Officials see new opportunities for export of cassava
With the Caribbean’s main agriculture export crops, sugar and bananas, suffering a loss of market share and preferences on the international market, regional agriculture experts are turning their attention to the roots and tubers industry, particularly cassava, which they believe has the potential to become the next priority commodity.
The Barbados-based regional office of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been lobbying Caribbean governments to explore opportunities for the development of the crop.
“Part of it has to do with the sustainability of producing cassava, the fact that it’s a crop that can withstand changes in climate. It’s a hardier root and tuber crop and lends itself to becoming another pillar in terms of its production and what potential we can get out of it,” FAO’s Regional Cassava Development Consultant Vermaran Extravour told Barbados TODAY.
“Internationally we have seen the various opportunities for industry development for cassava, not just for food.”
The history of cassava in the Caribbean dates back to pre-colonial times and was one of the primary crops grown by the Amerindians who inhabited the islands.
Today, the FAO is partnering with Purity Bakeries and the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC), as well as the Caribbean Agribusiness Association and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, to promote the Regional Cassava Development Project.
The US$500,000 project, which was launched in February, will increase interest in the crop and ultimately contribute to a reduction in the region’s approximately $4.2 billion food import bill.
It also aims to replace up to 30 per cent of wheat flour with cassava in baked products, and substitute up to 30 per cent of the corn in poultry rations as well as a portion of other animal feeds.
Seven countries – Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines – are participating in the programme under which the FAO is training bakeries in the utilization of grated cassava and cassava four for the replacement in bread.
“We replaced 40 per cent with grated cassava of the wheat, and we replaced 30 per cent of wheat with cassava flour. Those activities were also followed by sampling and some consumer feedback on the use of it and whether they would purchase such an item,” Extravour said.
“And out of it there’s a lot of interest and uptake, bakeries are quite interested in pursuing it and we’re also now looking at the investment profiling and cost modelling for bread and production costing and how we can improve on those costings to offer it to the public.”
In their most recent undertaking, they served samples to CARICOM heads of government at their recent summit here last Thursday – an exercise which Extravour said received several positive reviews and interest from the leaders.
“The heads are quite interested. They were pleased, it was the first time they got to see the products. I must admit we’ve been speaking about it and speaking about the opportunity . . . . And the opportunity to actually taste the bread has stimulated a lot of interest. And what does that opportunity mean for them and how can it happen.”
She disclosed the project is also exploring opportunities for revenue generation and financing, with the Caribbean Agribusiness Association looking at the investment profiling for producing grated cassava.
“We know that the bread is gonna cost a little bit more because we’re introducing another element and product. Cassava at the moment is not produced at the same price as wheaten flour.
“The price of purchasing of wheat is cheaper than cassava but we recognise though to drive the industry and to stimulate development, we need to start by creating that demand and lobbying for public policy to support use of cassava. Because it’s public policy that has allowed wheat to be developed into the industry that it is today. And therefore similar type of approaches are being used.
They are also working with farmers in participating countries to improve their productivity by introducing irrigation and improved farming practices that will give better yields.
“With better yields we would expect the benefit to transmit to the farmers. Our trials so far have indicated so, our preliminary results, and we’re working with CARDI to give us that type of information and three to four countries that field data on what happens when we do improved farming practices with cassava, what can the farmer gain from it,” she said.
As to the health benefits of incorporating cassava into bread, Extravour says that is also another area of research at this time.
“We know that cassava contains some micronutrients, we know cassava is high in fibre, we know cassava is gluten free. When we replace 40 per cent of wheat flour with cassava we need to get certifiable information what does it now contain.
“And we may find ourselves now introducing a more natural, enriched product as the grated cassava with wheat flour because wheat flour is artificially enriched to some extent. And as a result we are pursuing testing and working with the lab possibly at UWI to produce those standards for us so we can identify the nutritional benefits. But generally cassava itself has higher potassium and some B vitamins that one will access, as well as having a higher dietary fibre content and being gluten free,” she stated.
Extravour is hoping that all 15 CARICOM member states will eventually sign on to the project. firstname.lastname@example.org