Surinamese women tap into cassava’s enormous food security potential

Taking a stroll through the village of Kapasikele, by the sandy banks of the Suriname River, on a relentlessly sunny afternoon, you may be struck by the fact that almost everyone you encounter will be a woman or a child.

Like many places in the interior of Suriname, Kapasikele a place where a large proportion of the men spend most of their time away from the village, often working in the informal mining sector, while most of the women stay behind, making ends meet through farming or other traditional activities, while also running their households.

And yet, in this Maroon village in the Brokopondo District, the women have a plan to take their agricultural production to the next level, and to leverage the knowledge gained over years of producing cassava to tap into the tuberous root’s global value chain.

Through their association with the female agricultural cooperative, Wi! Uma Fu Sranan, these women and others in villages across Suriname are taking part in an Inter-American Development (IDB) project supported by the Japanese Social Fund to increase the quality, quantity, and commercialization opportunities of the cassava crop for female farmers, producers and marketers.

“For the women of Wi! Uma Fu Sranan, the journey of learning about a value chain, the importance of a well- structured value chain and being part of the development and strengthening of this chain is truly a blessing,” said Tania Lieuw-a-Soe, founder of the cooperative.

“It is a big joy to experience how the training is giving them a self-esteem boost and the inspiration to do much more in agriculture.”

— Tania Lieuw-a-Soe, Founder Wi! Uma Fu Sranan, a female agricultural cooperative

Lieuw-a-Soe’s sentiment is echoed by a participant in one of the training sessions, Vera Pinas, who offers her testimonial:

“Today, I want to tell you something, I am a 46-year-old woman and already working for 27 years, never before have I received a piece of paper in my hand, this paper which is called certificate and can be seen as a diploma”.

Specifically, the IDB project supports training activities for the women of Kapasikele to improve their processes and meet market quality standards. In total, 700 women from Kapasikele and other villages will be trained in good agricultural practices, including the use of modern technologies with an integrated crop processing model that coordinates variety selection, planting density, and mechanization, among other operations.

Armed with this certification, the women will seek to export their cassava, either in its natural state, or as an intermediate input to cassava-based products such as cassava bread or cassava porridge, which are exported to Surinamese diaspora market in places such as the Netherlands and the United States.

Cassava is indigenous to the Latin American and Caribbean region, and its starchy tubers are often consumed boiled, roasted or fried, although they can also be processed and used as flour, tapioca, confectionary, starch and animal feed, among other uses.

It is naturally gluten-free, with a relatively high starch content, and is a source of Vitamin C and several B vitamins, as well as other minerals such as magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron.

While cassava is the fourth most important staple food in Suriname, after rice, wheat and plantain, it is the main food security crop for the Amerindian and Maroon communities, especially in remote areas. Cassava cultivation and processing provides an opportunity for income-generation for women in the interior of Suriname, where the crop is grown and processed following local cultural traditions.