Tag Archives: cassava

Global cassava coalition calls for support for cassava transformation in Africa

Press release for immediate release

Ahead of the international conference on cassava, the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) has called on policy makers, donors and the international community to support all efforts that will bring about cassava transformation in Africa.

The call is coming at a time when cassava is becoming central to food security of over 600 million people in the developing world, and has become the fourth most important crop after maize, wheat and rice.

Presenting the upcoming conference on cassava to donors and the international community in Cotonou on Thursday, Dr Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21 said, “despite the key role cassava is playing in Africa’s food security, its productivity had remained low (about 9 tons per hectare), keeping the growers in the trap of poverty. When compared to Asia, cassava productivity in that continent is more than 21 tons per ha—a situation that gives Asia competitive advantage in global cassava trade. Addressing the yield gap demands more funding for cassava research and development from all stakeholders, if truly the world wants to help farmers towards ending hunger and poverty in Africa.”

L-R: Director of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century, Dr Claude Fauquet; Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Republic of Benin, H.E. Dossouhoui Cossi Gaston; Minister of Higher Education, H.E. Mme Attanasso Marie-Odile; and French Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, H.E. Veronique Brumeaux during the press conference on Cassava Transformation in Africa in Benin.

Dr Fauquet noted that the 11-15 June, 2018 conference to be held in Cotonou with the theme ‘Cassava Transformation in Africa’, is one of the ways the GCP21 is contributing towards the transformation of the root crop.

He called for participation of all stakeholders, emphasizing that the conference would provide a unique opportunity for donors, investors, and policy makers to see and access the latest innovations and discoveries in the cassava sector.

The French Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, H.E. Veronique Brumeaux, who hosted the press conference said the conference was timely and would go a long way to address the constraints of cassava production while at the same time proffering opportunities for investors and farmers alike to harness new innovations from the research community.

The ambassador’s position was echoed by the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Republic of Benin, H.E. Dossouhoui Cossi Gaston, while underscoring the importance of cassava to Benin and Africa in general. He said the importance of cassava would continue to increase as its consumption per capita was high and the root crop is resilient to climate change.

Cassava is a critical source of food security for millions throughout developing countries. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

The Minister of Higher Education, H.E. Mme Attanasso Marie-Odile said the Republic of Benin is proud to host the conference. She noted that cassava’s development and transformation would offer opportunities for youth engagement which the country and other African countries could tap.

Invited participants to the press conference included representatives of the embassies of France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Brazil, Holland, Germany, Japan, Canada, United States, and European Union. Others were representatives of development agencies: AfDB, USAID, JICA, GIZ, AFD, EU, UNDP, and FAO.

This year’s conference is being organized by GCP21, in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Institute of Agricultural Research of Benin (INRAB), Faculte des Sciences Agronomique – Universite Abomey-Calavi (FAS-AUC). Other supporting institutions are: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (AfDB); Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research (WECARD), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), International Center for Agricultural Development (CIRAD), and the Institute for Research & Development (IRD).

For more information, please contact:
Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21, c.fauquet@cgiar.org 
Godwin Atser, Conference Communication Coordinator, g.atser@cgiar.org 

Revolutionary mobile app for monitoring crop pests and diseases

Just as the late blight epidemic wiped out potato fields in Ireland in the 19th century, crop pests and diseases still have devastating effects on smallholder farmers today – with scenarios projected to worsen under climate change.

Cassava brown streak disease is spreading westward across the African continent, and together with cassava mosaic disease, threatens the food and income security of over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa. Likewise, banana is threated by fungal and bacterial diseases and banana bunchy top virus, while sweetpotato is faced with viruses and Alternaria fungi.

Farmers are often unable to properly identify these diseases, while researchers, plant health authorities and extension organizations lack the data to support them.

To overcome these issues, a team under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), are working on a revolutionary app to accurately diagnose diseases in the field, which will be combined with SMS services to send alerts to thousands of rural farmers.

Diagnosing cassava disease in the field. Photo IITA

The team, led by David Hughes of Penn State, and James Legg of IITA – who leads RTB’s flagship project on Resilient Crops – together with scientists from CIAT, CIP and Bioversity International, are presenting their proposal as one of 12 finalists for a $US100,000 grant as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenges at the Big Data in Agriculture Convention 2017 in Cali, Colombia this week.

The concept leverages three critical advances in how knowledge is communicated to the farm level: 1) the democratization of Artificial Intelligence (AI) via open access platforms like Google’s TensorFlow, 2) the miniaturization of technology allowing affordable deployment and 3) the development of massive communication and money exchange platforms like M-Pesa that allow rural extension to scale as a viable economic model enabling last mile delivery in local languages.

Painstaking field work using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones at RTB cassava field sites in coastal Tanzania and on farms in western Kenya has already generated more than 200,000 images of diseased crops to train AI algorithms.

Using many of these images, Hughes, Legg and collaborators were able to develop an AI algorithm with TensorFlow that can automatically classify five cassava diseases, and by collaborating with Google, the team have been able to develop a TensorFlow smartphone app that is currently being field-tested in Tanzania. Penn State has also developed a mobile spectrophotometer through a start-up called CROPTIX. Early results suggest it can accurately diagnose different viral diseases in the field, even if the plant looks healthy.

 “The concept leverages RTB’s global network across multiple crops for testing and scaling with national partners and the private sector in all three continents where we work. This technology will enable small-scale farmers to quickly take action and stop the spread of pests and diseases in their farms, protecting these critical sources of food and income security,” said Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director. “We are really excited about this initiative and delighted to be teaming up with Penn State,” he added.

A Tanzanian farmer examines his cassava plants for the presence of pests and disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

The project team has already developed linkages with the Vodafone agriculture SMS platform called DigiFarm, which positions them strategically to link digital diagnostics to large-scale rural text messaging services. The team will deliver farmer tailored SMS alerts on crop diseases and pests to 350,000 Kenyan farmers by July 2018.

Once the diagnostic and SMS systems are up and running, their impact will be determined by assessing how rapid disease diagnosis increases yield in cassava value chains in Kenya involving 28,000 farmers.

An existing platform housed by Penn State (www.plantvillage.org) will enable real time discussions of disease and pest diagnoses across the CGIAR community and with other experts to enhance SMS alerts from the DigiFarm platform.

It’s is envisaged that these innovations, initially piloted in East Africa, will provide a model that can be extended to the range of locations where RTB works, and in so doing impact the farming and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers.

See more in the project flyer. 

Increasing the resilience of roots, tubers & bananas

Given its focus on the resilience of root, tuber and banana crops, Flagship Project 3 (FP3) aims to incorporate environmental, biological, ecological and economic considerations into the various ‘clusters’ – distinct projects within the flagship.

Crop resilience can be compromised in myriad ways, notes James Legg, FP3 leader and a plant virologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Among them:

  • Biological factors: including pests, diseases and the inevitable introduction of alien invasive species into a new geographical region as a function of increased international trade and people’s global movement patterns
  • Environmental factors: ranging from drought and increased soil salinity to unexpected spikes or drops in temperature
  • Agro-ecological factors: such as the over-exploitation of land through multiple cycles of cropping, which leads to soil degradation, nutrient deficiencies and other problems
  • Social factors: T for example, population growth leading to greater pressure on agricultural land, or the impacts on shareholders of increasingly smaller farming plots
  • Factors related to changing global climate: these effects will differ greatly among crops and could include shortened life cycles and increased economic damage from major pests.

Cassava farmer examines his field infected by cassava witches’ broom disease in Cambodia. Photo G.Smith/CIAT

Across this array of threats to resilience, technology is vitally important for achieving the goals of FP3, Legg says. For example, sequencing DNA from a specific pest can help the team determine which species are present in which locations, leading to more precisely targeted control efforts.

Moreover, the ability to use new tools to diagnose a disease more quickly and cheaply goes a long way toward containing the threat it poses.

“The invasive pathogen Fusarium oxysporum fsp cubense – Tropical Race 4 – was detected for the first time on the African continent, in a single farm in Mozambique, through the use of a molecular diagnostic method using polymerase chain reaction (PCR),” Legg says. “FP3 scientists and their partners are now using these diagnostics in a containment programme that will map the geographic spread of this new pathogen prior to designing a comprehensive control strategy.”

Yellow and wilted leaves are typical symptoms of Fusarium wilt. Photo G.Blomme/Bioversity International

Sometimes, efforts to boost crop resilience occur in isolation from efforts to enhance other desirable traits. Yet that won’t always be the case: Legg observes that increasingly in Phase II, FPs will combine to “bring these two lines of work together so that improved nutritional profiles” – whose development IN orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), cassava and banana is being addressed in FP2 and FP4 – “will be combined with resistance to major biotic and abiotic threats in new varieties developed and promoted.” In fact there are multiple natural points of intersection among FP3’s focus on resilience and its sister flagships. By the same token, germplasm development work housed under FP2 will dovetail with specific clusters in FP3. In addition, FP3’s project to improve diagnosis and control using phytosanitation of banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) is being linked to other flagships to help scale up efforts to control its spread.

In theory, how long would it take for Legg and the rest of the FP3 team to ascertain if resilience has increased in a given crop? It all depends on the factors against which resilience is being gauged, he says.

For example, since FP3 covers much of RTB’s disease-management work, it might only require two or three growing seasons (ideally in different locations) to measure whether crops now display greater ability to withstand pest and disease pressures. Yet “for factors such as climate change or soil degradation, the period required may be longer,” he says.

“Much of the cross cutting thinking on resilience in FP3 is being undertaken within cluster 3.2, Sustainable Cropping Systems,” Legg continues. “Under this cluster, research is being undertaken that aims to develop resilient production systems. Since this work considers the whole system, with its diversity of crops and environments, there is an inherent complexity. This will mean that it will take several years before systems with enhanced resilience can be developed, and several more years before the robustness of those systems can be confirmed.”

Cassava farmer, Mr. Khalifa Omari Nkrumah, of Mkurangra district, Tanzania inspects his cassava plants for the presence of Cassava Brown Streak Disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

As resilience increases, so too can smallholders’ potential economic and social benefits. Yet Legg cautions that there’s no quick path from greater resilience to greater revenue.

“Yield increases can be converted to estimates of economic gain and increased income,” he notes. “Calculating the impact at the community level is significantly more challenging, and requires the implementation of impact studies conducted at the community level both before baseline and after the implementation of resilience-promoting activities.” Typically speaking, community level change is achieved only after a meaningful period of scaling – which is where FP5 Improved Livelihoods at Scale will engage and support.

“The key theme unifying all of the FPs is the development of productive, profitable and sustainable systems that will ensure that roots, tubers and bananas make a major contribution to sustaining and enhancing the livelihoods of the growing number of people living in the tropical parts of the developing world,” Legg says. “In all the FPs, we share a common goal, and we are working closely together to achieve that.”

This is the third in a series of blogs showcasing the new Flagship Projects of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The next edition will examine Flagship 2 on ‘Adaptive Varieties and Quality Seed‘. By Amy Rogers Nazarov

Nutritious foods and added value for health and wealth

“It starts with the person who wants to eat affordable, safe, nutritious food,” says Simon Heck, the Mozambique-based sweetpotato project leader for the International Potato Center and the leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 4 on Nutritious Food and Added Value. “The urban consumer will [represent] the majority [of consumers] soon, and we must focus on how they” – along with the smallholders raising and selling the crops – “attain the benefits of roots, tubers and bananas.”

With that vision in mind, this flagship has an important focus on promoting utilization and uptake of biofortified crops – those bred for maximum nutrients – such as orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), cassava, potato and potentially banana and yam too.

Levels of beta carotene in both OFSP and cassava – which the body converts to Vitamin A – is an area of special interest considering its role in the health and development of young children. Lacking sufficient Vitamin A, tens of millions of children in developing countries suffer from stunted growth which limits mental development, as well as premature death and blindness.

Children under five years of age eating OFSP. Photo credit: HKI

While work to enhance OFSP is well underway in RTB, other biofortification efforts show a great deal of promise. Among them: boosting iron and zinc levels in Irish potato and breeding cassava that (like OFSP) contains higher levels of beta carotene. While “cassava doesn’t respond as quickly” as OFSP does, Heck notes, it’s just as critical a crop to smallholders in certain regions.

To that end, geography and economics figure into which crops warrant biofortification research within FP4. “You might say, well, OFSP is much richer in beta carotene than cassava – but cassava can grow in places where nothing else grows,” Heck notes. Indeed OFSP can contain more concentrated levels of beta carotene, “but it’s limited in terms of its distribution.” Potato may be able to modified to contain more zinc, but the higher costs of raising potato may limit the benefit that nutritional boost can have.

Approaches to promoting biofortification in one crop can be deployed in the service of another, Heck says. “You build on what has been achieved,” he says. “It’s one of the values of how RTB approaches this work: in our platform, we can exchange scientific methods to accelerate progress across [multiple] crops. We owe it to the farmers [growing crops] and to the children [consuming them] to make full use of what each of us knows.”

For all crops, the effectiveness of crop processing and storage methods will affect smallholders’ outcomes and consumers’ health, too. The best varieties and harvesting techniques mean little if half the crops are lost due to spoilage or pests, so FP4 is looking closely at best practices in these areas as well. Methods ranging from pureeing OFSP for distribution in vacuum packed bags, to processing zinc-rich potato into flour, to storing harvested crops underground or at ambient temperatures to better support their preservation may be suitable, depending on a region’s climate, topography, financial stability, electrical grid health and other factors, Heck says.

FP4 is also paying close attention to improving the efficiency and reducing the energy and environmental footprint of cassava processing. Great strides have been made to understand how the higher efficiency of large scale cassava processing plants in Asia could be replicated at a much smaller scale in Africa and Latin America, opening up an important space for south-south learning.

Cassava starch processing in Vietnam. Photo N.Palmer/CIAT

In its clusters, FP4 must also pay heed to gender roles that may have long dictated tasks around growing and selling crops.

“Two domains that are often separate in many countries come together [under the auspices of FP4],” Heck says. “Men’s domain roles tend to be perceived to be around agriculture, while those of women are perceived to be around caregiving and feeding. Now, a lot of our assumptions seem to imply that somehow a benefit generated in one sphere will translate into benefits in another sphere, but we know it is not that easy.” The question becomes: “How do we involve both men and women in both spheres?”

Remember: a lot of OFSP, for example, is actually grown by women, Heck notes. By the same token, “we want to involve men in childcare, nutrition, materials extension and activities.” While gender-based roles are certainly bound by tradition, “they are never written in stone.” Working with more organizations that already have credibility in checking these assumptions is key to breaking down gender-based barriers.

Loading OFSP on a bike in Western Kenya. Photo credit: HKI

In addition to working with organizations that can help examine gender-based assumptions, FP4 will develop partnerships with local health clinics and government agencies services. These organizations are often ideally placed to enable consumers to understand the healthful benefits of RTB through programs such as:

  • Teaching adults how to prepare these foods, processed or not
  • Working with pregnant women and mothers to help them learn about the role Vitamin A and other micronutrients play in the health of the developing fetus, infant and child
  • Measuring health outcomes within a given community over time

FP4 is largely about “overcoming barriers of acceptance of crops,” Heck concludes. “One good thing about the biofortification strategy is that the crops you are biofortifying are ones that already exist, that are accepted [in the region]. People already know how to cultivate them; they’re already part of people’s recommended diets. We can tap into the capacity that is already there” – and, partnering with Flagship 5 on ‘Improved livelihoods at scale’ and others, scale up efforts to amplify biofortification’s potential to boost crop nutrition, hardiness and stability in a changing, hungry world.

This is the second in a series of blogs showcasing the new Flagship Projects of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The next edition will examine Flagship 3 on ‘Resilient Crops‘. By Amy Rogers Nazarov

Economically sustainable seed businesses to transform cassava production in Nigeria

Seed sector professionals have said that businesses selling improved varieties and high quality cassava stems for cultivation could help African farmers significantly raise their productivity. This will mean more income from the same land, inputs and effort. The benefits of this raised productivity will be enjoyed by all the stakeholders across the value chain in a sustainable way.

This was part of the resolutions from a national stakeholder conference on cassava seed system organized by the project, ‘Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System’ (BASICS) that was held at the Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan from 20 – 23 March, 2017.

The meeting, which reflected on the experiences of BASICS in 2016 and refined the project plan for 2017 and beyond, brought together national and international researchers, academics, policymakers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and farmers to a roundtable.

Making the case for urgent need for all the stakeholders to work towards a sustainable seed system in Nigeria, Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director for BASICS, reminded the participants that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with a production of about 54 million tons, but its yield per hectare of cassava roots is about 8 tons, less than half of the realizable yields of more than 20 tons per hectare. Researchers say one of the factors responsible for the low yield of cassava is the low adoption of clean and healthy seeds of improved varieties of cassava by farmers.

Participants at the BASICS project meeting in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photo: IITA

“We have to start with the right planting material and nurture it with good agronomy and weed management practices.  Each of these three components has the potential to raise the productivity of cassava by 30 percent. If we do not improve our practices in seed, weed and agronomy, we are incurring a lost opportunity of about 200 billion Naira annually from each of the three issues,” he explained.

BASICS is commercially piloting two distinct pathways of seed delivery. In one, called’Village Seed Entrepreneur model’, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services in Benue and with National Roots Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), in Abia, Imo, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, the project is helping develop a network of 130 community based seed enterprises. These Village Seed Entrepreneurs will source certified stems of improved varieties of cassava from NRCRI and IITA to multiply and sell to the farmers in their vicinity. This way, the farmers will not have to go far to source quality stems for planting. In the second pilot called ‘Processor Led Model’, in partnership with Context Global Development, the project is working with large processors of cassava who will then make available quality stems to their outgrowers with a buy back arrangement for the roots produced.

Lawrence Kent with Peter Kulakow of IITA who is showing the plantlets from the SAH early generation multiplication thriving in the field. Photo G.Thiele/RTB

Emmanuel Azaino of Catholic Relief Services proudly shows their poster which won the people’s vote during the stakeholder meeting. Photo: G.Thiele/RTB

Slow and low multiplication ratio has been a key constraint in cassava seed system. The project is piloting a new technology called Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics for vastly rapid seed multiplication. Once this technology from Argentina is adapted and perfected in Nigeria by the Project, it is expected to have a significant impact on the ability of early generation seed businesses to quickly bring suitable varieties within reach of farmers. The project is also working with National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and Fera of the UK to improve the quality certification system in Nigeria.

Lawrence Kent, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the aim of the project is to build an economically sustainable seed system that is profitable both to the sellers of quality stems and to the farmers who purchase and plant those stems. He encouraged all to create reusable bridges to continuously link technology developers with farmers through business oriented approaches, like the one being implemented under BASICS.

Graham Thiele, Program Director for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, which leads the BASICS project; Alfred Dixon, IITA Director for Development and Delivery, and Project Leader for the Cassava Weed Management Project; Amin Babandi, Director of Agriculture, FMARD, represented by Segun Ayeni, DD Roots and Tuber crops, FMARD; Folusho Olaniyan OON, CEO, Contact Consulting Nigeria and Program Director, AgraInnovate West Africa; Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director of Technical Operations, AATF and Robert Asiedu, Director R4D, IITA-West, all shared perspectives and added their voice for all stakeholders to jointly build a strong and sustainable seed system for cassava in Nigeria and wished all stakeholders well.

The BASICS project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

For more information, please contact
Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director, BASICS h.nitturkar@cgiar.org

SciDev – Africa’s top science stories from first half of 2015

As 2015 comes to an end, we highlight science articles published by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English regional edition that were most popular with our audiences by the end of June.

Many top stories had agricultural ‘flavor’, which attests to the huge impact of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, but other stories that many readers viewed included those relating to environment, information and communication technology, research and development, education and funding…

A story on roots, tubers and bananas indicated that a three-year project in Uganda aimed at adding value to the crops had begun. A postharvest specialist at the International Potato Center in Uganda, who is the leader of the project, says use of postharvest and processing technologies could help prevent losses of bananas, roots and tubers, and improve food security on the continent. Another expert indicated that cassava roots have a very short marketing period of 48 hours, thus leading to economic losses of up to 90 per cent of the initial value if smallholders lack storage technologies.

Read the full article at SciDev.Net

Queen’s Anniversary Prize for ground-breaking work on cassava awarded to RTB partner, NRI

World-leading research and development on cassava by the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich (NRI) has been honored with a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is to present the university with a silver gilt medallion and prize-winner’s certificate during a special reception at Buckingham Palace next year.

The prize recognizes NRI’s research and development in the field of cassava, the tropical root crop predominantly grown by smallholder farmers in the developing world, especially in Africa, where it is an important staple food for millions.

Cassava faces a number of challenges: it is vulnerable to attack by pests and virus diseases and faces obstacles to market access, storage and handling issues and a short shelf-life. It has also received less investment than other crops resulting in significant gaps in knowledge.

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) began working with NRI in 2013 on a key project called ‘Driving livelihood improvements through demand-oriented interventions for competitive production and processing of cassava’. The project largely focusses on sub-Saharan African countries, which is a key region for NRI’s work on cassava.

Men and women work together to process cassava in Benin. Photo by  D.Dufour/RTB

Men and women work together to process cassava in Benin. Photo by D.Dufour/RTB

Research included analyzing and improving cassava peeling technologies to reduce time, energy and product losses for cassava processors, who are mainly women, in countries including Nigeria. Two key technologies used by smallholder farmers in Tanzania for drying cassava peels were also evaluated, leading to recommendations on how to improve the efficiency of the process for farmers.

Studies to understand consumer preferences have also been carried out to assess how new processing technologies and improved cassava varieties may impact key cassava products like gari and fufu. Qualitative research also analyzed how men and women perceive and rate the quality of processed cassava products.

The project ‘Driving livelihood improvements through demand-oriented interventions for competitive production and processing of cassava’ is funded by RTB and involves partners including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cirad, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and of course, NRI.

RTB Program Director, Graham Thiele, commented that NRI “is a strategic partner for RTB in post-harvest innovation and we are absolutely delighted with the wonderful news and well earned recognition for path-breaking research.”

Advancements in cassava research will also be a key feature at the upcoming World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, due to take place in Nanning, Guangxi, China, from 18 – 22 January 2016. The Congress will bring together the world’s foremost experts in the field, including representatives from NRI, RTB, CIAT, IITA and Cirad, to share advice, review scientific progress, and identify and set priorities for future research, along with raising awareness of the global importance of root and tuber crops like cassava.

Read the award announcement on the NRI website.

What’s in your noodle soup?

You may never have heard of it before. A globetrotting crop by all accounts, it’s thought to have been introduced into Southeast Asia in the Philippines from Mexico in the 19th Century.

As our diet becomes ever more complex, cassava – or tapioca – a root crop like sweetpotato originally from South America, has been transformed far from it’s center of origin and today in Asia, can be found in everything from noodles to sweeteners, street food snacks, industrial products, pharmaceutical products, even biofuel.

It is still eaten as a staple crop in the region, steamed or boiled and eaten as a carbohydrate staple, especially in mountainous areas where few other crops grow. But in various forms including starch, root and tuber crops supply an increasingly diverse and lucrative market.

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In Asia, cassava has been transformed into everything from noodles to sweeteners. In Hanoi, it is a popular ingredient in urban street food. Photo: G.Smith / CIAT

Asia is now the world’s largest trader of cassava and cassava products. Farmers cultivate cassava on their small plots of land because they do not have to spend a lot of time looking after it, and it brings in a good income, and it is relatively climate-hardy: it can grow well despite low rainfall, poor soil fertility and temperature increases.

Global demand in the carbohydrate market for cassava is on the rise, driving a billion-dollar industry. This burgeoning market represents a huge opportunity for poor smallholder farmers to earn a better income from a crop which requires little investment and can grow on very poor soil.

Driving a billion-dollar industry

Yet the food security agenda in Asia-Pacific is dominated by grain crops, rice and wheat, despite the fact that cassava – and other root and tuber crops like potato, sweetpotato – are a staple food for poor farming households, especially among ethnic minorities.

Root and tuber crops are directly consumed in a variety of traditional fresh and processed foods. They also play an increasing important role as a source of income – both in urban fresh markets and from processing in food and non-food industries – enabling families to buy other sources of food.

Opportunities for both women and men to gain from these value chains could be better understood, and research is underway to investigate how poorer smallholder farmers can benefit most. The FoodSTART+ initiative, part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, to be launched in Asia in early 2016, is one such example.

When disaster strikes

The crop is grown in a rapidly and dramatically changing environment, characterized by climate change, population pressure, fast changing land use patterns, low input use and low soil fertility, driving the emergence of new pests and diseases and presenting new challenges.

But root and tuber crops are considered buffer crops when disasters like typhoons strike or during acute food scarcity following extreme weather events. Farmers turn to root and tuber crops for an income, or to provide immediate food.

Funded by the European Union through IFAD, the FoodSTART+ project will assess possibilities for poor communities to improve their food security, nutrition, and income earning opportunities by tapping into root and tuber value chains in China, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Vietnam. CIAT’s work in Asia on root and tuber crops spans decades to improve food security in the region.

This new project is part of a wider strategic research initiative to investigate urban and informal markets, distribution dynamics and gender relations to understand rapidly changing food supply chains in Asia.

Next year there will be a major focus on root and tuber crops in the region, during the World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops in Nanning, China, January 18-22.

Read the original story by Georgina Smith on the International Center for Tropical Agriculture website.

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Advancements in cassava processing for SE Asia highlighted at public, private-sector meeting

A cassava-processing workshop held in Bangkok from 2 – 4 December 2015 brought together researchers, and representatives of the private sector in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia, who presented the current situation of cassava production and processing in their countries.

Discussions focused on the perceived needs and priorities for technological improvements for cassava processing, as well as the socio-economic challenges and opportunities for the cassava value chain in South-East Asia. A visit to a cassava starch factory near Bangkok fostered further discussions and exchanges.

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Cassava is processed in to starch at a factory near Bangkok, Thailand. Photo D.Dufour

Marcelo Precoppe and Arnaud Chapuis, post-doctoral fellows with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and CIRAD, presented the findings of their research on flash drying to improve the energy efficiency of cassava flour and starch production, as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) complementary funding project “Driving livelihood improvements through demand-oriented interventions for competitive production and processing of RTBs”.

In particular, they developed design guidelines for efficient flash dryers, which can help reduce production costs and make small-scale processing of cassava viable in countries with an emerging cassava industry.

The cassava industry is set to expand in South-East Asia, and also in Africa in the coming years, to meet increasing demand for cassava-based products such as flour, starch or chips, in relation to economic development and growing urban populations. Research to develop more efficient cassava processing equipment is therefore crucial to ensure a sustainable development of the industry.

The workshop led to user-generated ideas for prospective areas of research and collaboration, and brought together potential public and private sector partners for future implementation.

The workshop was organized by NSTDA-BIOTEC (Thailand) in collaboration with Kasetsart University and CIRAD, with financial support from RTB, SEA-EU-NET, and the Embassy of France in Thailand.

Technological improvements in cassava processing and production will also be featured at the upcoming World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops from 18 – 22 January 2016 in Nanning, China. wrctc 851x315pix

New project to develop cassava seed businesses will enhance quality seed access, increase productivity and generate income in Nigeria

We are pleased and proud to announce the signing of a new project entitled ‘Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ with $USD11.6 million funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The four year project aims to sustainably improve farmers’ access to high quality and affordable cassava planting materials through the development and promotion of commercial models for seed provision.

The project will also build the capacity of Nigerian institutions like The National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and the National Root Crops Research Institute in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and other stakeholders, including both men and women cassava farmers, processors and commercial seed producers to develop and put in to place a testing, field inspection and certification system for cassava seed. This will in turn help fast-track improved breeders’ cassava varieties to farmers.

High quality cassava seed improves farmers’ yields and profitability. Photo by IITA

This will help to ensure that good quality, disease-free planting materials are in use throughout the industry to improve productivity and incomes for farmers and their families.

The project will be coordinated by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and implemented by partners including International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), the International Potato Center (CIP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Fera Science Ltd, Context Global Development,  the Nigerian National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and others.

Cassava is the most important food crop for Nigeria, the world’s largest producer. Cassava is contributing to Nigerian agricultural transformation and reducing poverty through its lowering of production costs and increasing productivity, coupled with the employment opportunities that are generated through cassava processing – which are particularly important for women and youth.

Chiedozie Egesi, Assistant Director and Head, Cassava Breeding National Root Crops Research Institute of Nigeria: “Despite the huge potentials of the crop to empower farmers, the cassava seed system has been weak and poorly organized due to lack of motivated seed entrepreneurs. Our hope is that this project will bring solution to a critical link in the crop’s value chain.”

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director: “A transformation in cassava production and processing is underway in Nigeria to fully tap the potential of this crop to contribute to economic growth and livelihoods. One of the missing pieces of the jigsaw was the provision of high quality seed of the varieties which processors and growers need. If we can get this right there is a very large multiplier effect. We need to bring all the players along a seed value chain together in a shared vision. We have a great team in Nigeria and after a lot of hard work to put together a winning proposal we can’t wait to get going.”

The project will work with stakeholders including men and women cassava farmers, processors and commercial seed producers. Photo by IITA.

Commencing in 2016, the project will enhance the cassava transformation by working with four key clients including cassava farmers, commercial processor groups, village seed nurseries and government stakeholders to further support commercial seed producers.

Peter Kulakow, Head of the Cassava Breeding Unit, IITA: “This project will introduce new rapid multiplication technologies to increase the supply of high quality seed and we will engage industry and farmer participation to generate demand for new commercial varieties that meet industry and end user needs.”