The Fashion Report

How you can help the humanitarian effort doing almost nothing

Let’s be honest. It’s often hard to find time these days to do anything extra, outside of work and family. While many people would like to help others, other commitments always seem to get in the way. If this is you, but you’d still like to do your bit to help others, it can be done… and with minimal effort. Read More

An image of the Manihot esculenta or Cassava plant

What is Cassava?

An image of the Manihot esculenta or Cassava plant

The Manihot esculenta or Cassava plant
(Image Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897)

Many third-world countries rely on the root of this plant as a staple in their diets, but what exactly is it and how is it used? Cassava is a drought-tolerant plant that can grow in areas of poor soil quality which makes it ideal for people living in remote areas without access to the normal quantity of water required to farm other crops. In some of the areas that HWCI works in, the soil is often volcanic and there are not a lot of plants that can thrive in that kind of environment; however Cassava is one that can. The main part of the plant that is utilised, is the root, and looks a bit like a woody-sweet-potato.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of Cassava, besides being able to grow where other crops won’t – is its versatility; it can be roasted, cooked on coals like a potato, fried into chips, boiled or shredded to act as a rice substitute to name a few methods. If you’re from a Western Country, chances are you’ve actually probably tried Cassava yourself, in a dessert, or possibly “bubble tea” – but you probably wouldn’t have known it as Cassava… you’ll probably know of it as Tapioca.

Cassava is pretty bland in flavour on its own, and I’ve tried it a number of ways, prepared by locals using traditional methods. My personal preference is to eat it fried, however it does tend to suck the moisture out of your mouth a bit, so having a bottle of water on hand is always good (or in my case, a cup of locally grown and brewed black coffee).

A family grates the cassava roots in preparation for drying it in the sun.

A family grates the cassava roots in preparation for drying it in the sun.
(Image Source: Simon Cottrill)

It is important to note though, that Cassava does have one draw back… and it’s a pretty serious one. The Cassava root contains cyanide, a deadly poison. While other common foods also contain cyanide, such as almonds – people generally don’t consume the volume of, say almonds, as they do Cassava – especially in a remote area where you can’t grow much else.
“The most alarming example of this trend is 262 ppm in one brand of cassava chips. A child weighing 20 kg would need to eat 40g to 270g of these chips to reach the lethal dose – potentially that’™s just one bag of chips.”
Monash University study into Cassava based products establishing a growing foothold in the Australian health food market

The levels of cyanide can be reduced by correct preparation, but where a particular food is a staple due to financial and agricultural limitations and eaten for practically every meal, even cooked as safely as possible, there are bound to be some side effects from ‘bulk consumption’. In this instance, Cassava’s cyanogenic properties can cause iodine deficiencies within the communities. The World Health Organisation has stated that “Serious iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in stillbirth, spontaneous abortion, and congenital abnormalities such as cretinism, a grave, irreversible form of mental retardation…”. Iodine deficiency can cause impaired thyroid hormone synthesis and/or thyroid enlargement; causing the formation of large goitres. Thankfully, this draw back can be reduced, if not removed entirely by the simple addition of Iodized Salt to the meal-preparation process, instead of regular salt. This replenishes the body with Iodine that the Cassava may have removed.

Cassava is an amazing, versatile food that sustains as many as 800 Million people world wide. It also causes great damage to impoverished communities when health issues start to appear due to Iodine deficiency. Proper education and supplementing the diet with ingredients such as iodized salt will help ensure that impoverished communities are able to utilise the benefits of Cassava while offsetting the potential negative health issues related to Cassava.

Medical teams attend at an impoverished community

Blaming NGOs for Demobilisation and De-politicisation Trends

Medical teams attend at an impoverished community

RSM and HWCI – Two NGOs working together

As the number of non-governmental organisations continues to grow, both at a global and at an in-country level, it is appropriate that academics have begun considering the proliferation of NGOs€™ and the role and influence they have in civil society within the communities they work. While critiques of the modus operandi of NGOS and the relationships that inform their practice are central to this debate, broad assertions that NGOs are largely to blame for demobilisation and de-politicisation trends among poorer communities in the Global South are intrinsically flawed when they fail to properly recognise the diversity of the sector and broader socio-political context.Read More