About 200 million poor farmers in developing countries use roots, tubers, and bananas (RTB) for food security and income. The RTB crops—banana, cassava, potato, sweetpotato, yams, and other tropical and Andean root and tuber crops, sometimes termed “vegetatively propagated staple crops”—are linked by common management aspects.

Most notably, the linkages are in seed and postharvest issues and by the frequency with which women are involved in their production and postharvest use. RTB are excellent sources of cheap energy and some varieties are rich in vitamins and essential minerals. They are mostly produced, processed, and traded locally, making them less vulnerable than grains to abrupt price changes in international markets. RTB can grow in marginal conditions and nontraditional areas, with relatively few inputs. Many tolerate stresses such as drought, heat, and poor soil conditions. They often complement cereals in cropping systems to reduce risk and make more efficient use of resources—for example, by providing food earlier in the farming calendar or entering into a fallow period between grain crops. Thus they play a key role in helping to build stronger, more diversified crop and farming systems to reduce the risk of food shortages and nutritional shortfalls.

RTB offer high potential yields, but farmers in developing countries often realize less than half that potential due to challenges such as the use of poor quality “seed” or limited genetic diversity, biotic and abiotic constraints, and poor management practices. Breeding for higher nutritional and processing quality and adaptation to stressful environments, access to improved quality planting material, and better management practices can address these challenges. A combination of dynamic conservation and on-farm use of crop genetic diversity can ensure resilient cropping systems and capacity to respond to evolving stresses. Methods to help poor farmers access higher value markets for fresh or processed RTB can strengthen capacities, increase incomes, and improve livelihoods.

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) is a joint initiative of CGIAR and partners to address these challenges more globally and efficiently. It brings together the RTB crop-related work of Bioversity International, CIRAD, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Potato Center (CIP), and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Each Center has extensive expertise in and wide networks of partners with at least one RTB crop. The collaboration for preparation of this Research Program has established a strong base for cross-cutting activities among crops, across Centers and partners, and with other CGIAR research programs. With its combined scale and capacity, RTB will capture significant additional synergies, increase the ability to advance research, share knowledge, and enhance uptake to increase research for development (R4D) impacts.

RTB includes a participatory process for setting priorities and engaging partners and users to better integrate their ideas and feedback, build multidirectional communication pathways,and facilitate the two-way flow of knowledge between researchers and end-users. This process will give careful attention to gender and ensure that women and men both contribute and benefit.Stakeholders, including donors, partners, and beneficiaries, have provided extensive input into the development of RTB. Together with these stakeholders, RTB has proceeded to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of current R4D activities, focusing on the delivery of products that can effectively impact food security, nutrition, and income. The results of this analysis were used as the foundation to conceptualize a wide-ranging and integrated effort of R4D for the Research Program, with shared research agendas across crops and Centers and have already stimulated the emergence of new concepts and modes of collaboration.

Seven themes, reflecting the strategy and vision of the RTB partnership and deriving from its impact pathway, have been identified as pillars of the program:

The measures of success are taking on a new dimension, too. RTB uses a results-oriented strategy that accounts for not just project outputs but outcomes and impacts as well. The program and its individual projects include quantified impact pathways that clearly model how outputs (e.g., products, tools, methods, knowledge, value chains) affect uptake by and impact on end-users.

Through a continuous learning cycle with partners, RTB will ensure that research is clearly aligned with strategic objectives and use evidence of outcomes and impacts to guide allocation decisions.

Delivery of research products will be based on an interactive model of across-theme topics that link partnership, gender strategy, communication and knowledge sharing, and capacity strengthening. Gender issues are integrated and mainstreamed throughout RTB, in needs assessment, research, targeting, and research interventions. Communication and knowledge sharing will be improved by implementing a unified RTB platform (including, but not limited to, a dedicated interactive website and a portal for inter-linked knowledge resource centers) that will interact closely with scientists and developers, stakeholders, donors, beneficiaries, and the general public. This Research Program will thus serve as the authority and source for the full reach and exchange of RTB crops information, knowledge, and innovation. Capacity strengthening will reinforce expertise of national research institutions, other R4D partners, and end-users in developing countries.

RTB will continue to actively involve partners in a productive interaction that integrates their needs and ideas, promotes innovation, and maximizes the impacts of the R4D and partner agendas. Through this ambitious program of high-quality, gender-sensitive, and results-oriented collaborative research, RTB will use the full potential of RTB crops  to increase the food security, nutrition, and income of poor populations, and as such contribute to the achievement of the vision of CGIAR.