It’s evening, but Joram Mikanda is still in his field, checking to see if his cassava has matured enough to sell. Mr. Mikanda is an experienced cassava farmer. He explains, “I have been growing cassava since the 1990s…. From that period until today, I have put most of my effort into cassava growing.”
Mr. Mikanda lives in Kitahana village in the Kigoma region of western Tanzania, where there is a huge demand for cassava from breweries and from neighbouring countries.
Traditionally, people in this part of Tanzania do not eat much cassava; they prefer to use maize flour to make the popular national dish called ugali. But increased demand has ignited interest, and many farmers in the region have started growing cassava as a cash crop. The farmers export their cassava to Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi.
Mr. Mikanda explains: “I sell fresh cassava in the local market and export dried cassava out of the country…. At that time [the 1990s], I was exporting [cassava] to Burundi alone by bicycle, where I was selling it for 20 to 50 Tanzania shillings [US$0.01 to US$0.02] per kilogram, [but] it was very hard and risky to ride a bicycle in the forest.”
Mr. Mikanda says NGOs and extension workers are encouraging farmers in the region to grow improved cassava varieties because cassava is in high demand in nearby refugee camps as well as in neighbouring countries.
Christopher Chubwa is a farmer in Kitahana village who started growing cassava as a cash crop in the year 2000. He is now able to support his family from his cassava income. He says, “I sell both fresh and dried cassava at Nduta refugee camp. I also export dried cassava to Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.”
Mr. Chubwa says that, in his area, a cassava field is like a gold mine. More and more farmers are relying on the crop for their income. He says that farmers in the area want to start producing cassava flour and animal feed to sell within the country and abroad.
He adds, “From cassava production, we have organized a group of 25 farmers. We have built a building where we want to [start] cassava processing.”
Victor Kabunga is an extension officer who has worked for nine years in Kibondo district, which includes Kitahana village. He often visits cassava farmers to see how well they are doing and to offer them advice.
Mr. Kabunga says, “I educate farmers on proper ways to grow cassava, such as spacing and selection of planting materials.”
Mr. Kabunga adds that farmers and business people receive export permits from the Ministry of Agriculture to sell their cassava to other countries. If they want to sell to Tanzanian markets outside their district, they get the permits from Kibondo District Council.
Mr. Mikanda says the future looks bright for cassava farmers. He adds, “My ambition is to export cassava products out of Africa, and that’s why we want to establish an industry where we will be processing cassava.”
He says, “We are requesting the government to improve infrastructure in Kigoma region that will facilitate the transportation of our products.”
He says that the income from cassava has improved the living standards in his family. He explains: “Last season, I exported 20 tonnes of dried cassava and I sold it for 500 Tanzania shillings [US$0.22] per kilogram. I used that money to pay school fees for my children and for home expenses.”
This work was created with the support of AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, as part of the project, “Integrated project to increase income and improve food security and livelihood among smallholder farmers in the Western Tanzania/ Kigoma region.” The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of AGRA or any other organization.