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Six steps forward for root and tuber crops

Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) shares his top six highlights from the first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, January 18 – 22, Nanning, China.

With root and tuber crops providing food for than 2.2 billion million people around the globe, it is no surprise that our efforts to improve these crops are so broad and geographically dispersed. The first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, which has just wrapped up in Nanning, China, brought together hundreds of experts working on various areas in the value chain and  is a special forum to share advances across all our crops.

This is one of the reasons why RTB is so pleased to support the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) and Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) as co-organizers. For me, it was also great to see so many friends and colleagues in the roots and tubers community and catch up on progress. There is so much to report back, but I do have a few highlights from the week which particularly struck me to share.

Omics and beyond

It’s astonishing the progress made with understanding the genetic makeup of root and tuber crops and the different pathways from genes to trait expression which the new science of ‘omics’ has made possible. It was impressive to see the progress made by our Chinese colleagues, including a lively presentation from Songbi Chen of the Tropical Crops Genetic Resources Institute of the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) on the application of proteomics cassava breeding to understand how we could improve photosynthetic efficiency and starch accumulation in roots, thus potentially increasing their dry matter content.

A CIAT researcher examines cassava buds in the lab. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

A CIAT researcher examines cassava buds in the lab. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

Cassava as animal feed

I knew that cassava is a potential feed for livestock but I hadn’t understood that it actually has some special advantages. The presentation from Uthai Kanto, Associate Professor at Kasetsart University, and of the Thai Tapioca Development Institute (TTDI) explained how the fermentation and slight acidity of cassava chips inhibits mycotoxins when it used as a feed. Additionally the presence of low and non-toxic levels of cyanide even gives immunity to disease. These factors mean it’s a healthier alternative feed ingredient for livestock compared to maize, with improved weight gain for the animals although it does need a bit of enrichment with a protein source. This is an important finding for RTB supported work in utilization of cassava peel as animal feed.

Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato farmers in Rwanda. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato farmers in Rwanda. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Policy change promotes sweetpotato

Sweetpotato and other roots and tubers are often neglected crops. So it was very encouraging to learn from Jan Low of the International Potato Center (CIP) that because of advocacy and progress in research through the SASHA and SUSTAIN projects implemented by CIP, Rwanda has included in recent policy documents the promotion of biofortified foods, and in three districts (Muhanga, Gakeneke and Rulindo) local governments have included sweetpotato as a priority crop as part of their efforts to fight micronutrient malnutrition and improve the diversification of diets. For sure there are lessons here for other root, tuber and banana crops.

 

Cassava seed system in Uganda

Anthony Pariyo of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda explained there has been good progress made towards developing a sustainable seed system for cassava in Uganda, including a functional public-private partnership with BioCrops providing 12,000 plants from bioculture and a network of 47 seed entrepreneurs selling seed to farmers. There are some potential lessons here for a new RTB project on cassava seed systems which is getting underway in Nigeria.

Pruning buys time for cassava

Cassava roots deteriorate quickly after harvest, posing a significant challenge for farmers and processors. Harriet Muyinza of NARO took part in an exchange visit to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia sponsored by the RTB-ENDURE project, during which she applied a cassava pruning technique that she learned during the exchange in field trials in Uganda. The results are very promising, showing that with one of the varieties called Tim Tim, pruning reduced post-harvest deterioration to below 20%, compared to 70% without pruning. This suggests that pruning could be effective for farmers to reduce storage loss and have more time to transport their crop to market.

Brown streak disease resistance

Morag Ferguson from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reported the surprising finding that resistance to cassava brown streak disease, previously thought to have come from East Africa, was actually derived from a West African landrace. This, together with their location of molecular markers associated with the genetic inheritance of resistance should importantly enable preemptive breeding against brown streak disease in West Africa. This could be extremely important given that the disease is spreading west from its origin on the coast of Tanzania and potentially affecting the rest of the continent.

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, presents the program's priority assessment plans during the Congress. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, summarizes the findings of the program’s priority assessment during the Congress. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

I also took the opportunity to present two plenary sessions – the first updating the progress in RTB and giving a closer look at our work on improving climate change resilience, and the second summarizing the findings of the RTB priority assessment. This assessment kicked off at the GCP21 in 2013 and so it was very appropriate to present a wrap up in China.

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.

The First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops will be held in January 2016 in China

ImprimirThe Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) and the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) join forces with CATAS – Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture Sciences, and GCRI – Guangxi Cassava Research Institute, to organize the First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops in Nanning, Guangxi, China, on January 18-22, 2016.

The congress represents a unique opportunity for exchanging expert and scientific advice on RTCs – in particular for the global South – and will facilitate the discourse amongst key root and tuber crops stakeholders like farmers, end-users, researchers, the private sector and donor agencies.

It aims at raising awareness of the importance of the RTCs in the world, reviewing recent scientific progress, identifying and setting priorities for new opportunities and challenges as well as charting a course to seek R&D support for areas where it is currently inadequate or lacking.

The theme of the congress is ‘Adding Value to Root and Tuber Crops’ – from seed production to product diversification, enabling the identification of solutions for major bottlenecks in the production and proposing new technical solutions to resolve problems.

Due to its structure and content, the congress will facilitate the process of bringing together the scientific world and the private sector. There will be two formal plenary sessions, eight concurrent poster and oral scientific sessions per day offering more than 250 presentations, as well as evening workshops and much more to promote discussions around over 24 topics ranging from genomics to products.

In addition, the Congress will be preceded and followed by professional, technical and strategic satellite meetings, which will bring together an unprecedented crowd of professionals in the field.

Registration for the Congress is currently open via the conference website. Attendance is limited to 750, so early registration is advised.

There are also very attractive opportunities for exhibitors and sponsors. So don’t miss your chance to present your company to this qualified national and international audience!

Have a look at the available packages here: Sponsoring – Exhibitions

More information on the official Congress website or the GCP21 facebook page.

First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops will draw international crowd of scientists to Southern China

Hundreds of the world’s top experts on potato, cassava, sweetpotato, yam and other root crops will gather in the city of Nanning, located in China´s southern province of Guangxi, October 5-10 for the First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops. The event is the result of a collaboration between the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) and the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), both of which are supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

“China is a key location for roots and tubers: it’s the first potato and sweetpotato producer in the world,” explained RTB Director Graham Thiele. “I expect that ISTRC and GCP21 – both close partners of our research program – will draw several hundreds of participants to the Congress, which should help advance the agenda for potatoes, sweetpotatoes, cassava, yams and other roots and tubers, all of which are important crops in developing countries.”

Root and tuber crops are essential food staples for hundreds of millions, and they generate significant income for industry. However, scientists agree that further research is needed to help farmers and businesses fully tap their potential:

  • Some potato and sweetpotato cultivars are especially promising, thanks to their high vitamin and mineral content. Orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes, in particular, can dramatically improve the health of children and mothers in poor areas thanks to their high content of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Some potato cultivars, on the other hand, are rich in zinc, iron, and antioxidants – vital nutrients that millions of people don’t consume enough of.
  • Cassava, a starchy root crop that can be grown in poor soils, is raising a lot of interest given its resilience to climate change. While cassava is consumed by some 700 million people today, it is expected to feed more than 2 billion people by 2050. Cassava is also in growing demand for industries in Africa and Asia.
  • Other root crops, such as yam, taro and cocoyam, are traditional staples that play an important role in food security and income generation, but which would benefit producers and consumers much more if their full potential were tapped.

“The Congress will be a good opportunity to share information on major advances in yam research since the first global conference on that crop in Accra in 2013,” said Robert Asiedu, Director for West Africa of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

‘The theme of the Congress is ‘Adding Value,’ which is appropriate given that – despite their importance – investment in root and tuber research has been much lower than for cereal crops. While root and tuber crops play an important role in food security and nutrition, they hold great potential for improving incomes through direct sales or value-addition via processing for food and non-food uses. Participants will consequently discuss appropriate processing technologies and business enterprise models for developing nations. They will exchange information on themes ranging from varietal selection to pest and disease control to their delivery to processors and markets, but special attention will be paid to gender issues and planning for climate change.

Keith Tomlins, ISTRC President and a professor at UK’s Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, explained that: “The ISTRC fully supports the objectives and theme of the Congress as this is a key policy of the Society. This is our 17th triennial symposium, and the first time that the ISTRC has been involved in a meeting in China; we are very excited by the opportunity and the Chinese Local Organizing Committee has made us feel very welcome.  We appreciate working with GCP21 and very much look forward to the Congress.”

The Congress in Nanning will be the third scientific conference for GCP21, which brought together some of the world’s top cassava experts in Ghent, Belgium in 2008 and Kampala, Uganda in 2012. Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21, explained that attendance grew significantly from 2008 to 2012, and he expects a large fraction of the world cassava community to gather in China.

“It will be an excellent opportunity to convene African and Asian scientists, technicians and developers so they can learn from one other,” said Fauquet. “It will also be a great opportunity for the public and private sectors to meet and generate new activities.  We have the momentum to make this First Congress on Root and Tuber Crops a real success, for the benefit of the global community.”

Pre-registration for the Congress is currently open via the conference website. Full registration and abstract submission will open by May 1, 2015 and the Travel Grant Program by April 15, 2015. Attendance is limited to 750, so early registration is advised.

National partners for the event include the Guangxi Academy of Sciences (GXAS), the Guangxi Cassava Research Institute (GCRI), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture Sciences (CATAS).

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ISTRC: The International Society for Tropical Root Crops was created to foster, stimulate and support any type of activity leading to the general improvement of world tropical root crop production and utilization. Created in 1967, it has an international mandate, through its membership and constitution, to help improve the research and development of cassava, sweet potato, yam, taro, potato and other root crops. As the forum for bringing together those involved in root and tuber crops, it supports, in particular, early-career scientists. http://www.istrc.org/

GCP21: The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century is an independent non-profit organization collaborating with several CGIAR Research Programs and an array of research and development (R&D) organizations working with cassava around the world. GCP21 organizes meetings and conferences on a variety of cassava topics aimed at filling gaps in R&D, promoting international funding for cassava R&D, triggering the production of industrial products from cassava, and providing a range of information about the crop and the scientists working on the crop. GCP21’s ultimate goal is to increase cassava productivity in the world. http://ciat.cgiar.org/gcp21

RTB: The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas is an international collaboration of agricultural research centers working on cassava, potato, sweetpotato, yam, banana, plantain and other roots and tubers that aims to improve the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest families. It combines the expertise and resources of the International Potato Center (CIP) as the lead center, Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and French partners represented by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD). www.rtb.cgiar.org

CATAS: Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture Sciences (headquartered in Haikou, China) is a national academy specifically for tropical and subtropical agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of the Chinese government. CATAS leads the cassava research in China, in multiple aspects including germplasm conservation and evaluation, breeding and planting technology; basic research on molecular mechanism of high starch accumulation and tolerance to drought based on genomics, transcriptomics and genomic breeding and evaluation and diagnostic of pests and diseases in cassava. There are two principal cassava research programs, the Chinese Cassava Industry Technology System and the National Basic Research Program of China funded by MOA and MOST respectively.

GCRI: the Guangxi Cassava Research Institute is the second agricultural institutes working on cassava in China. It was established in 2009 with the background of Guangxi being a province very important for cassava production in China, for more than 25 years. The production of cassava in the province accounts more than 70% of the country. The province is also very strong in cassava processing industry development, with major products such as starch and alcohol. Major research activities in GCRI are: breeding, cultivation practices, extension technologies, biotechnology, cassava comprehensive utilization (animal feed, human food, further use of by-products, etc.), rural economic development approaches based on cassava as an important income resource, technical training.

WCRTC