Is cassava Asia’s plant of the future?
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Is cassava Asia’s plant of the future?

As the Earth’s climate changes, more and different areas of the world are becoming increasingly vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall, as well as other seasonal irregularities. The mercury is rising and weather is becoming more and more erratic.

A new report, entitled Recalibrating food production in the developing world, examines how climate change will potentially affect important staple crops. Particularly in developing countries, foods like maize (corn), wheat, potatoes and rice will suffer from reduced yields.

While all regions of the world will be affected, this will happen in “radically different ways” and the disruption in growing conditions is happening at the same time that global food production needs to increase in order to feed a growing population.

From the Guardian:

Potatoes, the world’s fourth largest food crop, are best suited to cooler climates, so steadily rising temperatures are likely to reduce yields in places where people already struggle to meet basic nutritional needs. More than half of the world’s potatoes come from developing countries such as India and China.

Growers will have to consider alternative crops like millet, cowpea and lentils, which are more tolerant of harsh conditions than the traditional top 4 crops. Another crop is cassava, a starchy tuber native to South America, which is known to tolerate a range of climate stresses and is considered especially suitable for parts of Asia.

Cassava, from which tapioca is made, is already an important food source in Indonesia, while Thailand controls 77% of the world’s dried cassava exports. Vietnam is also a large exporter.

Read more about climate and crop changes on the BBC.

Another use for cassava in Southeast Asia is as a source of biofuel. The Department of Energy in the Philippines has funded a project at Xavier University to research the development of bioethanol from cassava.

From Ethanol Producer Magazine:

Information published to the Philippine DOE website notes that the nation has set the goal to replace 20 percent of its gasoline usage with ethanol by 2030, resulting in a the displacement of 1.34 billion liters (354 million gallons) of petroleum-based fuel. According to the department, 169 million gallons of gasoline are being displaced through current ethanol blend levels.

The potential future use of an emerging staple food crop as a source of biofuel brings up questions of food security, in particular the food vs. fuel controversy. Bioethanol from maize, sugar cane and vegetable oil is already thought to have contributed to rising global food prices.


cassava cultivation, pic: IITA