the cassava chronicles – in this, the regional centre of excellence for cassava: UGANDA!


Cassava Garden
Photo taken from: http://cdn-write.demandstudios.com/ – with thanks

A CHANCE meeting at the start of this week has re-focussed my attention onto agriculture as an economic activity and one day, a few years from now, I will share stories of my successes perhaps even in in one of those newspaper pullouts that inspire us weekly to till the earth.

My chance encounter was with an old friend, Gerald Owachi, whose story shocked me on so many levels there is no way a newspaper article can do it justice.
He will write a book about it all one day, since he is a journalist by training and a well studied one at that, having attended classes at Harvard and Tufts in the United States.
After those classes, he joined various high end organisations doing public policy, conflict resolution and what not, earning money in foreign currencies, but one day dropped everything to do agriculture. Teaming up with two other friends – Harry Hakiza and J.J. Onen – they went into northern Uganda.
The story is rather long and I have since moved on from the incredulity I felt when they shared their plans many years ago, so by Monday morning I was asking for a simple update only for Gerry to tell me they had 240 acres of cassava full grown!
Cassava is one of my favourite foods right now, because my domestic arrangements have involved training people up to fry cassava sticks to a point that we are soon entering the dish into cooking competitions for local foods – another story coming soon somewhere near you.
Every time I find there is a shortage of cassava in the markets near my home I marvel at how silly our agricultural marketing is – but that is nothing compared to Gerryā€™s experiences in the fields of cassava.
With 240 acres, for instance, their cassava project is probably the biggest single one of that crop in Uganda but, for some reason, they are not one of the major suppliers of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). They are one of the suppliers, but only got listed after a hilarious story that must go into Gerryā€™s book.
It involved having their ‘projectā€™ inspected by a superior, imperious NAADS fellow who had the bearing of a small god simply because he has the power to determine whether or not the results of the sweat and investment of people like Gerry, Harry, J.J. and their thousand-odd workers, should be placed onto a list of suppliers.
See, there are these well-intentioned projects that governments around the world implement but in doing so they employ small-minded chaps who take their representation of the government to such heights that if they donā€™t like your attitude they can reject (or frustrate) your project into oblivion.
So this big cassava project was off the supply list but they insisted their way onto it and eventually got allocated some bags – meaning they were assigned the privilege of supplying bags of cassava cuttings to the NAADS project.
Off their 240 acres they were assigned 663 bags. Or, letā€™s say they were assigned 6,000 bags. Cuttings are just that – you get a cassava stem then cut it into segments of about 30 centimetres.
I interrupted the conversation to call up my pal, the Executive Director of NAADS, and left him with that information to deal with – which he undoubtedly will.
Anyway, what madness had possessed these three young men to plant so much cassava?
Cassava has hundreds of uses besides being fried, salted and put on a side plate next to my cup of tea. Uganda Breweries uses cassava as a local raw material in brewing beer; CIPLA, the multinational pharmaceutical firm, is buying up 51% of Quality Chemicals and one of the major ingredients in pharmaceuticals isā€¦cassava; it is used in making glues and one hundred other things industries rely on.
ā€œYou know Uganda is the Centre of Excellence for Cassava growingā€¦?ā€ Gerry began, making me choke on my coffee as I spluttered a ā€˜What Theā€¦?’
It is true.
The internet even says stuff like, ā€œTheĀ Cassava Regional Centre of Excellence isĀ basedĀ inĀ Uganda,Ā takingĀ advantageĀ ofĀ Uganda’sĀ provenĀ trackĀ recordĀ ofĀ successĀ inĀ providingĀ leadershipĀ inĀ cassavaĀ research,Ā trainingĀ andĀ disseminationĀ ofĀ technologiesĀ andĀ informationā€¦”
Go and ask the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations for more.
Another website declares that six years ago Uganda was the sixth largest producer of cassava in Africa, and the crop is our second most important after bananas.
It would be – it basically grows anywhere under even arid conditions. Which is why the three chapsā€™ project was so important – because on their 240 acres they focussed on one, consistent breed or strain of cassava, rather than the very many funny ones in existence elsewhere.
As they were starting up, they tried to get the right cuttings and couldnā€™t find any that were consistent for a while. They went to the National Crops Resources Research Institute at Namulonge and eventually set up a partnership that ensured they had a sensible strain of cassava.
Thatā€™s another reason NAADS should be interested in them, and them in NAADS, because if one of the odd strains gets into their 240 acres they could lose their entire crop. You see, a short while ago someone said they had found Cassava Brown Streak disease in Western Uganda…
No – crisis meetings have not been called, even if Ugandan Brown Streak disease is ranked among the top seven biological threats to global food security.
All in all, their book will be an interesting read – wait for the section on ACF – the Agricultural Credit Facility under Bank of Uganda, an abbreviation few of us can recognise as quickly as TDA today, yet itā€™s been there since 2009. Under the ACF you and I can get up to Ushs2.1billion (or even Ushs5billion if the project is good enough), at 10% per annum.
They got one of far less than that, and because of bureaucracy found themselves paying a commercial bank loan at a much higher interest rate a couple of months into planting andā€¦they are now in court minus the tractor they purchased with the loan, and the 80% they had paid for it in cash.
But they have their 240 acres of cassava sitting intact, for now, and theyā€™re aiming at 3,500 planted by 2017.
As a resident of the Cassava Centre of Excellence, how many patches of your own cassava will you have by then?

Pierre Nkurunziza: the man of ironies could learn something from Yoweri Museveni


Nkurunziza from Afrik.com

BURUNDIā€™S Pierre Nkurunziza is a man of ironies.
His political party is called the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, but he is right now caught in the headlights of accusations that his election to a third term of office is most undemocratic – even though Burundiā€™s Constitutional Court ruled that he was within his legal rights to stand for another term.
Before being appointed President he was even Minister for Good Governance in the transitional government there, but today his adherence to governance principles is being held questionable.
For a sports enthusiast who normally shows up on public kitted out in colourful track suits and whoā€™s a common figure on public soccer pitches playing footie, it was weird last year to hear that Nkurunziza had banned jogging because of security risks associated to the exercise.
Indeed, after the announcement, opposition members from the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) were jailed for jogging, as their run had reportedly turned into a political demonstration.
And the chatter in Kampala when it was announced that the mediation over Nkurunzizaā€™s third term deadlock would be run by Ugandaā€™s Yoweri Museveni, was that it most most ironic because of the number of terms Museveni himself has served as President.
For Museveni, though, Burundi presents more nostalgia than irony, and as he arrived in Bujumbura for the talks, he might have either felt a small twinge of it or triggered some in Burundians.
The nostalgia of the Barundi must lie in the number of Presidents theyā€™ve received at Bujumbura airport since the mid-90s to mediate in political conflict there. Counting from the top, theyā€™ve hostedĀ Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (all more than once).
Museveniā€™s own nostalgia, on the other hand, is not over the political battle he faced when he stood for the Presidency in 2006 and in 2011, as all indications are that he will be on the ballot paper again in Uganda come 2016.
Instead, it must be linked to the number of times he has been at the helm of mediations for peace in Burundi – which goes back about twenty years when, at the behest of Tanzaniaā€™s Julius Nyerere, Museveni got Burundiā€™s Sylvestre Ntibantunganya to reach a settlement with his opposition that settled tensions for a few weeks before it fell apart again.
In the years following that, Museveni featured starkly in the negotiations, pushing a hard line that eventually swept away the more radical players accused of genodical tendencies, and those labelled coup plotters.
Back then the Tanzanians took lead in managing the peace process mostly because they found themselves hosting heavy flows of refugees that had crossed the border, as well as funding a large deployment of Tanzanian military personnel to secure said borders so the violence didnā€™t follow the refugees.
Museveni, though, always at Nyerereā€™s side in the mediation continuously spoke of the need for Burundi to be settled in order for regional cooperation to become a reality, since Rwanda had been sorted out – cutting his teeth further as a regional leader.
The opportunity was the first in which African leaders took full charge of resolving a conflict on the continent, which also gave Museveni a further boost to his anti-imperial ideologies.
Since then, he has been central in conflict resolution in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Somalia and now, again, in Burundi.
This time round, though, the concerns Museveni faces are much greater in number and scope.
To start with, the reasons for the conflict in Burundi are too close to home – just months to national elections in Uganda, political upheaval over a tussle for the presidency is the last thing Museveni and many other Ugandans Ā would want to see, after all these years of relative calm.
The closest to civil upheaval Uganda has seen in the capital city came in 2011 after the national elections, whenĀ opposition politicians launched a volley of demonstrations veiled as attempts to “walk to workā€ because, they argued, economic conditions were so bad they couldnā€™t afford fuel. Ironically, like Nkurunziza, the protests threatened to make the economy worse by paralysing business in the city centre.
The government clamped down hard on the ā€œwalksā€, deploying squads of anti-riot police with water cannons and tear gas canisters, while frequently jailing demonstration leaders. The message was clear – the sight of demonstrators on the streets was unwelcome, especially so soon after North Africa had hosted so many to the detriment of the countries themselves.
When Nkurunziza left Burundi in May for crisis talks in Tanzania demonstrations broke out on Bujumburaā€™s streets leading to the attempted coup or coup announcement.
The glee with which the opposition in Uganda received the news of his toppling was worrying enough for any sitting President to be concerned.
Allowing any opposition leaders or groups of youths to casually exhibit a sustained defiance to leadership would be highly problematic for Uganda, where the population of the youth is a sometimes scary 70%.
If Nkurunziza needed to be removed, it had to be through peaceful, regularised means otherwise there was a chance that the ghosts of the Arab Spring would return to wreak havoc.
Luckily, Nkurunziza returned and restored himself into the seat but shortly thereafter noises were made about Rwanda possibly being involved in the attempt to remove him.
Museveni was keen to put a stop to those noises as a priority, otherwise East African Cooperation would suffer.
Besides the political worries, Museveni is also keenly aware of the dominoes of instability caused by the combination of conflict and refugees from Burundi through Rwanda and Tanzania into Uganda, which even now probably hosts the largest number of refugees in East and Central Africa – close to 500,000 of them from every other country.
And, most importantly, Burundi is a good opportunity for Museveni to emphasize the importance of his philosophy that African countries must first settle security issues before tackling democracy and their economies – quite distinct from some views that democracy should always come first.
As he quipped about Somalia a few weeks ago: ā€œIf you say defence is not connected to agriculture, then I invite you to start a coffee farm in Somalia.”
Whereas Museveniā€™s mediation in Burundi was focussed on a political solution, the defence and security angle was so central that when he left Bujumbura his assigned placeholder was Ugandaā€™s Defence Minister, Crispus Kiyonga.
Nkurunziza did not need a veiled message from Uganda about what would happen if war broke out afresh today. He knows first hand how adept Uganda is at deploying troops and holding ground more than two borders away from their own, as Burundi has run peacekeeping operations side by side with Uganda under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The disputed election has taken place and the expected result has been achieved.
But what Nkurunziza now needs to learn from Museveni is how to hold his Presidential seat and his country together two terms away from the peace accord that first brought him into power, as the old man has managed quite comfortably these many years hence.
– a version of this article ran in the Sunday Independent of South Africa on July 26.