The Magic of Cassava: Adapting to climate change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
FOR MAMAN GENEVIÈVE...
and thousands of smallholder producers in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kwilu Province, the magic of cassava means new opportunities. By adopting improved planting, cultivation and processing techniques for her cassava crops, Maman Geneviève is making more money, creating better opportunities for her family, and finding a sustainable path to adapt to the wide-scale impacts of climate change.
In short, the magic of cassava means Maman Geneviève can build a brighter future. Not just for her family or her village, but for generations to come.
CASSAVA, THE MAGIC PLANT
Like 70 percent of DRC's population, Maman Geneviève is dependent on rain-fed farming. But climate change, floods and droughts, extreme weather and unpredictable rains, erosion, and an increase in both crop and livestock diseases, mean traditional agricultural practices just aren't very effective anymore.
Facing these challenges, Maman Geneviève and her fellow villagers in Nkatabusongo found themselves struggling to feed their families and save money for their kids' education.
As the world's largest consumer of cassava, the people of DRC are heavily reliant on the crop. Cassava flour is used for baking bread and cakes, the leaves are consumed as a rich source of protein, calcium, vitamin A and Vitamin C. The starchy root can be fermented, or processed for industrial use as a starch, alcohol or biofuel.
Cassava is also highly adaptable to changes in climate. Among the major food crops of Africa (including maize, sorghum, millet, beans, potatoes and bananas), cassava is the least sensitive to the climate conditions predicted by 2030. It's drought resistant, can grow almost anywhere, and is not easily destroyed by heavy rains.
"In the end, cassava feeds some 200 million Africans when other crops fail, making it a climate change super-crop that may just save lives and build long-term resilience to the uncertainties posed by changing weather and climate patterns," says Clotilde Goeman, a UNDP Regional Technical Advisor that supports climate change adaptation projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With US$4.75 million in funding from the Global Environment Facility's Least Developed Country Fund and support from UNDP, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is supporting improved climate-resilient production of cassava for women like Maman Geneviève through the five-year Building Adaptive Capacity and Resilience of Women and Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo project.
NEW PROCESSING MACHINES
Processing cassava can be quite burdensome. Women in the village of Nkatabusongo used to have to pound the cassava by hand in order to make flour. Now, new processing units purchased through the project are making things easier and more cost-effective.
After harvest, villagers peel and clean the cassava, then put them into the machine so they can be grounded or sliced into micro-chips. After going through the processing machines, the micro-chips are soaked in clean water, removing any toxins, before being left to dry in the sun.
It used to take up to two weeks using the traditional processing technique to make flour. Now it takes around five days. And because the product is whiter, drier and more hygienic, it sells at a higher price. Using the old techniques, 100kg bags of cassava flour sold for about US$20. The new and improved product is now packaged in smaller 70kg bags that fetch US$35 per bag. This means that Maman Geneviève and her fellow producers make an average of US$0.30 more for each kilo of cassava.
Maman Geneviève leads the women's group that manages the new processing facility. With increased incomes, the women in the group have been able to feed their families and send their children to school.
"Improved production is just the start. By focusing on climate-resilient crops, this women's producers group is making a sound investment in a climate-resilient future," says Goeman.
STRENGTHENING RESILIENCE FOR WOMEN & CHILDREN
Women produce 80 percent of the food consumed in households in DRC. The Building Adaptive Capacity and Resilience of Women and Children project seeks to strengthen capacity to improve localized food production using climate-smart techniques.
"The project introduced new goat and rooster breeds that are resilient to droughts and meatier," says Goeman. "They also introduced a resilient maize variety that has a shorter growth cycle and is richer in protein."
The women producers of Nkatabusongo use the same cassava facility to process and store the maize. By having a storage facility, they can stockpile food for lean times, and also sell their products at higher prices based on market demand.
"Diversifying is a key component of climate-resilient rural development," says Goeman. "In some villages, farmers are now building new fish farms. The fish provide a reliable source of high-quality protein and a new revenue stream for farmers that traditionally relied on agricultural production."
Project participants are using new technologies and resources to improve production of a variety of crops. With the deployment of new weather stations, climate information is collected and distributed to project participants who use the information to optimize planting and harvesting schedules. A new research center was also established, allowing technical advisors to test new food varieties.
BUILDING LONG-TERM RESILIENCE
The story of the magic of cassava and the role it has played in transforming the life of Maman Geneviève and her fellow producers is just a piece of the puzzle. As the project carries on, more innovative climate change adaptation methodologies will be tested, scaled-up and replicated across the country.
"Successes on the ground will be used to inform and direct policy-making at the national level. Through this work, climate change adaptation can become part of the national planning and budgeting process," says Goeman. "The enthusiasm of Maman Geneviève and her group of dynamic women producers is impressive. With support from the project, they are now more knowledgeable about the facts of climate change, what they can do to adapt, and how they can work more efficiently to earn money for their families. This knowledge - coupled with improved policies, tools and technologies - means that vulnerable farmers like Maman Geneviève can build better lives and protect their futures, no matter what weather comes their way."