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4.4 Development a pilot project in Fiji

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- Riccardo Mattel

 

INTRODUCTION

Self sufficiency in food supplies is probably the most important goal of the development policy in many countries. Unfortunately, most of the developing nations are still heavily relying on imported foodstuff to counteract chronic deficits.

Fiji is not an exception: the nutritional habits of its population are rapidly changing, especially in the growing urban areas. Large quantities of meat and flour and' mainly western types of food, are imported and consumed. In order to limit its dependence on imports, Fiji is looking towards its local resources to improve food production.

Cassava is a staple food in Fiji, its production is increasing and it is slowly replacing other traditional food crops in the diet. The potential for this crop is enormous; a surplus could be easily produced and made into flour to replace part of the wheat four used for baking. This will considerably reduce the imports of this and other cereals from overseas.

The increase of livestock production in Fiji - particularly goats, poultry and pigs - prompts a search for locally produced feed in order to replace the grain that is imported at high cost.

Again, cassava was considered to be the answer to this problem. In both cases, i.e. flour for bread or pellets for animals, cassava has to be processed as dried chips or slices. It was in this context that the Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji supported by the Root Crops Development Project - planned a pilot project to investigate the technical feasibility and the economic viability of cassava chipping and drying technologies

The Root Crops Development Project is an FAO Regional Project which deals with most Pacific countries and assists them in implementing their own research programmes.

We may have frequently made reference to cassava as animal feed, but this was necessary since the National Food and Nutrition Committee gave this aspect high priority in its policies and market requirements.

However, since the chips technology is the same for both human and animal products, we assume that this study will contribute to the development of both.

 

BACKGROUND

Cassava is certainly the most important subsistence crop in Fiji. There are only sweet varieties which are planted all year round, as a monoculture or mixed with other crops. In rural arose, almost every family grows cassava as a backyard or garden crop for its own consumption.

Fresh mark et e generally exist only in urban areas and prices are fairly high. Commercial farmers in flat areas are planting cassava on ridges which allows mechanization of some operations and reduce the cost of production.

Since cassava is not a seasonal crop, it does not require any form of preservation unless it is used as flour or animal feed.

 

OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT

The purpose of the study was to identify and disseminate a chipping and drying system for small or medium size processing which can be applied to a farm, a group of farms (or cooperative) or to a processing centre.

Areas, remote from fresh markets and lacking a consistent demand, but with a high agronomic potential, became the target for cassava cash cropping.

 

CHOICE OF TYPE OF TECHNOLOGY

The fixing of prices of cassava chips depends on the cereal market which cannot easily be controlled. Therefore' a low cost processing system of chips was an essential condition to get attractive returns, given the competition with fresh cassava for which prices and demand on the markets are generally consistent.

Factors to be taken into consideration were therefore:

  1. The necessity for a low capital outlay, minimum labour input, for equipment construction, use of cheap, locally available materials, easy to build but durable equipment;
  2. The adoption of simple but economically viable methods with low labour input, fuel and water for processing and maintenance operations;
  3. Flexibility of the system to changing supply; i.e. possibility to increase the throughput of the plant to absorb increasingly higher cassava production or to face a growing demand for chips with minimal additional expanses; possibility to lower the throughput to meet a decrease in root supply without excessive economic losses, i.e. low fixed costs and low depreciation.

In short: the development of an appropriate level of technology.

 

DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING OF TECHNOLOGY

Sundrying of cassava chips is a common practice in South East Asia: Malaysia' Thailand and Indonesia.

Chips of various shapes are generally spread on large concrete floors for sundrying. Turning over and removal are done manually or by tractors with high labour inputs, heavy losses and contamination.

Early studies conducted by CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical) showed that cassava drying could be drastically improved by placing chips on inclined mesh trays raised above the ground.

Comparative trials between tray-drying and concrete floor drying systems showed that tray-dring improved air circulation between the chips, took better advantage of the drying power of the wind and allowed an increase in the loading rate to 10 kg/m and more This shortened considerably the drying period and decreased the number of times the chips had to be turned-over or collected.

The result was a more convenient use of the drying surface, reduction of labour input needed and a very low level of contamination and losses. Furthermore, shortening the drying period reduced insect infestation.

 

DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING

Preliminary chipping and drying trials were conducted at the main Research Station of the Ministry of Agriculture. Tests were carried out on a new design of slicing machine and a prototype solar drier, both entirely developed in Fiji by the Central Workshop (UNIDO funded) of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development.

Results led to the choice of the mesh tray system which was tossed under field conditions at a smaller research station in the project area. During this stage, officers and workers wore trained in equipment making and operation; the performance of the most cassava varieties was checked.

 

TRAINING OF TARGET CROUPS AND DEMONSTRATION OF THE NEW SYSTEM

The new technique was applied in the target area on a full scale. Under the supervision of the project staff' a small group of farmers carried out a complete harvest-processing-sale cycle using cassava grown on their own land but with government inputs. The ma, chinery wee provided by the project but the drying equipment was assembled and operated entirely by the people involved who received worker's wages at the local rate.

Farmers in the surrounding area showed interest in the technologies because:

  1. it was new;
  2. it wee simple;
  3. they could earn money with it;
  4. they could use dried chips mixed with coconut meal and molasses to improve feeding of their goats.

Cassava cuttings were distributed to these farmers so they could grow more cassava and use the new harvest for the production of chips with the project equipment but at their own expense.

Cassava dried chips were given to poultry farmers and to feedmanufacturers for testing; the complete system wee shown to the public at the occasion of a Provincial Agricultural Fair.

 

ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE TO TARGET GROUPS AND EXTENSION SERVICE

This was planned to promote and coordinate the activities of the interested farmers: i.e. planning the production' building and managing the machinery and marketing the product.

The project staff wee expected to act as a link between the Research and Extension people for the transfer of the know-how and to collaborate closely with them during the subsequent phases of dissemination and assistance.

 

EQUIPMENT PLANT DESCRIPTION OF A PILOT UNIT

  1. Cassava Slicer - output 1 ton/hour of slices, adjustable thickness device, electric or gasoline operated. Four models already built in local workshop. One man operation.
  2. Washing Drum - output 1 ton/hour. Manual. Made from a 44 gallon drum. One man operation.
  3. Drying Platforms - 5 m (2 yd x 3 yd). Made of aluminium gauze, supported by chicken wire mesh fixed on a timber frame. The trays rest on simple bamboo rails, inclined 25 facing North; wind and sun drying system. Can be stacked on top of each other and sheltered from the rain while still allowing air circulation between chips. They can be used in forced ventilation drying systems.
  4. Bagging Platform with hopper (copra grader type)

 

PLANT LAY-OUT

The position of the different elements has to be chosen carefully in order to rationalize all the processing operations. The site should be on an elevated area and far from anything that may constitute a barrier against wind and sun.

If this is not already available, the "Truck access" area is divided in two parts: on the right the truck will unload cassava roots and drums of water and on the left the bags of dried chips will be piled up for loading, once the truck is empty.

 

PROCESSING LINE

The sequence of the processing line is as follows:

Plant lay-out (continued)

 

ECONOMICS

 

CAPACITY OF THE PLANT

Considering the seasonal fluctuations which affect production and drying rates, the daily processed quantity varies from 0.5 to 2 tons of fresh tubers.

Assuming six working days per week' the average quantiy amounts to 24 tons per month and 300 tone per year.

Obviously the figure of twenty-four working days is a theoretical one, especially for a tropical country like Fiji with a very broad range of climatic conditions determined by the seasons and by local geographical environment.

A centre of such capacity will serve an area of about 15 hectares, since the expected national yield is around 20 tons per hectare

 

COSTING

The following cost refers to a plant with 200 m of drying surface and a processing throughput of 2.5 tone of fresh tubers needed to produce 1 ton of dried chips.

 

RETURNS

The price of cassava pellets on the world market is generally 20% lower than that of maize' which in July 1983 was about US' 240. fixed price of about US' 180 for chips was therefore the minimum to guarantee attractive economic returns to all the parties involved.

TABLE 1 - COMPARATIVE RETURNS BUSED ON F$ 180/TON DRY CHIPS c5/KG FRESH ROOTS

  5 hectares Farmer-process 5 hectares Farmer 10/ton chips/month processor
dReturns/ton 107 68.75 38.5
" /ha 858 550
" /month 343 229 351
" /year 4,120 2,750 4,212

The most critical point is the price of the raw cassava which is set at 5c/kg. At 6c/kg the activity will be uneconomical for the industrial processor and at 4c/kg for the farmer.

An average of 5 ha will provide to the farmer-processor approximately the same monthly returns as the industrial processor, calculated on a yearly basis (350 F$), after deductions of depreciation, while 8 ha are needed for the industrial farmer.

 

CONCLUSION

The quantity of technical, economic, social and marketing information and data resulting from this study' enabled us to define the factors which will determine the viability of the technology.

  1. Location, geographic and socio-economic aspects;
  2. Price paid to farmers for fresh cassava;
  3. Price of dried chips.

a. capacity throughout the . Sundrying depends on weather conditions, therefore, a processing plant will not run at full entire year in those areas with a marked rainy season.

Careful prior planning has to be done taking into account depreciation costs, reimbursement of initial investment and volume of fresh cassava Other important conditions are the accessibility, remoteness and inadequate transport to the urban market and the lack of a local fresh market (limited demand of urban centres).

The farmers or the industrial processor involved have to bear in mind that sundrying is a processing method requiring attention and dedication. Carelessness in timing and lack of accuracy prolong drying time and result in a low level product of poor marketability' storability and nutritional value.

For this reason the employment of reliable and responsible workers is a prerequisite.

b. The price of chips has to be high enough to be competitive with the price paid to farmers for possible alternative crops and low enough to provide a reasonable return to the industrial processor in order to obtain a finished product which can compete with imported cereals.

c. Marketing policies must take into account that the replacement of some cereals with cassava is obviously possible only when the price of nutritionally equivalent mixtures of cassava and a protein complement is lower than that of the cereal to be substituted.


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