EU-funded researchers are investigating new ways to benefit from waste in cassava and yam production and processing in some of the world's poorest regions. This will have a significant direct effect on the lives of millions who rely on the crop, and provide research and business opportunities for Europe.
© Fotolia, 2012
Cassava and yam are important crops for approximately 700 million people worldwide, but post-harvest wastage is proving to be a huge problem. Physical losses that occur during processing and marketing can be as high as 60%, and cassava prices can drop by up to 85% within a couple of days of harvest. This has a clear economic impact, and opportunities to further increase the value of these crops are lost.
Cutting wastage is clearly a priority. If losses could be reduced, then these crops could play a significant role in strengthening food and income security in some of the most deprived regions of the world. This is the purpose behind a new EU-funded food technology project, which has brought together researchers from Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The project also offers potential to both the European research and private business sectors.
"The project seeks to develop profitable uses of the currently discarded waste products of cassava and yam (such as peel, liquid waste and spent brewery waste) and to reduce physical and economic losses in the existing systems by up to 50%," explains project coordinator Keith Tomlins from the University of Greenwich. "Issues of food safety, enterprise development and practical demonstrations are also important components of the project."
The researchers will develop and validate technologies and systems that benefit households, support small and medium-sized enterprises, create new jobs and develop links to large-scale industries. Other goals include developing new products such as snack foods from the crops, and opening new markets. The fact that the consortium is made up of partners from both academic and business should help meet this aim.
The project is currently assessing value chains and evaluating the causes of post-harvest wastage in cassava and yam crops in the project countries. Important yam species and the levels of losses in Ghana and Nigeria are also being identified. The next step is to develop methods for making yam and cassava flour, find new methods for growing mushrooms from the waste cassava and yam, and develop an effective communication strategy in order to disseminate the results.
The three-year Gratitude project, which stands for 'Gains from losses of root and tuber crops', involves 16 project partners from Ghana, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. Led by scientists from the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute in the UK, the project partners aim to find new ways of reducing waste during the production of food crops vital to families in parts of Africa and Asia.
From waste to opportunity
Gratitude is also expected to bring benefits to Europe through increased collaboration and the exchange of ideas between international project partners. "For private-sector companies in the project, there is potential to increase their competitive edge and create new business opportunities in cassava and yam production while also reducing waste and turning it into value," says Tomlins. "We also anticipate that new markets will be assessed through the new opportunities that arise. The project will contribute to European research outputs, too, that will be published in internationally respected journals, and funding will lead to the hiring of new staff and necessary facilities for performing research."
The fundamental objective of course is to bring benefits to some of the world's poorer regions. By working together, this international team will enable producers and processors in Asia and Africa to make safe and marketable cassava and yam food products, using every part of the harvested tubers in a more environmentally friendly way that will increase the crop's overall value.