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Sierra Leone gets another cassava processing center

By Godwin Atser
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Farmers in Sierra Leone have gotten another cassava processing center that will strengthen the value chain and boosts the processing of the root crop.

The inauguration of the centre is part of a bigger project that is funded by the United States Agency for International Development but being implemented in seven African countries by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to cushion the negative impact of the 2007/2008 food price crisis that precipitated into food riots in some countries of the region.

Located in Sagila, Kailahun District—about eight hours drive from Freetown in eastern Sierra Leone, the microprocessing centre will absorb and process cassava roots being produced by resource-poor farmers in that community.

Since 2008, IITA and partners working on the 'Unleashing the Power of Cassava in Africa' (UPoCA) project with support from the USAID have stepped up efforts in rebuilding Sierra Leone—a country once ravaged by war— by improving crops' yield, and creating wealth in local communities through cassava value addition activities.

Consequently, cassava production in Sierra Leone has increased prompting the need for value addition and diversification of cassava utilization.

“Currently, we have cassava on our farms that are rotting in the ground but with this processing center, the situation will change,” says Chief MK Mustapha, Paramount Chief of Sagila.

“We are glad and we are saying thanks to the American people,” he adds.

Ibrahim Tarawally, Senior Program Officer with the Catholic Relief Services which partnered with IITA in the construction of the microprocessing center, says the project would help transform the local community.

Apart from processing the cassava in the community, the center will also create jobs for youths.

Known for rice production and consumption, Sierra Leoneans are gradually turning to other cassava food products such as gari—roasted cassava granules and fufu—a powdered form of cassava that is prepared into porridge or paste and consumed with stew. Cassava flour is also becoming popular as bakers compose it with wheat flour for the baking of bread and cake.

“With this center and the products that we will be producing, we are sure that poverty will reduce in our community,” says Mohammed Vande, Chairman, Moamaleh Farmers Marketing Association—the benefiting group. “We also promise to make this enterprise viable,” he adds.

To ensure the sustainability of the project, Vande and his team of more than 30 youths are cultivating two acres each of improved cassava. The improved cassava stems for the planting are being supplied by IITA.

“We are happy for your pledge to keep this center running,” say Drs Braima James and Richardson Okechukwu, IITA scientists that are implementing the UPoCA project.

They reiterated the potential of cassava as a poverty alleviation crop, citing its tolerance to the vagaries of climate change and urged the farmers to cultivate the root crop, and to make judicious use of the center.