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Building Uganda’s cassava

production base

The AgriTT programme is an Improving yields with new varieties, groups. Experts from CATAS, China,
innovative trilateral initiative good practices and mechanisation demonstrated and taught good
between the UK Department agricultural practices for improved
According to the Food and
cassava cultivation. The project also
for International Development; Agriculture Organization, Uganda’s
established eight demonstration
the Chinese Government; and total cassava output is around 60%
gardens (two 1-hectare sites in each
the Governments of Malawi of China’s. Although the area of
of the four districts) for mechanised
farm land under cassava in Uganda
and Uganda with the Forum is three times that of China, yield
cassava production, using specialist
for Agricultural Research cassava equipment from China
per hectare is only one-fifth that
in Africa. The programme that included deep tilling, ridging,
of China. As well as being a staple
planting and harvesting machinery.
facilitates the sharing of food in some regions of the country,
successful experiences in cassava has unrealised potential The pilot trials focused on good
agricultural development for industrial processing. The wider agronomy, including roguing
Uganda Pilot Development Project of diseased plants, hand-
with developing countries
also looked at potential for scaling-up made ridging, timely weeding,
to improve agricultural and development of cassava-based recommended planting spacing,
productivity and food security. products – but possibilities for even and use of NASE 14. Yields improved
small-scale industrialisation depend substantially in these preliminary
AgriTT Pilot Development fundamentally on an efficient and trials even without mechanisation
Projects work with reliable production base for fresh (to around 22 t/ha in Buliisa and
smallholder farmers, cassava roots and dried cassava Kigumba). However, farmers had
chips. In this production component to be prepared to invest labour in
agricultural outreach agencies
of the project, Chinese technical managing the gardens. Yields for
and policy-makers in Malawi assistance shared expertise on good mechanised production were even
and Uganda to introduce agricultural practices for cassava higher, averaging 41 t/ha for the plots
agricultural technology cultivation; the potential of disease- in Kigumba and Matunda. These
innovations from China and tolerant varieties; the possibilities yields were obtained without use of
embed these in a value chain, for mechanised cultivation and fertilisers; over the long term it could
of which farming communities harvesting; and methods for be difficult to sustain these levels
successful small-scale production of without additional soil fertility inputs.
will be the primary dried high-quality cassava chips.
beneficiaries. The Uganda At the start of the project there
Pilot Development Project Forty cassava farmer groups in four was considerable scepticism that
districts of western Uganda were mechanised production would be
supports the development
established to pilot recommended economically viable in Uganda.
of cassava value chains. production technologies and These trials indicate that machine
establish a seed multiplication cultivation of cassava now looks
system. The disease-tolerant cassava feasible under certain conditions,
variety NASE 14, recommended although more accurate data from
from previous studies, was grown controlled trials will be needed
at 37 specially established nursery to confirm initial findings on both
gardens managed by the 40 farmer agronomy and mechanisation.
Labour costs are a constraint Results from the preliminary
in many of the project areas. demonstration trials showed that
Mechanisation saves labour returns per hectare are higher
and ensures an optimum plant using mechanised production
population and quick, timely (see Table 1), but these results
operations to catch up with rains. need to be confirmed over several
One tractor with two operators can seasons. The improved returns are
plough and carry out all operations mainly from good cassava yield due
for planting on up to 10 acres in to looser mechanically tilled soil
one day. The same area cultivated giving better water retention and crop
manually would take up to 310 rooting; better weed removal through
person-days to prepare the land ploughing; and proper spacing
and another 100 days for planting. resulting in a good plant population,
In the project area, mechanisation all leading to vigorous, uniform crop
would enable the opening up of growth. It is therefore critical to
additional land for cultivation. And break the myth among farmers that
the greater efficiency of mechanised mechanised cassava production
planting allows farmers to respond cannot be a profitable enterprise.
better to market opportunities and
the demands of processors.

Task Production costs (USh)

Conventional Mechanised
production* production
Land preparation† (labour, fuel) 1,113,728 472,847
Seed preparation and planting (labour plus
379,254 666,900
cost of seed)
Weed control (labour) 641,145 370,500
Harvest (labour and fuel) 803,298 605,150
Machinery wear and tear estimates 0 118,560
Operators’ wage estimates 0 123,500
Total cost 2,957,425 2,357,457
Yield fresh roots (kg/ha) 18,224 40,508
Sale price fresh roots (USh/kg) 269 269
Gross returns per ha 4,902,165 10,896,652
Annualised capital cost of machines (@20%
0 298,213
Net returns per ha (USh) 1,944,740 8,240,982
Net returns per ha (US$)‡ 583 2,472
*Average for project area.
†Includes bush clearing, ploughing twice, and digging planting holes.
‡Based on 1USD = 3,334 USh

Table 1. Comparison of production costs and returns per hectare for mechanised and
conventional cassava production
It should be noted, though, that the For this project, the greatest cost was
benefits of mechanised relative to the 130 horsepower (hp) tractor needed
conventional production are location- to operate the machinery. If available,
specific. The opportunity costs of labour mechanised options that use a 90
and fresh root prices vary between hp tractor, more widely available for
districts, and between seasons, and will hire locally, would reduce investment
greatly influence net returns from cassava costs. Maintenance and parts should
cultivation. The appropriateness of also be considered, including local
machines is also site-specific, with stony fabrication of blades and other
sites or those with poor drainage posing a components that are subject to wear
problem for ploughing. Skilled operators and tear. Many farmers in the region
to drive tractors and carry out mechanised were also willing to consider sharing
operations carefully may be in short costs in order to utilise the machinery.
supply, and training may be needed.
The project succeeded in raising
Investment costs in machinery are interest in growing cassava as a
high (in the region of US$100,000 commercial proposition rather than
to purchase a tractor plus plough, just a famine reserve subsistence crop.
rotary tiller, ridge-maker, planter and Cassava is now a much more attractive
harvester), and will also include tax crop in comparison with maize, sugarcane
and freight costs. This investment and tobacco, which have traditionally
could be profitable, based on the dominated as cash crops in the area.
returns in Table 1, depending on scale of
production and the feasibility of renting
equipment to neighbouring farmers.
Policy recommendations
• Initial findings suggest that Ugandan farmers from medium
scale upwards can reap benefits from mechanised cassava
production. Mechanisation should be cautiously promoted to those It is critical to break the
farmers with resources, but in some areas it would reduce labour
opportunities, so the impact of this will need consideration. myth among farmers
that mechanised
• Farmers will need access to credit in order to purchase machinery
– whether as cooperatives or as individual entrepreneurs. cassava production
Information sharing on the technologies available would also be cannot reap profits.
valuable. The government and/or donors could create a portal
to share information on suppliers and technology reviews on, for
example, the reliability and local suitability of specific equipment.

• A local agent for cassava machinery in Uganda would reduce

transaction costs; suppliers such as those in China need to
be made aware of the potential market for their machines.
More research on potential adaptations to machines from
countries such as China for the Ugandan context, and ways
to encourage the private sector to fabricate spare parts such
as blades, would enhance the uptake of mechanisation.

• The supply of machinery would be facilitated by faster

import processes and, for example, streamlining of any
taxation exemptions for production machinery.

Ministry of Agriculture, Animal
Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF),

Chinese Academy of Tropical

Agricultural Sciences (CATAS), China

Daisy Eresu
Ministry of Agriculture, Animal
Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF)

Elle Harrison
Programme Coordinator

Ministry of Commerce
and Ministry of Agriculture