The FAO is using opportunities such as the recent Barbados Agrofest to dispel myths associated with the cassava, and to promote its wide-ranging health benefits and diversity in food use.
Cassava, which is often classified as either “sweet” or “bitter” depending on the levels of naturally-occurring quantities of cyanide within the root, is toxic if consumed raw, or if improperly prepared.
With the increased availability of foreign substitutes over time, the appetite for the root is waning among younger generations – as is the knowledge of how to properly prepare it.
Local chefs have demonstrated the correct methods of preparing the root, and extolled the gluten-free crop as an alternative to wheaten flour, while praising its high protein and carbohydrate content.
The chefs have also demonstrated the versatility of the crop, using it as the main ingredient in several breakfast, lunch dessert options.
Benefits of cassava: In his remarks at the cooking demonstrations, the FAO’s Coordinator for the Caribbean, Dr. Deep Ford, emphasised that an increased use of locally grown crops such as cassava would help to reduce CARICOM’s Food Import Bill, which stands at over US $4 billion.
He also added that a wide adoption of the crop would also contribute to local job creation at the production, processing and marketing levels.
A number of the FAO’s personnel were also on hand to offer advice to the booth’s visitors on planting, cooking and consuming the crop. Among the personnel in attendance at the information booth was FAO’s Regional Cassava Project Coordinator, Ms. Vermaran Extavour, who explained that the main variety of cassava grown in the Caribbean is the sweet variety. She further reiterated that both the bitter and sweet varieties were safe to eat once cooked at temperatures of above 30° C.
Cassava and regional food imports: The FAO is actively involved in ensuring the inclusive development of the cassava industry in CARICOM, and is seeking to ensure the establishment of linkages for increasing productivity and competitiveness along the cassava value-chain in the region.
According to the agency, cassava has the potential to replace 400,000 metric tons of wheaten flour in CARICOM countries; substitute up to 30% of the corn in poultry rations as well as a portion of other animal feeds, and contribute to a reduction of the Food Import Bill by approximately 5 per cent.