PICKING CASSAVA ROOTS is no walk in the field. It actually requires some strength, strategy and a managed team of motivated people. Nine months after planting a 50-gram stem, the soil was ready to give back a set of roots that may weigh up to 40 kg (88 lbs)…EACH.
It was so rich, it took about four weeks of intense picking, sweating and pulling for a team of 40 dedicated people to tame a one-hectare zone (5 acres). A few dedicated cooks, led by Chef Flore, were also present on the field every single day to support the workers with grilled fish, rice and veggies.
Result: 35 tones of cassava were extracted; some were so deep in the soil they had to bring in Danny – the excavation specialist! Once this gigantic pull & pick chapter was completed, the cassavas were hauled onto a truck, heading to the warehouse where another team was eager to begin the next phase: the chipping.
EMPTYING A 10 TON-LOAD from a truck is no easy task-especially when accompanied by the same unwelcome and uninvited daily visitor: the sun.
While the men unload the truck, the army of “chippers” -most of them women- is already in place, armed with a well-sharpened machete (locally known as ‘bolo’), an umbrella, or a wet tee shirt wrapped around their head to protect from sun rays. Puzzled at first, I then applauded this native organic sunscreen.
CHIPPING CASSAVA is definitely not for everyone. Aside the need for astute precision to avoid losing no less than a finger, roots must be chipped in slices of no more than an inch in width. Piece of cake! I spent seven years in a troop of boy scouts… Right!
After wasting four roots, a wise gray-haired lady, whose venerable age was unknown, took the bolo from me without a word and cut the rest of the roots in near-perfect slices.
This phase – in fact the entire process – became a family affair where teens and kids happily followed their parents to help them in their endeavor. It quickly became the village’s new playground for local kids who would gather every day at the top of the cassava piles under the watchful eye of their parents. A sort of community daycare center where everyone cares about everyone else.
At the end of each day, all workers of all ages lined up to collect the fruit of their work in cash. After one week, these delicate craftswomen had sliced a mighty 20 TONS OF ROOTS; ready for the next phase: the drying.
THE DRYING PROCESS requires cassava to rest several days in the sun; arranged in hundred yard rows and shuffled sporadically several times a day to allow a homogeneous drying process.
I wondered why heavy-duty tarps and covers were lined up along the rows. Well, when the rain came down hard and without warning, a dozen kids quickly ran and pulled the tarps over to protect the cassava from water damage with the same passionate alertness they do at a Wimbledon’s tennis final.
With the moisture out, the last phase may begin: the granulation
THE GRANULATION PROCESS is the easiest and final phase, performed by a granulator custom-built for ARIS at the Visayas State University, Philippines that will process chipped cassava at a speed of two tons per hour.
It took three days to granulate and bag the entire cassava chip pile, then ready for delivery to a distributor of organic feeds for the pig industry.
This 30-ton harvest was completed in three weeks and employed nearly 100 people.
THIS WAS MY FIRST HARVEST and quite an experience to have shared a brief chapter in the life of such amazing people whom I saw working everyday in joy, unafraid to share their pride to be part of this sustainable project.
As this project continues to grow, ARIS and Farmers Relief will be able to provide similar perpetual aid across many communities by distributing free organic seeds to farmers, then buying back the entire crop from them to sell it to organic food distributors.
By the following harvest, the cycle starts again.
This entire project provided work and food for hundreds of people with just one hectare of cassava! By early 2016, Farmers Relief and ARIS had already cultivated nearly 40 hectares of land.
Knowing that this project was launched by a couple and now fueled by small donations only, it is encouraging to see what one may do with so little. I also saw how far $1,400 could go. It was enough to purchase all seeds, cover planting on 1 hectare and maintenance labor for 30 people. And as you already read above, it would provide work for over 100 people who will feed their families for 2 to 4 weeks.
This could not have happened without this team of dedicated individuals who believed in this project, no matter what, and gave all their energy to launch, sustain and maintain this project. Danny, Lilleth, Nestor, Allan and of course Isabelle, without whom nothing would have happened.
Do not rest on your laurels too long; it is already time to plant again for the next harvest…