A new project in Zimbabwe, bringing together farmers, the government, academics, researchers, private sector players and non-profits, is looking at how a relatively rare crop in the country, cassava, can be turned into a commercially viable national venture.
Cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize and is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people (FAO).
In many countries around or close to Zimbabwe it is a staple. These include Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana and Tanzania. However, the crop has never been popular in the land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers, where maize (ground into powder and cooked into a stiff porridge called ‘sadza’) is the main source of carbohydrates.
The lure of cassava is its high resistance to drought, its diversity of uses –from food, biofuel, medicinal applications, laundry starch to livestock feed, its level of food calories produced and its potential as a cash crop.
The Cassava Commercialisation Project is being promoted by The Zimbabwe Microfinance Wholesale Facility, Quest Financial Services, DFID, GIZ and HIVOS.
These partners recently brought together other agricultural players for a workshop in Harare whose objectives were to develop and adopt a strategy for commercialising cassava and influencing
national policy on cassava as a strategic crop in Zimbabwe. An additional aim is to create a critical mass of knowledge and strategic information about the cassava crop based on shared experiences.
Ndumiso Mpofu, Programme Officer for the Green Entrepreneurship Programme at the HIVOS Regional Office in Southern Africa, explainsthat Hivos is supporting this project as it fits well into its climate change response strategy.
A number of challenges related to the commercialisation of cassava were raised during the workshop. These included the lack of a policy framework to support large-scale cassava introduction, the short shelf life of cassava after harvesting and the need to create a market for the crop to ensure that it will be purchased.
Among the conclusions of the workshop was the creation of a cassava taskforce that would spearhead the project. The taskforce has been asked to develop a cassava commercialisation strategy and source funding for setting up and upscaling innovation hubs that will explore the various uses of cassava in Zimbabwe.
The taskforce also has the multi-faceted job of engaging in advocacy towards policy makers. Once they have buy-in from the lawmakers and the right policies are in place, the real work of convincing the Zimbabwean population that there can be an alternative or even a worthwhile ‘backup’ to sadza will begin.