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Friday, 21 November 2008

Maintaining the cassava boom...

Figure 1: Trends in Food Staple Production in Zambia


Figure 2: Current market shares in the value chain
Cassava production has grown rapidly since the early 1990s, as farmers have sought to diversify their food staple production out of maize and into cassava (Figure 1). The removal of heavy subsidies for maize production and marketing coupled with the government withdrawal of a guaranteed maize market, from the early 1990s onward, reduced incentives to grow maize, leading farmers to look for other more profitable crops. At the same time new varieties have come on stream with wider appeal. Despite the progress, cassava remains extremely undercommercialised (Figure 2), and there are fears that unless the commercial market can be developed further it will all come to a stop. A new FSRP paper discusses the current policies affecting cassava and opportunities available for commercialisation. A key constraint identified is the price :

Low cost will be key to the viability of cassava as a carbohydrate source in prepared food, livestock feeds and industrial sweeteners and starches. Hence, rapid growth in cassava commercialization will require a lower price, not a higher one. Feeding trials conducted by the Livestock Development Trust (LDT) suggest that the cassava price must fall to 60% of the price of maize in order for cassava to become a viable substitute for maize in production of livestock feed (Simbaya 2007). Similarly, the market for composite flour hinges on the cassava price being lower than that of maize or wheat. Otherwise, substitution of cassava for wheat and maize becomes unviable, raising consumer cost rather than lowering it. Indeed, the FRA’s difficulty in disposing of its high-cost cassava stocks over the past three years suggests that high-priced cassava offers a sure means of preventing cassava commercialization.

Given the far higher onfarm productivity of cassava compared to maize, production cost and hence price of cassava can easily be brought lower than maize. In the cassava belt, cassava prices currently range between 50% to 60% of the price of maize. In the dual staple zone, cassava’s relative cost lies closer to 70%. And in the maize belt, the cassava price is normally higher than maize price because of the long distances cassava must transit from the cassava belt to the feed and food industries of central and southern Zambia. Given the high cost of transport in Zambia, it seems that increased cassava production in the maize belt offers the best likelihood of making low-cost cassava available in that zone. Given the confirmed high productivity of cassava in central Zambia, it is clearly possible to produce low-cost cassava in this region (Barratt et al. 2006).

Update : The new Agriculture Minister on the importance of cassava for food security.

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