Increasing Cassava’s shelf life – an innovation and supply chain challenge

With 60% of the total world production, and the main source of nutrition for almost half of Africa’s population; cassava matters to Africa.  Nigeria alone accounts for 20% of the world production or 50 million tons a year.

In Nigeria, nearly 30 million smallholder farmers (SHF) rely on cassava for their livelihoods. But farmers have limited access to different varieties, and because cassava is seen as a resilient crop, it is often planted in poor soil with little or no fertiliser.

Cassava can be stored for 18 months underground without spoiling; but there is an opportunity cost, as land remains unproductive. When processed into flour or gari (toasted cassava flour), cassava’s bulk can substantially be reduced, making it easier to store and transport, and increasing its shelf life.

However, distances between the farms and the processors are great, with high transportation cost and a high risk of spoilage. Unprocessed cassava is bulky with low value, and has a shelf life of about two days. The average spoilage rate is approximately 40 percent in Nigeria. Often crops are also damaged during transportation.

Innovation Challenge

To address the problem, the Rockefeller Foundation, Dalberg Global Development Advisors and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), launched a new Innovation Challenge at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali. The challenge is to develop innovative solutions that can increase cassava’s shelf life in Nigeria, and reduce the high spoilage rate.

The “boldest and most promising ideas” could be awarded up to $1 million in grants. The stakes are high, as domestic demand for cassava in Nigeria is expected to hit $8.5 billion by the year 2020 (IITA).