Our Cassava Project – Wawala Wawa Village

Cassava is a staple food widely consumed by half a billion people in the developing world. After rice and maize, cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates.  There are two types of cassava: bitter for animal consumption and sweet for human consumption. Thailand is the largest producer of bitter variety and Nigeria is the world largest producer of sweet variety.

In Sri Lanka, only the sweet variety, locally referred to as manioc, is grown.

Wawala Wawa Village, Dambulla Province, Sri Lanka

Our Ant Commodity team learned that Wawala Wewa village in Dambulla, Sri Lanka grows cassava in over thousands of acres. Our team travelled to Wawala Wawa village, a 15-hour journey from our office in Galle to meet with the farmers.

Our team’s first encounter was with traders. They offered us LKR 45 per Kg cassava which includes broken pieces and LKR 50 for the fresh whole (Once cassava skin is damaged, broken or improperly cooked, it is no longer suitable for human consumption as the cassava contains cyanogenic glycosides which can produce cyanide when eaten).

Afterwards, we travelled further into the village and found the farmers. What our team witnessed was eye-opening.

Wawala Wawa Village
Wawala Wawa Village, Sri Lanka

Summary of findings

  • Even though traders offered us LKR 45-50 for the cassava, farmers were ready to sell at LKR 10-15 which would barely cover their cost of labor. Because, they had no place to sell.
  • In Wawala Wawa alone, there are over thousands of acres of cassava available for harvests.
  • Cassava should ideally be harvested after 8 months of growth. However, most cassava available in Wawala Wawa was over a year old.
  • In anticipation the market will increase, farmers kept their harvest.
  • Most farmers have acquired loans from either a bank at around 16% interest annually and third-party lenders (also known as daily cash) at around 2% weekly (96% per annum).

Our Trial Project:

Aththanayaka accepting funds for the Cassava Project
Mr. Aththanayaka receiving money

We partnered with a 75 years old farmer (Mr. Aththanayaka) who have planted 35 acres of cassava in the village of Wawala Wawa. We also partnered with JTS Food Corporation based in Vancouver, Canada to supply on a monthly basis.

Based on the selling price, we offered the farmers LKR 65 per KG which is a 350% increase of their asking price.

In Sri Lanka, cassava/manico is packaged with coir dust to maintain its freshness. Coir dust is inexpensive but also inefficient for maintaining the freshness of the commodity. Furthermore, western countries prohibit the import of produce with coir dust due to the presence of microorganisms.

With the guidance of the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) – Sri Lanka, we have introduced an organic waxing to be used to protect the freshness of the product. Also, we trained a small team on how to carefully harvest without damaging its skin, wash, wax and package within 8 hours.

Obstacles

On our first production, a group of traders attacked our production facility. A police complaint was logged (Police complaint #:166c9eb4a4V747219075) and was concluded on the promise that traders would not interfere again.

Plan

Right now, farmers predict the future price of cassava based on sudden increases in demand, and political movement (promises, and subsidies). We intend to help farmers forecast the price more accurately, by providing them with relevant data and information regarding factors that affect the prices, thus helping farmers to reduce losses.

We are in the process of creating a database of cassava farmers with information about their production, plant date and harvest date. We are going to match the harvest date and production well in advance with buyers’ orders. This way, farmers can plan twice annually and receive a rate, well above the market rate for their harvest.