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The word cassava comes from “casabi”, the name given by the Arawaks Indians to the root. It is known as “yuca” in Spanish, “manioc” in French, “mandioc” In Portuguese; “cassave” in Dutch and “maniok” in German. Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) was widely cultivated as a staple crop in pre-Columbian tropical America. Early European traders soon recognised its importance and, in the 16thcentury, introduced it into Africa. Nowadays, cassava is cultivated in most tropical countries situated in the equatorial belt, between 30° north and 30° south of the equator, which attests to its adaptability to a wide range of ecosystems1. Some of the key characteristics of the crop are its efficiency in producing carbohydrate, its tolerance to drought and to impoverished soils, even though it thrives on fertile, sandy-clay soils, and its high flexibility with respect to the timing of planting and harvesting. For these reasons, cassava plays an essential role for food security, especially in those regions prone to drought and with poor soils. It is the world's fourth most important staple after rice, wheat and maize and is an important component in the diet of over one billion people.

It is widely recognized that cassava attributes and potential have generally not received the deserved attention by governments in the 1970s and 1980s, for policies were geared towards boosting the production of cereals, the core of the green revolution. Farmers in Africa revalued the crop after the 1983–85 drought, which severely affected cereals. More recently, in Asia and in South America, cassava has played an important role as a food security crop in the context of cereal shortages arising from El Niño and La Niña weather anomalies in 1997 and 1998. Apart from a lack of institutional support, other factors have hindered the development of the cassava sector worldwide, including the direct competition between cassava and cereals in food consumption, feed and industrial uses. Under the prevailing low international cereal prices, there is considerable pressure for cassava production and processing costs to be reduced if the crop is to retain its comparative position or gain a greater share in the food, feed and industrial markets.

1Cassava is adaptable to different types of soil. It is cultivated under temperatures and rainfall conditionsvarying between 10°C and 40°C and between 900 mm and 2000 mm, respectively.

This document includes three sections, a statistical appendix and a methodological annex. The first part examines the recent trends in cassava supply, consumption, international trade and prices. It is followed by a presentation of the results of the FAO cassava medium-term projections to the year 2005. The third section* examines the status of biotechnology developments in cassava and discusses the potential impacts on trade. The statistical appendix, based on FAO data bank, provides a set of historical data on production, utilization, prices and trade and shows the results of the FAO cassava projections to the year 2005 in more detail.

* Based on a study prepared by Prof. John H. Barton

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