Cassava’s huge potential as 21st Century crop – FAO offers sustainable farming model to meet increased demand
According to FAO, Save and Grow, an environmentally-friendly farming model promoted by the Organization, can sustainably increase cassava yields by up to 400 percent and help turn this staple from a poor people’s food into a 21st Century crop.
In its newly-published field guide detailing Save and Grow’s applications to cassava smallholder production, greater yields are possible without the heavy use of chemicals. The method instead focuses on improved soil health, minimizes soil disturbance caused by conventional tillage such as ploughing, and maintains a protective cover of vegetation over soil.
Instead of the monocropping normally seen in intensive farming systems, Save and Grow encourages mixed cropping and crops rotation, and promotes integrated pest management, which uses disease-free planting material and pests’ natural enemies to keep harmful insects down, instead of chemical pesticides.
FAO’s data indicates that global cassava output has increased by 60 percent since 2000 and is set to accelerate further over the current decade as policymakers recognize its huge potential. The Caribbean region produced an estimated 1,351,714 tonnes of cassava in 2011, according to FAOSTAT, the Organization’s global statistical database.
Head of FAO’s Subregional Office for the Caribbean, Dr. J.R. Deep Ford, welcomes the timeliness of the publication and indicates that this crop needs to be investigated and developed as one of the future pillars of Caribbean agriculture – for food (including beverages), feed and fuel.
Dr. Ford strongly supports the intensification of cassava cultivation and the development of a cassava industry across the region. In this regard, the FAO Caribbean office has organized a meeting of regional agencies to deliberate on the preparation of a strategic regional plan for the cassava industry.
Cassava’s vast potential
Several factors are driving the rising demand for cassava. It 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.
The current high level of cereal prices 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 second only to maize as a source of starch and recently-developed varieties produce root starch that will be highly sought after by industries as a feedstock for the manufacture of bioethanol.
Resilient cassava varieties are also expected to be the least affected by advancing climate change.
The Save and Grow approach has yielded spectacular results in trials around the world. In Vietnam farmers boosted cassava yields from 8.5 tonnes to 36 tonnes – an increase of more than 400 percent. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, farmers saw yield increases of up to 250 percent. In Colombia, rotating cassava with beans and sorghum restored yields where mineral fertilizer alone had failed.
With its food security and range of industrial uses combined, cassava has huge potential to spur rural industrial development and raise rural incomes. With Save and Grow developing countries can avoid the risks of unsustainable intensification while realizing cassava’s potential for producing higher yields, alleviating hunger and rural poverty and contributing to national economic development.