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Monday, 20 April 2015

The unexploited potential of cassava in food security

By Bob Aston
Most communities in Kenya appreciate cassava as an edible delicacy. However it’s growing and consumption has not been properly developed despite its obvious potential to contribute to addressing food insecurity.
For long regarded as “poor man’s” crop most farmers have been skeptical to embrace cassava farming. Despite this, the cost of growing cassava is less compared with other crops since minimal routine management practices are required between planting and harvesting.
Agriculture officer displaying different farm produce

Cassava is an indigenous crop that is fast growing and well adapted to the dry environment and local plant diseases. Cassava requires neither fertilizer nor chemicals. It is drought tolerant and produces reasonable yields under adverse conditions. It also requires little labour in its production.

Cassava has great commercial potential not only as flour for bread and porridge but it can be turned into industrial starch and the peel can be processed by the animal feed industry.
Once established, cassava can resist severe drought. With prolonged periods of drought, cassava plants shed their leaves but resume growth after the rains start, making it a suitable crop in areas with uncertain rainfall distribution.
Picture of cassava
Health benefits of Cassava include; high calories, low fats, gluten-free starch, young tender cassava leaves are a good source of dietary proteins and vitamin K.  Cassava is a moderate source of some of the valuable B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, thiamin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and pantothenic acid and the root has minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. In addition, it has adequate amounts of potassium.
Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a field guide for the Save and Grow application for cassava where it was noted global production has increased but it would be accelerated further if policymakers realized the crop’s huge potential.
The production of cassava is dependent on a supply of good quality stem cuttings. Multiplication rate of cassava cuttings is very low compared with other crops although this challenge has now been addressed by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) which introduced new varieties of cassava cuttings that are four times as productive and are also more drought and virus resistant.
The long term effect of increased cassava production is reduced famine during droughts, increased economic output, and improved livelihood for smallholder farmers.
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