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Changes in the global market for cassava and byproducts and opportunities for Brazil

Between 1950 and 2019, the world cassava production increased 2.3% per year, on average. In Africa, the advance was 3.3% per year in the same period due to the area increase, especially in Nigeria. In Thailand and in Vietnam, in light of higher productivity, the production increased 2.3% per year. As for Brazil, it dropped 0.4% per year in the same period, according to data from FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), because of the higher diversification compared to African and Asian countries.

 

FAO also says that, in some countries in Africa and Asia, cassava, which was previously considered a subsistence crop, now plays an important role for the rural development, the poverty reduction, food security and even for biofuel. Therefore, significant investments from private, public and third sectors are now boosting the cassava activity in those continents, including in an industrial level.

 

Currently, Thailand and Vietnam are the most important producers of cassava and byproducts (cassava starch, chips and pallets). These countries are also the biggest exporters of byproducts to China, which has been increasing its demand since the 2000’s. In 2020, Thailand shipped 2.7 million tons of cassava starch, which is equivalent to almost four times the entire Brazilian production.

 

FAO projections indicate that the production may increase 18% in the next 10 years, mainly in low income regions (2.3% per year up to 2030). In African countries, the increase may occur because of the area, while in the Asian continent, it is related to the higher productivity.

 

As for the consumption, estimates indicate that it may increase one kilo per capita per year until 2030, mainly because of the higher demand in Africa. Moreover, the biofuel production from cassava has been increasing in Asia.

 

Even if the size of those changes is not confirmed, opportunities can still be created. The question is: is the cassava production chain in Brazil ready for that?

 

From 1990 to 2020, the Brazilian cassava starch production increased 3.8% per year, according to data from Cepea and Abam (Brazilian Association of Cassava Starch Producers). In addition to that, the industry has started to incorporate innovations, and many agents are producing modified starch that meet the demands of several segments, which is a favorable scenario.

 

In spite of that, the idleness in the starch industry has been a major bottleneck over the last years. In 2020, Brazil produced 538.8 thousand tons of starch; however, the installed capacity is at least three times higher in the country, which certainly jeopardizes the starch competitiveness.

 

Part of this context is attributed to the significant price volatility, which, in turn, is a result of the lack of trade mechanisms that guarantee profitability – in turn, they could mitigate supply shocks.

 

Thus, it would be possible to have less volatile prices for cassava starch (as verified for corn starch), which could increase the participation in global markets – the European Union, for instance, looks for other starch sources, besides potato, as well as new suppliers.

 

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