Years ago in Busoga, cassava was only considered a source of food. Today, the situation is different. Farmers are bagging cash from the tubers and stems/ cuttings, which are on high demand by the crop promoting agencies, specifically Operation Wealth Creation (OWC).
The leaves are also being sold fresh or dried to livestock farmers. OWC distributes cassava cuttings procured through the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS).
According to farmers, this process has turned the cassava stems into money-makers even compared to the tubers themselves. The varieties on market, according to Col Mubarak Nkuutu, the OWC coordinator for Kamuli district, include NAROCASS 1 and NAROCASS 2, which are not only early maturing in eight months, but high yielding and sweet.
Nkuutu said the stems are harvested by the suppliers after certification from agricultural technocrats to ensure that they are of good quality and are disease-free. According to the National Agriculture Organisation (NARO) that introduced the new varieties, from one acre, a farmer harvests 34-36 bags of cuttings.
The farm-gate price per bag is sh15,000-sh20,000, which translates to sh1.3m-sh1.5m in less than nine months. The stems then grow back. The stumps sprout after two weeks, and six months later, the tubers are ready for harvest that can be sold as well.
Nkuutu said the high demand for NAROCASS 1 and 2 varieties is attributed to the outbreak of the cassava brown streak disease in early 2000s which ravaged the existing varieties, rendering them unproductive.
In Uganda, the disease accounts for an estimated annual yield loss of more than $60m and it has been singled out as the biggest economic constraint to the production of cassava in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“We are promoting the two varieties which are high-yielding early maturing, resistant to cassava mosaic and tolerant to brown streak disease,” Col Nkutu said during an interview.
George Batwawula, 60, the Vision Group’s Best Farmer 2016 winner, is one of the beneficiaries of the cash bonanza that comes with cassava.
“The cuttings are the gold we harvest before the tubers. When you have the right variety, cash drops at your doorstep,” Batwawula said.
He gave a testimony that from 2.5 acres, he bagged sh3.5m from the cuttings before harvesting the tubers six months later, earning sh16m in 14 months.
“I have two-and-half acres from which I bagged between sh12m and sh16m in 14 months from the cuttings and tubers,” he said, during an interaction at Embago Izaghula Farm, Nankulyaku village in Northern division, Kamuli Municipality recently.
Paul Bogere, the manager of Eden Farm, Buwala in Buwala village, Butagaya sub-county, Jinja district commands 20 acres and earns from cuttings and tubers.
“I sell the stem cuttings before the stalks sprout again and I harvest the tubers. To add value, I dry and process it into flour,” Bogere said, adding that the enterprise pays him within 15 months.
Bogere says earnings from cuttings improve profits from an acre of cassava by over 50%.
Dr Fredrick Kabbale, the district production and marketing officer for Buyende, says cassava is a musthave crop for every family.
“The crop checks hunger. It is nutritious and is consumed in different forms,” Dr Kabbale, also Buyende’s senior entomologist, said. Moses Mpasa, the proprietor of Bivamuntuuyo Farmers Society, Mukokotokwa, said from the three acres, he earns between sh1.4m and sh1.6m from stems, before the fresh tubers from which he earns sh6msh7m.
Cassava growing advocacy
Veronica Babirye Kadogo, the former Buyende district Woman MP, says cassava should be a must-have crop in every household.
“At least every Ugandan should have a cassava garden,” Babirye said, while handing over cuttings at Igalaza in Kagulu sub-county, adding that the crop follows bananas (matooke) among the staple foods. The third most consumed food is maize.
Spacing depends on the variety. However, the average spacing is 3×3 feet between the plants and the lines.
Peter Dhamuzungu, the principal science officer of chemical services in the ICT ministry, says maturity depends on the variety, ranging between seven and 12 months.
Cassava can be intercropped with beans, soyabeans, maize, peas, among other cereals, from germination to four feet high.
Dhamuzungu advises that to have consistent cassava supply, farmers need to establish new gardens after every four months. So far, 21 varieties have been released in the past three decades, according to the National Crop Research Institute (NaCCRI) chronology.
According to Naome Mwidu, who processes cassava into various products, including flour that can be used in baking cakes, buns, ‘daddies’, munchies, bagiya and earn money with minimal strain as the retail shop clientele are constantly hovering around to pick them.