Its drought tolerant, high in carbohydrates and easy to grow, which is just some of the reasons why cassava is shaking off its image as purely a subsistence crop and establishing itself as a key player in mainstream African agriculture.
According to Dr Nteranya Sanginga, director general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, cassava has the potential to play a significant role in improving food security by reducing Africa's over-reliance on maize, the production of which can be highly weather dependent. Cassava, on the other hand, is less susceptible to weather and, apart from being a good source of calories, has the potential to be used as a feedstock for biofuels.
Current world production of cassava is about 240 million tonnes, half of which is grown in Africa, primarily by small-scale farmers who sell their surpluses. Nigeria remains the largest African grower of cassava, producing about 50 million tonnes a year, and has the capacity to double that production within a few years.
A labour-intensive crop
But despite cassava's immense growth potential, the world's wheat and maize growers and investors are unlikely to become too concerned about the likelihood of the crop edging them out of their markets. That's because cassava is a labour-intensive crop that requires careful preparation to remove potential toxins, is typically harvested by hand, and is susceptible to a number of diseases.
Despite these challenges, however, cassava presents very real possibilities for the future and, with the right amount of government support, it could very well become the food commodity to watch closely in coming years.
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