Cassava growers hit hard by seed shortage, disease

Friday March 31 2017

Freshly harvested cassava. Rwanda has been growing cassava on not more than 70,000 hectares, mainly in the southern districts, although the target this year is to extend the coverage to 90,000 hectares.  Photo/File

Freshly harvested cassava. Cassava growers in Rwanda have gone through two consecutive seasons without certified planting seeds. PHOTO|FILE 

By Leonce Muvunyi

Cassava growers are facing uncertainty after going through two consecutive seasons without certified planting seeds.

The shortages come in the wake of an outbreak of Cassava Brown Streak Disease that besides causing loss to growers left households hungry in the Southern and Eastern provinces of Rwanda, the country’s main cassava growing areas.

Eighty per cent of the 100,000 hectares under cassava in eastern and southern parts of the country were affected by the Cassava Brown Streak Disease. Although the government imported cultivars of the NASE14 variety, which is resistant to the pest, the supply is yet to meet demand for the seed.

“The seeds have been distributed among the big farmers and some co-operatives for multiplication, but small-holder farmers are yet to get them,” said Ezra Nzagezahe, a cassava grower in Muhanga district in the Southern Province, adding that the effects of crop failure are visible throughout his village where many farmers have since abandoned cassava for other crops but now lack a source of income.

“While some are celebrating a good harvest because the price of cassava tubers and flour has gone up, it is also hard on those families that depend on cassava as a cash crop but have not been able to get seeds,” said Mr Nzagezahe. 

The price of a kilogramme of raw cassava tuber has risen from Rwf200 in 2015 to between Rwf350 and Rwf400 currently; while the same quantity of processed cassava flour price is now Rwf600 from Rwf350.

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According to officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the cassava stems shortage is likely to last another two seasons before the supply issue is resolved.

“Initially, the government didn’t offer enough cassava stems for multiplication. It will take at least two years for supply to stabilise,” said Francois Munyampirwa, the chief agronomist of Ruhango district.

Farmers also blame a poor distribution plan for the persistent shortage of planting seeds.

According to Emmanuel Bashimiki, the head of Koamaki, a cassava multipliers co-operative in Ruhango district, the first recipients of seed stock who were supposed to provide planting stems to other farmers, first sought to meet their own needs.