Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Root crops seminar - towards feeding the millions

Cassava, yam and other root crops are a major part of our staple diet along the west coast of Africa. A correspondent tells of the efforts being made to make the crop pest free and abundant on the market.
The Root Crops Workshop was organised by the Ghana Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with the Ibadan-based Inter- national Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) last year. It was attended by participants from the West African sub- region viz, Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Liberia, Gambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone:

The purpose of the Workshop was to discuss issues such as agronomy farming methods, new techniques of cultivation and rapid multiplication, pest control and fertilizer usage in the production of crops such as yams, cassava, potatoes, etc, which form the main staple diet of peoples in the West African region.

The Workshop is of fundamental im- portance in the effort of West African countries to feed their populations and it underlines one basic cause of the ineffici- ent food production in the region, ie. the total neglect of scientific research in agriculture compounded by the effect of traditional prejudices and preferences against the introduction of newer varieties of crops.

In his address to the opening of the workshop, Ghana's Secretary for Agriculture, Dr I.K. Adjei-Maafo, reiterated the government's strategies to face the challenges of attaining food sufficiency especially in root crops since production of root and tuber yams crops should re- duce the spread of famine in Africa to a large extent. He added: " tuber crops are the most important in- gredients in the diet of all our populations. They are economical, cheap to produce and they provide carbohydrate requirements for human nutrition…

He reminded the participants of the meeting that "Ghana was the first country to germinate true yam seedlings for re- search and study" but regretted that there has been a systematic decline in the pro- duction of the crops, particularly yams where 850,000 tonnes were produced in 1974, while the 1983 production was significantly lower, which he attributed to a host of virus, insect pests and diseases. He therefore called on the workshop participants to come out with proposals aimed at finding solutions to the problems of root crops agriculture.

An official of IITA blamed policy makers and research workers for neglect- ing the successful production of these crops for so long. He was optimistic that the Workshop will find solutions to the problems and constraints in root crops farming.

In its deliberations the Workshop lauded Ghana's pioneering role in agri- culture research in the sub-region. It was mentioned that Ghana has produced new varieties of sweet potatoes and has in collaboration with IITA developed new varieties of cassava which is resistant to mealy bugs and spider mites. The new varieties are being multiplied at the Weija Farms in Ghana. This was generally agreed as commendable and a positive achievement because it is known that traditional varieties of cassava are too easily susceptible to pests and diseases.

An eminent Ghanaian agriculturist, Dr E.V. Doku, proposed to the participants to research on ways and means to produce what he termed "Bachelor Yams", ie. yams which require smaller mounds, shorter stakes, and takes very little time to mature, in comparison to conventional yams.

Other recommendations include a call for the intensification of research into the genetic improvement and production of root crops through the establishment of training and research centres.

At the end of the Workshop, a number of recommendations were made and adopted. These include the suggestion for the establishment of Roots & Tuber Crops Board (RTCB) in countries of the region to promote and oversee the cultivation, storage, marketing and processing of roots and tuber crops. This suggestion was overwhelmingly welcomed as the participants saw it as a means to place greater emphasis and attention and importance to the production of these crops and to carve a place for it in national agricultural policy. Such boards, it was emphasised, would serve as a vehicle for dissemination and information, technical and economical to farmers and the public at large.

Other recommendations include a call for the intensification of research into the genetic improvement and production of root crops through the establishment of training and research centres. The Work- shop agreed to rationalise collaboration with international centres and institutions in the training of research personnel and farm extension workers. The fact that root and tuber crops are drought-resistant was stressed as one way to beat the threat to food production due to the persistent drought and poor irrigation systems.

Sadly enough, the Workshop did not have time to discuss the important role played in rural communities by yams that grow wild, popularly called 'Ahabayere' in Akan which is seasonal reproducible and accounts for about 40% of yam consumption in many cocoa-growing areas.

There were no formal discussions on strategies of marketing and processing of the crops and it is hoped that future Workshops will not forget to face the issue of crop marketing and processing particularly the lack of domestic pricing policy for these crops. In Ghana, yams are priced according to (1) abundance on the market, (2) type of yam, (3) how long it has been kept and the ability of the customer to bargain with the seller.

Weight of tubers are unknown. The middlemen in the trade of yams and cassavas are many.

Mechanisation of root and tuber crops production might help to revive the future of this area of food farming; for instance, the mechanisation of making yam mounds will be a great feat indeed.

The production of garri from cassava was the topic of informal discussion. Mechanised garri has come to stay throughout the whole region. Commercial farms have installed machinery to produce garri and starch in abundance. Mention was made of such plants in Abeokuta and Ibadan in Nigeria, Assin-Fosu in Ghana and Conakry in Guinea. In these mechanical plants machines peel the cassava tubers and feed them into automatic graters which mash them. The mash is allowed to ferment for up to five days and then pressed to exude the starch. The cake is broken up and sifted of the fibres and then fed into 'fryers' called 'Garrifriers' for roasting in oil. Conveyor belts then carry cooked granules for bagging and storage.

The workshop also referred to the three-man World Bank/FAO Cassava Plant Pest Control Team which visited Ghana in March to study the problem of cassava pests in the country and hoped that the Team's 21-day visit will bring gains to arrest any future havoc of cassava production in the country.

• Traditional method of storage of yam should be improved to help out of season availability for the markets.

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