- Cassava is a woody shrub with an edible root, which grows all year round. It is found in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.
- Compared with grains, cassava tolerates poor soils and is more resistant to drought, pests and diseases. It has limited labour requirements. It stores well in the soil after maturity.
- Cassava is usually intercropped with vegetables, plantation crops (such as coconut, oil palm, and coffee), sweet potato, melon, maize, rice, groundnut, or other legumes.
- Roots can be harvested between 6 months and 3 years after planting.
- The root (or “tuber”) is used as a food (a substitute for rice or maize meal). It can also be dried, chopped and fed to animals. The leaves and tender shoots can be cooked as a vegetable or used in sauces.
- Cassava can be used as a substitute for wheat flour in many applications and cassava starch as seasoning in cubes, sauces and soups.
- Cassava is the cheapest known form of starch, and can be used in more than 300 industrial products including the manufacture of tyres, adhesives, ethanol, Pharmaceuticals, livestock feeds, biofuels and alcohol. Its many industrial uses identify it as potentially a great export crop for Africa. It has huge grower potential too.
- At present, average cassava yields are barely 20% of those obtained under optimum conditions.
- Cassava is identified as a crop of much potential and value in South Africa (see “Cassava and South Africa” heading).
International business environment
- Africa, Asia and Latin America are the major producers of cassava.
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the largest consumer of cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Nigeria.
- Nigeria is the biggest producer of cassava while Thailand is the foremost exporter.
- It is the developing world’s fourth most important crop.
- It is the staple food of nearly a billion people in 105 countries where the root provides as much as a third of daily calories.
- Small-scale farmers grow it as a subsistence crop and sell the surplus.
- The crop is championed by NEPAD’s Pan-Africa Cassava Initiative (NPACI) and African agricultural research institutes as a powerful poverty fighter.
- Since it grows and can be stored underground, it is a useful source of food security where there is frequent conflict (the invader cannot easily destroy or remove the crop).
Visit the following websites:
- International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) – www.ciat.cgiar.org
- International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – www.iita.org/cassava
- The Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company (Dadtco) developed a mobile processing unit (AMPU) which processes the root where it was grown. Dadtco has also successfully run cassava bread flour trials. Visit www.dadtco.nl.
Cassava and South Africa
- While cassava has had a long history in the rest of Africa, it is not a well-known crop in South Africa and its agricultural potential in South Africa needs to be fully exploited.
- It is mainly produced in Limpopo, and for industrial purposes. It is also grown in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
- It is sold within South Africa or to traders from Swaziland and Mozambique.
- Currently some 20 000 tonnes of cassava starch is produced commercially.
If cassava could be introduced successfully in South Africa, it could become the preferred source for raw material as a result of its higher yield per unit area. At present, most glucose is produced from maize starch.
In South Africa the most suitable areas are north of Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal below the 800 m elevation. This area includes the hotter northern and eastern regions of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern parts of the Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga respectively. These areas together have two million hectares of arable land below the 800 m elevation and an annual rainfall of 500 mm that offers potential for cassava production. Of these, 600 000 hectares are already planted to other crops such as sugar cane, timber, subtropical fruits and cotton. Allowing a loss of a further 400 000 hectares to grazing lands and densely populated settlements in tribal areas, there remain one million hectares which could be planted to cassava.
National strategy and government contact
Cassava features in the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)’s Bio-economy Strategy.
A partnership between the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA); the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic); and others will see farmers in the cassava production regions in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu-Natal producing cassava for industrial purposes like making paper (TIA, 2022).
It has also been one of the country’s eight Key Action Programmes, spelt out under the then Department of Trade & Industry’s Industrial Policy and Action Plans (IPAPs). The IPAP 2015/16 – 2017/18 pointed out that the processing of cassava into starch was an example of how the agro-processing sector could “answer some of the macroeconomic questions such as balance of payments (BOP) generated by the current import/export gap”. South Africa sources its supplies of cassava from South East Asia but “with appropriate investment, planning and support, this situation can potentially be reversed”. Starch from cassava was identified as having “a myriad of applications in confectionery, sweeteners, textiles, paper, animal feed and alcohol production”.
Training and research
- ARC-Industrial Crops www.arc.agric.za Research has investigated the mechanisation of cassava production in the eastern part of South Africa. Training in mechanised production techniques, including the best planting techniques for mechanical harvesting is offered.
- ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plants (ARC-VOP) www.arc.agric.za
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za Dr Moses Lubinga has previously explored cassava and its related products.
- PCI Agricultural Services https://pciagri.co.za Training and/or training materials available
- University of the Free State Department of Plant Sciences www.ufs.ac.za
- University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) African Centre for Crop Improvement www.acci.org.za
- University of the Witwatersrand School of Molecular and Cell Biology www.wits.ac.za
- ABInBEV Cervejas de Mocambique (Mozambique) Accra Brewery Limited (Ghana) www.ab-inbev.com The Impala (Mozambique) and Eagle (Ghana) brands are based 60% to 70% on cassava.
- Afrinest Farm Projects https://afrinestfarm.co.za An initiative under the name of MORCASSAH (Moringa, Cassava and Honey) in the Tzaneen, Mopani district area, is run with over 20 emerging farmers and some 350 000 trees.
- DADTCO Philafrica https://philafricafoods.com/dadtco
- Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) www.ecdc.co.za Trials with cassava have been run in the Eastern Cape near Port St Johns, Bizana, and in Ncera Village near East London.
- Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) www.idc.co.za
Websites and publications
Refer to websites listed earlier on this page.
- Several documents of relevance can be found on the ARC-Industrial Crops pages at www.arc.agric.za. Find notes on cassava (its importance in the world, its potential etc) and documents like “Potential for mechanised cassava production in South Africa” here.
- Find the ARC Media video on YouTube entitled “Cassava The Rambo Crop“.
- Grower guides “Production Guidelines: Cassava” and “Mechanical Cassava harvesting Technology”” are available on www.dalrrd.gov.za (take the “Resource Centre” option).
- Find the notes “Biotechnology and trade in cassava” on the UN’s Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) website at www.fao.org/docrep/009/x4007e/X4007E06.htm
- Find research work on cassava authored/co-authored by Prof Chrissie Rey at https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0628-3569
- World Economic Forum. 2021, February 17. “Could This Root Vegetable Help Alleviate World Hunger and End Soil Erosion?” Ecowatch. Available at www.ecowatch.com/cassava-world-hunger-soil-erosion-2650599618.html
- African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI). n.d. “High hopes for South African cassava project”. Available at https://acci.org.za/high-hopes-for-south-african-cassava-project
- AFP. 2017, July 13. “Beyond Barley: Cassava Beer Creating a Buzz in the Market”. NDTV Food. Available at https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/beyond-barley-cassava-beer-creating-a-buzz-in-the-market-1239017
- Smallstarter. “How cassava beer in Mozambique has transformed a poor man’s crop into a cash crop”. Available at www.smallstarter.com/get-inspired/how-cassava-beer-in-mozambique-is-transforming-cassava-into-a-cash-crop/
- AFP. 2010. “‘Rooting’ out hunger in Africa, and making Darwin proud”. The Independent. Available at www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/rooting-out-hunger-in-africa-and-making-darwin-proud-2076547.html.
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