The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations says cassava has a huge potential to become the 21st century crop. A newly-published guide, Save and Grow applications to cassava, reveals that global cassava output has increased by 60 per cent since 2000 and is set to accelerate further over the coming decade as policymakers recognize its huge potential.
Cassava is a highly versatile crop grown by smallholders in more than 100 countries. Its roots are rich in carbohydrates while its tender leaves contain up to 25 percent protein, plus iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. Other parts of the plant can be used as animal feed, and livestock raised on cassava have good disease resistance and low mortality rates.
However, the guide notes that using the inputs-intensive approach pioneered during last century’s Green Revolution to boost cassava production risks causing further damage to the natural resource base and increasing the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. It proposes that the solution lies in the Save and Grow approach - which achieves higher yields with improved soil health rather than with the heavy use of chemical inputs. Save and Grow, an environmentally-friendly farming model, could sustainably increase cassava yields by up to 400 per cent . Save and Grow minimizes soil degradation caused by conventional tillage such as ploughing.
The approach has yielded spectacular results in trials organized in VietNam, where farmers using the improved technologies and practices boosted cassava yields from 8.5 tonnes to 36 tonnes -- an increase of more than 400 percent. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, through training in the use of healthy planting materials, mulching and intercropping, farmers achieved yield increases of up to 250 percent. In Colombia, rotating cassava with beans and sorghum restored yields where mineral fertilizer alone had failed.One reason driving increased demand for cassava is the current high level of cereal prices. This makes it an attractive alternative to wheat and maize, particularly as cassava can be processed into a high-quality flour than can partially substitute for wheat flour.
Cassava is a highly versatile crop grown by smallholders in more than 100 countries. Its roots are rich in carbohydrates while its tender leaves contain up to 25 per cent protein, plus iron, calcium and vitamins A and C.Other parts of the plant can be used as animal feed, and livestock raised on cassava have good disease resistance and low mortality rates, the FAO publication states. Instead of the monocropping normally seen in intensive farming systems, Save and Grow encourages mixed cropping and crops rotation, and predicates integrated pest management, which uses disease-free planting material and pests’ natural enemies to keep harmful insects down, instead of chemical pesticides.
One reason driving increased demand for cassava is the high level of cereal prices, making it an attractive alternative to wheat and maize - particularly as cassava can be processed into a high-quality flour that partially substitutes for wheat flour. Another important consideration is that of all the major staple crops in Africa, hardy and resilient cassava is expected to be the least affected by the advancing climate change.
Together with its importance as a food crop, cassava also has a range of industrial uses that give it huge potential to spur rural industrial development and raise rural incomes. It is second only to maize as a source of starch, and recently-developed varieties produce starch that would be highly sought after by industry. Demand for cassava as a feedstock for the manufacture of bioethanol is also growing rapidly.
With Save and Grow, developing countries can potentially avoid the risks of unsustainable intensification while realizing cassava’s potential for higher yields, hunger and poverty alleviation and to national economic development.
This article is adapted from the pieces Cassava, the 21st century crop – FAO report published by VibeGhana.com and Cassava's huge potential as 21st Century crop published by the FAO Media Centre.