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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

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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The Next Big Advance In Technology May Come From Africa

Toybox co-Founder Kanina Foss says Africa is an ideal springboard for innovation, with its rich artistic talent and traditions.

Technology, robot, inventions
The mock killer robot was displayed in London in April 2013 during the launching of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which calls for the ban of lethal robot weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without any human intervention. (VOA)

From a young age, Phatwa Senene knew he wanted to be an inventor.

He got his start at age 11, he said, when he attached a DC motor to a fan. He then attached the fan to a drill and proceeded to drill holes into his bedroom wall. His invention worked, he said: The fan blew away the dust from the drilling.

“That was my first invention that I can recall,” he said, laughing. “My mom didn’t like it at all.”

He nearly hit a figurative wall years later, when he tried to go to university, but found he couldn’t afford it. His family was poor, he said, and he grew up in a Johannesburg township.

But the now-33-year-old plowed ahead, coming up with innovative inventions, like a data-collecting, 3D-printed solar-powered streetlamp, that have caught the attention of South African municipalities and companies.

Two of his new streetlamps, which are capable of tracking data like noise levels and air quality, are being piloted in inner city Johannesburg.

Toybox for inventors

It’s that creativity and innovation that have also caught the attention of African technology innovators, who are hoping to turn this unique idea into profit. Senene is a member of a new Johannesburg tech innovation hub, called Toybox, that gives inventors, artists and tinkerers room to work, a community to work with, and business support to get their inventions off the drawing board and into the real world.

Co-founder Arlene Mulder, who previously started WeThinkCode, an institution that teaches young South Africans about coding and software engineering, says Africa is often overlooked as a source for ideas and invention. She wants to change that, by supporting local inventors and giving them room to grow.

Toybox co-founders Arlene Mulder and Kanina Foss say their tech innovation project aims to link Africa’s rich talents in art and innovation with the growing need for innovative technology in the developing world. VOA

“We’ve been seeing, over the last couple of years, incredibly talented inventors coming up with incredible inventions, but they are struggling to bring these inventions to life,” she tells VOA. “So we are creating this ecosystem and platform for them to come together, and we provide access to the global world.”

In exchange for its services, the hub gets a portion of the revenue the inventors end up making. There are similar places operating elsewhere in South Africa as well as Kenya and Rwanda.

Welcome support

Senene says he appreciates the support. It was hard to get ahead flying solo.

“You can be an inventor all day, but you still need to eat, you need to run a business,” he said. “So, as an inventor, I had to go through the process where you learn about business. And all of that for me was self-taught. There’s no one in my family who would set a path for me, there was no one who guided me, so, trial and error, I learned the hard way.”

Toybox co-Founder Kanina Foss says Africa is an ideal springboard for innovation, with its rich artistic talent and traditions.

Toybox founder Arlene Mulder views a project that their tech innovation hub was involved in, a Virtual Reality exhibition at a Johannesburg art gallery. VOA

“Some of the cool stuff our fellows are doing include leveraging the intersections between technologies and the creative disciplines, so that we can use artists to really push the barriers on what tech can do,” she said.

Senene, the inventor, says his inspiration comes from some unexpected places. One of his recent innovations is a “tombstone tracker,” a tool meant to find stolen grave markers, which has been a problem in South Africa.

Also Read: A Study of Africa’s Bush Elephants

“What inspires me is my environment,” he said. “So many of my devices have been inspired by the places that I’ve lived in, especially the problems. So, I’m very sensitive to negativity, to horrible things, and that allows me to identify them, and I have an ability to try to come up with a solution.”

If he finds a solution, places like Toybox will be ready to help him develop and market the idea. (VOA)