Cassava, (Manihot esculentum crantz), belongs to the family of euphorbiaceae. It is believed that the crop originated from Brazil and was introduced to West Africa by the Portuguese traders. It exists in many cultivars which can be distinguished by size, colour, shape of the leaf, branching habit, plant height, colour of the stem, root shape, size and colour, maturity time of the root and level of hydrocyanic content (Anyanwu, 2006). Cassava is Africa’s food insurance crop with stable yield, even with low rainfall, low fertility and low inputs (FAO, 2008). Cassava is becoming an important industrial raw material and a foreign exchange earner. Cassava’s role as food security crop as well as a cash crop is receiving high attention for poverty alleviation by the developing world and partners (FAO, 2008).

Cassava is ranked the 6th most important crop in the world in terms of area planted and production (FAO, 1986). Africa is the highest cassava producer in the world, and more than 100 million people in tropical Africa depend on it as their dietary staple (FAO, 2008). Globally, among the world’s producing regions, West Africa is known to have the greatest share of the world’s production of cassava (FAO, 2008). Interestingly, Nigeria is the largest world producer of cassava with yearly production of fresh tubers estimated at 10-13 million tons on a land area of 1.2-1.4 million hectares (NAQAS, 2002). Nigeria’s lead on cassava production in the world has been achieved through expansion of land areas devoted to cassava cultivation (Ano, 2003). Of Africa’s 72.7 million tons of cassava output in 1990, 26 million tons were produced in Nigeria (Ezedinma, 2003). Cassava is widely grown in Nigeria. For decades, cassava has been cultivated as a subsistence crop in Nigeria. Currently, cassava cultivation has become an income generating activity. This “enhanced” status is as a result of increased demand for cassava and cassava products outside the rural communities (Ikpi et al 1986), as well as the realization of the potentials it has for contributing to the attainment of self-sufficiency in food production (Kwatia, 1980).

Cassava plays a major role in Nigeria’s food security and 80% of the inhabitants in the rural areas eat cassava meal at least once a day (Ezedinma, 2003). The crop is also a good source of raw materials involved in the production of confectioneries, animal feed, alcohol, adhesives, flour starch, etc. The growth of cassava as a major economic and food security crop over the last two decades has generated significant research interest at both the National and International levels. For instance, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan and the National Root Crops Research Institute, (NRCRI), Umudike have developed the Tropical Manihot Selection (TMS) 30555, 30572, 30211, 50395, 60506 and Umudike (U) 41044 varieties in the early 1970’s and 1980’s. Most recently, new varieties of cassava were developed and they include, TMS 90257, 84537M, 82/00661, 30001, 81/00110, 91934, 4(2)1425, nr 41044, nr 8212, 8082, 8083, 8208, nr 83107, TMS 419, TMS 98/0581 and TMS 98/0510 (Ezulike et-al,2006). These varieties are not only high yielding, but also are resistant to pests and diseases such as Cassava Mosaic Disease, Cassava Bacteria Blight, Cassava Mealy Bug and Cassava Green Spider Mite (Ezedinma, 2003).

Cassava’s combined abilities to produce high yields under poor conditions and store its harvestable portion underground up to nine months make it a classic “food security crop. In recent years, this has proved of critical importance to many people in Africa caught up in civil conflicts and unable to cultivate the normal range of annual crops. Displaced groups of people in Mozambique during that country’s 16 years’ war often survived on abandoned cassava fields (Ezedinma, 2003). Because, it is a vegetative propagated crop, such plantings can also serve as a ready supply of planting materials during rehabilitations following conflict or drought.

Cassava is well-known for being able to grow and produce food even in very poor soils. For that reason, it is often grown at the margins of farms where the better land has been reserved for the production of grain crops. In addition, once established, cassava is relatively drought tolerant and when matured can survive up to six months without rains. Cassava’s productive capacity in low-input conditions comes at a certain cost in terms of carbohydrate quality and protein concentrations. Cassava’s ability to produce food under marginal conditions has made it a popular crop of Africa’s poor farmers who are unable to invest in fertilizer or pesticides to protect the crop against environmental stresses and biotic constraints (Ezedinma, 2006).

What is Cassava Used For?

Cassava is a rich, affordable source of carbohydrates. It can provide more calories per acre of the crop than other cereals, which makes it a very useful crop in the developing world.

People prepare and eat cassava in various ways in different parts of the world, with baking and boiling being the most common methods. In some places, people ferment cassava before using it.

It is essential to peel cassava and never eat it raw. It contains dangerous levels of cyanide unless a person cooks it thoroughly before eating it.

Dishes that people can make using cassava include:

Bread, which can contain cassava flour only, or both cassava and wheat flour

  • French Fries
  • Mashed Cassava
  • Cassava Chips
  • Cassava bread soaked in coconut milk
  • Cassava Cake
  • Cassava in Coconut Sauce

Yuca con mojo, a Cuban dish that combines cassava with a sauce comprising citrus juices, garlic, onion, cilantro, cumin, and oregano

In addition to eating cassava, people also use it for:

  • Making tapioca, which is a common dessert food
  • Making starch and flour products, which people can use to make gluten-free bread
  • Feeding animals
  • Making medications, fabrics, paper, and building materials, such as plywood

Scientists may eventually be able to replace high-fructose corn syrup with cassava starch. Researchers are also hoping that cassava could be a source of the alcohol that manufacturers use to make polystyrene, PVC, and other industrial products.