Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cassava Production

Cutting Cassava Stalks for Planting
Father's Day was a holiday here in Thailand on 5 December, but for Lao Loum farmers here in Isaan it was a day like any other day - a work day.  I have already written about the sugar cane harvest, the rice harvest, and the Kumphawapi Market so today I will write about the work associated with the cultivation of cassava.

Thailand is the largest exporter of dried cassava in the world.  Most of the exports go to China.  The largest producer of cassava is Nigeria.  I often ate cassava when I lived in Brasil.  You may even have a form or byproduct of cassava in your kitchen cabinet.

What is cassava?  Cassava, Manihot esculenta, which is also known as manioc and mandioca is a woody shrub originally from South America that has a starchy tuberous edible root.  The edible root is very much like a potato.  It is more fibrous and more mushy than a potato prepared the same way.  Cassava.  Unlike the potato, it is important to properly prepare cassava.  There are two varieties of cassava, sweet and bitter.  The bitter variety is typically used for industrial purposes. The sweet variety is the kind most likely to be eaten by people.  Both varieties can expose people to cyanide if not properly prepared.  The bitter kind has 50 times the concentration of cyanide compounds than the sweet.  Proper preparation of the sweet variety involves peeling and boiling the tuber ensuring to throw the water away.  the industrial variety needs to be soaked in water for 18 to 24 hours.

When the root is dried to a powdery or pearl type extract is known as Tapioca. Cassava can be eaten as "french fries", "potato chips", or "boiled potatoes".  In Brasil the tuber is dried, powdered, fried with butter, packaged and sold as "Manioc Flour" or "Farofel"  It is sprinkled on meat or beans for flavor and to thicken the consistency of the dish.

Cassava is a good source of carbohydrates but a poor source of protein for people.  It is grown because it does not require fertile soil or a great deal of water.  The cassava shrub is very drought resistant.  Because it can grow in poor soil and without a great deal of water, cassava is a natural choice for a cash crop here in Isaan.  It is called "mahn falang" by the Lao Loum farmers.  Cassava is used in rotation with sugar cane.

After the sugar cane is harvested, the land is plowed and cassava is planted.  After 6 months, the cassava is harvested and sugar cane planted in its place.  Currently cassava brings 2,700 Baht per metric tonne ($90.00 per 2,200 pounds) to the farmer while sugar cane brings 1,300 Baht per metric tonne.  Rice pays the most at 18,000 Baht per tonne ($600 USD).

Processing Cassava Stalks
For small farmers like Duang's relatives, they manually harvest the cassava tubers by first removing all the stems and leaves from the stalk.  The bare stalk is then pulled straight up to expose the tubers.  The tubers are removed from the stalk and placed in a farm truck or wagon.  Due to the rapid deterioration of the tubers after harvesting, they are taken directly to a local processor.  The bottoms of the stalks are cut off and the remaining 4 to 5 foot long stalk is taken back home to be processed for the next crop.

Cutting Up Cassava Stalks

Back at the farmer's home or at a willing relative's home, the stalks are stacked like cord wood.  The stalks are then cut into 8 to 9 inch long pieces with a heavy cane knife - one stalk at a  time - a job performed by both men and women.  The short pieces of stalk are collected in woven baskets.  The pieces are then brought over to a tub of water where they are washed and wetted down before placing them into recycled fertilizer or rice bags.  The stalk sections remain in the bags for three days, after which they are transported out to a prepared filed and planted by hand.

Wetting Down Cassava Stalk Sections
Packing Cassava Stalks Into Recycled Fertilizer Bags
Tomorrow morning, these sections of cassava will be planted.  We will be traveling out to Tahsang Village to witness and document the process.  Based upon her success in photographing me dancing during the street parade for Bun Kaithin, Duang is planning on photographing me planting "mahn falang"  Hmmm ... I may have to bring out that excuse that foreigners are not allowed to work without a "Work Permit" issued by the Thai Government.  Your wife wanting you to work is not sufficient authorization.

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