one of our oldest crops, of indigenous origin
Also known as Cassava or Manioc, the yuca (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is a perennial and woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae family. The bush features branches and lobed leaves, and coloring which ranges from green to reddish in tone. Its roots are tuberous and are the main edible part of the plant, although its foliage is used for animal feed and for human consumption. It is a root of elongated shape covered by a rough, inedible, outer layer, coffee-colored and dense pulp which is fibrous, and white to creamy yellow.
Yuca is very rich in complex carbohydrates (starch) and to lesser extent it contains Vitamin C and B, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Up to 35% of its volume is carbohydrates and it is low in fat and protein. Its capacity as an energy source makes it an adequate food for athletes. It is an easily digested food and does not contain gluten. Yuca also helps reduce cholesterol levels as well as hypertension. Its starch is used in the food and textile industry, as well as in the manufacturing process for paper and adhesives. Also starch is transformed into ethylic alcohol to generate energy. A very nutritious flour is produced from yuca: tapioca, which is used in Brazil and Central America. Also, a very crunchy and thin bread called cassava is of taino origin that forms part of the traditional Dominican diet.
Yuca or Manioc, also known as Mandioca and Cassava, is native to America. It was one of the main crops of the pre Columbian era. There is evidence of yuca cultivation 4,000 years ago and it was one of the first domesticated crops in America. There is also evidence that the Mayans consumed it in large amounts over 1,400 years ago. It was grown in tropical America prior to the explorations of the conquistadors, where it had become the basic food of the native populations in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. During the voyages of Christopher Columbus, yuca is taken to Africa and the Orient, where its cultivation thrived because of its good adaptability to diverse ecosystems, its production potential and because of its ability to satisfy hunger due to its caloric content. Today it is one of the seven principal agricultural products grown and consumed worldwide.
Yuca is a crop that is appreciated because it is easily cultivated. It grows in a wide array of tropical conditions and prefers humid and warm low lands; the ideal temperature for its development ranges between 18 and 35 degrees Celsius and the minimum tolerable temperature is 10 degrees Celsius. It is resistant to drought and adapts well to the different humidity conditions. Even though yuca prospers in fertile soils, it prefers sandy as well as clayish soils, and adapts to acid solid soils with a pH between 5.0 and 5.5 and alkaline soils with a pH between 8 and 9. However, it is intolerant to water-logged and saline soil conditions. It is an extensively adaptable crop given that it grows from sea level up to 1,800 meters above sea level locations. Its growth cycle from planting to harvest, depends on environmental conditions: the so-called precocious yuca with a shorter cycle, from 7 to 8 months for harvesting; the semi-tardy yuca with a 10 month to 11 month duration, and the late yuca with a harvest cycle of 17 to 24 months.
The Manihot genus encompasses over 180 known varieties but the most consumed are the Manihot utilissima, or sweet yuca, and the Manihot sculenta, from which we get tapioca. Yuca is also known by different names: mandioca, maniot, cassava, and yuca brava.
The most popular varieties are: Yellow Cassava, Mexican Palo Verde, Morocha, Huachana, among others. In the Dominican Republic the main varieties grown are known by vernacular names such as: Verdecita, Sietemesina, Machetazo, Americanita, Blanquita, Sonera, Zenón Valencia Mocana and others. Of the bitter yuca varieties for industrial use, the most commonly known is Negrita Mocana.
Yuca planting and production in the Dominican Republic
Yuca is grown almost everywhere across the country. There are traditional crop zones dedicated to yuca production for fresh consumption and for processed cassava production. The most important production zones are: Espaillat (Moca), La Vega, Valverde and Salcedo, which produce around 80% of the national production. Other important zones are San Juan de la Maguana and Santiago Rodríguez.
According to data supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, the production of yuca increased from 2.725,205 quintals in 2003 to 3.747,889 quintals in 2012, thus reflecting an increase of 38%. The Dominican Republic supplies the domestic market with fresh yuca, so there is no import demand for this important food. In 2012, a significant recovery of the exported volume indicated yuca reached 400MT, calculated at US$423,000, according to information provided by the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic. The main markets for these exports are the United States and Caribbean islands.