Cassava cassava everywhere but it doesn’t pay the bills!Two Harvard03 heads have a radical idea that just
might change things. In the first of a two part series, Prof Calestous Juma makes the case for a new way. Words by Ngum Ngafor
Africally Speaking: Why is cassava a promising cash crop?
Calestous Juma: Cassava is the world’s third largest source of carbohydrates (after rice and maize). It is a staple for nearly a billion people globally. Cultivated widely in the sub-tropics, it is the third most productive carbohydrate crop in the world (after sugarcane and sugar beets). In addition to being a source of human food, cassava is used as animal feedstock, for beverage production, a source of biofuels and as an industrial crop. As a tuber, it does not have to be harvested at a set time and can therefore be stored in the soil.
AS: Are there any ideal varieties worth focusing on?
CJ: Cassava is a very versatile crop which has been bred to meet different uses. The choice of variety will therefore depend on end-uses.
AS: In what type of environment(s) can the crop thrive?
CJ: One of the main attributes of cassava is that it can thrive in a wide range of environments including dry areas. It is this adaptability that has enabled it to become a major global crop.
“Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava and should be at the
forefront to exploring how to leverage
the knowledge and benefits of every
step in the value chain.”
CJ: Cassava has a long value chain ranging from taxonomic work to end products. Each of the points in the value chain represents an opportunity to develop complementary industries. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava and should be at the forefront
to exploring how to leverage the knowledge and benefits of every step in the value chain. For example, work on sequencing the cassava genome offers new opportunities for Nigeria and other African countries to build up capacity in genomics which is relevant for cassava and many other crops. Nigeria’s current efforts to build a cassava bread industry are another example of identifying opportunities in the value chain. Similarly, other opportunities exist in using cassava in the brewing and biofuels industry.
AS: Which platforms – on and offline – exist to enable joint ventures or collaborations ( for instance between farmers and factories providing value added products such as starch or flour) and which countries do they target?
CJ: There are very few platforms that serve as central coordinators for cassava-related activities. One possible way forward is to establish an International Cassava Research University that would bring all the knowledge regarding the crop under one roof. The university would also serve as a venue to convene the diverse private and public actors interested in cassava. There is no better place to create such a university than in Nigeria, the world’s leading producer of cassava. If such initiatives are not made the centre of gravity for cassava science, technology and innovation will shift to Asia in the same way that palm oil did.
Follow Prof Juma on twitter via: @calestous.
Keep up with his work at: belfercenter.org/global