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Cassava, a climate-smart cash crop, can help build the adaptive capacity of rural women and community resilience in SubSahara Africa.




Seasonal droughts and floods now occur everywhere in Sierra Leone, leading to crop failures, hunger, poverty and more vulnerability of female farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture. Increasingly, flooding is also destroying farms of the poor. 

This is where cassava comes in. Cassava is a tropical root crop. Cassava is robust to building community resilience to droughts and floods. The crop is drought tolerant because it will withstand long periods without rains and in hot temperatures, and also flood resistant in that it could not be easily destroyed by torrential rains or floods. Cassava also does well in degraded soils.  

Cassava is in high and increasing demand on local and international markets for food, feed, starch and several industrial purposes. Cassava is commercially viable enough to build the capacity and resilience of female farmers. Production cost is low because the crop needs or no inputs or fertilization, but yields is very high.  

The key challenge will be how to help women farmers access farmland. In Sierra Leone, land is governed by freehold in the Western Area and by land tenure system in the rural provinces. In the rural provinces, where Eco-Cassava will be tested, most of the land is held by families under the land tenure system. Most people access land through membership in land holding families or communities. Families have rights of access, use, and transfer by lease. Families rent or lease land to “strangers”.  

Eco-Cassava will engage with chiefdom councils to help women farmers have access to farmlands. In the short term, rural women can access farmland through their families or communities, and those who are not from land holders (“strangers”) will be supported to rent or lease, within the customary land tenure system. Cassava is a yearly crop, making it appropriate for tenants. In the long term, CFA will help female farmers to securely acquire farmlands. 

Category of the action

Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change

What actions do you propose?

The concrete actions will include the following:

1. Construction of project website and social media pages. The internet will be used to tell the story of the women farmers and the project, connect and interact with experts, cassava traders, cassava users, and other grassroots climate actors around the world. 

2. Community mobilization and organizing to take up cassava as a climate smart cash crop and cooperative development. Communities must be aware that cassava is stronger than rice, in terms of tolerance to climate extremes. The actions will including community sensitization meetings, organizing Cassava Farmers Associations or CFAs, registration of Cassava Farmers Associations with Government and development agencies, opening bank accounts.)

3. Networking and partnership with various stake holders and interest groups including local and international NGOs, private sector and public sectors.

4. Support female farmers to engage in commercial cassava production (including training in sustainable cassava production, negotiating access to farmland, tractors)

5. Connecting with local and international cassava markets is a key. Previous cassava projects have tackled low yields by introducing improved varieties and dealing with diseases. Cassava production has increased. The gap now to fill is to connect to markets.  

6. Random control trails for rigorous testing and evaluation of the impact of cassava uptake on the resilience of female farmers and drought prone communities. This will involve community-based participatory research because that will train local youth and women leaders in RCT methodology to serve on the project as data collectors and community-based extension agents.  

Who will take these actions?

Female farmers will take up cassava, and get organized to access production resources and services, and help to drive social change in their communities.

Government agencies and community leaders, including chiefdom councils and tribal authorities, will support cassava production, processing and marketing on local and international markets.

NGOs and development sector will support women farmers to form or join agricultural cooperatives and farmers associations and support the cooperatives and associations to access resources and services.

Private companies especially cassava users will establish partnerships and supply chains that involve women farmers, and will innovate new products and markets for cassava.

Where will these actions be taken?

The actions will be taken in Sub-Sahara Africa or SSA (proposing a pilot in Sierra Leone) for these reasons:

1. Sub-Sahara Africa contributes the least to global warming but suffers the worst from climate change impacts due to weak adaptive capacity. Countries in SSA, especially West Africa, are already experiencing climate extremes. Furthermore, agriculture is the backbone of the economies of SSA. 

2. The project will focus on women farmers in Sub-Sahara Africa because they are one of the poorest and worst affected by droughts and soil degradation.

3. Cassava is a tropical crop and can therefore be appropriate for Sub-Sahara Africa.

What are other key benefits?

Eco-Cassava will contribute to help achieve sustainable development goals associated with climate change, economic development, women's empowerment, community resilience, poverty reduction and food security. 

Eco-Cassava will support female farmers to access resources and services, earn incomes and produce more food, and potentials to tackle other challenges in child health, nutrition, education and household welfare. 

Random control trials will help to provide hard evidence that cassava will help build the adaptive capacity of women farmers. 1000 women farmers benefit from a randomized rollout, the first 500 (treatment group) will receive the intervention 12 months before the second 500 (control/ intent to treat group). Female farmers will benefit from (1) Membership of cooperatives and recognition as farmers; (2) Access to tractors and processing  facilities; (3) Community-based extension training in new methods; and (4) Access to local and international markets. 

What are the proposal’s costs?

The poof of concept budget is $25,000 ($25 per woman farmer) for 2 years. The costs include community mobilization, training and extension, access to tractors and other support for female farmers, connection to markets. 

The main costs of the proof of concept include the following:

Community mobilization – $1,000

Training in Sustainable Cassava Production - $ 4,000  

Access to tractors - $15,000

Market connection - $ 5,000

Total = $25,000

The project will steadily scale-up within 8 years, and reach 8,000 female farmers. Without any further financial support, the project will add-on 1,000 women farmers, every year. The female farmers will repay the small loans to help the project create new cassava farm entrepreneurs. The project will be scaled up through the private sector.

The project will provide small loans as innovative finance for female farmers in drought prone communities. This will make the project fully sustainable because the support will be regarded as a small loan delivered in the forms of services and resources. The small loan will be repaid after harvest so that Eco-Cassava will reach 1,000 rural women, every year.


Time line

Proof of concept will be 2 years (1,000 women farmers).

During the proof of concept, the project will mobilize communities, train in sustainable cassava production, connect with international markets, and support 1,000 female farmers to test whether cassava can help build adaptive capacity of female farmers. 

Scaling the project will be through the private sector and will take from the third to tenth year (3 -10 years). The scale up phase will involve diversifying and strengthening the market links, participating in innovative finance and markets for cassava, and developing processing facilities and other innovative products from cassava. 

Related proposals



USAID Sierra Leone Country Profile: Property Rights and Resource Governance 

Land Rights Project The Social, Economic, Political, Environmental and cultural Impact of Large Scale Land Deals in Sierra Leone (Network Movement for Justice and Development 2013)

Reforming the Customary Land Tenure System in Sierra Leone: A Proposal By Omotunde E. G. Johnson, International Growth Center, Working Paper 11/0558 (July, 2011)

Growth with Resilience: Opportunities in African Agriculture: A Montpellier Panel Report (March, 2012)

Emergency Plan of Action Preliminary Final Report: Sierra Leone: Floods, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (May, 2016)

Advancing Gender Equality in Sierra Leone’s Land Sector by Tegan Joseph Mosugu, New York University, MPA/M.S. Global Affairs Dual-Degree Candidate (November, 2015)

Draft National Land Policy of Sierra Leone, Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment, (August 1, 2015)

Women Farmers Adapting to Climate Change, published by Diakonisches Werk der EKD e.V. for “Brot für die Welt“ and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (August 2012)

Global Cassava End-Uses and Markets: Current Situation and Recommendations For Further Study, by Dr. Guy Henry (CIRAD), Prof. Andrew Westby and Chris Collinson (NRI)2. Report of a FAO consultancy by the European Group on Root, Tuber & Plantain

Ongoing Projects: Factsheet Sierra Leone by IITA and CGIAR (undated)

Cassava Marketing: Option for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Nigeria by Yisa Akanfe Awoyinka, Graduate Student, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, (Ozean Journal of Applied Science, 2009)

Cassava’s Potential as a Cash Crop by the Food Security Research Project and the Agricultural Consultative Forum (April 15, 2010)

Climate change impacts on African crop production by Julian Ramirez-Villegas and Philip K Thornton for CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Working Paper No. 119, (2015)

Drought Prone Malawi and Zambia Turn to Cassava, Agroecology Case Studies (Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa undated)

Alternative food crops to adapt to potential climatic change in Southern Africa by Wilberforce Kamukondiwa, Climate Research Vol. 6: 153-155,(February, 1996)

An Overview of Cassava in Africa, by M T Dahniya, Sierra Leone Institute of Agricultural Research, Sierra Leone, Published in African Crop Science Society, Uganda 1994) 

Is cassava the answer to African climate change adaptation? By Javis et al., Published in Tropical Plant Biology DOI: 10.1007/s12042-012-9096-7

Evaluation of drought tolerance in contrasting cassava varieties under a Brazilian semi-arid environment, Alves et al,

Cassava as drought insurance: Food security implications of cassava trials in Central Zambia, Barratt Et al, (March 2006)

Please note that the author has PDF files of all references but could also be found online. (google search)