An environmentally-friendly farming model can help significantly increase cassava yields and help turn it into a staple 21st century crop, the United Nations food agency said today.
In a new field guide, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that cassava output has increased by 60 per cent since 2000 and is set to accelerate further over the current decade as policymakers recognize its huge potential.
However, the agency warned that the current input-intensive approach to boost cassava production also risks causing damage to the natural resource base and increasing greenhouse gas emission responsible for climate change. Instead of intensive farming, FAO advocates for a Save and Grow approach, which can sustainably increase cassava crops by 400 per cent.
“Save and Grow minimizes soil disturbance caused by conventional tillage such as ploughing, and recommends maintaining a protective cover of vegetation over soil,” FAO said in a news release. “Instead of the monocropping normally seen in intensive farming systems, Save and Grow encourages mixed cropping and rotation, and predicates integrated pest management, which uses disease-free planting material and pests’ natural enemies to keep harmful insects down, instead of chemical pesticides.”
The approach has already had successful results in trials organized in Viet Nam, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Colombia.
Cassava is a highly versatile crop grown by small farmers in more than 100 countries. Second only to maize as a source of starch, its roots are rich in carbohydrates while its tender leaves contain up to 25 per cent protein, plus iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. Other parts of the plant can be used as animal feed, and livestock raised on cassava have good disease resistance and low mortality rates.
Demand for cassava has increased in part because of the current high level of cereal prices, making it an attractive alternative to wheat and maize. Cassava also has a range of industrial uses that give it huge potential to spur rural industrial development and raise rural incomes.
Another important consideration is that of the major staple crops in Africa, hardy, resilient cassava is expected to be the least affected by advancing climate change.
“With Save and Grow developing countries can […] avoid the risks of unsustainable intensification while realizing cassava's potential for producing higher yields, alleviating hunger and rural poverty and contributing to national economic development,” FAO said.