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Opinions of Monday, 13 January 2014

Columnist: Cameroon Tribune

Prize of Ill-Preparedness

Failing to prepare is preparing to fall. What initially appeared as good news from Sangmelima is threatening to end up badly.

The new processing factory otherwise known as the Industrial Cassava Processing Company (SOTRAMAS), announced within the framework of government's ambitious agricultural programme; "Agrocole" and piloted by the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Crafts in collaboration with the Sangmelima Council may not takeoff as scheduled. The reason has nothing to do with the inadequacies of the various compartments that make up the plant.

The reason is rather insufficiency in the supply of raw material or better still cassava. Experts have stated inter alia that the processing machine requires a daily supply of 120 metric tons of cassava for it to function in full capacity. And for this quantity of cassava to be produced, 4,072 hectares of land must be developed for high-yielding cassava. And for this to happen, five years must be set aside to attain this level.

The whole idea of installing a cassava processing factory is to say the least laudable considering that about 80 per cent of Cameroonian households, most of them subsistence farmers, consume cassava on a daily basis. Cassava is the second most important source of carbohydrates in sub-Saharan African, after maize, and is eaten by around 500 million people globally every day, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Every year, 280 million tons are produced, with half the supply coming from Africa.

From every indication, if everything were to progress accordingly, SOTRAMAS will as at the end of the year focus its production on starch which is said to be in high demand both at national and international levels, but the teething problems occurring incidentally because of poor feasibility studies have the high propensity to halt or significantly slow down the whole process. Besides the inadequate raw material, there seems to be an almost complete absence of a post-industrial distribution plan for processed products. In the same vein, cassava production zones remain seriously inaccessible and the quality of the cassava produced at subsistent levels remains relatively low.

These obstacles are suggestive of the fact that the factory has to wait for the basics to be set. Perhaps the issue is no longer why stakeholders in the project had to put the cart before the horse but how to catch up with and render the project complete. From the look of things, the authorities have come to realise the vacuum and this explains why major actors in cassava production had to be convened in Sangmelima to draw up a cassava supply system.

The challenge is in the hands of the Institute for Research and Agricultural Development (IRAD), the International Institute for Agricultural Development (IITA) and the National Development Programme for Roots and Tubers. Already, 310 hectares of land will be developed as from March this year and production zones rendered accessible.

That said, a cassava processing factory when implanted is expected to provide solution to a medley of problems including that which is linked to conservation and quality. Cassava it should be noted does not store well beyond a few days, as it is 70 percent moisture. Pending the final installation of the factory, it is important to note that a project requires holistic action with every stages given its due importance. Once this is absent, and this has been the case with several projects in Cameroon, the whole idea irrespective of how lofty it sounds, is bound to fail.