Latin America is the evolutionary homeland for cassava and all its wild relatives as well as the major part of the crop's genetic diversity and, the inter- and intra-species diversity of natural enemies of many cassava pests and diseases. Cassava genetic resources available in Latin America are of critical global importance for the crop's further development. The Americas gave cassava to the rest of the world after the arrival of early European explorers. Along with the crop itself, these explorers introduced cultivation and processing techniques from cassava's homelands.
Despite the historical importance of cassava in the Americas, the region currently accounts for less than 20 percent of the world's cassava production. On the basis of current projections, it is expected that by 2020, the production of cassava in the region will remain important in quantitative terms but will become less and less significant from a global perspective. However, private sector investment and public/private partnerships will make an increasing contribution to research and development of cassava for its use as processed food, animal feed and raw material for starch and starch derivatives. In particular, the inclusion of refined cassava flour for partial substitution of wheat flour in bakery products and the speciality markets that require the unique traits of cassava starch will need to be more fully developed.
As a contribution to the Global Cassava Strategy, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD)'s generous financial assistance supported the preparation of the Latin America Regional Review on Cassava, the Country Case Studies on Brazil and Colombia, and the Report of the Latin America Consultation on the Global Cassava Development Strategy.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Crop and Grassland Service of the Plant Production and Protection Division has compiled the documents prepared during the process of building the strategy on the cassava sub-sector in Latin America and the Caribbean. These were presented at the Validation Forum that was jointly organized by FAO and IFAD at FAO headquarters, Rome, April 2000.
It is hoped that the available information will contribute to supporting the potential of cassava to be a vehicle for linking the rural poor to new and improved growth markets and to guide research and development efforts towards a particular regard for increasing entrepreneurial entry into the cassava sector by small to medium growers and investors in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Mahmoud B. Solh
FAO Plant Production and Protection Division