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Cassava Could Boost Output For Farmers Worldwide

Cassava could boost output for poor farmers worldwide, UN agency says

25 July 2008 - The tropical root crop cassava could help protect the food and energy security of poor countries now threatened by soaring food and oil prices, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

Scientists at a global conference held under the auspices of FAO in Gent, Belgium, called for a significant increase in investment in research and development needed to boost farmers' yields and to explore promising industrial uses of cassava, including production of biofuels.

The scientists, who have formed an international network called the Global Cassava Partnership, said the world community could not continue to ignore the plight of low-income tropical countries that have been hardest hit by rising oil prices and galloping food price inflation.

Widely grown in tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America, cassava is the developing world's fourth most important crop, with production in 2006 estimated at 226 million tons. It is the staple food of nearly one billion people in 105 countries, where the root provides as much as a third of daily calories.

The FAO said cassava has enormous potential - at present, average cassava yields are barely 20 per cent of those obtained under optimum conditions. Cassava is also the cheapest known source of starch, and used in more than 300 industrial products.

One promising application is fermentation of the starch to produce ethanol used in biofuel, although FAO cautioned that policies encouraging a shift to biofuel production should carefully consider its effects on food production and food security.

Despite growing demand and its production potential, however, cassava remains an "orphan crop," according to FAO. It is grown mainly in areas that have little or no access to improved varieties, fertilizer and other production inputs, by small-scale farmers often cut off from marketing channels and agro-processing industries.

FAO said that governments have not yet made the needed investments in value-added research that would make cassava starch products competitive on an international scale.

Participants at the conference agreed on a number of new projects, which will be offered immediately to the donor community, and a set of investments needed if cassava is to realize its full potential in tackling the global food and energy crisis.

They include the creation of a cassava chain delivery system to channel technical advances to poor farmers, improvements in soil fertility through better management, improvements in basic scientific knowledge of cassava, expansion of cassava's market share through development of post-harvest products, and training for the next generation of cassava researchers in developing countries.

ENDS

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