Malawi’s Cassava project takes shape

The recently inaugurated Cassava transformation programme by President Joyce Banda has taken off to a flying start despite facing funding problems in its earliest stages.

A visit to Chitedze Research Station which is under the ministry of Agriculture and food security recently has revealed that in just three months after it was launched jointly by Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, there has been tremendous progress.

The project is one of the thematic areas of focus being implemented by the Presidential Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction, a brainchild of President Banda which is under her office and is aimed at encouraging local farmers to venture into commercial Cassava farming as the product has readily international market available.

The initiative’s National Coordinator Flora Kaluwire told Nyasa Times she is overwhelmed by the tremendous progress the pilot Cassava project has registered in Chitedze and said it is an encouragement to all farmers interested in the farming.

Kandiyani Irrigation Site at Chitedze

“When the president launched this programme on September 10, 2012 this whole land was bare but three months down the line the entire area has turned into cassava plantation field.

“This will go along way into serving as part of an encouragement to local farmers as they will take the project as their role model. What we’re doing in this pilot field is to come up with multiplication of Cassava plantation materials and surely we’re on track. As you can see this is an impressive and remarkable achievement,” explained a visibly delighted Kaluwire.

Asked on how the Cassava product would bring about the much touted economic transformation in a country that has for years relied heavily on Tobacco and maize production, Kaluwire further said that apart from being drought resistant, Cassava flour can be used for beer brewing and baking, a development she said can help uplift the living standards of most rural Malawians.

She observed that companies like Carlsberg Malawi and Universal Industries have demand for dry cassava.

However, she was quick to point out that Malawian farmers lack the basic capacity to meet requirements in-terms of volume and quality.

“We’re not just talking about one or two bags of Cassava. Generally we’re talking about serious and intensive commercial farming to produce large volumes to meet both local and international demand.

“I’m aware that when President Jonathan came to Malawi he mentioned something to the effect that his government is willing to help Malawi make good use of this commodity by opening up various trade opportunities for farmers to export Cassava to Nigeria.

“the other issue is that despite facing several challenges I’m sure with proper technical expertise we can realize the president’s dream of commercialization Cassava farming and contribute to the economic transformation,” she observed.

Meanwhile, Chitedze Research Station Cassava specialist Dr. Ibrahim Benesi said some parts of the country like Nkhata-Bay, Kasungu, Mchinji, Mangochi and Mulanje have already been earmarked for distribution of the Cassava cuttings to farmers.

Said Benesi: “In Nkhata-Bay the project is also making progress. We were supposed to have completed the distribution and planting exercise by now. However, we were delayed by logistical challenges but as I’m speaking right now farmers are in the fields planting.”

He added that in countries like Mozambique, Cassava is being used for brewing beer, a development he said has helped to create jobs and generate foreign currency.

Explained Benesi: “Recently I visited neighboring Mozambique where an investor there is operating a mobile  cassava processing plant that is producing a cassava wet cake that is used for beer making called Impala by a brewery company. The cassava cake replaces 70% of Molt barley which is a big forex saving.

“The venture has created a big employment opportunity in rural and urban areas, at the same time saving foreign exchange. So I’m hopeful that with the political will we have at the moment the same innovative project can be introduced here in Malawi.”

Meanwhile, according to the officials, the government through the initiative has already distributed over 1600 metric tons of legume seeds namely Groundnuts (CG7), Pigeon Peas, Soya Beans and Beans to farmers across the country with the aim to graduate them from subsistence to commercial farming.

President Banda who inherited nearly dry state coffers without foreign reserves from her predecessor late Bingu wa Mutharika is banking heavily on the national legume seed distribution project as it is seen to be the short term gateway to breaking the international export market especially in Asia where the legume seeds like Pigeon Peas are used as staple food specifically in India and Pakistan.

Joyce Banda and Gooluck Jonathan breaking the ground to mark the launch of the project in September 2012

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