In recent years, global concern has grown over pressing social issues such as poverty, unemployment, hunger, and rising child mortality. Peru, in particular, faces a significant population surge, exacerbating sociopolitical and economic challenges. This surge has disproportionately affected living standards in rural areas, where the struggle to produce enough food for an expanding urban population is evident. Compounded by agroecological limitations, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of technical and economic resources, subsistence agriculture remains prevalent.
Peru boasts agroclimatic conditions suitable for tropical crops that thrive in poor soils, require minimal fertilization, and resist diseases. Among these crops, cassava and plantain stand out as vital resources in the fight against hunger and potential drivers of rural development through agroindustry. The Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP) has taken a proactive approach, establishing a pilot plant for cassava flour production in Pucallpa, the capital of the Ucayali Department, at the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. This cassava flour serves both as a staple for human consumption and as a substitute for inputs in plywood and bread-making industries.
Cassava Production Landscape in Ucayali, Peru
In 1991, national cassava production doubled from the 1950s, reaching 405,725 tons. Ucayali, contributing 20,000 tons annually, ranks fourth in national production. However, logistical challenges, including long distances and slow transportation, result in substantial cassava waste, preventing timely delivery to markets. Yield variations in Loreto and Ucayali range from 10 to 35 tons per hectare. The limited cassava reaching urban markets has experienced a 200% price increase compared to farmgate prices. In rural areas, traditional cassava processing methods struggle to compete in urban markets due to inferior quality.
Past attempts to establish cassava flour plants in Pucallpa and Iquitos failed due to technological mismatches with geographical and socioeconomic conditions. This mismatch further contributes to the socioeconomic pressures driving Ucayali’s farmers to migrate to urban or cocaine-producing areas.
IIAP Cassava Flour Plant: Objectives and Operation
The IIAP, in collaboration with CIAT, initiated the development of technology and machine prototypes for cassava processing in 1989. Despite economic recessions resulting from the 1991 political and economic emergencies, a pilot plant was established at “Fundo Villarica” in Pucallpa.
The plant aimed to:
- Validate, adapt, and generate cassava processing technologies.
- Open markets for cassava-based products.
- Integrate the entire cassava plant into animal feed.
- Increase the value of underused cassava roots.
- Gradually substitute imported wheat flour.
- Provide technical and organizational training for farmers and technicians.
Operational sections of the plant included reception, storage, and preparation; washing; chipping; and preliminary sun-drying, artificial drying, milling, and final product storage.
Challenges and Achievements
Despite operating at 60% capacity, the plant successfully identified, analyzed, and improved native technology. It built a production infrastructure using locally available resources, produced cost-effective flour, and found favorable local and regional markets. Notably, the plant weathered adverse political and economic conditions.
An agreement with the Alto Huallaga Special Project aims to introduce integrated production systems as an alternative to coca cultivation. New plants are in progress, indicating a promising future for integrated agricultural development in various regions of Peru.