New alternative to wheat and maize set to take off

Monday, 03 June, 2013

Global cassava output has increased by 60% since 2000 and is set to accelerate further in the coming decade, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

The FAO Save and Grow model - an environmentally friendly farming model - can sustainably increase cassava yields by up to 400% and help turn this staple from a poor people’s food crop into a 21st-century crop, the FAO says.

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 versatile crop grown by smallholders in more than 100 countries. Its roots are carbohydrate-rich, while its leaves contain up to 25% 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 reportedly have good disease resistance and low mortality rates.

But, together with its importance as a source of food and food security, cassava also has a range of industrial uses that give it huge potential to spur rural industrial development and raise rural incomes.

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, the FAO predicts. Demand for cassava as a feedstock for the manufacture of bioethanol is also growing rapidly.

Another important consideration is that of the major staple crops in Africa, cassava is expected to be the least affected by advancing climate change.

The Save and Grow model has had excellent results in trials in Vietnam, where farmers using its improved technologies and practices boosted cassava yields from 8.5 to 36 tonnes - an increase of more than 400%. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, through training in the use of healthy planting materials, mulching and intercropping, farmers attending field schools achieved yield increases of up to 250%.

The FAO says that, with Save and Grow, developing countries can avoid the risks of unsustainable intensification while realising cassava’s potential for producing higher yields, alleviating hunger and rural poverty, and contributing to national economic development.

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