CDB Grant to Help FAO Investigate Feasibility of Cassava Cultivation in Suriname, Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago

With a food import bill of more than USD 4 billion per annum, tapping into the potential of cassava can lead to foreign exchange savings, improved food security and revitalisation of farming in the Caribbean. This is the aim of a collaboration between the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) which will conduct essential groundwork to exploring the potential of this versatile crop.

The Board of Directors of the CDB on Thursday, December 11, 2014 approved a grant of USD1.2 mn to fund the investigation of evidence-based data on the viability of developing a cassava industry.  The Project, which will be executed by FAO and has an estimated cost of USD1.795 mn, will be conducted in the Commonwealth of Dominica, Suriname and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The project will include the identification, validation, and demonstration of improved cassava varieties and production systems.  This is toward the goal of determining the capacity of stakeholders in the Caribbean to increase the productivity, and reduce the cost of production of cassava on a sustainable basis.  A market assessment will also be conducted to determine the price elasticity of demand for cassava derived products such as composite bread, high quality cassava flour and cassava chips.

 “The cassava value chain, producing flour, feed, beer and other products, has been identified by the Ministers of Agriculture and the agricultural lead agencies of the Caribbean as one of the future pillars of the economy across the region, contributing to both agricultural revitalization and the food import bill,” said Deep Ford FAO Coordinator and Caribbean Sub-region Representative to Barbados and OECS.

A major impediment to the expansion of the cassava industry in the Caribbean is the relatively high cost of production as compared to imported wheaten flour and corn.  However, preliminary analysis by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) and the FAO research, as well as global trends and experience suggest that cassava productivity in the Caribbean could be price-competitive in the production of composite breads and a variety of related products.

 “Cassava has been grown in a number of Caribbean countries for centuries but has remained a subsistence crop.  We are pleased to support further investigation into its viability as this could be a gateway to improved food security, employment and development of export and manufacturing sectors,” said Nigel Romano, acting Vice President Operations of the Caribbean Development Bank.

Over the past decade there have been several private and public sector led initiatives in the manufacturing of cassava derived products in the Caribbean. These include; cassava flour (as a stand-alone gluten free product and in the manufacture of composite breads), cassava chips, frozen cassava, cassareep and farine.   In Trinidad and Tobago sliced bread made from cassava has been on supermarket shelves over the past few years.

FAO is currently working with local bakers in Barbados to substitute a percentage of wheaten flour with cassava mash and cassava flour.  A brewery in Jamaica recently announced plans to invest USD10 mn over the next five years to establish a cassava value chain as part of ongoing efforts to utilise cassava as an input in the manufacture of beer.

Cassava can also be used for the production of a range of other products including animal feed; sweeteners, glues, plywood, textiles, paper, bio-degradable products, monosodium glutamate, and pharmaceuticals.     

CAPTION: Dr. J.R. Deep Ford (left) Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Coordinator –Caribbean Subregion Representative to Barbados and the OECS, paid a visit to Dr. Warren Smith, President of CDB on Friday, October 17 to update him on the work that is being done across the region to promote cassava as an import substitute for corn and wheat flour. He brought along two breads made with 30% and 50% cassava flour to show the progress that is being made in experimenting with cassava flour.