China’s Love Affair with Cassava
April 7, 2011 | Robert Puro
It appears that China loves cassava, the carbohydrate laden tuberous root that is grown in such tropical and sub-tropical regions as Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. According to the article “Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears” that appears in today’s New York Times, China is not making the massive quantities of cassava that it imports into consumable stews, dumplings, or tapioca pudding, but is instead using it as an input for biofuel. In 2010, Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of cassava, sent nearly 98% of its stock to China. Demand for cassava for use as biofuel in China has picked up markedly since 2007 when the government decided to stop using its corn crop to produce biofuel (resulting corn shortages in the country led to food price increases). The NYTimes article notes that demand for cassava in China, which has driven up market prices considerably, could impede the development of planned biofuel facilities in Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines. As cassava chips are often used in livestock feed, price increases caused by biofuel demand could also impact the price of meat. Additionally, as China’s appetite for cassava grows, farmers in Thailand and elsewhere may choose to plant cassava in place of crops that would normally contribute to their nation’s food supply and in turn cause other crop prices to rise. By chance, does this remind you of a similar situation in the U.S. related to corn?