Whether an entrepreneur decides to get into growing cassava tuber or manufacture starch from the root, both are simple processes that require limited capital, said Nghiem Minh Tien, deputy chair of the Association at a recent industry conference in Hanoi.
Tien added that this low capital threshold make it highly attractive to business owners around the globe and the rigorous competition that results is one of the reasons it is vitally important for Vietnamese in the industry to implement ‘smart farming’ techniques.
He noted that cassava starch has numerous applications in a wide variety of industries and is used in sweeteners, MSG, food, paper, cardboard, plywood, leather goods, glue, paste and cement.
In the food industry, he pointed out that it is also used in the processing of many bakery products and in noodles, soups, yogurt, ice cream, and soft drinks among others.
According to a new report by Expert Market Research, the total global cassava starch market reached a volume of 6.8 million tons last year and it is further expected to grow to 7.5 million tons by 2022.
The reason for the optimistic outlook for the industry is that there has been a continuous development of new products using cassava starch that has and is expected to continue to result in heightened demand.
The Asia-Pacific region dominated the global market in 2016 with Indonesia and Thailand the largest producers followed by the North American, Middle Eastern and African, and South American regions.
In total, there are currently roughly 551,000 hectares under cassava cultivation in Vietnam, primarily in the central, the Central Highlands, south-eastern and northern mountainous regions.
Pursuant to a Vietnam government development plan for agriculture through 2020, the number of hectares would be cut back to 450,000 producing 11 million tons of cassava tuber annually.
The starch content of cassava tuber varies from as low as 15% up to 29% depending on a variety of factors, he noted. If it all were used to produce starch, 11 million tons of cassava tuber could easily equate to 1.65 million tons of starch (or roughly 22% of total projected global demand by 2020).
However, both cassava roots and leaves (young plant tops) have multiple end-uses in addition to being converted to starch. Fresh roots and leaves (after boiling) are used for direct human consumption, on-farm animal feed, commercial production of animal feed, and more recently, for ethanol for use in liquor or as an automotive fuel.
For 2016, on a cassava growing area of 551,000 hectares, farmers in Vietnam produced 10.64 million tons of tuber (a 2.3% increase over 2015), with cassava tuber productivity of 19 tons per hectare.
Out of the estimated 10.64 million tons, 3.66 million were exported through official channels (a 12% year-on-year decrease) generating revenues of US$994 million (a 25% year-on-year drop), with the balance either used domestically or transported in the informal market across the border to China.
The challenges for cassava farmers in 2017 are to rebound from the significant crop failure of 2016 that was caused principally by the drought and flooding natural disasters.
In addition, they are looking to cut back the number of hectares in production in line with the government’s plan and begin laying down roots for instituting ‘smart farming’ in 2017, Tien added.
Implementing smart farming will begin a new season of good things to come for the industry, Tien underscored, that will improve yields, novel farming initiatives, better environmental conditions and higher profits among many other benefits.