Cassava will be the industrial raw material for the next 20-30 years, according to Prof. OtimNape. It is called the food of the poor because of its multiple food sources.
The roots are cooked and eaten in pieces, the leaves make vegetates and the stem produces firewood that can be used to cook the roots.
However, cassava is moving from just being a food crop to a commercial crop and farmers are cashing in, especially in northern Uganda.
“There is no looking back. Cassava is needed for making drugs and fuel. There is cassava flour for making cakes and brewing beer,” Otim-Nape, who is also the chairperson and chief executive officer of the Africa Innovations Institute, says.
Since its introduction over 120 years ago, cassava was quickly adopted and its production expanded rapidly. By 2040, cassava will be turning 142 years in Uganda.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) strategy under the National Development Plan II (NDPII), cassava is one of the 12 selected crops to help fight hunger and create wealth as the country pushes her quest to achieve Vision 2040.
This is because of its ability to survive extreme conditions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the leading cassava producing areas in Uganda are the eastern 37%, northern 34%, Bunyoro 15% and the central region 14%. However, overall, the crop is grown by at least 75% of small holder farmers in the country.
Otim-Nape says one of the veteran plant scientists with experience in cassava research, cassava cultivation increased greatly during the outbreak of the tropical migratory locust from 1931 to 1933.
“It became clear that cassava could withstand attacks from locusts compared to other crops and this is why many people started growing it,” he says.
Other records also show that further growing the crop increased after the droughts of 1939 and 1941.
However, the outbreak of the African cassava mosaic virus and the shortage of food in some parts of Uganda, notably Teso (now Kumi and Soroti districts) in 1943-1944, encouraged an eradication campaign and introduction by the district councils of a by-law, which made it mandatory for each farmer to grow at least 0.4ha of cassava mosaic-resistant varieties as a safeguard against famine.
Researchers explained that the high yield ability and flexibility of the crop in the farming and food systems; abilities to do well in marginal and stressed environments make it an excellent food security crop. It can do well in marginal and stressed environments and can give satisfactory yields where most crops fail.
Cassava has low labour requirements and can be left in situ for over two years without spoilage. Its resistance or tolerance to pests and diseases, particularly locusts, is the main reason that encouraged its rapid spread and adoption and made it an excellent food security crop. Moreover, its value as a famine reserve crop that was available when others were not, was appreciated.
“One could leave a cassava plant on the farm for at least three years with its tubers still good, compared to most of the current, improved varieties which last for just over a year in the soil,” Cypriano Kintu says.
Kintu, 42, says he has been growing cassava in Kikyusa, Luwero district for the last 20 years. He says that he learnt growing cassava from his father, Erostus Mutebi. Kintu hopes that as more uses of cassava are found, he hopes to still be growing cassava by 2040.
By 1950, at least 191,200 hectares of cassava were being grown in Uganda. The land area planted to cassava and production of the crop in the country increased from 0.3 million hectares and three million tonnes in 1981 to 0.4 million hectares and three million tonnes in 1989, respectively. By 1994, an estimated total of 3.1 million tonnes of the crop were produced from 0.4 million hectares of land in the country.
National statistics indicate a general increase in area up to 1975 and a general decline up to 1988, which later increased up to 1990. Similarly, production increased up to 1977 followed by a decline up to 1981. It then increased up to 1990, then declined, but later picked up by 1993.
The causes of this decline are complex and may be due to some or all of the following: poor extension services, acute shortages of agricultural inputs; (mostly hand hoes and animal implements), the 1979 liberation war, northern insurgency and frequent occurrences of severe epidemics of African cassava mosaic disease (ACMD). Regional production followed the national trend.
Regions, however, differ in terms of agro-ecological characteristics, farming and food systems and practices, which have a bearing on production. In 2015, cassava production stood at four million tonnes per year.
“It ranks second to bananas in terms of area occupied, total production and per capita consumption, respectively,” Otim-Nape says adding that it is regarded as the most important staple crop by over 50% of farmers surveyed recently in all regions of Uganda. In Uganda, cassava is grown as both a subsistence crop and a commercial crop.
“I grow it for food and I sell the surplus to the neighbours,” Sam Okot, who lives near Ngetta in Lira, says.
Additionally, cassava is also used to process drinks, for example, Ngule beer; make animal feed using the brewing waste and as a cementing agent in local construction. For years, Uganda depended on cash crops that included cotton, coffee and tea.
However, Otim-Nape says the ‘colonial’ cash crops have declined in status in recent years and now food crops, like cassava are turning into the new cash crops.
“This trend will continue in the years to come. This is because the new crops offer more opportunities both locally and internationally than the old traditional cash crops.
Different government partners have established the importance of cassava as a commercial crops and are promoting its production. The National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Namulonge in Wakiso district, is developing disease and drought resistant varieties. Private institutes, like the African Innovations Institute is helping farmers access the latest technologies in the cassava value chain.
Despite these interventions, cassava production is still at a minimal four million tonnes annually.
Dr Titus Alicai, the head of the roots programme at NaCRRI, says this is far below the five million tonnes the country was producing in the 1980s, before the diseases struck. He attributes the low productivity to two virulent diseases: the cassava mosaic diseases and cassava brown streak disease.
The latter can cause wipe out of the entire plantation. The disease struck at the end of the 1980s. Alicai says there are two ways Uganda can increase its cassava productivity, to around 10 million tonnes by 2040.
High yield varieties
First, Alicai says farmers need to grow high yielding varieties. Currently, the best one is called NAROCA 1.
This, he says, is available at certified cassava farmers spread in the cassava growing districts of Nakasongola, Lira, Masindi, Apac and Pallisa.
He says this variety yields up to between 35-50 tonnes per hectare, well above the average production of 30 million tonnes.
Secondly, he advises farmers to grow resistance varieties, which are also with certified farmers spread across the same cassava growing areas.
“All new released varieties are resistant to pests and diseases,” he reveals.
Alicai also calls for mechanisation, including use of tractors and spraying to control weeds, especially for farmers with large fields.
He roots for better agronomy, like planting of clean planting materials and sticking to standard spacing to maximise acreage. He says these can help the country benefits from cassava as a commercial raw material and propel Uganda to Vision 2040.
“We need to push production to a minimum of 10 million tonnes annually,” he says.
Cassava is the basis of a multitude of products, including;
- Brew ingredient in Ngule beer
- Flour: Used for food and preparing confectioneries, such as cakes
- Starches for sizing paper
- Chips, eaten dried or fresh
- Sauce paste, got from the dried leaves
- Peelings fed to livestock
- Starch: unmodified or native starch; modified (physical, chemical, biological) starches for industrial purposes; sweeteners, including high-fructose syrup and glucose (dextrin, monosodium glutamate, pharmaceuticals, etc.)