Roots and Other Starchy Foods

Tropical root and tuber crops are significant to the diets of people in tropical areas and are also consumed in non-tropical countries.

The CARICOM Region has identified cassava (Manihot esculenta), sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and yam (Dioscorea alata) as the root and tuber crops with the highest potential for value-added development and for addressing the region’s food and nutrition security needs. The specific concern of Caribbean economies is building resilience and capacity to advance food and nutrition security (FNS) in synergy with other development goals.

Root and other tuber crops can play a significant role in food and nutrition security in the region. An FAO report on the State of Food Insecurity in the CARICOM Caribbean states that several countries are self-sufficient in roots and tubers including Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, Belize, Haiti and some Eastern Caribbean countries. And health-wise, roots and tubers are rich in ‘good’ complex carbohydrates, offering better glycemic indices compared to imported refined carbohydrates, and are high in dietary fibre.

Current situation 

According to the FAO-sponsored study titled Fresh and Processed Produce Market - Opportunity Study roots and tubers constitute the second largest fresh produce sub-category by volume in CARICOM. In 2006 there were over 472,000 metric tons of roots available for consumption in the region, some of it imported. It was accounted for as follows: 

  • Yams - 28%
  • Turnips - 18%
  • White potato - 16%
  • Cassava - 12%
  • Sweet potato - 7%
  • Mixed roots and tubers – 7%
  • Dasheen - 5%

It is assumed that half of the “mixed roots and tubers” is comprised of dasheen, eddoes and tannias.

With regard to regional production in 2006, it was estimated at 412,131 metric tonnes, representing 23% of roots and tubers available for consumption.

Regarding exports, in 2006, CARICOM exported an estimated 20,000 metric tonnes of roots and tubers as follows:

  • Yam - over 30%
  • Dasheen - 20%
  • Mixed roots and tubers - 14%
  • Sweet potatoes - 14%
  • Eddoes - 10%

The main export markets included:

  • other CARICOM member countries (mainly to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda) - 46%
  • United States - 29%
  • United Kingdom – 12%
  • Canada - 8%

The main exporters of roots and tubers are St Vincent and the Grenadines (49%), Jamaica (45%), Dominica (4%), and Guyana (2%).

Profiles on roots and tubers processing in Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago revealed that, overall, activities are focused on cassava. Most of Caribbean processors/operators surveyed, (71.3%) processed only cassava with 20% processing both cassava and sweet potato and just 7.5% processing only sweet potato. 

The majority of these processing enterprises (56%) exist as sole ownerships, partnerships and family enterprises (i.e. micro-enterprises) with 0-2 employees.

Processors - especially sweet potato processors – have a narrow product range. Interestingly, many of these processors have experienced receiving special requests to develop new products (44% and 30% of cassava and sweet potato processors, respectively). Coupled with the reports of excess/unmet demand for their products (48% and 73% for cassava and sweet potato, respectively), this is a strong motivator for renewed investments in product development. However, most of those receiving these requests are micro-enterprises (specifically, sole ownerships) which may lack the critical skills and facilities needed to experiment in new product development, testing and validation.

Business case

Why invest in root and tuber crop production?

  • The true potential of roots and tubers may be unlocked through value-adding activities, representing a diverse range of products, including the further commercialization of traditional products (such as cassava bread and cassareep), and incorporating roots and tubers into bread and other baked products
  • Significant potential for supplying planting material to commercial producers

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