By Ubwiza Chiyungi
Zambia has experienced adverse impacts of climate change in the past years such as drought, flash floods and changes in growing season. This is one of the reasons the country needs to move into a different direction in relation to farming. It is widely know that diversification of crops is in high demand as the staple crop being maize has hit by effects of climate change in several provinces around the country. The traditional ways of farming and types of crops farmed have no choice but to adapt in order to deal with changing climate around the country & the world. Farmers are beginning to grow climate resilient crops like cassava but could a crop like cassava be grown on a larger scale in Zambia. What it is holding it back from upscaling the farming sector of Zambia?
Cassava is believed to have been introduced to Zambia via the Congo basin where crops were well established by 1650 (Jones 1959). According to Journal of Plant Pathology (Chikoti, 2019) : The immigration of the Bemba people from the Lunda Luba Kingdom (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), cassava became an important crop in Northern Zambia by the 1700s. The importance of the crop has steadily increased in other parts of the country. The resilience of the cassava plant enables it to grow well under a wide range of agroecological zones, including zones where maize and other crops cannot thrive.
The production of cassava is confined to the north, western and north-western parts of Zambia and is exclusively produced by over 350,000 smallholder farmers. The first cassava out grower scheme according to the Zambia National Farmers Union was in Luapula Province. About 30% of the Zambian population depends on cassava as a major staple. Over 800,000 tons of cassava was produced for home consumption, but only 8% of it is marketed for income. It is often consumed as ‘nshima’ (cassava flour alone or a mixture of cassava and maize meal, called maize-cassava nshima), or dried and roasted as snacks, and to some extent raw as fresh roots.
There is a limited knowledge of cassava products’ diversity and the low usage of improved equipment are challenges to the production that could lead to increased cassava consumption. (Chiona, 2019) There has been no significant change over the last two decades in cassava processing and product development in Zambia, which could raise cassava development. Currently cassava farmers only grow cassava on one hectare of farm land with limited mechanism for effective production of the crop. They lack access to a variety of cassava crops, proper transportation of harvest and lack of ready market has continued to hold back the grow of cassava farming.
“Farmers still see a bright a future for cassava farming in Zambia especially the adaptability of cassava growth to Climate Change,” said the Vice President, Zambia National Farmers Union, Joseph Mungandi. With new innovations in place of cassava use such as creating of sanitizers. The livestock industry going to into cassava farming and Zambian Breweries Plc, producing a clear beer called Eagle Lager using high quality cassava flour which it mills from dried cassava chips bought from farmers in Mansa, Luapula province; This has helped in providing a ready market for cassava growth in Luapula province.
The government still needs to create more measures and effort to promote climate resilient crops like cassava. The Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo said, “Cassava is Zambia’s second largest crop after maize; the latest crop forecast shows the production of cassava has increased by 1, 028,719 metric tonnes from the previous season”. In 2019 the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) partnered with Zambian government & other partners created a seed bulking for cassava farming for small-scale farmers. This seed bulking scheme could help in upscaling cassava farming in Zambia. According to Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC); President Edgar Lungu has launched a cassava out grower scheme this year with Sunbird Bio-energy refinery in Kawambwa district. The company will target 2000 farmers by 2021 which will cost about 20 million dollars.
Other projects working in boosting cassava farming is the Premiercon Starch Company Limited working with Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) for the supply of feedstock to be used for production of starch to be then supplied to FQM’s Kalumbila mine as a copper processing input: The feedstock will be made using cassava & sweet potatoes. There is progress in cassava farming efforts by government & private sectors whether this leads to large scale production of cassava is yet to be seen.
It has also been suggested that cassava could be more resilient to climate change than other staple crops. Cassava is a more attractive crop for sustainable agriculture because it produces higher yields per unit of land than maize. This could the most important reason why more farmers can shift cassava farming to help in fighting climate change and contribute to food security in Zambia.