FAO Provides Technology Boost for Cassava Industry in Trinidad and Tobago

 Caption: Arrival of the Bazuca 2 Row Planter at the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries – Research Division in Centeno. From Left to Right: Ms. Sharon Jones, FAO National Consultant, Mr. Devern Calvin-Smith, FAO Project Coordinator/Program Assistant, and Ms. Mynie Ramlal Ousman-Ali, Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries - National Focal Point for the project/Photo Credit: FAO

Specialized Planter and Uprooter Expected to Modernize Crop Production

To promote sustainable and intensified market-led production of cassava, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has provided two sets of Cassava Uprooter and Planter to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. One set has been delivered to the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries and the other to the Tobago House of Assembly.

“Provision of the equipment was made possible through Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the FAO-funded projects, which are focused on enhancing sustainable and cost-effective approaches to cassava production and agro processing,” said Ms. Sharon Jones, FAO National Consultant.

The cassava industry typically faces several constraints due to the high cost of production, particularly time-consuming labour. Recent baseline surveys conducted through CDB / FAO projects reported that labour costs peaked during planting and harvesting. For example, harvesting 45 kgs of cassava (about two crocus bags) can take up to 2 – 3 hours depending on soils and planting density.

More efficient cassava production

Mechanized planting and harvesting facilitated through the recently provided equipment may reduce labour costs. The project purchased the Cassava Uprooter P-900 and the Bazuca 2-row Planter from Brazil. The Planter is particularly suited to flat lands. It has the additional feature of a fertilizer hopper that allows the grower to simultaneously place fertilizer in the planting row, thereby reducing planting costs by as much as 30%.

“Typically the average farmer in Trinidad and Tobago harvests 10 – 15 tonnes of cassava tubers per hectare. New, improved and high-yielding varieties make it possible to produce 25 – 30 tonnes per hectare. With this new equipment, farmers can achieve 40 tonnes per hectare with improved varieties and with more aggressive, that is non-traditional, crop management techniques,” explained Ms. Jones.

By using the mechanized equipment for root crops and tuber production the Caribbean can strengthen its food security and reduce the region’s food import bill which now stands at $5 billion USD.

Greater potential for substitution of imported wheat, corn and malt

According to recent estimates, CARICOM countries import, on an annual basis, 900,000 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat for flour and 420,000 MT of corn (mainly for poultry feed). The regional beer industry imports nearly 100,000 tons of malt annually.

Many of these industries recognize the substitution possibilities of CARICOM grown cassava. However, to supply these potential markets requires consistency and improvements at all levels along the value chain: starting with improved varieties and production technologies, more efficient marketing and processing systems and closer business relationships between the value chain actors, from production to consumption. The new mechanized equipment is one of several options along the value chain to increase the supply of cassava.