| FOOD CHAIN No. 1 - November 1990 |
'Cassava means food, forage and income for 750 million people worldwide - yet for millions more it is still a relatively underused crop.'
Marketing is often the most difficult part of a development programme. © IT/Paul Harris
A summary of an article by John Greenwood, Ecuadorean Cassava Project, c/o Apartado 390, Esmealdas, Ecuador, which first appeared in the AT Journal, Vol 16, No 2.
Cassava means food, forage and income for 750 million people worldwide - yet for millons more it is still a relatively unknown and under used crop found in the tropics and sub-tropics throughout the world. Cassava, known as yuca in Latin America, is grown for its edible roots, which are often large and heavy, and can be harvested individually over a period of time without damaging the living plant.
Traditionally cassava was a poor person's crop. Nowadays, as rural to urban migration thoughout the Third World continues and subsistence farming is losing out to large-scale production, cassava may be regarded as an unprofitable crop. This article, however, describes a project which has developed with the active participation of small farmers, and outlines how they have managed to improve the production, processing and marketing of this humble crop.
In 1981, a pioneer project was set up in Colombia to involve small-scale producers in the processing of cassava. This led to the start of the Ecuadorean Cassava Project under the auspices of CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical).
Four years later, following major studies on the potential for the agro-industrialization of cassava, a small-scale experimental processing project began in Manabi Province on Ecuador's Pacific coast, where cassava has always been of both local and national importance. The project relied on the sun-drying of chipped cassava, first on concrete drying platforms, and later in drying trays in order to dry to the necessary 12 per cent moisture content and to minimize contamination.
THE SPREAD OF IDEAS
This pilot project spread in 1986 to Esmeraldas Province, north of Manabi, through the intervention of ECAE (Equipo de CapacitaciÃ³n Agricola de Esmeraldas - Esmeraldan agricultural training team ). ECAE put up the risk capital and promoted open days to let local farmers try drying cassava for themselves. All the farmers involved already grew cassava before the project started, but were finding that sales of fresh cassava could not guarantee them sufficient income. With the worsening economic climate in Ecuador small farmers were looking for new markets for existing crops.
The main product of the cassava projects is cassava flour, which is sold to animal-feed companies in (Guayaquil and Quito, and is increasingly being substituted for imported wheat. Apart from being cheaper, it is twice as effective on a weight-for-weight basis as a binding agent for the ingredients used to make pellets to feed prawns. Ecuador has in recent years been the world's number one producer of export-quality prawns. For many years prawn exports have been second only to petroleum products as the country's major dollar-earner. The cassava chips need up to four days to dry completely, they are then finely milled, bagged and shipped as quickly as possible to Guayaquil.
One future plan is to produce an animal feed made from local raw materials to supply the markets in the area for pigs, chickens and rabbits, etc. It is highly likely, however, that the bulk of the dried cassava will continue to be sent to the large-scale mills based in Guayaquil for incorporation into prawn feedstuffs.
'One of the avantages of building small processing plants is that they can be used for many different purposes: drying floors become dance floors, the office becomes a meeting room for the village and the barn becomes a safe place to store crops temporarily.'
Map of South America showing Ecuador