a civil society alliance for combatting chronic disease in the caribbean

HCC - David Neilands - Perspectives on the FAO Cassava Workshsop

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David Neilands

The HCC was recently invited to attend a two-day regional workshop hosted by FAO at their sub regional headquarters in Barbados. The seminar was designed to launch a Project on the Processing and Marketing of Cassava in selected countries in the CARICOM Region, to raise stakeholder awareness and develop National action plans.

Participants were drawn from Public Sector Ministries, Agencies and Institutions involved in processing and marketing. Representatives attended from Surinam, Belize, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. Key collaborators included: CAFAN (Caribbean Farmers Network), CABA (Caribbean Agri Business Association), CARDI and IICA.

Dr. Deep Ford, FAO Co-ordinator Caribbean Sub Region, launched the proceedings highlighting how Caribbean governments have identified Cassava as one of the priority crops with great potential to contribute to addressing agricultural revitalization and the food import bill. Highlighting the demise of the two main economic pillars of the agricultural sector, sugar and bananas, he passionately spoke to ‘replacing those trucks that used to line the hillsides en route to the port, with truckloads of Cassava’. He spoke to both the export potential and the domestic markets for Cassava as a substitute for imported corn (mainly for poultry feed) and wheaten flour (mainly for the production of bread).

These commodities are two of the top ten imports by value of a regional food import bill in excess of $US4 billion, with imports nearly doubling over the last ten years.

A high percentage of imports consist of semi-processed and highly processed staples. Cassava has the potential to replace 400,000 metric tonnes of wheaten flour in CARICOM countries; substitute up to 40% of the corn in poultry rations; be more widely consumed as a healthy staple food; and on its own address approximately 5% of the Food import bill.

During the meeting, recent advances such as the commercial substitution of Cassava flour for wheaten flour in the bakery industry in Trinidad and Tobago, and the substitution of Cassava over imported malt in the Jamaican beer industry were cited as progressive examples of how this healthier indigenous root crop could make a significant nutritional contribution to regional food security.

Clearly there is a nexus between food nutrition and health and after lengthy contributions from all those involved at the workshop, the spirit is there to develop Cassava into a more modern day food alternative to imported processed food. Opportunities abound to create healthy meals for school children and to develop marketable fresh drinks and soups - the whole gambit of healthier nutritional food offerings that we need to fight the scourge of NCD’s.

It will take time but with the commitment from regional governments, agencies and private sector businesses the development of the Cassava Industry simply makes good economic healthy sense which is home grown and beneath our feet!

David Neilands

Mr. Neilands is a member of the HCC and a longstanding Champion of NCDs. He has been a Commissioner on the Barbados National NCD Commission since its inception. Mr. Neilands is a former Managing Director of Supercentre Ltd Barbados, a former Senior Vice President of the Barbados Chamber of Industry and Commerce and now a Council member; and he currently sits on a number of boards within the Neal & Massy Barbados group of companies.