Cassava, also known as Manioc or Yuca is a starchy rhizome that is mostly cultivated in the hot climates of Africa, Asia and South America. It plays a particular important role in agriculture in developing countries, especially in sub-saharan Africa because it does well in poor soils and with low rainfall. It is a primary stable food or secondary co-stable food and can create job opportunities for the teeming population.
Interestingly, cassava was introduced into southern part of Nigeria during the period of slave trade proliferated by Portuguese explorers and colonisers in the 16th century. However, it is important to note that the country got a boost in the 19th century when more formerly enslaved Nigerians returned to their homeland and introduced processing techniques over the years. It has attained the status of largest produced cash crop of great importance to the people of Nigeria and many other countries.
There are some parts in cassava that can be used for consumption. In the past, people regarded cassava as poor man’s food but after studies and people found great benefits of cassava, the perception has changed into ‘rich man’s food’. Cassava farming in Nigeria has created business and job opportunities to greater number of Nigerians. Apart from cassava farming, other Nigerians engage in processing of the product to produce garri, foo-foo, Tapioca, laundry starch, others and sell to traders who do business with it.
It is on record that every part of cassava is useful. The leaves can be used as edible vegetable either dried or fresh which contains plenty of carbohydrate, key vitamins and minerals. The stem of the cassava is sold annually to farmers for re-planting, the peel that is usually thrown away by certain people can be used to produce animal feeds, while the poisonous liquid squeezed out of grinded cassava that contain poisonous cyanide solution can be used to reduce and evacuate filled soakaway pits, and equally be used as herbicide. Science has proven that cassava is a good source of saponin. These photochemical may help lower unhealthy cholesterol levels in blood stream.
Scientist conducted series of experiments and discovered that cassava contains enough carbohydrates, a good energy source for individual who engage in strenuous physical activities. It contains a high amount of dietary fibre which can help prevent constipation. Fibre helps to lose weight. It is a good source of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, manganese, iron and potassium. These minerals are necessary for proper development, growth and function of body tissues.
An applied human nutritionist, Paul Woods proved that cassava flour, rich in protein can also serve as a substitute for oats, barley and wheat flour. It can be used in baking cakes, bread. Recently, a poultry farmer, Kate Obi testified and said, “I personally prepare animal feeds with cassava pee. I do use it to feed my birds and they are doing fine.”
Since it has been discovered that cassava is not only the stable food for the nation but contains some health benefits and can create employment in Nigeria, the three tiers of government should invest more on cassava farming. Although much is being invested in agriculture in Anambra State, distribution of cassava stem, chemicals are on-going but much more is required to be done to boost cassava farming in Nigeria.