassava breeding program, which addresses these research elements.

Developing and deploying new, suitable cassava varieties through conventional breeding has several phases. First, advanced lines generated through breeding schemes are taken through Advanced Yield Trials (AYTs) and Uniformity Yield Trials (UYTs), followed by a series of farmer participatory varietal selection (PVS). Finally, the selected improved varieties are registered and officially released for use.

PVS, in which researchers and farmers evaluate promising genotypes together, has been found to be effective in increasing the chances of newly developed varieties being taken up and used by the intended users—the farmers. In this approach, farmers have a direct say in the selection of the varieties that are well suited for cultivation in their respective agroecologies. This contrasts with the traditional approach in which farmers are mere recipients of technologies handed to them by researchers. It is through this participatory approach that four improved varieties: Mweru, Kampolombo, Nalumino, and Chila have been selected by farmers, popularized, and multiplied for distribution in Zambia. Additionally, three promising varieties coded L9-304/20, L9-304/26, and

Photo of Cassava farmer
A farmer appreciates an improved variety at on-farm trial.

TME 579 have also been selected by farmers through PVS and have been submitted to MAL’s Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI)—the country’s seed regulatory body—for official release.

IITA also conducts agronomy trials to investigate the use of fertilizers on cassava—a first in Zambia—and the crop’s response to different cultural practices (i.e., plant population density, time of planting, weed management, and crop combinations). The trials conducted on farmers’ fields showed that the addition of NPK fertilizer to cassava leads to better root yields, while intercropping cassava in alternate rows with cowpea in moisture-constrained environments, and with soybean in high rainfall areas, were shown to be beneficial. Farmers harvested cowpea/soybean without sacrificing cassava root yield at harvest. Through field days, farmers were able to observe, learn, and differentiate between cassava grown using traditional practices and cassava grown using recommended practices. This has helped farmers to change their mindset on how to grow the root crop better.

For sustainable dissemination and adoption of technologies and innovations, IITA used the Innovation Platform (IP) approach in the SARD-SC and SAPP project areas. The IPs are effective in facilitating long-term interaction and engagement among the different actors in the value chain (producers/farmers, processors, transporters, finance institutions, traders, industrial users, etc.). They strengthen linkages among the actors by providing a platform to seek common solutions to obstacles within the value chain and developing business ideas that support the commodity. This has had a positive impact especially on farmers as they are directly linked to existing and emerging markets.

The cassava research projects have also benefited communities by creating livelihood opportunities for women and the youth in areas such as value addition and seed multiplication. To this end, capacity building has also been one of IITA’s major interventions. For example, in 2016, IITA facilitated two training courses on cassava utilization for 61 participants on producing value-added, cassava-based primary products (such as high quality cassava flour, HQCF) and derivatives such as confectionary (cakes, cookies, biscuits, cocktail tidbits, fritters, and bread), cassava-based dishes including cassava leaves with fish and soy, and cassava leaves with soy paste.

IITA also trained 11 young female members of the Zambia IITA Youth Agripreneurs (ZIYA) on the same topics at the Institute’s research campus in Kabangwe. The youth expressed their interest and willingness to start small- and medium-scale businesses based on what they had learned. They have started to use the skills acquired to make cassava products for sale and demonstrate the technologies at agricultural shows.

These projects have also helped rejuvenate the cassava agenda in Zambia and have led to the establishment of strategic alliances and partnerships between IITA and national entities. For example, IITA has partnered with SCCI to facilitate the setting up of seed multiplication fields across the project areas hosted by farmers, following strict guidelines and standards. Through this, all the SARD-SC covered districts recorded a 50% average increase in multiplication of cassava planting material. From 2014 to 2016, a total of 65 ha of multiplication fields has been established under the project that would enable the establishment of approximately 495 ha of cassava.

The cassava projects also supplement each other. Through IPs, multiplication fields of improved varieties have been established by individual farmers, farmers’ groups, and cooperatives under SARD-SC, which now supply seed to SAPP project sites. This year, SARD-SC IPs sold 612 bundles of planting material to SAPP as well as to Total Land Care (TLC), which has established an outgrower scheme for cassava

Photo of IITA female trainees

Because of IITA’s initiatives, Zambia’s private sector has taken notice of the business potential of cassava. For example, Premier Con Ltd saw an opportunity to promote local commercial production of cassava to extract starch that, in turn, will be used by another company, Kalumbila Minerals Limited (KML), to process copper. According to Lubasa Yuyi, the Chief Executive Officer of Premier Con, the signed offtaker agreement with the mine is to provide 20,000 to 30,000 tons of cassava starch per annum. In the initial phase of the agreement, Premier Con is targeting to produce 7200 tons of starch annually, which requires 28,800 tons of fresh roots per annum. The company has mobilized at least 5,000 small-scale outgrower schemes to meet this huge demand.

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ZIYA members processing cassava roots, Kabangwe, Zambia

The cassava component of SARD-SC has also made strides in linking farmers to markets through the IPs. Farmers in Mansa District, one of SARD-SC’s project sites in Zambia, have been linked to Zambian Breweries (ZB), a subsidiary of SABMiller South Africa, which has commenced buying dry chips from the farmers. ZB is using cassava as one main ingredient for its Eagle Lager beer. The company is targeting to buy approximately 1000 tons of dried cassava chips per year.

These developments in the cassava sector of Zambia require significant increases in production alongside the rapid development in processing technologies and marketing of food products derived from the root crop. This, in turn, is pushing the government to effect a favorable policy environment that will support and promote crop diversification as well as enhance the interest of the private sector to invest in cassava. All these will require more and better varieties and a well-established and sustainable clean seed system to meet the exponential demand. IITA and its partners in Zambia such as the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and SCCI will have to work hand-in-hand with the private sector and other stakeholders.

Reference

Nhamo, N., Kintche, K., Kebede, G., Omondi, J., Chiona, M.*, Chikoye, D., Ntawuruhunga, P. 2016. Adaptation to biophysical stress and improved crop management practices determine cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) future yield gains. Frontiers in Plant Science, pp. 1−46.

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