The Indonesian government will accelerate the production of cassava because it is believed the crop can alleviate challenges such as food and energy shortages, and this will be done to a degree at the expense of rice production over the long haul.

Cassava is a staple food for more than 600 million people in tropical areas of Africa and Asia. It is one of the most investigated crops that U.S. citizens know little about, but it provides a good share of calories and nutrition in many countries. It is a starchy, tuberous root. U.S. citizens that are familiar with tapioca might know tapioca is a product of cassava.

Cassava was a turn of the 21st century research project of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. And the center has hosted hundreds of cassava researchers. The center’s scientists have worked on breeding a virus-resistant cassava and sequencing the genome of the crop with the goal of biotechnology improvements to cassava survival and production.

Reflecting the importance of cassava even outside of its food potential, the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry’s post-harvest director Pening Dadih Permana recently said the ministry is putting together a strategy for the 2015 to 2019 period, which includes expediting production of several strategic commodities including cassava.

The Jakarta Post reported that the director said, “The ministry is focusing on the development of bio-industrial farming, which can produce food and energy.” He specifically noted that cassava could be converted into bioethanol, too, even though the food demand is quite high.

To accelerate cassava production, the Agriculture Ministry sees expanding cassava’s crop acreage, improving farmers’ cultivation techniques and controlling food imports, the newspaper reported. The limiting of cassava imports to give an incentive for farmers to grow more cassava is a technique that has been used with some food production by other countries and usually results in higher prices to the population.

Indonesia is still relying on rice as its staple food, but declining production since the “self-sufficient era in the early 1980s” has prompted the government to try and help farmers develop other food crops. Dadih said cassava has many advantages over other crops.

“Besides already being familiar to Indonesians, the cultivation of cassava is very easy,” suggested the Indonesian Cassava Community (MSI) Chairman Suharyo Husen.

Dadih said that there were several obstacles in the development of cassava’s production and consumption. “The lack of quality seeds and harvest areas are just some of the hurdles. The price of flour made from cassava is also less competitive compared to the price of wheat flour,” he added.

This poor quality seed, disease and other obstacles to production could be cured with biotechnology varieties but was not mentioned as a cure for expanding acreage and demand.

The MSI claims cassava demand in Indonesia has reached 60 million tons per year, but production is less than 24 million tons on rounded production area of slightly more than one million hectares.