Exploring the Potential of Cassava in South Africa: A Path to Agricultural Development

Cassava, a valuable crop for both subsistence and commercial purposes, remains largely untapped in South Africa. Despite its significance in many African countries, cassava cultivation in South Africa is limited to small-scale farms and fragmented areas, operating under low-input farming systems. However, cassava farming is gaining traction due to its diverse range of products and the declining potential of other crops like sugar cane.

Cassava is a root crop that provides a major source of dietary energy for over 800 million people worldwide. It ranks fourth as a food crop in developing countries, following rice, maize, and wheat. The leaves of cassava are rich in protein and can be consumed as a vegetable. Additionally, cassava can be stored in the ground, serving as a reserve food source during times of crop failure. The crop also finds applications in animal feed, the production of industrial goods, and biofuel.

While Africa accounts for a significant portion of global cassava production, with Nigeria being the largest producer, South Africa primarily imports cassava starch. The country’s limited cassava production is due to a lack of established marketing channels, weak infrastructure, inadequate market information, and an underdeveloped value chain. For instance, a commercial cassava starch processing plant in Mpumalanga was forced to close due to insufficient raw cassava supply, leading to substantial cassava starch imports from Thailand.

Cassava Products

Cassava offers a wide range of products, including food, flour, animal feed, alcohol, starches for paper and textile sizing, sweeteners, prepared foods, and biodegradable products. These products vary in processing requirements, with the level of processing increasing from fresh forms to modified cassava starch.

Products from Leaves and Roots

Fresh cassava roots and leaves are primarily used for human consumption. Preserving fresh roots can involve techniques like packing them in moist mulch or removing the leaves before harvest. In Colombia, treatments such as wax or paraffin dipping and plastic bag storage have been successful in extending root shelf life. Roots can also be peeled, chopped, and frozen for specialized markets. Cassava leaves can be consumed fresh, ground and frozen, or dried and ground for sale. The leaves offer better nutritional balance than the roots, helping prevent certain deficiency diseases.

Products from Dried Roots

In many African and Latin American countries, cassava is processed at home or in villages to produce flour (farinha in Brazil, gari in West Africa) or to make flatbread (casabe in the Caribbean). Dried cassava has been widely used as an animal feed ingredient in Europe, Thailand, and Indonesia. It also has potential as a convenient food option, with products like farinha and gari being easy to buy, store, and prepare. Cassava flour has significant potential in countries where imported wheat dominates bread consumption. Dried cassava can also be used to produce glues and alcohol.

Products from Cassava Starch

Cassava starch serves as a raw material for various applications. It can be used in its unmodified form or undergo modifications for specific industrial purposes. Additionally, cassava starch serves as a source for sweeteners, including dextrin, monosodium glutamate, and pharmaceuticals.

Potential Drivers for Cassava Production and Commercialization in South Africa Several factors can drive the production and commercialization of cassava in South Africa. Firstly, awareness and investment, both from the public and private sectors, are crucial. Public-private partnerships are essential to facilitate technology development, agro-processing, and marketing, supporting the scaling up of successful innovations.

The South Africa Cassava Industry Association (CIASA), established under the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition (DTIC), needs to be revitalized to support the cassava industry and engage all value chain stakeholders effectively.

Currently, cassava production, characterization, and product development are in their early stages in South Africa compared to other African countries. A sustainable genetic resource management system is needed to focus on the characterization, conservation, and utilization of cassava genetic resources. Collaborations with national and international research organizations can leverage existing genetic and genomic resources.

Market creation and product diversification are vital for integrating cassava into the existing production system and facilitating commercialization. The cassava supply chain typically begins with small-scale production and processing units at the local level, followed by larger-scale units as the market expands. Farmers and processors must receive training to meet the requirements of growing markets and ensure product quality.

Investment in cassava research and development, as well as product development, is crucial for improving food and income security, creating jobs, and revitalizing rural areas. By supporting cassava’s growth, South Africa can address issues of food insecurity, malnutrition, unemployment, and urban migration.


Fully harnessing the potential of cassava in South Africa requires concerted efforts from various stakeholders. Public-private partnerships, improved market access, expanded product offerings, and investment in research and development are key to developing a thriving cassava industry. By embracing cassava, South Africa can enhance food security, boost rural economies, and contribute to the country’s agricultural and economic growth.