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The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) sees promise in two major equipment that will help cassava farmers lessen the drudgery of their  farm operations and improve the quality of their products.

“So far, the development and testing by PhilMech of the Cassava Digger attachment and the Commercial Cassava Belt Dryer are showing very promising results, and we believe these two technologies can revolutionize the domestic cassava industry,” said PhilMech Executive Director Rex L. Bingabing.

PhilMech is testing on-field the Cassava Digger, which is attached to a four-wheel tractor. Under the current practice of hand harvesting, it takes 30 laborers to harvest cassava from one hectare of land, which can be costly because this usually costs P7,500 per day. Based on interviews conducted by PhilMech from cassava farmers, 65 percent to 70 percent of cassava production is spent for harvesting.

In contrast, the Cassava Digger can harvest cassava from 1.8 to 3.0 hectares per day. It only takes one laborer to operate the Cassava Digger attached to a four-wheel tractor, while the number of laborers gathering the uprooted cassava can number between two to three.

“Farmer cooperatives will have a choice to make their operations more efficient once the Cassava Digger is commercialized. The cost benefit of using a four-wheel tractor with a Cassava Digger is enormous, because cassava can be harvested in a shorter period at a lesser cost,” Bingabing said.

Meanwhile, the Commercial Cassava Belt Dryer will solve the drying problem usually encountered by cassava farmers, especially during the rainy season. According to a research conducted by Michael A. Gragasin Ph. D., Romualdo C. Martinez Ph.D. and Engineer Lynet R. Cruzat of PhilMech, the traditional drying method for granulated cassava, which is done under the sun over a concrete or tarpaulin flooring, results to only 38 percent product recovery.  Tests done with the Commercial Belt Dryer that PhilMech developed resulted to a product recovery of at least 46 percent.

During the rainy season, the product recovery from drying cassava goes down to 30 percent.

Also, the Commercial Cassava Belt Dryer resulted to granulated cassava attaining a moisture content of 14 percent, which is what major companies require. The Commercial Cassava Belt Dryer uses biomass for its furnace to produce heat, and has an input capacity of 1,158 kilograms per hour. It usually takes three to four days to dry granulated cassava under the sun.

“The full-scale PhilMech Commercial Cassava Belt Dryer with biomass furnace showed great potential for drying granulated cassava to address the requirements of the cassava industry in the Philippines,” the PhilMech researchers said.

Bingabing said that because of climate change issues like drought, many farmers in the northern part of the Luzon are starting to shift to cassava farming. Also, there is a market for dried granulated cassava which are large food processing firms.

In Isabela province for example, 3,000 hectares of corn plantations were converted to cassava farms, and another 1,000 hectares of idle lands were developed for cassava planting by the Villa Luna Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MPC). The cooperative currently has a supply agreement with San Miguel Corp. for 20 million kilograms of dried granulated cassava for this year alone.

The Villa Luna MPC is currently testing the Commercial Cassava Belt Dryer of PhilMech and found it to be viable. (DA-PhilMech Communication Team)