In 1998, Benjamin Joseph Ntunga started to grow cassava in Mbuguni, a village in northern Tanzania. He had been working in the Tanzanite mines for more than five years, but realized he could make more money as a farmer.
Like many other young people in the area, Mr. Ntunga had been attracted to mining. But things started to change when he found a new source of income: growing cassava.
It was not easy at first. But Mr. Ntunga had a friend who bought cassava from farmers and supplied local markets. His friend persuaded him that cassava had the potential to transform his life.
Cassava was once regarded as a subsistence crop for low-income families. But it has become a cash crop in Tanzania. While it remains a staple all across Africa, cassava is increasingly used to make flour, as well as industrial products like ethanol, starch and glucose.
Mr. Ntunga started with less than a hectare, and harvested half of that area in 2000. Then, cassava crops could fetch 1.42 million Tanzanian Shillings per hectare. With improved growing, harvesting and processing techniques, last year he earned nearly 5 million shillings on the same area. Currently, Mr. Ntunga owns nearly two hectares of cassava plantation.
Mr. Ntunga says, “In 2000, the 600, 000 Tanzanian shillings I earned from my harvest was much more money than the income I got from the mining work.” He can now care for his wife and six children through his earnings from cassava.
With his earnings, Mr. Ntunga has built a modern three-roomed house. He also bought a second plot, six dairy cows and a power tiller, and can provide for his family with the proceeds from the crop alone. His other crops are used for personal consumption, and as fodder for his cows.
Mr. Alphonse Sechonge is the extension officer in Mbuguni. He notes that Mr. Ntunga’s success has influenced other young people in the village. Many have left the dangerous mines to return home and grow cassava. Cassava farming is now attracting many young people back to their homes, where they are now not only growing cassava, but other crops too.
But, says Mr. Sechonge, many farmers in the area are still selling raw cassava. They have not started to measure their yields accurately, and make less money than they could selling processed cassava. Mr. Sechonge thanks Farm Concern International, an NGO which helped to address this, by training around 100 farmers in adding value to their cassava. The introduction of a chipping machine has made a big impact, allowing for much quicker processing of raw cassava. The harvested roots can be chipped and dried, ready for sale, within just a few days
Mr. Sechonge says “The technology has transformed the lives of the farming community in Mbuguni.”