Cassava now Viable Option
March 3, 2006

Cassava now Viable Option

Some have deemed it useless, a poisonous root that goes back to ancient times, or a shapeless bush that sprouts out of the land, but whatever negative labels were once associated with cassava may now fade as we witness a rebirth of a crop which may turn out to be just what the doctors ordered for local agriculture. {{more}}

With local banana exports falling by some 20 percent, farmers are now looking for ways of diversifying their production. Root crop production is seen as being vital for the troubled agriculture sector here.

And with this new shift, the root crop that was once widely used to produce ‘farine’ and ‘bam bam’ now seems to be growing in popularity among local farmers.

Through the initiative of the Agricultural Diversification Unit, over 11 million dollars in funding has been allocated to facilitate the transformation of the banana-centred agricultural sector into a diverse and sustainable crop growing industry.

According to Ashley Caine, head of the diversification unit, root crops, such as cassava, have the potential to do well economically.

With this in mind, lands are now being cleared and farmers have been re-energised and more technical support is now in place to transform the agriculture industry into a thriving multi-faceted sector.

According to Caine, one objective of the diversification programme is to create sustainable employment opportunities for farmers. He noted that the rebirth of cassava would enable Vincentians to eat more healthy produce while providing marketing possibilities for farmers.

“There is an excellent opportunity to market farine and cassava. We can benefit from volume sales tremendously; this will create capacity for backward linkages into the economy,” Caine observed.

He noted that the goal is not a replacement for the banana industry but an addition to the export market.

“It’s not about saying, if not bananas, what? What we are talking about is establishing an agricultural production system in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that meets multiple objectives in a sustainable way,” he explained.

According to Caine, though the Diversification Unit would be aiming to use cassava production for sustainable dietary purposes, most of it will be exported once the markets are allocated.

“Here you have a crop that can last in the ground a year and can be fairly high yielding. If we can expand cassava production we can create opportunities for our farmers to earn an income.”

One market to which this country will be looking is Cuba. This year alone, Cuba will buy some 700,000 tonnes of cassava worth USD$100 million from the United States, adding to the more than two million tonnes of cassava the Socialist country has imported from US companies since December 2001.

International exports of Cassava, Caine said, show great potential for local farmers once they start on the right track.

“One of the proposed plans we (have) is to do a base line study to see who is now planting cassava. We want farmers to think of cassava or peppers as an option in this diversification programme, then we can craft an agriculture sector that is viable, and get people interested in agriculture again,” Caine explained.