A vast majority of land in South America is considered lacking in nutrients necessary to grow many crops. However the leafy green life of the Amazon provides the much needed nutrients to land as the great river, and it's tributaries, flood and retract each year. It is in these areas that many, but not all, crops are planted and grown in South American countries. One of the few crops that can be planted far from these nutrient rich flood plains, that can grow where nothing else will, is manioc.

Manioc is a root plant that tastes very similar to a potato. It goes by several different names and is often found in the supermarket under the names cassava and yucca. In Latin American countries manioc is not only eaten in its root form, but is turned into a drink, flour and made into a bread.

While the versatility of use and growth make manioc an ideal crop for places with arid nutrient-deficient lands, such as Africa, there are also drawbacks that come along with it.

The first, and most critical, drawback for the crop is that there are two forms of manioc: manioc and sweet manioc. Sweet manioc is the form people find in their supermarkets while the other form of manioc is poisonous. In many areas in South America it is the poisonous form that is being cultivated and turned into flour and bread, and on occasion the drink form. What makes this variety poisonous is the liquid content of the root.

To remove this toxic aspect farmers will chop up the root, careful not to come in physical contact with the starchy juice produced, and put it thruogh a drying process. The first step is to put the chopped up pulp into a devise that works much like a Chinese finger trap. They push it together and stuff the manioc inside, then they close it off and stretch it out, tying one end to a high point on a pole or tree and the other end to a log. The stretching forces the fluid out of the manioc and it dribbles down to the ground below. The second step, after it appears dry with no more fluid being produced, is to put the manioc into a pot and cook it until it is dry; at which point it is ground into flour.

The benefit to growing the poisonous variety of the root is that it is less susceptible to being eaten by animals and insects. They know they'll die if they do and they've been around it long enough (we know it was around in Pre-Columbian times for instance) that they just don't eat it. But they do eat the sweet manioc. The obvious downside to the poisonous form being that it is...well, poisonous. People continue to die from manioc ingestion, occasionally being too in a hurry to let the manioc drink finish cooking before they dip their laddle in.

The overall downside to both varieties of the root is that it does not do well in wet conditions, so too much rain will ruin the crop. In places that are dry, such as in parts of Latin America and Africa, this downside is negligible. Its need for little water make it an obvious choice for agriculture in countries that need to ration water such as in the recent case of northern China.

All knowledge of manioc contained within this writeup was obtained through lecture at the University of Maryland, College Park in the course Latin American Studies taught by Janet Chernela.

Ma"ni*oc (?), n. [Pg. mandioca, fr. Braz.] Bot.

The tropical plants (Manihot utilissima, and M. Aipi), from which cassava and tapioca are prepared; also, cassava

.[Written also mandioc, manihoc, manihot.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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