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African Agricultural Officials converge on Cameroon to map out ways of processing the Continent’s enormous Food Resources

Nigeria, an example of success for other African countries, produces about 20 percent of the world's cassava

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Women work in a cassava grinding mill in Nigeria, Nov. 19, 2009. - VOA

: African agricultural officials have converged on Cameroon to map out ways of processing the continent’s enormous food resources. Instead of exporting the raw products to Europe, they have chosen this way.

The international trade fair on agriculture and agro industries is focusing on the cassava crop, hoping to add value to the more than 200 million tons of the starchy tuber Africa produces each year.

Processing key

As 300 women – members of the Akono cassava farmers association – peel, boil, steam, slice, pound, roast and ferment cassava roots and leaves, Farmer Nteme Florence says the processing makes cassava usable in many ways.

She says besides consuming cassava leaves as vegetables and cassava roots as a basic food, the women transform it into starch, whisky, beer, flour gari (toasted granules), chips, and many other products. She says they use cassava skin as animal feed.

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Cassava production cooperative president Marie Joseph Ndzana Fouda says they use traditional methods to process the tuber because they lack modern equipment.

She says they also have been longing for tractors so they can stop manual work on their farms and increase cassava production, helping themselves and the many people who approach them to learn how to cultivate cassava to supplement their incomes.

Most cassava exported

Most of Africa’s cassava is exported to America, Thailand and Brazil, countries that have high annual consumption of starch products. Japan imports nearly a million tons a year.

DRC agriculture official Stanley Yimngain says it is time for Africa to reduce raw exports and process cassava at home to create jobs.

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“We find that cassava production, if it remains traditional, it will not be able to benefit from the opportunities that are coming up now with processing (and) industrialization,” Yimngain said. “So the forum is trying to bridge the gap between what the industrialist are looking for, what the small scale producers are doing or are producing and how can we meet half way so that the benefits also come to the small holder farmers. We would like to see that agriculture is a business opportunity and not just what our parents used to do.”

Nigeria sets an example

The Central African Republic representative at the forum, Samson Garassi, says African countries lack the technical and financial means to equip rural communities to process cassava.

He says 90 percent of the population of the Central African Republic consume cassava, but average production in the C.A.R. has stagnated since it is difficult to develop the sector and process and export the tuber in the absence of funds. He says the C.A.R. is expecting funding agencies to help them grow from artisanal to industrial production.

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The participants are learning from Nigeria. From 33 million tons in 1999, Nigeria now produces 45 million, about 20 percent of the world production.

Cassava a staple crop

Agriculture engineer Vincent Noble, who coordinates the program to develop French agro industries, says Nigeria and West African countries have greatly increased labor efficiency, incomes and standards of living through cassava farming.

He says the most important thing about the cassava forum is that it provides an opportunity for Africa to learn from the example of West Africa, which has succeeded in industrial transformation to add value to the product and create jobs.

Cassava is one of the most important staple food crops in tropical Africa, playing a major role in efforts to alleviate food shortages because of its availability year round and tolerance to extreme conditions. (VOA)

 

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)