The Ministry of Agriculture is looking into the feasibility of cultivating cassava to be used as a substitute for corn in providing feed for livestock. With the rising cost of corn, the Ministry is seeking to utilize this locally grown produce to off-set the high costs.
Acting Principal Research Director in the Research and Development Division at the Ministry, Michael Price, tells JIS News that even before the recent increases, discussions were held about the feasibility of such a venture, and the Ministry is now seeking to move from the experimental stage into actual cultivation of cassava commercially, to provide material for the feed industry.
“Basically, we (want) to replace the starch content of feed, and corn is the main component right now and we want to replace it with indigenously grown material to some extent. One of the crops we will be looking at seriously is cassava and we did some work in the 1990s looking at cassava as animal feed and we want to build on that now, to move it to a commercial level where we can do large-scale production of cassava for its use in the animal feed industry,” Mr. Price informs.
He notes that at least one major feed company has expressed interest in looking at cassava as an alternate source for corn.
Mr. Price informs that Jamaica will be getting assistance from Mexico in the cassava growing effort, noting that Mexico’s cultivation practices will be used as guidelines. “We will.look at the whole question of mechanization, implements that have been used, things to guide our work here…some of the technical aspects of this usage of cassava,” he notes.
In order to make the harvesting of cassavas easier, an implement has been tested to assist with the reaping process. Mr. Price says that this implement will probably “cut down from about 80 per cent of the manpower needed.”
Cassava, which usually takes nine months to bear, is traditionally reaped in Jamaica by persons digging them out by hand. With the tool, it will now take two men to do what 10 men usually did, Mr. Price says.
“Those are ways we are trying to increase efficiency and cut down on the prices because very important to the feed mills, is that cassava is available to them at a competitive price. Yes, corn price has gone up significantly but we also have to be cognizant that whatever price we are producing cassava it must be…competitive with the international price for corn. The bottom line is how it impacts on their profit,” Mr. Price states.
He says that other tools to be utilized in the development of cassavas will also be looked into, “things like the machinery to cut it into small pieces. We need to look at efficient ways of drying cassava on a large scale, because cassava is high in water, but the feed mills want it dried down to a certain level. We have to find ways and means of doing it in an efficient way that protects quality as well as minimize costs,” the Director notes.
Investment Officer for the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) and coordinator of the cassava development initiative, Dean Passard, tells JIS News that cassava is a very versatile crop that has been used widely for animal feed.
Investment Officer for the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) and Co-ordinator of the cassava development initiative, Dean Passard, says that cassava is a viable crop with which to replace corn in animal feed.
Mr. Passard says his research has revealed that there are many benefits to using cassava as a substitute for corn in animal feed. In addition to the crop being ideal for Jamaica’s climatic conditions, the tuber matches up well with corn in providing the carbohydrate that animals need to help them to put on healthy weight.
He says that cassava is a sustainable crop and the Ministry will now have to ensure that cassava can be produced in such quantities that it becomes an economically viable crop. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jamaica has the sixth highest yield per acre in cassavas.
“Sustainability hinges on several things. If you are going to be using it in animal feed, we would have to have some way of showing the major feed companies that yes, cassava can be grown in such a way that they can have a regular supply of the crop itself that they could utilize in their production processes…If they are on board, then yes, it will be sustainable, because the Government is committed to making sure that we have adequate supplies to (meet) the need,” he points out.
In the meantime, Mr. Passard says that the initiative, has the potential to be wider than utilizing cassavas in animal feed, as the tuber as many other uses. He says that cassava can be used as a sweetener.
“In many places in the world, sweeteners (are) made from cassavas. Syrups (and ) sugars are made from cassavas that are used in place of corn solids and sweeteners.It is used quite a bit in the manufacture of paper, certain types of wood products and in terms of baking pastries in places like Africa and in the Caribbean and in South America,” he informs.
“So when we are looking at cassavas, we’re not just looking at animal feed itself, we are looking at a whole cross-section of uses because that’s the best way now that we can build an industry around it.we can ensure now that we basically are insulated from large and unexpected movements in prices, Mr. Passard points out.
Jamaica produces on average about 1,200 acres of cassavas per year, he said, adding that with this initiative, a lot more will need to be planted.
In the meantime, Mr. Passard says that the Ministry will act as facilitators to ensure that it becomes attractive for private investors to get involved in the growing and the processing of cassavas.
He notes that at the Ministry, “there is a lot of technical expertise and we will ensure that we bring that expertise to bear in terms of extension services, in terms of analysis and testing and so forth.”
“We have other sister institutions like the Scientific Research Council (SRC) that has a lot of experience in product development and product marketing research, and that would be for persons who want to develop new and different products from cassavas. We have those skill sets, that we will bring to bear in such a way that we service those persons, who would become involved in cassava production,” he adds.