Think Nutrition: High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF)

Implications on rural household nutrition

By Marian Amaka Odenigbo and Emelyne Akezamutima 
Peeling and Washing Cassava on Josma Agro Ind. Ltd. Mampong, Ghana. ©IFAD/Nana Kofi Acquah
The path to sustainable food and nutrition security connects development workers and researchers to the poor rural households. This was stressed by Périn Saint Ange, Associate Vice President at IFAD during the first session of the Think Nutrition series that took place on 2 June 2017 at IFAD headquarters in Rome. This event showcased the research findings from an IFAD grant project; "Improving quality, nutrition and health impacts of inclusion of cassava flour in bread formulation in West Africa, Nigeria & Ghana".

Professor Michael Ngadi, the guest speaker of this first session of the Think Nutrition seminars focused his presentation on High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) and the implication of Linamarin on rural household nutrition. Cassava is one of the major staple food crops in the world, particularly in West Africa. It is a starchy food rich in calories, low in fats and protein, and free from gluten. In light of climate issues, cassava is a hardy crop and grows well in poor soils and low rainfall areas. The fact that it is a perennial plant makes it easy to harvest the crop when required and treat it as a food reserve during droughts and famines serving both as a cash and a subsistence crop.

According to Ngadi, cassava has the potential to contribute to efforts to end poverty, hunger and malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is large production of it. He further narrated the economic move on the use of cassava in the form of HQCF as an increasingly important component of the cassava value chain. The cassava industry has increased rural industrial development in Nigeria, generating new jobs and creating wealth while in Ghana the cassava value chain represents a great part of the agricultural GDP.

In his presentation, Ngadi underscored the concern on cyanide content in HQCF that needs urgent attention. Cassava contains cyanogenic glycosides such as Linamarin from which hydrogen cyanide may be released by hydrolysis. In April 2014, an IFAD funded project conducted a national survey in Nigeria and Ghana to assess opportunities and challenges associated with HQCF production. The study revealed alarming levels of cyanide which is associated with Linamarin during processing of cassava into HQCF- the fate of Linamarin during the processing stage is closely linked to the safety and nutritional value of the cassava product for consumers.

Cassava tuber                                            
HQCF is an emerging cassava flour produced using a non-traditional processing technique. It is a non-fermented, white, smooth and odorless cassava flour processed from freshly harvested roots. Detoxification is primarily achieved through the grating, dewatering, and drying process omitting fermentation completely.

On the other hand, traditional processing entails prolonged soaking and fermentation of the cassava root in water. When fermentation is done by prolonged soaking, the liberated cyanide will dissolve in the water and evaporate when the fermented cassava is dried. But fermented flour is undesirable because of its color and characteristic odor.

As the demand for HQCF is increasing every day, there is a need to ensure adequate processing techniques that would produce a safe and high quality flour. Cyanide exposure is associated with development of goiter and tropical ataxic neuropathy while severe cyanide poisoning is associated with outbreaks of an irreversible paralytic disorder called Konzo; in some cases the poisoning can lead to death.

Cyanide intoxication is a very serious nutritional problem that should engage our attention especially in the African region as we may have high cyanide consumption combined with low consumption of protein and poverty hindering diet diversity and intake of high quality foods.
High quality cassava flour (HQCF)   
During the workshop, it was interesting to observe the active engagement of colleagues from the IFAD Programme Management Department, regarding the risk of exposure to high cyanide content in cassava food products.

The participants were challenged with this reflection: “The path to sustainable food security begins by exploring the challenges of anchoring adequate nutrition, and then developing solutions”.

The proposed recommendations for developing solution and further research to improve nutrition outcomes in cassava value chain are:
  • Regular training of processors, bakers and farmers on appropriate methods for producing high quality and safe HQCF. 
  • Selection of a variety of cassava containing low levels of Linamarin and promote its cultivation. 
  • Updating cassava flour manufacturers on research findings in order to upgrade the design of machineries used in HQCF processing.