Cassava production since the mid-1980s has maintained the momentum it had over the previous decade, but unlike in that period, the expansion has relied on an expansion of plantings rather than on rising productivity. In fact, little improvement in average yields has been achieved since 1983–85 at the world level, which in part reflects a shift of cassava cultivation to marginal lands and incomplete success in disseminating high-yielding varieties and improved production methods among farmers. Moreover, while production growth has been relatively strong in Africa it was modest in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Asia, in sharp contrast with the dynamics of the past decade, when Asia had arisen as the fastest growth producing region. The loss in productivity momentum in the latter region coincided with a slackening of demand, which highlights the importance of stable and remunerative markets to foster a wide-scale adoption of improved production technologies.
While demand of cassava for feed boosted production in the 1970s and early 1980s, food demand has been the principal force underpinning the sector in recent years, with much of the growth concentrated in Africa. On a per caput basis, however, cassava food consumption has risen by less than one percent on average and has even fallen in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Asia where high rates of income growth were achieved. Such a pattern attests to the importance of cassava for low-income consumers but also highlights that the development of new food products through processing has been insufficient to counter the fall in fresh root consumption associated with increasing Incomes and with migration to urban centres.
Demand for cassava as feed did not provide incentives for a strong expansion of the sector in the 1990s, as implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform prompted a decline in domestic grain prices and, as result, of cassava pellets import prices in the EC. However, although feed cassava products face increasing competition from grains on international markets, cassava feed usage is expanding fast in the main producing countries, in particular in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Asia where income growth is boosting the demand and production of livestock products. The current shift towards grains in animal feeding in the EC has brought about a fall in cassava trade compared with the record levels of access quotas have remained unfilled.
The potential utilization of cassava as an input in manufacturing is far from being tapped in most regions and only Thailand has made progress in developing a well established cassava starch industry to meet domestic and export requirements. Because of the high degree of protection and complexity of the international starch markets, producers of cassava starch may find it more attractive to destinate their products to their domestic markets. This may imply some import substitution for competing products, especially if subsidized by the supplying countries, as is the case of potato starch from the EC. There is also scope for trade in cassava starch to expand since export prices appear to be competitive relative to maize or potato based starches. Thus, further progress in reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers could be become a crucial condition for the fostering of trade in cassava starch and flours in the medium term and a possible target for the forthcoming Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations.
FAO projections to 2005 point to a sustained growth in production. This is likely to be dominated by a rise in productivity but little change in plantings, as renewed efforts to disseminate the new technologies among farmers gain momentum and bear fruits. This would imply a reversal of current trends in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Asia. Demand for cassava food products is anticipated to remain the leading force underpinning the sector, although much of the growth is likely to parallel a shift of consumption from fresh roots to value-added food products. Cassava feed utilization may recover some of the dynamism lost in the 1980s, under the stimulus of expanding livestock sectors of the producing countries, especially in Africa and in Asia, while continued competition from grains may hinder growth in cassava feed utilization by importing countries. As a result, little change in cassava trade flows, much of which should remain in the form of cassava chips and pellets for the feed industry, is currently projected.
Unlike for other food crops, research on cassava, including biotechnology, has been conducted principally by the public sector. Biotechnology progress has been achieved in the control of pests and diseases and in improving the characteristics of the final cassava products. Biotechnology gives scope for large increases in production and domestic marketing, which alone amply justifies the attention placed on the crop by the public sector research, but its potential impact on trade is uncertain. Since biotechnology research on competing crops is more advanced, these might even displace cassava products on international markets. The impact of the new technologies will depend, to a large extent, on their adaptability to the small farmer conditions, on their effective dissemination on a large scale and on the acceptability of the genetically modified cassava products to the final consumer.
The above conclusions raise a number of issues:
On the utilization side, bulkiness and perishability of cassava roots, resulting in increased marketing and transport costs, make the product relatively expensive in urban areas, a constraint that could be overcome through the development of processing close to the production centres. Moreover, consumption by urban dwellers could be stimulated through a diversification into new value-added cassava products, such as bread, biscuits, noodles, cakes, baby foods and sweeteners. In many developing countries, the utilisation of cassava as animal feed is limited by the erratic supply and quality of cassava and by competition from alternative feedstuffs, especially grains. Cassava utilization as an industrial input will depend on its availability and price-competitiveness with alternative products such as maize starch in the processing of paper, textiles, Pharmaceuticals, sweeteners, resins, gums, adhesives, etc. Such competition is anticipated to grow in the medium term, which would put increasing pressure on cassava producers and processors to diminish their costs if they wish to expand or even maintain their current shares in domestic and international markets.
In many developing countries, cassava is thinly traded and/or traded informally. The lack of established marketing channels and poor infrastructure and market information have been among the main factors constraining trade in cassava. Thus, trade could be promoted through the development of local processing, the establishment of market information systems and the promotion of niche-markets for novel and speciality products, etc. To a large extent, however, the future of trade in cassava products will depend on institutional factors, in particular the policies implemented by the major importers. With the recently agreed measures to reduce domestic prices of grains in the EC, cassava pellets exporters will be urged to find alternative markets or to make supplies available at cheaper prices. At the same time, there is a need to cater for a reduction in international market protection, especially for cassava starch-based products.
Debate has often centred on whether research on crops such as cassava is better carried out by the private or the public sector and the positive role of collaboration between the two has been highlighted. Although the scope for complementarity has been recognized, it has also been stressed that research should closely involve other stakeholders, especially farmer groups and non-governmental organizations. Such collaboration would hopefully contribute to boost the cassava sector and help it tap its potential in the food, feed and starch markets.