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Roots & tubers

Root and tuber crops are a staple food and main source of calories for an estimated 700 million poor people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  The most widely produced and consumed is cassava, but other important crops in this group include yam, sweet potato, and a variety of aroids. Roots and tubers are highly perishable and as a result, post-harvest losses can be substantial.  They therefore require specialised post-harvest handling, storage and preservation techniques in order to minimise losses, extend shelf-life and maintain quality.

Cassava is the most important of the root and tuber crops and the third most important source of calories in the tropics after rice and maize.  It plays a key role in food security and income generation for millions of poor farmers and their families.  It is a low-risk crop due to its drought tolerance, ability to produce reasonable yields on poor soils and wide range of uses.  It can be processed into a variety of value-added products such as gari, dried chips and flour for both home consumption and agro-industrial application.  Cassava has long been a traditional household food security crop, but its potential for agro-industrial applications is increasingly being recognised, and this opens up important income generating opportunities for farmers.  However, value-addition has been largely limited to small-scale processing for household consumption or sale in traditional markets using labour intensive, inefficient and unhygienic processing techniques which result in products of poor quality.

FAO can assist farmers to access new industrial markets for cassava by promoting improved and more efficient processing technologies that result in high quality products conforming to the standards of industrial buyers.  Promotion of improved processing techniques is underpinned by training in good post-harvest handling, quality management and collective bulking and marketing, which is essential to accumulate the volumes of product required by industrial buyers.  This approach is assisting farmers to transform cassava from a food security crop into a commercial one.  Yams, sweet potato and aroids are also assuming increasing importance as cash crops.  In this regard, training and technical advice in good post-harvest handling practices and storage methods helps to extend shelf-life, maintain quality and add value to these crops, thereby enabling farmers to increase their incomes from improved market opportunities.

We have several publications relating to post-harvest management of root and tuber crops.  These are listed on the right-hand column.  

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

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