Cassava is not popular as a raw material for the food industry because it spoils quickly. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), developed new processing technologies turning cassava into an excellent alternative to other - more expensive - starch producing crops like wheat. The small-scale production of cassava flour for use in biscuits and chips, etc. presents a wide range of possibilities for the local farming communities in Africa. With financial support from CFC, this was demonstrated in a pilot project executed by the IITA in five Southern and Eastern African countries (Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia).
The new IITA technology is based on an approach to speed up the process of converting the harvested cassava root into dried flour which has a virtually unlimited shelf life. Within a 24-hour period the cassava root is harvested, washed, peeled, grated, pressed to remove water and the toxic cyanide, dried and milled. The fact that the cassava is processed in such a short period of time inhibits the growth of moulds and fungi that produce aflatoxins and are responsible for the deterioration in the starch quality. Another outstanding advantage of the newly introduced technologies of rapid grating, dewatering and drying is that over 99% of cyanogens which are hazardous to human health are removed, so that the method is suitable for processing high cyanide or bitter cassava roots into a safe food product. This significantly increases the functional properties of the flour, and improves the taste and aroma of the final food products.
The pilot project
The national partner of the project in Madagascar, the Centre National de Recherches Appliquées au Développement (FOFIFA), identified the “Koperativa Aintsoa” in Ambatomanoina, as a pilot community to try out this new technology of processing cassava roots to high quality cassava flour for supply to food factories. The village is known for its traditional way of processing cassava and Aintsoa is a well-managed cooperative. The beauty of the technology is that the transportation costs of the sold product decrease dramatically, since not more than 25% of the weight of the originally harvested cassava roots will have to be transported.
Partnership in action:
Happy with the approach, everybody is a winner
For the successful introduction of the new IITA technology, FOFIFA has provided the cooperative with a grater, press, pin mill and scales using the finance from CFC. The building in which the machines are set up was provided by the village committee with labour provided by the participating farmers. It is expected that during the harvest season that spreads from April to October, a production capacity of around 1.5 tons of fresh cassava will be processed into 450 kilos of high quality flour per day. This means that every month 1 to 2 lorry loads can be transported to the consumers and factories in Antananarivo. In addition to bread and biscuit bakers, the product is increasingly being accepted by supermarkets as well as individual local buyers.
The production costs for a kilo of cassava flour are 1500 francs to which another 300 francs have to be added for transport. Since the sales price in Antananarivo is currently around 3000 francs per kilo, the new production method is proving financially very attractive for the cooperative.
The main constraint for increased use of cassava is its poor public image. Cassava products are perceived to be inferior and undesirable; perceptions that are related to the frequent high residual cyanogens, high contamination and poor aesthetic appeal of poorly processed traditional cassava products. So food manufacturers were unwilling to show cassava in their list of ingredients because of fear that this would reflect badly on their product.
Clearly a marketing strategy needs to be developed to better inform buyers that when cassava flour is produced with the aid of IITA technology it is of good quality.
Bisquiterie JB in Antananarivo is convinced:
Cassava flour is an excellent alternative
BJB is a private enterprise that produces biscuits among other things. After extensive consultation with FOFIFA and IITA, BJB decided to take the plunge and bought a trial amount of cassava flour at a price that amounted to about 75% of the price of wheat. Depending on the type, BJB plans to incorporate between 20% and 90% cassava flour in its different brands of biscuit, while about 10% cassava is already being incorporated into wafers, functioning as a better binder than wheat. The advantages of cassava flour compared to wheat are lower costs, higher yield and final products of better quality. BJB has so far received 2 tons of cassava flour from the “Koperativa Aintsoa”. If ongoing tests produce good results, BJB would utilize as much as 250-300kg flour a day in substitution for wheat flour.