Taro, a food-crop that might just be the key to food security issues currently sits idle as its full socio economic potential is untapped in Africa. The once popular food security crop in Africa is now virtually scarce and with existing demand, investment in Taro or cocoyam may be the silver bullet to restoring food-security and a vibrant agribusiness ecosystem.
Although an associate with root tubers, with some investment, Taro could dominate non-traditional export crops in West Africa. Additionally, a dedicated Taro project could reap the benefits of an extensive economic prosperity for the growing youthful population. And would revive an agribusiness industry so given to dullish monotony.
Taro/Eddoe(Colocasia esculenta & Xanthosoma sagittifolium) is markedly different from Yams, Potatoes and Cassava. The difference is mainly in its physical appearance, nutritive value, taste and its economic prospect.
Global Taro Production History
According to FAOSTAT (2021) , Global Taro production stood at about 9.76million tons in the year 2000. It appreciated marginally by a paltry 780,000 to reach 10.54million total global production in 2019. This is to say that, after about two decades since 2000, global Taro production only increased by less than 800,000 metric tons. Even though global population would increase by about 1.6 billion in concomitance. FAO projects that 70% additional current Taro production is needed IF we are to feed an added 2.3 billion population by 2050.
In Ghana, since the highest (1.9 million tons) production was record in 2002, Taro output has dipped in successive years. Reaching a low 1.2million metric tons in 2013. And then, unimpressively appreciating gradually to about 1.5million tons by 2019.
Table 1: Top 7 Global Taro Producers
|Papua New Guinea||271,980 tonnes|
Source: Figures adapted from data in TRIDGE
Taro production has been rough in Nigeria. It has tumbled down throughout the 70s and the 80’s from an encouraging production level to a dismal average annual production figure of 200,000 metric tons. What is easily deducible is that; the military government regime in the late twentieth century, severely impacted agriculture in Nigeria, as well as Taro production output.
In actuality, this has been the observation in most African States. First, the emergence of colonial administration meant that indigenous food production volumes would be curtailed to make way for industrial cash crops like rubber that fed industries within the metropolis . That way, colonies would be deeply steeped in cash crop production to the neglect of needed local food crops. The culture would gain a firm foothold. Such that several post colonial administrations, while working at a reversal, would not achieve much success.
Subsequently, multiple civil wars particularly within eastern Nigeria, would make it impossible for agriculture to thrive; explaining the rather dismal Taro production figures during these specific period.
Yet, for Nigeria, why Taro production levels would plummet from 5million tons in 2005 to an average output of about 3 million throughout 2010. And reaching 2.86million tons in 2019, is a grim observation that needs special attention.
Still, could West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular leverage existing resources to raise significant Taro production levels once more?
Food Security, Taro Demand & Nutrition
In most Taro producing areas in Africa, production has plummeted even as population numbers have increased. The growing middle class group and the concomitant change in food taste in favor of cereals could be blamed. Because cereals like rice is imported in critical volume, the relative disinterest in Taro consumption would effectively relinquish Taro demand to mainly rural groups.
But the consummate nutritive value of Taro should encourage us; because Taro contains more than twice as much carbohydrate as potatoes; 10% protein on a dry weight which is more than that contained in cassava, yams and sweet potatoes. This way, once affordable, Taro is a better food security crop than its associates.
Significantly, their high dietary fibre levels are good for intestinal metabolism and constipation complications. Because they allow for high water absorption within the digestive tract. Additionally, taro contains a sufficient amount of zinc, which may allow for improved sexual health.
Cocoyam is a very good source of calcium, irons, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamins. The leaves of Taro have an incredible amount of folic acid that protects against acidosis. So that if we are to fix the nutritive demand of a growing African population, could we leverage Taro cultivation to boot?
As at 2021, Nigeria was the highest global Taro output country. The country produced more than 25% of the world’s Taro food crop, with Cameroon and Ghana following the list at second and fourth respectively. While production per area was observed to have increased in other regions, Africa’s marginal production growth happened as a result of farmland expansion; an observation that either emphasizes the relatively reduced planting materials quality or the significantly reduced investment that allows for efficient food-crop output. Meanwhile, limited research and absent policy intervention seem to account for the untapped potential that Taro has in Africa.
Taro Leaf Blight Disease, Export & Investment
The Taro leaf blight in West Africa seems to have gravely affected its production and thus accounts for the severely reduced Taro output since 2009. However, owing to the research work by CORAF – Leading Agricultural Innovation in West and Central Africa, an international NGO that liaises with local scientific research institutions like the (CSIR) Council for Scientific and Research institute in Ghana, superior planting materials through germplasm exchange with improve genetic base have been readied to be applied to scale; renewing confidence in a golden crop with food security potential. And solving the leaf blight disease which often overwhelms Taro cultivation actors.
Globally, China, Mexico and the USA are Taro leading exporters as at 2018. Even though these troika accounts for a lowly fraction of total global Taro production.
Table 2: Global Taro Export (2018)
|Country||Export Quantity||Export value (USD)|
|China||177,000||$ 417 million|
|Mexico||112,000||$ 264 million|
|United States||50,000||$ 161 million|
|Canada||–||$ 142 million|
Source: Author’s compilation using data from Tridge.
To paint this picture with clarity, take the documented Taro export quantities of 177 thousand metric tons, 112 thousand metric tons and 50 thousand metric tons. China, Mexico and USA made a respective Taro export earning of USD 417 million, USD 264 million and USD 161 million in 2018 alone. But, no African country was in the list of top 10 global exporters. Even though South Africa placed 14th, with a share of 2.2% of global taro export while earning $ 52,000 for the effort.
Cultivation and Potential Output
Taro is largely produced on a small , resource limited scale. Meanwhile in the past two decades, Africa’s global production share has been more than 70 percent(7.6 million tonnes). But a shift from the largely subsistence operation to a more commercial production could prove extremely profitable, making it possible to double profits from Taro investments even while food security problems are fixed, jobs generated, with improved nutritive supply for a growing African population.
Depending on cultivar type, soil quality and so forth; Taro, which takes about 250 days to mature, could yield around 8 tons/acre. This field output could translate into about $ 5,000 USD. The comparative advantage of Taro cannot be emphasized anymore than to highlight that amongst its root crop contemporaries, it commands a higher relative export value per kilogram.
To this end, Taro holds an unquestionable ability to multiply an investment, making it a potential golden crop no one may tell you about. And hence may be the silver bullet to restoring a vibrant agribusiness ecosystem in West Africa.