The scientific name for cassava is Manihot esculenta. It falls under tuber types of crop – it is basically a root vegetable. An immediately relatable example of a crop that is just like cassava is potatoes. The leaves are also eaten in some parts of the world. Cassava has a wide array of nutrients (key amongst them being carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and vitamins) – one of the great things about it is that it has no cholesterol. Key to note is that it is strongly advised that cassava should not be eaten raw. It contains a poisonous element (cyanide) which can be harmful if eaten raw. The global leader in the production of cassava is Nigeria.
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Importance Of Cassava
The importance of cassava is seen in its status as a staple food in most part of the world. Over 25 million hectares of land have cassava worldwide. Over a half a billion people worldwide rely on cassava as their main source of food. Actually it is reported that at least 10 percent of all families globally consume cassava or products from it. It can be eaten after being prepared in several possible ways. Cassava can be ground into flour or powder that can be used to prepare certain foods.
Just like potatoes, it can simply be boiled and eaten. Alternatively some can prepare fresh chips (also known as fries) from it. They can also be mashed just like potatoes. Additionally it is also used in the making of things like chemicals and drugs – ethanol and syrups being some of the interesting examples. The leaves can also be used to feed livestock e.g. cattle and goats, amongst others.
Cassava does not really require lots of rainfall – this makes it easy to grow, virtually anywhere because it is hardy. Optimum temperature range is between 25 and 29 degrees Celsius. Cassava does well if it can get sunlight exposure of around 12 hours daily.
Optimum Soil Conditions
Cassava thrives optimally in soil that is deep, well-drained and fertile – loam soils preferably. Remember that cassava is a tuber plant so it requires deep soil for the tubers to develop unhindered.
Cassava is grown from cuttings i.e. cutting from the stems of the plants. When making cuttings make sure they are mature and healthy. The length of the cuttings can be on average, 35 centimetres – even up to 45 centimetres. It is recommended that the stem cuttings should be cut from cassava plants that are around one and half years old.
Land preparation is critically important as always. The soil should be worked to a depth of around 25 centimetres. This is central to the growth of cassava because their root system can reach as deep as 1 metre. There is debate between ridging (or the use of mounds) and just using flat land. Either of the two have their own advantages and disadvantages. For instance, ridging helps avoid water logging. However, ridging significantly complicates manual weeding. Some studies have found out that more yields are realized when flat land is used. This is all not cast in stone thus my advice to you would be to consider your context and make a decision that suits you best. Addition of organic manure to the soil is needed especially if the soil is not that fertile; soil fertility is needed for optimum growth.
There are two broad classes of cassava namely, sweet cassava and bitter cassava. The major difference between these two is their cyanide content – sweet cassava has way less.
Cassava is planted using stem cuttings. The cuttings must obviously have buds – they should have not less than 5 nodes. When placing them in the soil it can either be vertically or horizontally. The other option is to place them into the soil in a tilted/slanted/inclined posture – ideally at an angle of 45 degrees. You place them partially into the soil. The most recommended depth is 10 centimetres.
Placing them vertically is recommended for dry regions whereas horizontally is for wet regions. Spacing can be 1 metre in-row and also 1 metre inter-row. Spacing can also be informed by plant density i.e. the number of plants you want to have per hectare. After about 30 days you should examine the cuttings to see if they all made it – replacing some of them tends to be inevitable.
During growth the key processes involve management of pests, diseases, and weeds. Depending on water availability or weather conditions, irrigation might be necessary. Do bear in mind that cassava is hardy so without irrigation it can still thrive. Around 36 weeks after planting it is recommended that you prune. This must be informed by how the cassava is growing – in some cases it might not really be necessary. However, exercise extreme caution so that you do not harm the cassava stems.
Disease, Pest And Weed Control
Usually cassava is not affected by pests and diseases but always keep an eye out. Weeding can be dealt with prior to planting and during the growth phase. Herbicides can be used in those regards and so can manual weeding be done too. That can be done using hand-held implements or mechanized equipment depending on the scale of production. Viral and bacterial diseases tend to attack cassava plants. Pest-wise insects like ants and beetles are common – keep an eye out for domestic animals too.
Cassava is ready for harvesting from around 8 months after planting – typically maturation is after 1 year. For some varieties it can even be after one and half years. The maturation periods vary from variety to variety though. Harvesting can also be done when needs be – you do not necessarily have to wait till 8 or so months have elapsed. One of the common signs of readiness for harvesting is when leaves turn yellow and start dropping to the ground on their own. Yields also vary but you can realize yields ranging between 5 and 20, even 25 or up to 60 tonnes per hectare.