Enabling rural women prosper from cassava bioethanol production through university-community engagement


By Settumba Mukasa and Deogracious Opolot, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Makerere University

For decades, women in Apac District in Northern Uganda have produced bioethanol as a means of livelihood. In fact, some women in Chegere, Apac District confess to depending entirely on bioethanol as the source of income. Proceeds from the sale of bioethanol are used to provide basic household needs such as food, medication, soap and sugar, and also to pay for education of their children, some up to university level.

Cassava production in Apac District revolves around five main varieties including both indigenous varieties like Bao and improved varieties. Results from a study by the Cassava Community Action Research Project (Cassava CARP), funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) noted that farmers preferred their own local varieties, especially cultivar Bao, for food while recently released varieties are preferred for processing bioethanol that is sometimes constituted into a local potent drink locally known as waragi or lira-lira. Farmers believe that certain cassava varieties yield more bioethanol than others, and varieties less preferred to be eaten as fresh tubers are the ones used for brewing.

Demand for bioethanol has increased in recent times mainly due to the increased diversity of its uses. Research laboratories use it for preservation of biological specimens, cleaning and as a reagent for laboratory analysis; hospitals as a cleaning agent; schools for sanitary purposes; and brewing companies for making gins and beers. It is also used for making cosmetics, solvents, preparation of essences, and as flavorings in pharmaceutical products. The women of Apac could benefit from this increase in demand.

In recent years, the outbreak of the cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease devastated the production of cassava, the main raw material for bioethanol production. This outbreak almost plunged the rural population into extreme poverty, but was averted through interventions by the National Agricultural Research Organisation Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, and other institutions that provided new and high yielding varieties as well as launching programmes for providing planting materials.

The increased production of cassava, however, paused a new challenge of wastage due to rot especially during the rainy season and periods of peak production. Bioethanol production was one of the pathways to absorb this “excess” cassava, but needed to be optimised. Through engagement with women in Apac District, members of the Cassava Community Action Research Project (Cassava CARP) realized the immense potential of this product in elevating the standards of living of these communities. Bioethanol production was thus identified as one of interventions on which the team would focus.

The Cassava CARP team identified a number of challenges affecting the production and profitability of bioethanol. Firstly, the women got little returns for their labour as most consumers of bioethanol are members of the local community who pay low prices. Sometimes their clients even drink on credit and fail to pay. Poor road and transport networks meant that the market for bioethanol remained limited. Secondly, the quality of bioethanol was low. Preliminary proximate analysis of bioethanol sampled from parts of Apac and Kole districts indicated high levels of methanol and other impurities making the product unhealthy for direct human consumption. Thirdly, the process of making cassava bioethanol was found to be long and tedious thus greatly affecting the quantity that could be produced. This was further exacerbated by the use of rudimentary production methods and processing equipment that were characterized by low efficiency. Fourthly, to enhance hydrolysis and fermentation (key reactions in brewing) farmers use a lot of firewood to roast the cassava mash. This put pressure on the environment by way of cutting more trees.

Traditional cassava bioethanol production in Apac: A) Labour and firewood consuming roasting of pre-soaked cassava flour B) Time consuming distillation ofthe fermented broth yielding 0.5 liters of bioethanol per hour

Traditional cassava bioethanol production in Apac: A) Labour and firewood consuming roasting of pre-soaked cassava flour B) Time consuming distillation ofthe fermented broth yielding 0.5 liters of bioethanol per hour

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Saving local cassava varieties to enhance food security in Uganda


By Settumba Mukasa and Moses Erongu, College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences, Makerere University

Plate A: Local cassava variety, Bao, displaying typical CMD symptoms

Plate A: Local cassava variety, Bao, displaying typical CMD symptoms

Cassava is the most important root crop in Uganda, grown in most parts of the country because of its ability to survive in a wide range of soil and weather conditions. It also serves as a family food reserve crop because of its ability to store in the soil for more than 12 months, and is increasingly becoming important as a source of income.

On average, farmers in Uganda grow between two and six cassava varieties in their fields. These include local varieties such as Bao, Alodo-alodo (Tim-tim), Nyaraboke, Fumba chai, and Ebwanaterak; and recently released varieties such AKENA, NASE 3, NASE 14, and NASE 19. Most local varieties are susceptible to the cassava mosaic disease (CMD), but fairly tolerant to the cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), the two most critical diseases of cassava in Uganda. The prevalence of CMD has caused farmers to abandon many local varieties, liked for their good food quality, due to decline in yield and quality. Some varieties have even become extinct.

However, Bao is still very popular among farmers in most parts of Northern Uganda and is exclusively grown for food because of its good taste, mealiness and keeping quality in the garden. Inspite of its susceptibility to CMD (Plate A), farmers have persistently grown this local variety which plays a key role in the food security of many households in Kole, Apac and Lira districts. Recently released varieties such as Akena (MH91/0067), NASE 3, NASE 14, and NASE 19 are not used for food, but instead processed into flour for brewing and other commercial uses.

Like in the northern region, farmers in most parts of Eastern Uganda used to grow a local variety, Ebwanaterak, for food because of its taste, mealiness and fast growing traits. It is no wonder that it became traditionally associated as a quick food security crop for newly married couples. Unlike Bao, which is relatively tolerant to CMD, but takes a little longer to grow, Ebwanaterak has almost been wiped out by the cassava mosaic virus disease which appeared in Uganda in 1988 and has eliminated most local cassava varieties in many parts of the country.

To stem the loss of cassava due to CMD and CBSD, breeding for virus resistance is going on and varieties in the NASE series have been adopted by some farmers. However, these new varieties are not popular because, much as some local varieties are used as parents during breeding, they lack certain root qualities that would make them acceptable as food, especially when cooked fresh. Farmers in Northern Uganda therefore continue to grow predominantly local varieties, posing a potential food security disaster due to the threat of disease.

In order to avert this potential disaster and contribute to sustainable food security in Uganda, the Cassava Community Action Research Project (CARP), funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (Grant No. RU 2014 CARP 04), seeks to avail clean planting materials to communities in the project area. Following some reconnaissance studies, the project has so far identified and collected some farmer preferred varieties at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro for laboratory cleaning and virus indexing with the purpose of re-introducing them to the farming communities as clean and healthy planting materials.

Plate B: Healthy cassava plants growing in a screenhouse at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro after disease cleaning

Plate B: Healthy cassava plants growing in a screenhouse at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyoro after disease cleaning

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Uganda: Cassava Disease Threatens Food Security


KOLE/APAC- Researchers have warned of a serious threat posed by cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), saying it could cause food insecurity in Lango.

The worst hit areas are Chegere Sub-county in Apac District and Bala Sub-county in Kole District, where nearly 100 per cent of residents are farmers. Many famers interviewed by this newspaper do not know the origin of this disease.

Dr Settumba Mukasa, the principle investigator with Cassava Community Action Research Project (cassava CARP) at Makerere University, told Daily Monitor that more than 500 farmers in the affected areas had reported “challenges of rotting tuberous roots.”

He said the farmers were feeling the pain because the disease is now infecting their local variety known as bao previously believed to be immune to the disease.

“So the only solution is to destroy all the affected plants, look out for clean planting materials from reliable sources,” Dr Mukasa said.

Ms Lillian Mercy Apio of Women of Uganda Network confirmed that many women in Bala have resorted to maize flour as a source of food for their families.

Ms Sarah Okello, 34, a cassava farmer in Bala, has for 15 years relied on cassava as a cash crop but her dreams of becoming a commercial farmer have been dashed by the disease.

Ms Okello had two gardens of cassava but most of the tubers have rotted after they were hit by the disease. She is at a loss as to how she will continue feeding and educating her three children.

Since the outbreak of the disease, cassava CARP has established five mother gardens: three in Lango and two in Teso to provide cassava farmers with clean planting materials.

This story has been reproduced from http://allafrica.com/stories/201605170734.html