|Quiet Revolutionaries - A Look at the Campaign by Agricultural Scientists to Fight Hunger (World Bank)|
Driving along Colombian roads, you can sometimes see small cassava starch factories, although again it's Thailand with its modern starch mills that has moved aggressively into production The starch is in the food industry, for making paper and cardboard, as a lubricant in oil wells, and in the textile industry.
When Brazilians produced alcohol from sugarcane and used it in their cars, scientists wondered whether alcohol from cassava also had a future. Cock studied this use of cassava and came to the conclusion that it wasn't really economically viable. "In Brazil they set up one or two factories, but they never really made it," he said.
Finding the Facts
In the mid-1980s some experts were ready to write off cassava They argued that funds into its research should be reduced. Latin Americans, as they became urbanized, were eating less cassava, preferring rice and products made from wheat. E that was the pattern for Latin America, the argument went, then Africa and Asia would follow. So why fund research into a crop with a declining market? It no longer seemed to have a future.
But the cassava defenders fought backthey are used to manning the battlements for this "ugly duckling" of a croppointing to new technologies that would help to preserve the crop so more of it could be sold in cities, and emphasizing that the poor will need a source of inexpensive calories for a long time. Latin America may be doingwell, but in Africa food security is still in doubt. E the rice scientists cannot produce even higher yields and they may have reached a yield ceiling then the hungry will have to turn to crops such as cassava Cassava's legendary toughness, especially against drought and poor soil, will once again be of use.
Lack of knowledge about the crop bedevils researchers. ("Most people in the developed world don't even know what it is," one expert said with a sigh.) So, an ambitious study was started in 1988 called the Collaborative Study of Cassava in Africa under the calm leadership of Felix Nweke, an agricultural economist who is based in Ibadan. It aims first to get the facts and then make sure that the work of the international and the national research centers has an impact. Cassava, potentially, should be one of the answers to increasing food production and raising incomes in Africa. The surveyors go out into the villages and ask the people directly about it. One of the study's early findings is that cassava is now far more than just a backyard crop to keep hunger at bayit's a cash crop for many farmers and a cheap staple for those who live in towns and cities.
Always Something to Eat
I climbed the flank of a hill in the valley of the Rio Cauca. From the crest, the view opened out for miles. The light was suddenly harsher. The sluggish river, draining its way northward to meet up with the Rio Magdalena and then out into the Caribbean, parted with effort to flow around a number of small islands. Sprawling, wellcared-for haciendas, some with red-tiled roofs, nestled among trees on the upward slope of the far bank. Brown, white, and black cows grazed farther up the slope. A square-shaped bus chugged fiussily up the valley road and then, with a tinny blast of its horn, disappeared. Along a pathway that paralleled the river road, a horse and its rider cantered freely.
The peace was interrupted by the plangent spluttering of an engine. A boat was moored mid-stream and was sucking up stones from the bottom. Its owners were panning for gold. was difficult to find gold now, a fanner said, but it still paid.
We had picked up a group of farmers in our jeep from the tiny village of Buenos Aires and they were showing us their crops. One of them, Hugo Caracas, wore a yellow shirt open to the waist, a battered brown felt hat, and a machete hanging from his belt. They were earning some extra money at the moment, he said, by making and selling charcoal for cooking Colombia was having an energy crisis and power was cut off for a certain number of hours a day drought had taken its toll on the hydroelectric stations.
But these men relied on their cassava and other crops to make a living. They grew cassava on the hill slopes, but as Karl Muller-Samann, a CIAT agronomist who studies ways to prevent hillside soil erosion, pointed out, the soil in the valley was obviously much better.
"Why don't you plant cassava on the valley bottom?" he asked. We
all squinted down into the valley where some black birds were circling
"We plant other crops there."
"Why? You would get better results with cassava down there."
"Cassava does well on the hillsides. Other crops do not. We use the fertile soil for other crops for maize, beans, tomatoes." He pointed down to a neatly cultivated field in the distance. As always, cassava, because of its ruggedness, was having to make do on the poorer slopes.
"But it's very important-Cassava," said a farmer, almost apologetically. "It gives us our food. Gives us security. Other crops are not so reliable. E we have cassava, we know we will always have something to eat."
Agricultural scientists were at the center of the "green revolution" which yielded record-breaking harvests of wheat and rice. But because of population growth, global warming, and the rapid evolution of pests and diseases that attack plants, the war against hunger has to be fought offer and over again. This essay tells the dramatic story of how scientists stay one step ahead in this struggle to feed the world's hungry.
Also available in Spanish.
THIS CENTURY has brought remarkable economic, social, and technological changes. But as we approach a new century, billions of our fellow human beings still do not en joy the full fruits of these changes. Wretched poverty remains widespread. World Bank Development Essays look at how people around the world are trying to improve their lives, particularly in poor countries. The essays are written for a wide audience, and each is a personal view based on firsthand experience. Among the topics in the series will be literacy, health, food supply, cultural property, urbanization, the environment, and economic change.
THE WORLD BANK
Designed by Joyce C. Petruzzelli