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Cassava a reliable food, cash crop in these hot, dry times

CASTILLA, Sorsogon—Called in Bicol as kamoteng-kahoy or balinghoy, the lowly cassava (Manihot escidenta) is one crop in the region that needs attention because of its importance as a cash crop that is resistant to drought and helpful against the impacts of climate change. Because of these positives, production of this edible root needs a huge boost, not only in the region but in the entire country, as well.

Mainly grown for its tubers which are a rich source of carbohydrates, cassava is also a good source of calcium and ascorbic acid. Its food uses include confectionaries, sago, vegetables, food seasoning, noodles, flour and native pastries like cassave cake, suman and bibingka.

Although not a staple food of Filipinos, cassava feeds about 800 million people around the world, according to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Another important product is cassava starch, known in the world trade as tapioca flour, which is extracted from the tuber and used by a wide variety of industries—food, pharmaceutical, paper, adhesive, textile, mining and other manufacturing industries.

In the food industry alone, studies show that cassava flour can substitute for wheat flour in baked products as much as 10 percent in bread and higher in other baked products. It is utilized as thickener for soups, baby food, sauces and gravies.

Cassava flour is an excellent filler that could supplement the solid contents of ice cream. It is also a good binder for sausages and other processed-meat products to prevent these from drying up during cooking.

Its use as a livestock feed in the country has also been investigated. Studies at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) have shown that cassava meal can be used as a substitute for feed grains in compounded animal rations, while cassava leaf meal contains at least 20-percent protein.

Cassava can also be a good solution to the problems of climate change and fuel shortage. In China, Thailand and Brazil, cassava is becoming an important biofuel crop. A feasibility study has found that cassava has a very high starch-to-sugar conversion ratio, which means that a high percentage of sugar can be converted from it which, in turn, is needed to produce biofuel.

Cassava can also help control erosion.

“Farmers can grow cassava and control— even prevent—hillside erosion by following simple methods,” Agribusiness Week, a regular Internet publication, quoted Dr. Mabrouke Elsharkawy, CIAT cassava physiologist, as saying.

This can only be attained if farmers shift their method of farming to minimum or no tillage, “and protect the soil with live, permanent mulch like a forage legume, while farmers can also fertilize cassava to make it grow faster, and to cover and protect the soil from rain,” he was quoted as saying.

Being an easy-to-grow crop, cassava grows well on poor soils found on eroded hillsides because it resists adverse conditions such as drought. “When farmers can’t grow corn or beans in depleted soils, cassava is their only choice,” Elsharkawy added.

“In Castilla, a municipality known as a leading producer of this root crop in the Bicol region, we are aware of benefits we can derive from cassava. The problem this time is the market and the absence of technology for us to be able to maximize its uses,” Vice Mayor Alwin Talde told the BusinessMirror last week.

The municipality has around 20,000 hectares available for cassava plantations and, in fact, Talde said, the municipal government under then-mayor Renato Laurinaria, now the provincial vice governor, initiated about five years ago a plantation-scale production under its Cassava 20/20 program which significantly improved the productivity and earnings of farmers.

Under the program, the municipal government provided planting materials of high-breed cassava varieties, acquired a farm tractor used for land preparations and contracted B-Meg Feeds of San Miguel Corp. as a buyer of the crop used for livestock feed production.

“Unfortunately, the program was not pursued by the administration that replaced Laurinaria after the 2007 elections,” Talde said.

Laurinaria said cassava is best grown in deep soil with friable structure such as light sandy loams of medium fertility and successful use of almost all soil types is possible, provided that they are not waterlogged, shallow or stony.

Growing cassava, he said, entails simple farm operations such as land preparation, planting, replanting, weeding, fertilization, irrigation and harvesting. Plantation type of production needs 55 man-days per hectare to undertake all the necessary farm operations.

It will also be useful to follow the information bulletin jointly produced by The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development and UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding for a successful cassava production like what Cassava 20/20 has initially achieved, the vice governor said.

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