During a presentation a friend and I made at Ducklington in Oxfordshire during the celebration of Africa Week 2012, we had little difficulty explaining to the kids that chocolate comes from cocoa and sugar from sugarcane, which are African cash crops. Not surprisingly, cassava drew a lot of attention, not because it was popular among the kids but rather because we had so much to say about it but paradoxically, most of them were hearing it for the first time.
The question I could not stop asking myself was what made cassava such a household name in almost all African and Latin American countries but is barely known in most parts of the world.
I will not go through the drudgery of stating that cassava is a major source of carbohydrates, is consumed by more than 500 million people in the world; can simply be boiled and eaten on its own or with a wide variety of sauces; or that it can be used to prepare Water fufu, miondo, bobolo and nkunkum in Cameroon, eba and akpu in Nigeria, that the leaves of the crop are used to prepare the famous cassava-leaf soup of Sierra Leone; that the famous garri produced from cassava can be soaked in cold water (spiced with peanuts, sliced coconuts or palm kernels) or that garri can be poured into hot water to make a simple meal that can be eaten with an array of sauces.
Neither am I going to go through the mantra of stating that starch from cassava, when treated appropriately makes a good natural adhesive; or that in the textile industry, starches occupy an important place in such operations as warp sizing, cloth finishing and printing: or that alcohol production from cassava has an overall efficiency of 32%, or that cassava could become an industrial crop by developing cultivars with different starch compositions or more importantly that Bio-ethanol production is already making its way into world records as Brazil has already started producing bio-ethanol from cassava and many African countries are also becoming major producers of bio-ethanol.
After all the tossing, I guess you will agree it is time to get back to my initial question: What makes cassava so ‘popular’ yet never entering the hall of fame? Many may not agree but the simple answer is that it is because unlike other tropical crops that can be transported over long distance, any attempt to carry cassava across the ocean will in Mallam Sanusi’s words ‘be tantamount to transporting water’. This is because cassava disintegrates not too long after harvesting and hence cannot do with long-distance travel.
This is, therefore, the tricky part. Africans have never stopped accusing the west for plundering the continent’s natural resources. By crook or by design, one crop is such that no one can effectively exploit outside the area of cultivation, – and what is the result… it is languishing in obscurity. Nigeria for example which is the world’s largest producer of cassava is also a great importer of starch. Transformation of cassava beyond local consumable forms into exportable components is by and large left for a future yet unknown generation. The few factories that attempt to convert cassava into other marketable components are mostly located far from the areas of production. This is the plight of cassava – so good a crop, grows in some extreme conditions, provides different forms of local consumption but a crop which completely hates travelling in its natural form and unfortunate to belong to a people who seem to hate transforming anything beyond the point of local consumption.
Yes! Cassava typifies the African plight. A continent so richly blessed but yet thinks that her successful transformation only lies beyond her shores. When this transformation fails to come, she becomes the sleeping giant. Mighty in herself yet ineffective in creating any influence beyond her shores. Full of potential, yet without the ability to market herself beyond her immediate surroundings.
This is the plight of cassava! Serving all masters but receiving pittances in the form of wages. Enough for subsistence but never enough to save for a rainy day. Enough to satisfy current wants but never thought of as a form of long-term investment. But like any other plight, there is a remedy! Cassava can get her rightful place in the world if and only if Africans begin to invest in the transformation of the crop both for longterm domestic consumption and for foreign markets. If foreign markets will not eat eba or drink garri, they will certainly need starch, ethanol, paper. adhesives, corrugated boards, gums, wallpaper, textile, wood furniture, particle board, biofuels, dusting powders, drugs, plastic, packaging, stain remover, and moisture sequester, which are all produced from cassava.
If this is done, there is no way cassava will not receive a fair wage for her services. After all, a labourer deserves her wages!
The past week has been a stormy one for me on an intellectually stimulating Facebook Group Perception. The most challenging discussion has been the issue of 2Billion Dollars worth of Contraceptives that is being sent to Africa by the Gates Foundation and the UK government over the period of 8 years.
Despite being a Catholic (who should according to her religion denounce any form of modern contraceptive), Melinda Gates argues that this is going to be a milestone in curbing the rate of women dying in the continent due to child birth. While it can be argued that statistics support her, given that a study of 172 countries published in the medical journal The Lancet says that although bleeding, infections and other problems are the leading causes of mothers dying during pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries, “family planning is the primary intervention to prevent maternal mortality.”
The Lancet study further argues that family planning is already responsible for the prevention of a record 270,000 maternal deaths annually. These statistics are further given credence by the prime ministers of Rwanda and Ethiopia who state that more than 40 million women in sub-Saharan Africa would like to stop or postpone childbearing but have no means to do so.
Unfortunately, contrary to the research stats and the views of the Rwandan and Ethiopian PMs, opinions in African seem to be divided about the seemingly wonderful project.
Before I make any analyis on the situation, it will be good to look at some of the reactions posted by Nono Nkele on Perception.
***************** CAMEROON: *************
This is a misplaced priority. The world’s poor do not need this. What they need is basic necessities like potable water, electricity, decent and accessible healthcare, quality good roads, quality education for their children and accountable governments who do not steal their tax and national resources but they use them to enhance their quality of life. These monies will just end up subsidizing the pharmaceutical industry in Europe and America.
GOD SAYS GO AND MULTPLY WHY ECONOMISE? I thick it those with empty wallats who are advocating for contraceptives.
******************* GHANA: ******************
If abortion means killing, then the use of contraceptive like condom is kidnapping since the semen is trapped
I do support family planning. But it has not received much attention because of the misconceptions about its practice. It’s sort of looked at as something that will cause more harm than good in the end and so people are not patronising it at all. It is only found among the elites and the slightly educated folks around. I pray it will get the needed attention to help save our women and our mothers.
I think the issue is not about one supports family planning or not. Let us be fair to ourselves and stop this craze for wholesome acceptability of everything from this white people. How do you expect Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation to give you their millions of dollars for free when their own citizens are living in constant fear of joblessness and poverty? There cannot be any free meal and I don’t believe all of them. Until Africans are consulted in some of these things (not the elite) this effort will be in vain. It is not real!
I think is good and would help mothers and teenagers in Ghana
***************** UGANDA: ******************
Our president together with the first lady are doing much to see that people get to know as well as putting it in use, with those deep in villages coz many shun away after hearing it’s disadvantages but most of them are trying to use it. I think it’s ok to be brought and used in Africa coz the growth of our population is failing to be managed and think that it’s the best way to control all it’s disadvantages.
Some new drugs have been manufactured so lab rats are getting readied for tests
The hardest and most worrying state of it is that when financial or medical support lands in the hands of the corrupt officials in government. The poor will only hear about it but not giving them freely or cheaply
Africa is a third world nations with many diseases of no proper treatment, therefore we can produce many children as well so that disease will kill the rest while other remain
********************** KENYA: *****************
No! God is planning for us.
After getting educated most of us don’t understand ‘intercontinental politics’, VERY UNFORTUNATE. As a Registered Nurse I will not buy that idea contrary to my profession. Every child must be born and in turn must multiply is my greatest believe. What is the essence of believing in God and at the same time you want your own way of procreation. Yes I agree that too many births have its own challenges but what do you understand by ‘NATURAL FMLY PLANING’?. Why don’t they talk of ‘health services, proper sanitations, improved lifestyle’? I believe they are up to something, two billion dollars for free? NO DAY. I was raised too disagree with manmade family planning but strongly believe in NATURAL
Family planning is not yet welcome in my country. People are still ignorant about the benefits of it. Especially those in the rural areas are against it as they view it negatively. There is also major cultural and religious aspects to the whole issue of family planning. The priority is creating awareness on the need for family planning especially to the poor and vulnerable in rural areas as well as the urban poor who often have large families that they cannot cater for adequately
FAMILY PLANNING, exclusive breastfeeding and polygamy. These are the solution not Millions of dollars.
********************* NIGERIA: ****************
If there is only one country that supports birth control, that country should be Nigeria. Looking at the level of inequalities in allocation of resources and high level of illiteracy, particularly in the northern parts, the birth control policy could have been a good option of ameliorating our plights. But, because of religion sentiment and extremism, some unpatriotic Nigerians are seriously kicking against it.
The crucial question we must answer is Why do third world countries have a higher population growth than the developed countries? Britain did not talk of birth control until she put two things in place; free education and socialised medicine. What is family planning to a young girl or boy in a remote village whose stock in trade is to eke out a living by hawking in the street. Children are social safety nets and security to an average family in Africa. I am skeptical of developed countries’ patronising do-gooders. Money ploughed into these laudable projects may not filter to those who really need it. My take is (i) provide free and compulsory education accessible to all (ii) free medical services to the poor, children, and elderly (medi-aid, medi-care) (iii) use the media to inform the people of government programs.
Over population is one of developing countries greatest challenged.
Advocating birth control without explaining the benefit is a failure in itself never rely on Nigerian Government to pick your map and locate these rural communities if you wish to attain any meaningful impact
As it is in Nigeria now you don’t need to be told before you go for family planning because the standard of living over here is unfavourable to polygamous families
********************* MALAWI: ***************
Ha ha ha why do they have so much attention on Africa, why don’t they Use that Money in providing good housing and sanitation services in the areas they deem over populated. They should try China, it is exporting to many people to Africa. Or that Money should be used for sound and transparent economic reforms that can be favorable for all Africans, that is if they do that in True faith. Instead of contraceptives they should be aiming at building better hospitals, health centres and provide midwifery training in rural areas, buy ambulances and introduce other convenient services that would reduce maternal deaths. Africa is not only found in the Cities and Town Centres. Africa is in my village, where people do not have proper health services, Proper water ETC. I couldn’t agree more with this view notwithstanding I am for promoting contraception in Africa
I am sure that One’s mind is a Contraceptive on its own, it just needs to be well equipped, You tell people about contraceptive in my village they will laugh at you. Some of us are able to understand the goodness of contraceptives because we have learnt to equip our minds with knowledge, good and health life. We do not need contraceptives, we need services that can transform and change people’s mindsets. Otherwise transformation as an objective won’t arrive home…..otherwise, Africans are really African in their African Environment.
Contraception is anti-God. I support family planning but doubt if it is getting the attention it deserves
It’s not you who takes care of life but God alone. You have to read Mt 6:24-34(This is why I tell you not to be worried about the food & drink you need in order to stay alive,or about clothes for your body…..)
******************** ZAMBIA: ******************
Use of condoms, child spacing, pill and many others.
I live in rural Zambia and I work in a hospital and work mostly with pregnant mothers. My observations is that most women in rural areas don’t understand how some contraceptives work, and some can’t access the family planning drugs because they have to walk very long distances to the clinic/hospital. With proper education and easy access..It can work effectively.
Developing countries such as zambia were most of its population survives on less than a dollar per day and looking at the income per house hold family planning is inevitable. I support family planning because that’s the only way we can slow down the fast growing population in Zambia and Africa at large.
******************* SIERRA LEONE: *************
I support it and I hope the Catholic Church will get out of the way and stop misinforming people about its use
In my country where I live, Sierra Leone do accept and take family planning, contraception seriously, youth both male and female counterpart do prevent themselves from unwanted pregnancy except for teenagers who may not aware of it.
************** SOUTH SUDAN: ******************
Our population in our sub region is fine we don’t need family planning but we need basic needs like health, support agriculture ,roads, regional market, education etc.
Yes if it is true, then my country South Sudan should be served the first because it is one of the poorest Countries on the planet due to it being the youngest nation with the majority of the population under 25yrs.
It will really help my people in South Sudan, because we are still using traditional midwifes & our ladies are always victim.
**************** SOUTH AFRICA ***************
To the benevolent Foundation, thanks. But no, thanks. We are aware of the agenda of depopulation being pushed in the name of economy and helping us to better manage our families. It does not end with contraceptives but also with experimental vaccines that do not work against disease but against fertility. Investigative journalists worth their salt should look into that. It does not go down well with some of us that your work is done only in our lands. Lands with the potential to produce lots of food given all this manpower. Instead of supporting farming, people are concentrating on altering ovaries… Serio
Family planning is needed because the number of people does not match with our resources,
*********CENTRAL AFRICA REPULBLIC: *********
We don’t need family planning. Stop all thing not contraception because it’s against the religion we’re Christians and we love God the meaning of contraception I read is not all for our society we must fight against deseases and family planning.
*************** SWAZILAND: ***************
I thought using condoms was the best and,not pills, injections and every thing
I suggest the Brits should start at home. Which will curb on the spiral of young single mums, or their draining resource on excess child care support. Cameron recently purported for a 3 child benefit policy- I think if they are really serious on budget cut. Then this package load of conceptive pill will work wonders in the UK than developing countries. After all Developing countries need to increase their economic market to align with the long time growth procrastination … While the Uk and the west need to shrink their market as it is over stretched. SO PILLS WILL MAKE A BETTER PLACE IN THE WEST THAN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES… Simply tosh
After going through these comments and engaging in a heated debate with some critical minds across the globe, I was beginning to wonder if the problem was because I already was sceptical about any form of aid that came to the continent in the form of finished goods that were simply handed out to the people. I was also wondering if the problem could be the knowledge I had about the failed development paradigms since the 1960s. However, I was vindicated when Jerome Ngoh came powerfully arguing that:
I can’t remember who said it but I can remember what he said: “it’s easier to pretend to be rich than it is to pretend to be poor”. Most of the comments in these thread make me laugh. Poverty is a societal self-sustaining philosophy. Yes, it starts with a male-dominated economic system in developing country but what keeps it in place has little to do with men. societal norms recruit previously exploited women to espouse and perpetuate this doctrine. Dady Kboy, is right: To change the story we need to tackle it from the economic/ educational empowerment of women. That is the recipe the West used. I am puzzled they deemed the chemical solution more appropriate for the “backward” people of the planet. That we are buying into it is more troubling. I hate bringing personal anecdotes into a story. I grew up poor. I remember the first time I told my mum about contraception, my grandma, not my father scolded me for bringing it up. I have discovered something about effecting change: I give my sisters the beat education money can buy. After exposing them to what the world has to offer, they don’t need a Bill- Melinda Gates foundation to educate them on the benefits of contraceptives.
I could not agree more with the above reasoning given that contraception is not a way of life – IT IS A CHOICE! Many women will have to choose to accept it or not! The ability to make that choice comes from education and awareness of what they want in life.
Provide all the contraception in the world to illiterate women and girls without the right economic and political atmosphere and they will become simply baby-less zombies.
Provide education, create jobs and an enabling environment and women will not need the Gates Foundation to provide for them – they will go look for it themselves and pay for it.
Empower the young women of Africa to think and stop thinking for them. Since a majority of these women are definitely illiterate, Melinda and her team have done all the thinking and decided that these women need it.
Actions such as these are what rob women of the ability to make informed choices and not the other way round.
Another aspect is the fact that when the West was faced with a similar crisis Malthus came up powerfully with his theory of population. As for the Malthusian theory of population I am not going to go in to all the theoretical debates he had with Ricardo and Keynesian contributions which clearly showed the contrary. However, let me state two points that are relevant to our discussion:
First, Malthus’s pessimistic conclusions have not been borne out by the history of Western European countries. The gloomy forecast made by Malthus about the economic conditions of future generations of mankind has not been realized in the Western world. Population has failed to grow as rapidly as predicted by Malthus and production has increased tremendously because of the rapid advances in technology. As a result, living standards of the people have risen instead of falling as was predicted by Malthus.
Secondly, Malthusian theory of population is based upon the law of diminishing returns as applied to agriculture. It on the basis of this law that Malthus asserted that food production could not keep pace with population growth. By making rapid advances in technology and accumulating capital in larger quantity, advanced countries have been able to postpone the stage of diminishing returns. By making use of fertilizers, better seeds, tractors and other agricultural machinery, they have been able to increase their production greatly. In fact, in most of the advanced countries the rate of increase of food production has been much greater than the rate of population growth.
Which brings me back to my basic question – can contraception solve any real economic problems in Africa? If so how?
Can education solve the controversy of contraception? YES! HOW? By giving women the knowledge to make informed choices.
Therefore – what Africa needs is the ability to think and not one foundation thinking and drawing conclusions – ones which they never implemented in their own case. Contraceptives may be good for birth control but when it comes to Africa as it is – I am apt to conclude that spending 2 billion is a misplaced priority.