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[KAMPALA] An array of technologies that could propel cassava and potato into more potent poverty-fighting roles has opened up to smallholder farmers.

Threecountries from the Eastern Africa Community (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) gazetted processing standards for the two root crops last month (4 August), which means that farmers should be able to use the technologies to tap into growing demand — both local and international — for the foods.

Cassava and potato have been identified as crops that could alleviate poverty and increase growth in Africa. The New Partnership for Africa's Development, for example, has launched a Pan-African Cassava Initiative that seeks to tap the continent's potential for boosting food security and generating income.

But cassava has several flaws. Like other root crops it is perishable, and loses its freshness after just two days. The other major cause of post-harvest losses is the presence of poisonous cyanide compounds in the crop.

These disadvantages could be minimised by the use of technologies such as waxing, fermenting, the application of fungicides and storage in plastic bags, which could also transform the potential of potatoes. 

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), jointly with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Potato Centre, published the 14 standards, which apply across the East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) last June.

Michael Waithaka, manager for the Policy Analysis and Advocacy Programme at ASARECA, said the technologies will improve storability and help add value for smallholders' access to different niche markets.

"This brings hope to cassava and potato farmers whose welfare and incomes will improve since the standards enable efficient processing into a wide range of products that are supplied to larger domestic and intra regional markets," said Waithaka.

The move, Waithaka said, will also encourage research into the breeding of varieties that process more easily.

High quality cassava flour has many uses: as an extender in urea and plywood adhesives and for conversion into sugar syrups, bio-ethanol products and livestock feed rations.

According to Abass Adebayo, a cassava value chain specialist based at IITA-Tanzania, the demand for animal feeds that include cassava is rising. High quality cassava flour is now in the shelves of supermarkets with supplies from small milling companies grossing up to a ton per day.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimates that world cassava production will reach 275 million tons by 2020. Africa produces more than 60 per cent of the world's cassava.

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