Farmers engaged in growing cassava and sweet potato will have to move a step ahead in processing their produce if they intend to meet demands of a competitive market both locally and regionally.
This was the thrust of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) campaign to have farmers growing these crops to meet the required standards during processing to compete favourably in the market.
Last year, for several months, UNBS carried out a sensitisation of farmers growing cassava and sweet potatoes in eastern Uganda on how to process high quality cassava and sweet potato using the standards for better output.
Bukedea, Serere and Soroti were some of the districts covered.
The formulation of standards for processing cassava and potato arose from a project supported by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) in the four member countries of East African Community: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
In this, Uganda was the coordinating country.
David Ebuku, UNBS standards manager, says that during the sensitisation exercise, farmer groups in the districts covered were monitored on how they are supposed to process their produce and add value to it to attract a competitive market.
Jean Anthony Onyait, a member of Soroti Sweet Potato Producers and Processors Association, says that while observing the standards set by UNBS, their members are advised to use clean potato vines, which are free of pests and diseases, as well as clean cassava stock in order to produce good tubers.
The association has 280 members are engaged in growing and processing both cassava and sweet potato. The association obtains clean potato vines for propagation from International Potato Centre.
These are multiplied by farmers’ groups within the association and the vines are sold to a number of NGOs who in turn distribute it to farmers for planting. There is a charge of Shs15,000 for 30kg of potato vines.
The association processes high quality potato flour, which is used for making cakes, crisps and porridge.
The flour can be mixed with soya bean flour, millet and ground nuts.
Sweet potato flour packaged in 1kg, sold at Shs5,000, 2kg at Shs8,000, and 5kg at Shs20,000. It is mostly sold in the local market within Soroti.
For cassava, an NGO called Cassava Adding Value Africa, provided a processing plant to produce fine cassava flour.
It is a requirement that the sieve should have holes of 0.05 millimetres, which the association is not in position to acquire.
At the moment, they are using cloth for the sieving, which makes the processing slow.
The association processes cassava flour for its members, packs and sells it to bakery industries like Britannia and Riham.
According to Onyait, these industries require 25 tonnes of cassava flour every month but the association can supply only two tonnes because they lack the required machinery which costs about Shs7 million.
The association sells its cassava flour at Shs1,500 per kg. The farmer makes Shs1,000 for each kilogramme sold and Shs500 is retained for managing the association’s activities.
Another farmers’ group that underwent UNBS sensitisation is Popular Knowledge Women’s Initiative. It is based in Bukedea and has 1,500 members.
Nora Asiyo Ebukaline, head of value addition, says the members previously processed dried cassava without following the standards.
After the sensitisation by UNBS, they are now able to process quality cassava.
They were taught how to harvest the cassava while mature, wash it with clean water and chop it into pieces and ensure that all the water content in the pieces is squeezed out to allow drying within one day.
The group was given a processing machine by an NGO, Cassava Adding Value Africa, which was fabricated by Agricultural Engineering and Appropriate Technology Research Centre, Namalere.
For sustainability and maintenance of the machine, farmers are required to pay Shs20,000 to process one tonne of cassava.
They also compete with other farmers’ organisations to sell their produce to the same bakery industries and other consumers in the local market.
Asiyo says most farmers used to avoid UNBS staff because they would come to inspect standards of the product and recommend those that are not of the required standards to be destroyed.
But with sensitisation, the farmers now appreciate the processing has to be done according to the standards.
For fresh cassava, farmers are expected to harvest mature cassava, sort out the big tubers from the small ones and pack them separately without being injured.
For processing dry cassava chips, they are expected to observe hygiene, conduct drying on plastic materials, keep animals away from the drying spot.
But for high quality cassava flour, which is used in baking industries, it should be dried within one day to avoid fermentation.