Cassava to the new menu as a staple foodassava to the new menu as a staple food

In a bid to help prevent a food crisis, state logistics firm Perum Bulog is trying to diversify cassava to become a viable substitute staple food, officials said Thursday.

Bulog president director Mustafa Abubakar said Bulog's interest in promoting cassava as an alternative staple had already drawn the attention of the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"Cassava is a strategic alternative commodity that is taken seriously by the private sector and people in general," he told a press conference in Jakarta.

"Likewise, cassava has drawn our attention, and, apparently, that of IFAD president Kanayo [Nwanze], too."

IFAD is a specialized United Nations agency dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries.

Mustafa said he had expressed Bulog's vision on cassava to the international agency during the 32nd IFAD governing council meeting in Rome from Feb. 18-19.

During the meeting, Bulog proposed the need for IFAD's assistance in developing cassava as it sought to support the country's goal in food diversification, Mustafa said.

"IFAD has programs [to develop cassava] in Africa and has a number of experts whom we hope will come [to Indonesia] soon," he said.

"By that time, [Bulog] will have learned the possibilities of engaging in cooperation [with IFAD]."

He added cassava could serve as an emergency non-rice food commodity and thus was suitable for ready-to-serve food in disaster-prone or food-scarce areas.

"[Processed] cassava can inflate to four times larger than instant noodle when submerged in water," he said.

Cassava can be processed to yield modified cassava flour (mocaf), noodles, bread, donuts, snacks and crackers, he said.

"Therefore, we likely need research on cassava more than anything else."

Bulog research and development head Suharno said the state institution had been involved for more than a year in research into the tuber, together with several cassava-processing companies, including PT Tiga Pilar in Solo, West Java.

"At present, Bulog only facilitates companies in developing the cassava market, connecting producers to consumers," he said.

One company in Central Java has already planned to export modified cassava flour to the Philippines.

"That's because snack consumption is quite big in that country," Suharno pointed out.

He also said China had placed special orders for cassava from a company in Kalimantan.

The cassava market, he went on, was promising, with domestic consumption of tapioca reaching more than half of the 15 million tons of annual cassava production.

Indonesia's main cassava-growing area is in Lampung.

"Actually, there are also a million hectares of idle peatlands that can be planted with cassava," Suharno said.

However, he admitted that national cassava productivity only reached about 15 tons per hectare, while it was possible to attain yields of up to 50 tons or even 100 tons per hectare.

The development of cassava in the country is expected to involve the Agriculture Ministry as well.

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