False beliefs on the socio-economic drivers of cassava cropping

Abstract

General belief has it that cassava is (i) a subsistence crop, grown to avoid hunger (ii) by poor farmers, (iii) predominantly as an intercrop, (iv) requiring less labour than other crops and (v) no inputs. These beliefs influence policy, project development and implementation, and if wrong, may have far-reaching consequences for the success and sustainability of interventions. This study examines five beliefs about cassava and discusses consequences for interventions targeting cassava. From 2004 to 2006, 120 detailed farm surveys were carried out with smallholder farmers in 6 sites in central/eastern Uganda and western Kenya, whereby households were categorised in three wealth categories by local key informants. Through structured interviews and field visits, details on the importance of cassava, socio-economic indicators, food security, crop management and labour aspects were obtained. Our results show that cassava does ensure food security, but that the other beliefs are either myths or half truths. Besides supplying 27–41% of starchy staple food consumption, cassava also provided significant income (84 US$ yr−1), similar to that of maize (90 US$ yr−1). It is too simplistic to classify cassava as a ‘poor man’s crop’ as in Uganda wealthier households marketed more (+16%), but in Kenya consumed less (−11%) cassava than poorer farmers. Cassava is not predominantly intercropped (30% of acreage in Uganda and 51% in Kenya), farmers do use inputs on cassava (36% of the households hire labour) and total labour requirements (287 mandays ha−1) were higher than for most crops. Contrary to expectations, we conclude that increasing cassava production will not improve food security — unless a disease epidemic is present — but instead will improve the scope for commercialisation of cassava. To ensure that projects designed to enhance cassava production benefit poor and/or labour deficit households, specific provisions are needed, including development of labour saving technologies.

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Correspondence to A. M. Fermont.

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Fermont, A.M., Babirye, A., Obiero, H.M. et al. False beliefs on the socio-economic drivers of cassava cropping. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 30, 433–444 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1051/agro/2009044

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  • food security
  • income
  • input use
  • labour
  • wealth classes
  • weed management