This is because, a device developed by an agricultural engineer at the Agricultural Engineering Department of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) offers the solution to take away long time and labour that are associated with the process involved in manually harvesting the tuber crop.
The device, called TEK Mechanical Cassava Harvester, simply assists farmers in harvesting roots and tuber crops in Ghana and sub Saharan Africa. Locally produced at the KNUST, led by Prof Emmanuel Bobobee, the TEK mechanical cassava harvester is an innovative device developed to commercialise large scale cassava production in Ghana and sub Saharan Africa. It is a tractor drawn device which must be attached to a tractor (at the back) to function.
This innovative comes at a point in time when there is low level of engineering technology inputs into agriculture which is hindering modernization of agriculture and food production in Ghana and rests of Africa.
This initiative therefore becomes very crucial to attain food security in the country and other parts of Africa. And even more significantly in cassava production, which is an important food security, industrial and energy crop in the world. Its roots provide dietary carbohydrates for over 800 million people, while global production in 2012 was 282 million tonnes, with 56% by Africa, 30% by Asia and 14% produced in South America.
Harvesting of the crop is a major constraint to commercialise cassava production in sub Saharan Africa. “Manual cassava harvesting is a painful, stressful and time consuming activity full of drudgery especially, during the dry season,” said Prof Emmanuel Bobobee, the developer of the innovative device, which is the first of its kind in Africa.
“It helps to harvest cassava throughout the year especially during the dry season when the soil is very hard.The only challenge facing large scale adoption is for farmers to change from the traditional method of planting haphazardly to now plant in rows preferably on ridges to comply to the mechanical harvesting,” Prof Bobobee stressed.
According to him, the device is also suitable for not only cassava but root and tuber crops such as yam, and sweet potato.
Even though Africa is the leading producer of cassava globally, the continent falls short on the global trade of cassava, which is dominated by China and Indonesia due to mechanized approach to cassava production. “Africa’s production is still done in primitive way using hoe and cutlass,” Prof Bobobee said.
“Cassava has a huge potential and Ghana as well as Africa can tap into the potential once we are able to mechanise cassava, especially harvesting which takes the biggest chunk of labour requirement. Once that potential is unlocked, it will position Africa to become a multibillion industry for the crop. It is climate smart, climate resilient and drought tolerant and can do well in areas where other crops cannot do well,” Prof Bobobee noted.
It is neutral to all varieties of cassava, in fact it works with varieties that are big and developed for starch but every cassava that is cultivated can be harvested using the technology, Prof Bobobee added.
“But to reduce damage, because cassava starch will be deteriorating after 24 hours, we have been pleading with our colleagues in the breeding arena to develop varieties that will be bouncy so that the tubers will not spread too far away from the main stem to be within the harvesting zone of the implement, otherwise it can harvest anything like yam,” he mentioned.
“I have mentioned it to the university but there is no conscious effort to breed for mechanical harvesting varieties. I have engaged them that to avoid damage they need to breed varieties that will not compromise on the yield but being bouncy. This should not be too lateral and not too far from the main stem, and eventually become a cluster to ensure easy harvesting,” Prof Bobobee explained.
The ministry of food and agriculture has been cooperative in the sense that a research grant was given to the team in 2009 to demonstrate and popularise the technology. It did not end there, the minister for food and agriculture in 2013 paid a visit to the team to witness the demonstration, and commission the first commercial version of the technology. At the same event, the minister ceased the opportunity to procure about 15 of the devices for practice centres.
“We need all stakeholders on board, the government by this time should actually roll out a policy so that we can go to all the districts in Ghana where they grow cassava to teach the farmers and the youth. This is because agricultural labour is ageing so we need to introduce this mechanised form of cassava production to make agriculture an interesting business. We need to move further by getting it to end users,” he emphasised.
Speaking to the Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture for Crops Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan at the launch of the Africa Food Prize in Accra, he believes the technology is a strong catalyst to boost cassava production on commercial basis in Ghana, which would additionally create decent job opportunities.
He said the government is committed to supporting such initiatives and will continue to do so with any available assistance and also called for private sector investment in such initiatives to achieve food security.
Prof Walter Sandow Alhassan, the Director for Biotechnology and Stewardship for Sustainable Agriculture in West Africa (BSSA) says the technology addresses a major constraint to large scale cassava production.
“I am aware of increasing demand for the equipment. Its large scale production by an entrepreneur is needed.
“This latter observation may be applicable to the soil sampler and analyser which will help address the declining soil fertility challenge of Africa’s agriculture,” he said.