Very often than not, my food security and food justice lectures really got me thinking after each session. Right from topics like; Food security, insecurity and politics through to making new foods etc, I found myself asking questions as to which types of food crops, if made widely known, can help increase food security and at the same time improve the nutritional needs of many especially in this day and age where the world is faced with the danger of global food shortage (insecurity), resulting from climate change, wars and conflicts as well as population growth.
In my research, cassava was one such food crop I identified with diverse uses, valuable nutritional properties and above all, its resistance to hash weather conditions (drought) thus, if its production is encouraged in large quantities in those environments it thrives,can contribute to food security. I am not here to convince you on cassava because it is widely eaten in Ghana where I come from and perhaps because it is used to make foods like fufu one of my favorite meals, but just to let us see and appreciate what this food crop alone can do and if many of such crops are identified, we stand a good chance with food security. This blog will take us through a journey into the potentials of cassava which I believe if introduced to populations where food insecurity is prominent will improve their lives.
Figure 1. Fresh Cassava roots
Cassava also known as “bread of the tropics” is a shrub woody plant relating the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae and widely cultivated all year long in tropical regions of West Africa, tropical South America and Southeast Asia for its edible starchy tuberous root which is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize.Cassava ranks fourth among all staple crops and provides a basic diet for over half a billion people, with a global production of about 160 million tons annually.
Table 1.Cassava production by country
Research have shown that, Nigeria was the world’s largest producer of cassava with nearly 55 million tonnes or 21% of the world total back in 2014. Other major producers are, Indonesia, Brazil and Thailand being the largest exporter of dried cassava.
As a matter of fact, Cassava must be properly cooked before consumption to reduce cyanide a toxic chemical also found in almonds, spinach etc. Despite its toxicity, cassava are a fall-back reserve food (a “food security crop”) in times of famine or food insecurity in affected places. As a result, most farmers often prefer the toxic varieties because they can be processed and preserved all year long and also because they are used to deter pests, animals, and even thieves! Aside been used as a reserve crop, most of the foods made from it include gari, baking flour, fufu, tapioca, etc. It also has several other uses such as its peels are used for; animal feed, alcoholic beverages, laundry starch, plywood and even bio-fuel etc. For instance in China’s Eleventh Five-Year Plan, the target was to increase the production of ethanol fuel from non-grain feed-stock to two million tonnes, and that of bio-diesel to over 200 thousand tonnes by the year 2010. This is equivalent to the replacement of 10 million tonnes of petroleum. As a result, cassava (tapioca) chips have gradually become a major source of ethanol production in China.
Figure 2. Gari (eba) with okra in tomatoes fish sauce. (A popular dish made from cassava (gari) common among Ghanaians and Nigerians).
Why cassava is a wonder crop
Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils and gives reasonable yields where many other crops do not grow well. Cassava is well adapted within latitudes 30° north and south of the equator, and on even poor soils with a pH ranging from acidic to alkaline. These conditions are common in certain parts of Africa and South America were food insecurity is more evident.
Table 2. Some Nutritional value of Raw cassava (1). (Please refer to table 4 for more details).
Source: (FAO, 2017)
Table 3. Some Nutritional value of Raw cassava (2)
Cassava roots are very rich in starch and contain small amounts of calcium (16 mg/100g), phosphorus (27 mg/100g), and vitamin C (20.6 mg/100g).
Cassava leaves are a good source of protein containing different types of proteins compared to eggs and soybeans (100 grams of cooked cassava leaves provides about 3.7 grams of protein which is pretty good for a green leafy veggie) but, deficient in the amino acid methionine and possibly tryptophan but, an important staple and its main value has component of a balanced diet.It is also rich in lots of Arginine, Lysine, Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine.
Table 4. Here are some other benefits we can reap from cassava leaves (Table generated by author)
Information source: Benefits of cassava leaves
Figure 4. A bowl of Cassava leaves stew
Enjoy the new green!
The Cassava flour
The first big phenomenon about cassava flour is that, it is gluten-free, yes! gluten-free! I didn’t know cassava flour was gaining so much momentum until i started my research. It is also becoming a close replacement for wheat flour and currently preferred in most bakery and pasta products. It is popularized as a “go-to”gluten-free, grain-free flour and off course, a great nut-free flour.
Figure 5. A bowl of Cassava flour
Cassava flour (figure 5) contains a high carbohydrate (Table 4) which makes it a valuable and a much relied food source for millions during famine. So now you know, you don’t have to blend several flours to achieve the same consistency as wheat flour (which is never the same any way) because you want to follow a restricted diet.
After all said and done, I am very sure I didn’t have to convince you on cassava after our journey. It is very obvious at this point that, cassava will certainly have a role in food security considering its diversity.
Well, I couldn’t have finalized this blog without a break to fix my favorite cassava fufu with goat meat light soup! Now, it’s your turn to try a cassava meal and I bet, you will not regret you did, bon appétit!
Figure 6. Authors bowl of fufu