By Gertrude Dzifa Torvikey.

Cassava is one of the commonest food staple crops in Ghana. Its growing importance is seen in the way it is increasingly being used as a substitute for a variety of cooked food meals in Ghana. It is widely observed that in forest zones, cassava has become a key substitute for plantain in the preparation of fufu which is a key staple in many communities in the forest belt. In some yam producing areas in the Volta region where yam fufu is eaten, cassava has become prominent again. In the urban areas, fufu is synonymous with cassava to the extent that many would not believe that plantain and yam were the base foods for the preparation of that favorite meal.

The gains that cassava has made in household food security has been attributed to many things. Firstly, the labour requirement for some of the crops that cassava has replaced are tedious and energy sapping. Yam for instance has that particular feature to the extent that yam is generally more expensive than cassava in Ghana. In some households, especially in urban areas, yam based food is luxurious.  Secondly, cassava grows well on marginal lands and therefore has remained widely cultivated across the 10 regions of the country.

Programmes to increase cassava production

In recent years, various programmes by government and non-state actors have been implemented to increase cassava production in the country. The Root and Tuber Improvement & Marketing Programme (RTIMP) which was rolled out between 2007-2014 for instance took cassava production to a different level. Some interventions target the replication of improved varieties for farmers. The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) helped introduce some newer varieties to farmers.  While household production of cassava has increased and concerns about post- harvest losses and farmer poverty are being discussed, government through various programmes have found ways of adding value to cassava. Mind you, in Ghana, it is popularly known that cassava farmers are those who feature in the lowest echelon when the hierarchy of farming is discussed. There is also enough evidence to suggest that many cassava farmers are women. It is therefore pragmatic that when cassava sees an industrial visibility, poverty and for that matter, feminization of poverty would be quenched. Thus, in the larger scheme of raising incomes, government introduced the Presidential Special Initiative in the mid-2000s. As part of the PSI-Cassava Programme a factory was built in a cassava producing hub in the Central Region of the country to produce starch for export. That was one of the earliest attempts to add industrial value to cassava on a bigger scale. The motivation was simple. Starch imports would bring in the badly needed foreign exchange to the country in the manner that cocoa and some horticultural products have done over the years. It is thought that farmers would benefit from ready markets for their produce. However, the Company struggled to survive due to several production challenges. Recently, the Ghanaian media reported how farmers are dissatisfied with how the company deals with them. Most importantly, their products are left on the farm because the company could not buy them. They also complained that they company owes several months of supply. The factory shuts down and reopens in its attempt to survive.

The rise of the cassava beers

In new wave of cassava use for manufacturing emerged in 2012. In 2012, the country experienced a myriad of economic challenges some of which relate to fiscal and trade deficits. In an attempt to salvage the situation, a concessionary excise duty waiver was granted to manufacturers who use local raw materials.  Just six months after the presidential pronouncement, the Guinness Ghana Ltd introduced the Ruut Beer which is mainly brewed with cassava. That was history in itself because, hitherto, cassava was not used for beer in the country.  Soon, the Accra Brewery Ltd –SAB Miller introduced its own beer brand-Eagle Lager.

Apart from the beers, cassava has been used for ethanol in other alcoholic products, in biscuits and many other products.

Cassava commercialization displacing women

Due to the mad rush for cassava, outgrower schemes emerged as companies shift risk to farmers. The period has also witnessed some large investment in cassava production with onsite factories for primary processing.  The new visibility for cassava also brought in many other players to join in the production. Formal and urban based workers acquired large tracts of lands in cassava producing areas and are engaging in serious cassava production especially in the Volta Region of Ghana.  Other companies have become intermediaries between big buyers in Accra and farmers in the regions where they sign supply contracts with the companies and purchasing agreement with the farmers. This new cassava marketers are mainly men. At the household level, the contract farming models and their land size criteria meant that women were excluded from it. Although women have traditionally produced, processed and marketed cassava, the new commercialization trend has defined new roles for them. While many outgrowers are not women because they have smaller lands, could not meet the stringent production criteria due to their reproductive duties, women occupy the lower earning rank of the work pyramid as vulnerable casual workers who are efficient in the primary processing before men take over with mechanized production.  The following pictures demonstrate how commercialization is on the verge of changing women’s fate as the doyens of the cassava production subsector.

dzifa1 dzifa2 dzifa3Credit: Gertrude Dzifa Torvikey

It is important to note that, with this new industrial production, deskilling of women is possible. Many women I spoke to while on the field told me that every woman is a specialist in the whole cassava value chain. Although the indigenous production is still strong, industrial production will gradually erode women’s role in the cassava value chain as men take over the sector.