I’m kind of fascinated by cassava. You’ve probably eaten it, even if you didn’t know it. And it’s very important for feeding the world. Here are a few facts about this intriguing root.
If you’ve ever eaten tapioca pudding, you’ve had cassava. The starch takes its distinctive pearl shape when cooked slowly. It’s also responsible for the fun factor in bubble tea.
Cassava tolerates drought, resists most pests, grows well in poor soil, and unlike most crops, can be stored in the ground up to two years without rotting. This long harvest window means cassava can act as a kind of insurance against famine.
Cassava’s natural pest resistance comes from naturally occurring traces of bitter cyanide in the vegetable. The poison is removed by cooking, soaking, and other methods.
In 2011, Melinda and I met Christina Daniel Mwinjipe (second from right), a farmer in Tanzania who grows at least four different varieties. She and her family eat the sweet ones for breakfast and boil the bitter ones into porridge for other meals. She also cooks the leaves, adding coconut for flavor.
Cassava is tough, but it’s not invincible. Some of Christina’s plants were rotting (like the ones pictured here) because of a virus carried by flies. That meant she had to go to the market to buy extra just to feed her family.
Our foundation is working with researchers in Africa, the United States, and around the world to develop hardier varieties. We’re optimistic that one day all cassava farmers will be able to grow enough to feed their families and have some left over to sell for extra cash.
Hopefully you can see why I think cassava is so interesting. In fact I have to remind myself not to talk too much about it at parties. Cassava is extremely important for feeding the world, and I’m quite hopeful about the opportunity to make real progress with it in the years ahead.