Cassava: It Is an Important Food

By George Grow

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Cassava is an important food in the diets of more than five-hundred-million people in Africa, Asia and South America. However, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization notes that agricultural development policies often forget the importance of cassava.

FAO officials organized a conference to prepare a plan of action to demonstrate the value of this food crop. Agricultural experts met late last month in Rome, Italy.

Thousands of years ago, people in South America grew cassava as a food crop. Portuguese explorers took the plant to Africa during the Sixteenth Century. Today, it is one of the most important crops in Africa.

FAO officials say more than one-hundred-sixty-million tons of cassava were grown worldwide last year. They expect production to rise to almost two-hundred-ten-million tons in five years.

Cassava is a root plant. It can live without water better than other root or cereal crops. It is the most productive crop in poor soils. Cassava requires little fertilizer or other chemicals. And it needs the least labor to grow. Farmers can harvest cassava anytime from eight to twenty-four months after planting. The crops can be left in the ground as a safeguard against unexpected food shortages.

Cassava can be grown in many different environments. Farmers grow it on sandy soil in coastal areas where there is a lot of rain. They also grow it in dry areas one-thousand meters above sea level.

People can eat both the leaves and the root of cassava. But the root is the main product. Most people cut the roots into pieces and cook them over an open fire. The plant also can be made into other food products.

Cassava leaves contain a lot of vitamins, protein and minerals. However, many kinds of cassava contain high levels of a poisonous substance that must be removed before the plant can be eaten. So cassava must be prepared very carefully to prevent poisoning those who eat it.

FAO officials say the nation of Ghana has shown the importance of improving cassava production. The officials say Ghana was able to reduce hunger more quickly than any country between Nineteen-Eighty and Nineteen-Ninety-Six. They say this was partly the result of an almost forty percent increase in cassava production during this period.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English