By DORCAS CHAABA –
Cassava is a tuberous starchy root, which is high in carbohydrates.
It is the main staple food crop in many parts of Zambia.
The roots can be readily available on the market all year around.
Cassava is the second most important staple food in the country, with over 4 million people consuming it as part of their staple diet.
The crop has been cultivated for many years as farmers seek to diversify their food because the crop can tolerate drought and can be grown in soils with low nutrient capacity.
Cassava is mainly a subsistence crop that is grown by small scale farmers.
It grows well in low fertile soils and limited labour is required.
This undoubtedly gives the crop a comparative advantage over other traditional crops.
Cassava is sometimes dried to preserve it.
But it is also sold fresh depending on the consumer’s preferences.
Dried cassava is occasionally milled and sold as cassava meal, which is a delicacy among people from Northern, Luapula, Western and North Western provinces of Zambia who use it for preparing nshima.
The demand for cassava meal is growing, especially among urban consumers.
It is also on high demand among manufacturing companies such as Zambian Breweries.
However, with the outbreak of the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) that was first reported in 2018 in the country, this food crop is under siege.
The first incidences of the disease were reported in the northern districts of Chienge (Luapula Province) and Kaputa (Northern Province).
The disease is one of the most serious constraints to sustainable cassava production not only in Zambia but in East, Central and Sub-Saharan African countries.
It is against this background that Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) organised a cassava value-chain stakeholder’s consultative workshop to strengthen the response to CBSD by identifying the gaps in the communication within the cassava value-chain that can inform an effective communication campaign on CBSD in Zambia.
CABI Research Fellow Chapwa Kasoma said the goal of the consultative meeting was to strengthen the response to CBSD by identifying gaps in communication within the cassava value chain that can inform an effective communication campaign on CBSD in Zambia.
“CABI is interested in developing a communications campaign in order to curb the spread of CBSD. We thought the best way to approach this was to call stakeholders in the value chain to try and get information on how best this matter could be tackled,” Dr Kasoma said.
Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) chief agricultural research officer Patrick Chikoti called on all stakeholders to work hard for the benefit of the farmers in reducing the impact of CBSD.
He commended CABI for the initiative of bringing all stakeholders in the cassava value-chain to discuss the way forward.
Dr Chikoti said cassava was at risk because the disease affects the leaves, stems and roots.
He said Government considered CBSD as a disease of economic importance.
“With the changes in climate which has affected a lot of cereal crops, cassava is a crop to fall back on because it is drought resistant and is able to withstand floods. Hence the outbreak of CSBD should be handled with the seriousness it deserves to keep the industry thriving,” he said.
Dr Chikoti cautioned farmers on the movement of infected cuttings as planting material.
He said the cuttings can also contribute to the spread of the disease.
“This disease is transmitted by an insect pest known as the whitefly, which is found wherever cassava is grown and has the potential to reduce yields up to 100 per cent,” he said.
Zambia National Cassava Association (ZANACA) chairperson Brighton Mulonga said CBSD was threatening all the gains that had been made in the sector through investment by Zambian Breweries, Sunbird Bioenergy and MUSIKA.
Mr Mulonga said there was a delay in releasing new cassava varieties to the farming community due to the work involved in cleaning up the planting material.
“Some industrial processors are demanding for new varieties that suit the kind of products that they manufacture or process. As an association, we are calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to look into this issue even as they clean up the cassava cuttings,” he said.
He called for political will in addressing CBSD.
Mr Mulonga warned that if nothing is done urgently, there will be no cassava to talk about and all the investments would go to waste.
He noted that there was need for policy makers to support the cassava sub-sector because it was a source of income and food security.
Mr Mulonga said the Government should advance the policy passed by the previous administration, through the Ministry of Energy, by allowing 10 per cent of ethanol to go into petrol production.
A disease free cassava tuber fetches a good price on the market.
This, no doubt, can lead to poverty alleviation at all levels and consequently contribute to economic development.-NAIS