In their contributions to the Smallholders Commercialization Program (SCP) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have constructed and equipped 11 cassava processing factories for Famer Based Organizations groups in the eastern, southern and northern provinces of Sierra Leone. Dr. Braima James, IITA Representative in Sierra Leone said that with additional support from the African Development Bank (AfDB) through the SARD SC project, IITA is establishing 4 more factories (2 in the Tonkololi District, 1 in Bo district and 1 in Kono district).
The smallholder factories and farmers in their immediate vicinities are also supported by IITA and partners including MAFFS, Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), World Vision, Future In Our Hands and World Hope International to establish cassava farms of improved varieties as sources of raw materials to the factories.
The factories are already producing a number of value added products on a small scale and are eager to go into commercial production of the products. It is in this regard IITA is currently undertaking a consumer survey of the following four (4) new cassava products the institute has introduced in the country: odorless foofoo flour, attieke/cassava couscous, tapioca pap and cassava ice cream made from High Quality Cassava Flour.
Ms Ibironke Popoola, from IITA Ibadan Office, was in Sierra Leone to lead a survey exercise under the guidance of Dr. Bussie Maziya-Dixon, head of IITA’s Crop Utilization Unit in Ibadan, Nigeria. Ms Popoola stressed that public perception, acceptance and recommendations are critical for cassava factories to improve the quality of the four new products they intend to put on the market on a large scale.
The study started in Freetown by 10 IITA-trained enumerators working in five teams of two each administering key survey questionaire to individuals. The enumerators (all women) were drawn from MAFFS-Women in Agriculture and Nutrition Division, Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), Home Foods and Drinks SL 9Ltd), Vickam Enterpises/St. Mary’s Vocational Training Institute in Bo, Independence Memorial Secondary School, Freetown and IPAM of the University of Sierra Leone. The survey targeted 300 people per product at 10 public/market communities: Krootown road, Low Cost Housing estate, Lumley, Dwarzark, Regent Road, Calaba Town, Bombay Street, PZ area, Wilberforce, Abacha and Malama Thomas Streets. The exercise will be extended to Bo, Kenema and Makeni at a later date.
On days 1 and 2, the enumerators evaluated target community opinion on odourless foofoo flour as a new value added product compared to the traditional dry ball and wet ball foofoo. On days 3 and 4 they assessed attieke/cassava couscous as a new value added product compared to existing attieke made from gari; on days 5 and 6 they assessed the new Tapioca pap (cassava-soybean blend) compared to existing blended pap. The survey will end in Freetown on days 7 and 8 by assessing vanilla-floured cassava ice cream made from High Quality Cassava Flour and another from cassava starch compared to an available vanilla-flavoured ice cream from supermarkets. “We evaluated new cassava products promoted by IITA against existing ones already known by the public in Sierra Leone,” explained Ibironke.
The five teams carrying out the survey were supervised by IITA staff. “We are with the survey groups to ensure that the enumerators adhere to questionnaire delivery and data collection methods in order to get quality data,” explained Mamako Demby, IITA’s Post-harvest technician in Sierra Leone.
The survey was widely accepted by the public as most of the respondents said it was their first time of seeing the new products, especially the powder form of foofoo. The teams indicated that whilst the people they have contacted generally appreciated the appearances, texture, smell and taste of the new products and expressed willingness to buy the new products, sustained sensitization and education about the products is highly needed for the public to know about the nutritional value, kitchen-labour saving advantage, convenience and availability of the new products.
For her impression on the survey, Ibironke noted that the exercise would provide marketing information for small and medium scale companies that wish to go into commercial production of the new products. She also said the survey also provides information for further improvement of the products. For instance, if the consumers like the taste, colour and appearance of a new product but not some other aspects, that information could be used by the cassava factories to improve the quality of their products.