20120525-cassava Iwata_kenichi_cassava.jpg
Cassava is a nutritious, fibrous, tuberous root. Native to South America and brought to Africa in 16th century by the Portuguese, it comes from a shrubby plant that grows from 5 to 15 feet high, with fleshy roots that may be three feet long and 6 to 9 inches in diameter. Cassava can be identified by their leaves, which have five long appendages and look sort of like marijuana leaves. The cassava root resembles a sweet potato or yam but is larger. It is 20 percent starch.

Cassava, also known as manioc or yucca, is one of the most common sources of food in the humid tropical regions of the third world. An estimated 500 million people worldwide — mostly in Africa and Latin American — depend on cassava for food. Cassava can also be processed into 300 industrial products including glue, alcohol, starch, tapioca and a thickener for soups and sauces.

Two types of cassava are consumed as food: sweet and bitter. "Sweet roots" are cooked like yams. "Bitter" ones are soaked, often for days, then sun-dried to remove a potentially lethal toxin known as prussic acid. Amazon tribes, who have consumed cassava for a long time, remove prussic acid from bitter manioc by boiling. The starchy residue that collects on the side of the pot is dried and made into cakes. The pasty soup that remains can be rolled into balls or consumed as a soup.

New Crop FactSheet:

Tubers and Root Crops

There is some confusion as to whether potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes and yams are tubers or roots. Contrary to what many people think tubers are not roots. They are underground stems that serve as food storage units for the green foliage above the ground. Roots absorb nutrients, tubers store them.

A tuber is the thick underground part of a stem or rhizome that stores food and bears buds from which new plants arise. They are generally storage organs used to store nutrients for survival in of the winter or dry months and to provide energy and nutrients for regrowth during the next growing season through asexual reproduction. [Source: Wikipedia]

Stem tubers form thickened rhizomes (underground stems) or stolons (horizontal connections between organisms). Potatoes and yams are stem tubers. The term “root tuber” is used by some to describe modified lateral roots such as sweet potatoes, cassava, and dahlias. Typically they are described as root crops.

Fred Benu of the Universitas Nusa Cendana wrote: Root crops have modified roots to function as storage organs, while tuber crops have modified stems or roots to function as both storage and propagation organs. As such, the modified roots of root crops cannot propagate new crops, whereas the modified stem or roots of tuber crops can propagate new crops. Examples of root crops are potato, sweet potato, and dahlia; examples of tuber crops are carrot, sugar beet, and parsnip.

Cassava Agriculture

Widely cultivated in the tropics and raised from cuttings from the stalks of the previous crop, cassava grows well in poor soils and on marginal and degraded land and survives drought and intense tropical sunlight and heat. The average yield on an acre of land in Africa is 4 tons. Cassava sells for only a few pennies a kilogram and thus does not justify the use of expensive fertilizers and pesticides.

Commercially harvested cassava roots are fed into a grinding machine with flowing water. The ground roots mix with water and pass through a sieve that separates the coarse fibers from the starchy material. After a series of washings the starch is dried and then ground into flour.

Researchers say that cassava can be made resistant to drought and salt; the nutritional value of its food volume can be boosted; the average yield on an acre of land can be increased; and it can be made resistant to diseases and bacteria through bioengineering. Like millet and sorghum, unfortunately, it receives little attention from agricultural biotechnology giants like Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred International because there is little profit in it for them.

World’s Top Cassava Producers and Exporters

Top cassava-producing countries
World’s Top Producers of Cassava (2020): 1) Nigeria: 60001531 tonnes; 2) Democratic Republic of the Congo: 41014256 tonnes; 3) Thailand: 28999122 tonnes; 4) Ghana: 21811661 tonnes; 5) Indonesia: 18302000 tonnes; 6) Brazil: 18205120 tonnes; 7) Vietnam: 10487794 tonnes; 8) Angola: 8781827 tonnes; 9) Cambodia: 7663505 tonnes; 10) Tanzania: 7549879 tonnes; 11) Cote d’Ivoire: 6443565 tonnes; 12) Malawi: 5858745 tonnes; 13) Mozambique: 5404432 tonnes; 14) India: 5043000 tonnes; 15) China: 4876347 tonnes; 16) Cameroon: 4858329 tonnes; 17) Uganda: 4207870 tonnes; 18) Benin: 4161660 tonnes; 19) Zambia: 3931915 tonnes; 20) Paraguay: 3329331 tonnes. [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.),]

World’s Top Producers (in terms of value) of Cassava (2019): 1) Nigeria: Int.$8599855,000 ; 2) Democratic Republic of the Congo: Int.$5818611,000 ; 3) Thailand: Int.$4515399,000 ; 4) Ghana: Int.$3261266,000 ; 5) Brazil: Int.$2542038,000 ; 6) Indonesia: Int.$2119202,000 ; 7) Cambodia: Int.$1995890,000 ; 8) Vietnam: Int.$1468120,000 ; 9) Angola: Int.$1307612,000 ; 10) Tanzania: Int.$1189012,000 ; 11) Cameroon: Int.$885145,000 ; 12) Malawi: Int.$823449,000 ; 13) Cote d’Ivoire: Int.$761029,000 ; 14) India: Int.$722930,000 ; 15) China: Int.$722853,000 ; 16) Sierra Leone: Int.$666649,000 ; 17) Zambia: Int.$586448,000 ; 18) Mozambique: Int.$579309,000 ; 19) Benin: Int.$565846,000 ; [An international dollar (Int.$) buys a comparable amount of goods in the cited country that a U.S. dollar would buy in the United States.]

World’s Top Exporters of Cassava (2019): 1) Laos: 358921 tonnes; 2) Myanmar: 5173 tonnes; 4) Democratic Republic of the Congo: 2435 tonnes; 4) Angola: 429 tonnes

World’s Top Exporters (in value terms) of Cassava (2019): 1) Laos: US$16235,000; 2) Myanmar: US$1043,000; 3) Angola: US$400,000; 4) Democratic Republic of the Congo: US$282,000

World’s Top Exporters of Dried Cassava (2020): 1) Thailand: 3055753 tonnes; 2) Laos: 1300509 tonnes; 3) Vietnam: 665149 tonnes; 4) Cambodia: 200000 tonnes; 5) Costa Rica: 127262 tonnes; 6) Tanzania: 18549 tonnes; 7) Indonesia: 16529 tonnes; 8) Netherlands: 9995 tonnes; 9) Uganda: 7671 tonnes; 10) Belgium: 5415 tonnes; 11) Sri Lanka: 5061 tonnes; 12) Côte d'Ivoire: 4110 tonnes; 13) India: 3728 tonnes; 14) Peru: 3365 tonnes; 15) Nicaragua: 3351 tonnes; 16) Cameroon: 3262 tonnes; 17) Portugal: 3007 tonnes; 18) Honduras: 2146 tonnes; 19) United States: 2078 tonnes; 20) Ecuador: 2027 tonnes

World’s Top Exporters (in value terms) of Dried Cassava (2020): 1) Thailand: US$689585,000; 2) Laos: US$181398,000; 3) Vietnam: US$141679,000; 4) Costa Rica: US$93371,000; 5) Cambodia: US$30000,000; 6) Netherlands: US$13745,000; 7) Indonesia: US$9731,000; 8) Belgium: US$3966,000; 9) Sri Lanka: US$3750,000; 10) Honduras: US$3644,000; 11) Portugal: US$3543,000; 12) India: US$2883,000; 13) Spain: US$2354,000; 14) United States: US$2137,000; 15) Cameroon: US$2072,000; 16) Ecuador: US$1928,000; 17) Philippines: US$1836,000; 18) Tanzania: US$1678,000; 19) Nicaragua: US$1344,000; 20) Fiji: US$1227,000

Top cassava-producing countries in 2008: (Production, $1000; Production, metric tons, FAO): 1) Nigeria, 3212578 , 44582000; 2) Thailand, 1812726 , 25155797; 3) Indonesia, 1524288 , 21593052; 4) Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1071053 , 15013490; 5) Brazil, 962110 , 26703039; 6) Ghana, 817960 , 11351100; 7) Angola, 724734 , 10057375; 8) Viet Nam, 677061 , 9395800; 9) India, 652575 , 9056000; 10) United Republic of Tanzania, 439566 , 6600000; 11) Uganda, 365488 , 5072000; 12) Mozambique, 363083 , 5038623; 13) China, 286191 , 4411573; 14) Cambodia, 264909 , 3676232; 15) Malawi, 251574 , 3491183; 16) Côte d'Ivoire, 212660 , 2951160; 17) Benin, 189465 , 2629280; 18) Madagascar, 172944 , 2400000; 19) Cameroon, 162135 , 2500000; 20) Philippines, 134361 , 1941580;

World’s Top Cassava Flour

World’s Top Exporters of Cassava Flour (2020): 1) Thailand: 51810 tonnes; 2) Vietnam: 17872 tonnes; 3) Brazil: 16903 tonnes; 4) Peru: 3371 tonnes; 5) Canada: 2969 tonnes; 6) Nigeria: 2375 tonnes; 7) Ghana: 1345 tonnes; 8) Nicaragua: 860 tonnes; 9) Myanmar: 415 tonnes; 10) Germany: 238 tonnes; 11) Portugal: 212 tonnes; 12) United Kingdom: 145 tonnes; 13) Cameroon: 128 tonnes; 14) Cote d’Ivoire: 123 tonnes; 15) India: 77 tonnes; 16) Pakistan: 73 tonnes; 17) Angola: 43 tonnes; 18) Burundi: 20 tonnes; 19) Zambia: 20 tonnes; 20) Rwanda: 12 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.),]

World’s Top Exporters (in value terms) of Cassava Flour (2020): 1) Thailand: US$22827,000; 2) Peru: US$18965,000; 3) Brazil: US$17564,000; 4) Vietnam: US$6379,000; 5) Germany: US$1386,000; 6) Canada: US$1351,000; 7) Mexico: US$1328,000; 8) Ghana: US$1182,000; 9) United Kingdom: US$924,000; 10) Nigeria: US$795,000; 11) Portugal: US$617,000; 12) Myanmar: US$617,000; 13) Nicaragua: US$568,000; 14) Cameroon: US$199,000; 15) India: US$83,000; 16) Côte d'Ivoire: US$65,000; 17) Pakistan: US$33,000; 18) Zambia: US$30,000; 19) Singapore: US$27,000; 20) Rwanda: US$24,000

World’s Top Cassava Starch

cassava roots
World’s Top Exporters of Cassava Starch (2020): 1) Thailand: 2730128 tonnes; 2) Vietnam: 2132707 tonnes; 3) Indonesia: 77679 tonnes; 4) Laos: 74760 tonnes; 5) Cambodia: 38109 tonnes; 6) Paraguay: 30492 tonnes; 7) Brazil: 13561 tonnes; 8) Côte d'Ivoire: 8566 tonnes; 9) Netherlands: 8527 tonnes; 10) Nicaragua: 5712 tonnes; 11) Germany: 4067 tonnes; 12) United States: 1700 tonnes; 13) Belgium: 1448 tonnes; 14) Taiwan: 1424 tonnes; 15) Uganda: 1275 tonnes; 16) India: 1042 tonnes; 17) Nigeria: 864 tonnes; 18) Ghana: 863 tonnes; 19) Hong Kong: 682 tonnes; 20) China: 682 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.),]

World’s Top Exporters (in value terms) of Cassava Starch (2020): 1) Thailand: US$1140643,000; 2) Vietnam: US$865542,000; 3) Laos: US$37627,000; 4) Indonesia: US$30654,000; 5) Cambodia: US$14562,000; 6) Paraguay: US$13722,000; 7) Netherlands: US$11216,000; 8) Brazil: US$10209,000; 9) Germany: US$9197,000; 10) Nicaragua: US$2927,000; 11) Taiwan: US$2807,000; 12) United States: US$2584,000; 13) Belgium: US$1138,000; 14) Colombia: US$732,000; 15) United Kingdom: US$703,000; 16) India: US$697,000; 17) Austria: US$641,000; 18) Spain: US$597,000; 19) China: US$542,000; 20) Portugal: US$482,000

World’s Top Importers of Cassava Starch (2020): 1) China: 2756937 tonnes; 2) Taiwan: 281334 tonnes; 3) Indonesia: 148721 tonnes; 4) Malaysia: 148625 tonnes; 5) Japan: 121438 tonnes; 6) United States: 111953 tonnes; 7) Philippines: 91376 tonnes; 8) Singapore: 63904 tonnes; 9) Vietnam: 29329 tonnes; 10) Netherlands: 18887 tonnes; 11) Colombia: 13984 tonnes; 12) South Africa: 13778 tonnes; 13) Australia: 13299 tonnes; 14) South Korea: 12706 tonnes; 15) United Kingdom: 11651 tonnes; 16) Germany: 10318 tonnes; 17) Bangladesh: 9950 tonnes; 18) India: 9058 tonnes; 19) Canada: 8248 tonnes; 20) Burkina Faso: 8118 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.),]

World’s Top Importers (in value terms) of Cassava Starch (2020): 1) China: US$1130655,000; 2) Taiwan: US$120420,000; 3) United States: US$76891,000; 4) Indonesia: US$63889,000; 5) Malaysia: US$60163,000; 6) Japan: US$52110,000; 7) Philippines: US$40241,000; 8) Singapore: US$29238,000; 9) Vietnam: US$25735,000; 10) Netherlands: US$15665,000; 11) Germany: US$10461,000; 12) United Kingdom: US$9163,000; 13) France: US$8051,000; 14) Colombia: US$7475,000; 15) Canada: US$7402,000; 16) Australia: US$7163,000; 17) South Africa: US$6484,000; 18) South Korea: US$5574,000; 19) Bangladesh: US$5107,000; 20) Italy: US$4407,000

Cassava Food Poisoning Kills at Least 27 Children in the Philippines

In March 2005, more than two dozen children died and 100 were hospitalized in the Philippines after eating snacks made from cassava. Some think cyanide in the cassava was not properly removed. Associated Press reported: “At least 27 elementary school children died and another 100 were hospitalized after eating a snack of cassava — a root that’s poisonous if not prepared correctly — during morning recess in the southern Philippines, officials said. Francisca Doliente, said her 9-year-old niece Arve Tamor was given some of the deep-fried caramelized cassava by a classmate who bought it from a regular vendor outside the San Jose school. “Her friend is gone. She died,” Doliente told The Associated Press, adding that her niece was undergoing treatment. [Source: Associated Press, March 9, 2005 ]

“The roots of the cassava plant, a major crop in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins A, B and C. However, it is poisonous without proper preparation. Eaten raw, the human digestive system will convert part of it into cyanide. Even two cassava roots contain a fatal dose. “Some said they took only two bites because it tasted bitter and the effects were felt five to 10 minutes later,” said Dr. Harold Garcia of Garcia Memorial Provincial Hospital in the nearby town of Talibon, where 47 patients were taken.

“The victims suffered severe stomach pain, then vomiting and diarrhea. They were taken to at least four hospitals near the school in Mabini, a town on Bohol island, about 380 miles southeast of Manila. Mabini Mayor Stephen Rances said 27 students were confirmed dead. Treatment was delayed because the nearest hospital was 20 miles away. Grace Vallente, 26, said her 7-year-old nephew Noel died en route to the hospital and that her 9-year-old niece Roselle was undergoing treatment.

“There are many parents here,” she said from L.G. Cotamura Community Hospital in Bohol’s Ubay town. “The kids who died are lined up on beds. Everybody’s grief-stricken.” Dr. Leta Cutamora confirmed 14 dead at the hospital and 35 others admitted for treatment. Dr. Nenita Po, chief of the government-run Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital, said 13 were brought there, including the 68-year-old woman who prepared the food with another woman. Two girls, ages 7 and 8, died. A specimen of the cassava was taken for inspection at the local Crime Laboratory Group.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2022

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