ACIAR and CIAT: Understanding change in cassava value chains
Across Southeast Asia a quiet revolution is taking place – in farmers’ fields, in local markets, and in transnational export channels. Just a few decades ago, cassava was grown mainly for food and consumed locally across the region. The root crop, once considered a secondary staple in a rice-centered food system, is now one of the region’s most dynamic agricultural sectors. Already, an estimated 8 million rural households – about 40 million people – across Southeast Asia depend on the annual production of about 75 million tons of cassava grown on 4 million hectares.
In the 1970s, demand from the animal feed industry in Europe acted as an important driver of change in Southeast Asia’s cassava value chains. Since then, uses for the crop have multiplied, ranging now from food to feed, pharmaceuticals to clothing, paper to chipboard, and biofuels to bioplastics. In Indonesia, while most cassava was used for food until a few decades ago, it is now estimated that less than 50% is produced for human consumption. The cassava trade continues to expand quickly, particularly in response to expanding exports of dried cassava chips and starch to China, where demand is expected to double in the next 5-10 years.
The transformation of cassava to meet rapidly rising demand from the livestock feed, starch, and biofuel markets is helping to drive industrial development while providing higher incomes to smallholder farmers. More and more, marginalized rural areas are seeing an increase in jobs and incomes, with new links from commercial urban centers and vibrant intermediaries.
However, smallholder farmers, processors, and others who depend on the crop are often at the mercy of volatile market forces and lack information on emerging opportunities and threats. Designing strategies to support engagement between smallholder farmers and agribusinesses is increasingly complex, as market requirements and lifestyles change, and government policies shift. At the same time, farmers, processors, and government agencies alike have all recognized the importance ensuring the sustainability of the industry through the development of appropriate management practices.
Recognizing the need for improved understanding of cassava value chains, CIAT, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), will launch this month a project titled Innovative agribusiness opportunities for profitable and sustainable cassava value chains in Southeast Asia. Focusing on Vietnam and Indonesia, and using information from other countries in the region, the project will analyze cassava value chains and document trends in production, marketing, and processing over the last few decades. It will also identify key areas for future research, potential sources of financing, and promising interventions to improve the sector’s eco-efficiency and economic impact. A project proposal will be developed to focus on the main issues identified.
Cassava, once seen as the “food of the poor,” has been neglected in terms of market engagement, research, and extension. As a leader in cassava research and linking farmers to markets, CIAT continues to make substantial gains towards turning the crop into a reliable source of income and food. CIAT scientists have worked with partners to develop and disseminate improved cassava varieties – with improved yields and nutritional quality, resistance to pests and disease, and tolerance to drought and floods – which have created economic benefits estimated at an impressive US$12 billion in the last few decades.
About 40% of Southeast Asia’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and over 70% of the poor live in rural areas. The transformation of the region’s cassava markets is creating unprecedented opportunities for the poor to participate in economic development. With the aim of optimizing rural incomes, CIAT, ACIAR, and partners will conduct a comprehensive assessment of this critical agricultural value chain. Their shared aim is to transform cassava into a multipurpose crop for the 21st century – one that responds to developing countries’ needs and trends in the global economy.