Cassava Facts & Figures

Cassava is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean by poor farmers, many of them women, often on marginal land. It is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize – providing a basic diet for around 500 million people, 200 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. The cassava plant gives the highest yield of carbohydrates per cultivated area among crop plants, only surpassed by sugarcane and sugar beets.

Cassava accounts for a daily caloric intake of 30% in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and is grown by nearly every farming family in those areas. The importance of cassava is epitomised in the Ewe language spoken in West Africa in which the name for the plant, agbeli, means "there is life". It is also widely cultivated and eaten as a staple food in several states in India and in the subtropical region of southern China.

World production of cassava is estimated at over 250 million tonnes. Most of the production is in Africa, with Nigeria being the world's largest producer. However, statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations indicate that Thailand is the largest exporter of dried cassava, with well over 75% of world exports, followed by Vietnam, Indonesia and Costa Rica. China is the largest export market for cassava produced in Vietnam and Thailand.

Cassava is 1 to 2 percent crude protein. It is also rich in calcium and vitamin C and contains nutritionally significant quantities of thiamine, riboflavin and nicotinic acid. Bio-fortification has enhanced the vitamin A (beta-carotene) content of improved varieties. Because cassava is gluten-free, its use as a wheat alternative is growing. In ethno-medicine, the leaves of bitter varieties are used to treat various illnesses. It is used worldwide for animal feed - cassava hay is high in protein and condensed tannins.  Cassava chips have also gradually become a major source for ethanol production, especially in China.

Cassava plays a particularly important role in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, because it does well on poor soils with low rainfall. It is a perennial that can be harvested as required, this wide harvesting window allowing it to act as a famine reserve. It serves both as a subsistence crop and a cash crop.

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