Cassava: The Drought, War and Famine Crop in a Changing World
Cassava is the sixth most important crop, in terms of global annual production. Cassava is grown primarily for its starchy tuberous roots, which are an important staple for more than 800 million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in other parts of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America. Cassava is important for both small-scale farmers and larger-scale plantations due to its low requirement for nutrients, ability to tolerate dry conditions and easy low-cost propagation. It is sometimes referred to as the “drought, war and famine crop of the developing world” and reliance upon this crop is expected to increase in the coming years as the global climate changes. As with all crops, cassava presents some challenges which need to be addressed, especially if its production is to continue to expand. We highlight here a number of key issues around the continued and increased reliance upon cassava as a staple food crop. Cassava contains cyanogenic glycosides that release hydrogen cyanide and many cultivars are toxic if not processed before consumption. The degree of toxicity is altered by plant breeding, agricultural practice, environmental conditions and methods of food preparation. We conclude that use of cassava has the potential to help many countries achieve food security in a sustainable manner, in the face of significant environmental change, but that its introduction should be accompanied by appropriate education about its toxicity.
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