What is Cassava Starch?

The cassava plant is known as manioc or juca,
whilst the starch is commonly known as tapioca or cassava.

Approximately 15 million hectares of cassava are grown worldwide, producing 120 to 130 millions of tubers per annum. Throughout Africa (mainly Central and Northern Africa), almost 8 million hectares are planted to cassava, and the balance is grown in Asia (4 million hectares) and South America (3 million hectares).

In most African countries, cassava is the staple food, whereas in other countries it is mainly processed and converted into other products.

Cassava is a perennial plant which may continue to grow for a number of years if it is not harvested. Its stems may grow to a height of 3 - 4 m. In contrast to other crops, instead of seed being sown for purposes of harvest, stem cuttings are planted to obtain tuberous roots.

Cassava withstands drought well, because of its deep roots, but very severe droughts may cause partial or total defoliation. Even if that happens, the plant seldom dies, but yields may be reduced. Cassava stands up well to high rainfall, provided that the soils are well drained.

As an example of the hardy characteristics of cassava, it is important to draw attention to the climatic extremes experienced at one of our nurseries situated on a farm of one of the prominent farmers in South Africa. The original plants survived the July 1994 severe black frost. The plants continued to grow in spite of the prolonged drought conditions (between August 1994 to January 1995) and during the excessive heat wave (between December 1994 to January 1995) when soil temperatures exceeded 50 C. The cassava plants recovered well from a hailstorm in March 1995. The February 1996 heavy rains and floods in the Northern Province caused no damage to our cassava crop despite large damage (approximately R3.4 million) to potatoes and other vegetables. In fact, our cassava grew more vigorously.

Harvesting in South Africa will commence not earlier than 12 months from date of planting. The stems are cut into stakes (approximately 30cm in height) and replanted. The tubers are uplifted (similar harvesting equipment as for potatoes), then washed, and processed into starch or chipped for sale to the cattle feed industry. Up to 40 stakes can be obtained from one plant, thus enabling the growing areas to be multiplied by 40 times after each harvest period.

The main diseases that are harmful to cassava are Africa Cassava Mosiac (ACMV) and Bacterial Blight. The incidence of these diseases is reducing by choosing the most tolerant varieties and selecting cuttings from plants which are free of disease. These diseases are prevalent in Northern Zululand and North of our borders. The cultivars selected by us are tolerant and productive.

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