starchy root

Manihot escuelenta (Euphorbiaceae)

Other names: manioc, yuca, tapioca, farinha, gari
Cassava is farmed as a source of staple starch in tropical areas around the world, from tropical South America to tropical Africa to India, the Philippines, southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

Cultivation and Nutritional content

Cassava is inexpensive and easy to grow and propagate in tropical climates. It is the staple of choice in areas where grains cannot be grown easily.

Cassava is high in starch and low in protein. Due to toxic cyanide that occurs in the root, "bitter" cassava needs to be boiled, soaked and/or fermented before it can be safely eaten. "Sweet" varieties need to be cooked, but can first be ground into a meal (farinha in African countries, or tapioca in Asian countries).

Center of Diversity and Cultures that use Cassava

From its origin in South America, cassava was carried to tropical areas around the world by early European explorers. In the 18th century, the Portuguese brought cassava to west Africa, and then to Goa (India), Indonesia and the Philippines. Later it was also planted in SE Asia, especially Thailand and Indonesia.

In South America, Cassava is eaten as a boiled and/or fried starchy root vegetable. It can also be dried and ground into a flour called farinha meal.

In Africa, fermented cassava root pulp is called GARI.

In Asia, cassava is made into small balls of tapioca.

Cassava preparation in Ghana

Chopping and Grinding Cassava for Dinner

Cassava Replacing Cash Crops

In poor communities in Africa where people have been growing cash crops like tea and coffee, local community organizers are urging farmers to plant cassava to feed their own families. This allows families to grow their own food, rather than grow food for cash, which is then used to purchase food from stores. The people end up getting more food with higher quality nutrition.


JP/Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post. (Photo #1)
Keaney, Mark. Royal Seed School. Chopping and Grinding Cassasva for Dinner (YouTube video).
Levetin, E. and K. McMahon. 2012. Plants and Society, 6th ed. McGraw Hill Publ. , pp. 225-231.
Radiance Recipes. Chili Garlic Cassava Chips. (photo #3)
Rite: the station for agric and social development. (photo #2)
Wagner, Holly. 2003. Researchers get to the root of cassava's cyanide producing abilities. Ohio State Research.