Harriet Muyinza, a researcher at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), has confirmed that by pruning certain varieties of cassava a week before harvest, farmers can increase the shelf life of their roots. It is one of a combination of methods for extending cassava shelf life that she learned about during a knowledge-exchange trip to Colombia that CIAT organized for researchers from NARO, IITA, and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction. Muyinza subsequently tested those technologies in Uganda, in collaboration with IITA, and supported their promotion with local farmers and traders, in order to reduce postharvest losses and improve incomes from the sale of fresh cassava roots.
Cassava has a very short shelf life due to rapid postharvest physiological deterioration, a process that leaves some varieties streaked black and unpalatable within 72 hours. This results in significant income loss for farmers, traders, and retailers—most of whom are women. RTB supported the transfer of technologies for extending cassava shelf life from Colombia to Uganda as part of the Expanding Utilization of Roots, Tubers and Bananas and Reducing Their Postharvest Losses (RTB-ENDURE) project, which tested, validated, and promoted postharvest innovations for banana, cassava, potato, and sweetpotato in Uganda from 2014 to 2016.
Muyinza and other participants in the south-south knowledge exchange also learned about a technology for dipping cassava roots in wax upon harvesting, which can extend their shelf life to up to 30 days. To be most effective, waxing should be applied to undamaged roots, meaning the technology must be combined with appropriate agronomic practices. The technology is commonly used in Latin America but had never been tried in Uganda prior to this initiative. With RTB support, NARO researchers tested the effectiveness of waxing on eight selected cassava varieties grown in Uganda, and confirmed the quality of waxed roots and the willingness of consumers to pay more for them. The project supported the establishment of two pilot centers where roots are waxed for sale in Ugandan supermarkets, and the publication of manuals describing how to set up such packing houses and otherwise improve the postharvest handling of cassava roots.
RTB-ENDURE was funded by the European Union and received technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The cassava initiative was one of the project’s four sub-projects, which established multi-stakeholder partnerships to analyze market opportunities for banana, cassava, potato, and sweetpotato; catalyze public–private partnerships; introduce technologies; and build value chain actors’ capacities. CIP postharvest and value chain specialist Diego Naziri, who coordinated RTB-ENDURE, explained that this was accomplished through a step-wise approach that began with scoping studies by multi-agency teams. The teams produced a selection of businesses cases for research on postharvest innovations from which the four best-bets were chosen for two years of funding. He observed that the scoping stage was competitive, but once the four sub-projects were selected for funding, the initiative shifted to a cooperative model. The model promoted cross-crop learning and dialogue, and harmonized methodologies for ensuring gender integration and supporting multi-stakeholder platforms.
“The strong involvement of the private sector from the onset and attention to evolving consumer preferences helped farmers to access new value chains and ensured that the sub-projects respond to market needs.”Diego Naziri
In addition to the technologies for extending cassava shelf life, the project produced two other successful innovations that are now being scaled out: a technology to produce pig feed from sweetpotato vines and roots, and an initiative to reduce postharvest losses along the cooking banana value chain and link farmers to better markets.
Photo: A researcher from Makarere University in Uganda holds a waxed (back) and a non-waxed (front) cassava root. S.Quinn/CIP
Visit the RTB-ENDURE website