African cassava trends and prospects for the 21st century

Pages 174-195

Felix I. Nweke


Cassava production achieved positive, though marginal, growth in the past 37 years. It provided some measure of security in food supply by increasing when the productivity of other staples declined in countries which suffered major crises such as drought or civil wars. But the positive growth rate was achieved only in a few countries where farmers had access to labor-saving processing technologies. The high growth rates attained in the Sahel during the drought periods were not sustained; in those areas grains were preferred to cassava in the food system. With few exceptions and apart from countries where the crop played major food security roles, cassava production was positively correlated with national income only in countries which process cassava into convenient food products which are attractive to urban consumers and therefore has relatively high income elasticities of demand. The post-harvest technologies were generated in the private sector and they have been available for relatively long periods though not used in many countries. The increase in per capita production was achieved through increase in yield because area harvested per capita declined during the period. The period of increase in yield coincided with the period of wide adoption of high yielding varieties in Nigeria, a very recent development. African cassava is used predominantly for human consumption although there is a downward trend in the food share of the African cassava. But Africa’s share of world food cassava has an upward trend because the relative food shares of other regions’ productions are declining faster than the relative food share of African production. The feed share of the African cassava production has an increasing trend, which is strong enough to produce an upward trend in Africa’s share of world feed cassava. The increase in the feed share of Africa’s cassava was derived from just one country. Similarly, industrial use share of African cassava production showed an upward trend which was strong enough to cause an increasing trend in Africa’s share of world industrial use cassava even though known recent developments in uses of cassava in industries have not entered the records. Cassava was exported at one time or another by most African producing countries and even though the export share in production declined to near zero at a certain time it appears to be recovering. Africa’s ability to compete in the export market is constrained by high domestic demand for food, high production and processing costs and low product quality. The downward trend in food share of African cassava production and the upward trends in feed and industrial use shares reflect positive impact of the recent public sector post-harvest research and development and increasing commercialization of production. There was an upward trend in waste share of African cassava and an upward trend in African share of world waste cassava. These suggest that Africa is lagging other regions in post-harvest management technology adoption. In the 21st century cassava will continue to provide food security in periods of crises; to sustain production gains made during such period’s research and development must address the specific needs of areas prone to drought. This will include breeding of varieties suitable for the ecological and system conditions as well as adapting and extending available labor-saving processing technologies and convenient food products which will help cassava compete with preferred grains. Public sector research and development made positive impact in their short time of existence; if they continue to build on their accomplishments and on the accomplishments of the private sector post-harvest research and development, many positive things will happen in cassava production and utilization in Africa For example, waste share of African cassava will decline, cassava will serve the food, feed and other industries, and Africa’s share of world export cassava will increase. Cassava will be widely transformed into a commercial crop in the 21st century.

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