The Case for Cassava: A Potential Nutritional and Economic Powerhouse

By Caitlin Aylward

After rice and corn, cassava is the third most important calorie source for people living in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Although the cassava plant is a lesser-known crop, its rich nutritional content and powerful economic potential has many development specialists interested in the plant.

Cassava is the third most important calorie source for people living in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Nutritionally, the cassava plant is comparable to a potato, but has a higher fiber and protein content. The cassava plant is primarily harvested for its tuberous root, which is a major source of carbohydrates for many people in the developing world, and contains vital nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. Additionally, the leaves of the cassava plant are excellent sources of vitamins, protein, and lysine, an essential amino acid.

The cassava plant grows well in tropical climates with high humidity, and is also a uniquely drought resistant crop that thrives in nutrient-poor soils. Consequently, the cassava plant does not require extra fertilizer or additional inputs, making it an ideal crop for poor farmers.

Although cassava is tolerant to drought and poor soil conditions, it is not well suited to modern farming techniques. Unlike most plants that naturally reproduce on their own, famers can only breed the cassava plant by replanting stem cuttings from parent plants (also known as vegetative reproduction), which is labor-intensive and costly. In addition, the cassava root is bulky and highly perishable, making it difficult to manage. Because of these challenges, researchers have spent less time developing the cassava plant as compared to rice, corn, and wheat.

But agricultural experts from around the world, in partnership with the Global Cassava Development Strategy team, conclude that the cassava root can be processed into products that would effectively enhance food security and increase incomes worldwide. From animal feed, to specialty food products, to carpets, cassava is becoming a competitive crop in the global market.

Cassava can be used in a variety of ways: as a replacement for potatoes in potato-based dishes, as tapioca flour, and even as chips!

Have you recently encountered cassava products in your local grocery store? Share with us below in the comments!

Caitlin Aylward is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project

To read about other indigenous tubers, see: Yacón: Sunflower’s Sweet Cousin and, Giant Swamp Taro: Untapped Potential in the Pacific.

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