Chinese agricultural experts have announced they intend to help boost the quality and yield of cassava varieties in Africa. The project was announced at the second Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on Agriculture, held in Hainan province in early November.
Often referred to as the bread of the tropics, the carbohydrate-rich tuber, known as tapioca in some countries, was imported to Africa by Portuguese traders and has since become a staple crop for more than 200 million citizens across many countries in west and central Africa.
Agronomists have proposed to introduce new cassava varieties, along with advanced cultivation and farming techniques, to more than half a million hectares of land across several nations, including Ghana, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to an action plan drawn up by the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS).
The project could increase cassava yields to roughly 17 tons per hectare, said senior CATAS official, Xie Jianghui. He added that the improved harvests would not only bolster food security in the regions but also help many cassava farmers escape poverty through increased profits.
CATAS agronomists have spent years attempting to perfect cassava cultivation techniques as China itself seeks to fortify its food security. Since its establishment in 1954, the institute has bred more than 20 high-yielding and disease-resistant cultivars of the tuber, as well as developed modern and efficient processing technologies.
Included in CATAS’s cassava action plan is the construction of several demonstration centres in cassava-producing countries where food scientists can promote and teach modern agricultural methods developed in China.
China has built 24 demonstration centres on the continent in the last decade, popularising more than 300 modern technologies that have been responsible for boosting crop yields between 30 and 60 per cent and improving the livelihoods of at least one million farmers, according to China’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Tang Renjian.
By 2021, agricultural investment in Africa had reached an estimated $1.77 billion and is growing by an average of 11.4 per cent per year, confirmed Tang.
Demba Sabally, the Gambia’s Minister of Agriculture, applauded the cooperation between Africa and China, saying the relationship has made life-altering changes to farmers in his country.
Ghanaian plant biologist and researcher at the University of Tshwane, Felix Dapare Dakora, hailed the project and called for young agricultural scientists to work with their Chinese counterparts to ensure the relevant skills and technology are transferred appropriately.