[YAOUNDE, CAMEROON] A newly established regional forum on cassava for Central African countries aims to facilitate dialogue to improve how to add value to cassava farming. Ministers of agriculture and rural development from Cameroun, Central African Republic and Gabon are optimistic that agriculture could transform the region into a semi-industrial economy, with cassava being at the centre of the sector. They were speaking with agricultural experts, policymakers and smallholder farmers during the inaugural biennial Cassava forum held in Cameroon last month (6-9 December).
The biennial forum aims at bringing together relevant individuals and institutions in cassava value chain to discuss the challenges and opportunities in cassava farming, especially in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon. The forum was organised by Netherlands-headquartered Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in partnership with UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and Nigerian-headquartered International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. The Ministers, speaking at different sessions during the forum, noted that cassava is a very important crop that could help the region boosts its food security through increased production. They urged researchers and the private sector to help the transfer and adoption of new technologies by smallholder farmers to enable them overcome challenges such as climate change. “This forum is very important in helping us address the challenges facing a crop that is important, especially to the rural poor,” says Ananga Messina, minister delegate to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Cameroon. Mesina urges hospitality industries to ensure that cassava meals are served in their restaurants and hotels to help increase markets for farmers. She adds that the next forum to be held in 2018 at the Central African Republic should address post-harvest losses in processing of cassava, which is still a major challenge in the region. But, Mesina is asking the participating countries to have national forums prior to the regional one to discuss national challenges and opportunities. She says that this would make the regional forum sustainable.
Vincent Fautrel, a senior programme coordinator agricultural value chains at CTA, tells SciDev.Net: “Cassava has been associated with the rural poor for a long time yet it has the potential to transform economies.” Fautrel urges the region to increase investments in the crop because it has helped boost agricultural production in Ghana and Nigeria. He added that the forum could help change the perception towards cassava and how to improve its value chain.This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.