Roots and tubers namely cassava, sweet potato and dasheen take center stage among seminar discussions on Sustainable and Profitable Value Chains and Agribusiness Development at Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016 in the Cayman Islands under the theme ‘Investing in Food and Agriculture’.
Cultivation of roots and tuber in the Caribbean and Pacific Regions is not new but it has now attracted vested interest from regional agricultural stakeholders and private sector groups due to their climate resilient characteristics and earning potential.
Among the roots and tubers featured, some sweet potato varieties and cassava were specially highlighted and lauded by presenters because of their drought tolerance and use in climate smart agriculture practices.
Strong cases were made to include both crops in regional disaster risk management production strategies due to the disaster readiness characteristics observed in countries with similar climatic conditions where they were grown on a large scale.
Resource poor farmers who depend on rain fed farming systems were encouraged to engage in production of select sweet potato varieties and cassava.
These staples allow for manipulation of moisture availability and transition between wet to dry seasons while still achieving a bountiful harvest. In addition, such varities exhibit versatile and robust underground food storage capabilities that allowed food to be kept for longer.
Lengthier harvesting cycles for cassava allows increased income for small farmers and also augers well for increasing food and nutrition security.
Stronger arguments were made to increase investments in cassava and sweet potato value chains as both are primary sources of food with value added potential that could see tremendous earnings for the region due to current market demands.
Secured markets have already opened up within the region (Barbados, Trinidad, Antigua and St. Martin) for sweet potato.
Varieties that will initiate market access for farmers are William White and Break Fall varieties, Kizzie White and Red varieties, Black Vine, Big Red and Hubert Red Devil.
Sweet potato is also listed among favorite staple for consumers in the North American and UK Markets. Consumers are motivated by flavonoid and nutrient rich varieties such as Beauregard, Covington, Centennial and Okinawa (from Okinawa Island, Japan).
Farmers who desire to exploit market opportunities should note that market entry demands calls for proper record keeping (fertilizer and spray programmes), supply consistency, nutrition management and adherence to standards and agriculture best practices as the region move towards a commercial approach to agricultural production and development.
Harper – CAFAN Volunteer, in his presentation on ‘Production of Clean Sweet Potato Planting Material’ stressed the importance of farmers utilizing quality planting material at all times from reputable sources, for example CARDI. Quality planting material helps to reduce pest and disease susceptibility and increase nutrient uptake and plant stress in order. This can ensure quality produce that is market ready.
Stakeholders in the Barbados food and agriculture industry, Purity Bakeries and the Food Promotion Unit of the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) have already cashed in on the value added potential of cassava by producing tailored commercial brands of pastries, breads and gluten free cassava sorbets available locally on the supermarket shelves.
These products have been gaining some popularity among consumers due to consumer education promotions on product affordability and health benefits.
The potential for growth will only increase as product popularity increases and consumer preference remains in favour of foods produced with local food ingredients.
Consumers hold the key.
Extensive research have been conducted on cassava and sweet potato value chain development by stakeholders in order to bring about a more resilient region in terms of economic and natural vulnerabilities.
On this note, the CTA-FAST Partnership seeks to increase financial inclusion for actors along the value chain with an Investment Guide for the Sweet Potato Sector that will roll out soon.
This Guide seeks to educate financial institutions on opportunities, risk and risk management strategies with the aim to enhance sustainability of the sweet potato sector and enhance financial access for farmers.
Farmers be prepared, scale up and invest in roots and tubers.
- food security
- roots and tubers
- sweet potato
- value chain