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Research, Innovation Improves Cassava Varieties

by Harvest Money Editor
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On October 9, Uganda will become 60 years old. To celebrate this achievement, the New Vision is looking at what the country has given its citizens and the world in terms of innovations, discoveries and inventions. Today, HERBERT MUSOKE writes about the improvements that have been made in cassava improvement.

When Mohamed Wampamba of Najjanankumbi, a Kampala suburb, began his baking business, he was always out-competed, which frustrated him.

His rudimentary technology of firewood on a stove made with bricks and sand did not produce good quality bread.

Cassava has for decades been known as a staple food for many people in Uganda with less consideration on how it can become a cash crop.

With research and innovations from the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) under the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), cassava has become Uganda’s high-value crop with new varieties, and both consumer and industrial products.

INTO THE RESEARCH

Ephraim Nuwamanya, a biochemist and senior researcher at NARO, explains that they do many laboratory tastes for any crop before being released for palatability, which is the content of cassava.

“At the laboratory, we measure the level of palatability depending on what makes cassava sweet or sour by measuring the amount of hydrogen cyanide, which is the ingredient that makes cassava sweet or sour,” he says.

Other traits include millines (feeling good in the mouth), softness secessional analysis (whiteness) and acceptability. So, the last recommendation will cause the release of the variety.

NEW VARIETIES

Dr Christopher Omongo Abu, the leader of the Root Crop programme at NaCRRI in Namulonge, says they have come up with innovations geared towards introducing new varieties and products from cassava.

“The main aim of our research is to use cassava to reduce non-communicable diseases and fight malnutrition by increasing the micro-nutrition in the crop. For now, the varieties we are researching for are for food production and industrialists who wish to make other products, like beers, industrial research and ethanol, among others,” he says.

Also, they are making biodegradable plastics used to make shopping bags and planting bags to replace polyethene bags to protect the environment. These can easily decompose in the soil. Here, they pick local varieties from which they enhance a particular trait, like productivity, starch amount and maturity period, among others,” he explains.

Omongo says such research takes 12-15 years but, with innovations, they are reducing the period to at least five years such that farmers can be given answers to their stressing issues.

He explains that, for now, research has helped them understand cassava diseases, especially cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak, which had become a danger to the crop, destroying it across the country.

“These diseases can no longer destroy cassava if farmers understand what they need to do, like planting early, planting clean material, planting mature stems and weeding the gardens,” he says.

Many released varieties, like the Nase series (1-14) and Narocas 1 and 2, are resistant to these diseases if a farmer follows the right agronomical practices.

INDUSTRIAL VARIETIES

Dr William Esuma, a cassava breeder at NaCRRI, says for the last 12 years they have been working on new varieties which will be better than the available ones for both food and industrial use.

“We started with over 1,000 varieties and now are remaining with 21 varieties for commercial value with an emphasis on starch for bread and cake baking, sweeteners and colouration for soft drinks. We are working with industrialists, like Nile Breweries, who manufacture Engule beer from cassava such that they can do their research on the varieties we plan to release,” he explains.

For brewing, they are working on UG 120193 and Mukumba varieties which are now under monitoring and evaluation to verify if they can produce the best-quality beer.

“On the side of food, we are working on a yellow cassava variety that contains vitamin ‘A’ which will be used to reduce non-communicable diseases, but also fight malnutrition. In about two to three years, Uganda will get its first yellow cassava,” he says.

This cassava can be eaten fresh or used to make flour that can be used for baking premium bread.

FUTURE RESEARCH

Dr Christopher Omongo Abu, the leader of the Root Crop programme at NaCRRI in Namulonge says, as researchers, they are always in laboratories because farmers always ask for the best in terms of production and mechanisation among others.

PRODUCTIVITY: Cassava’s production potential is between 80-100tonnes p/h but, in Uganda, it is still at 20 tonnes. “Therefore, we must continue with research to provide farmers with high-yielding varieties,” Omongo says, adding that farmers must also be trained on enhancing soil fertility.

EARLY MATURITY: The available varieties mature at 12 months yet farmers require varieties that can mature at about six months.

HIGHLAND: Omongo says the available varieties are not planted in highland areas, like Zombo, Kabale, Kasese and Mbale, among others, yet they also want to grow cassava since they consume it.

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