Huyen Thi Phuc, a small-scale farmer in southern Vietnam, has grown cassava and cashew nuts for 15 years. The cassava, a root crop, brings in more than half her income. She grows it because it doesn’t require heavy labor or fertilizer, and it’s one of the few crops that grow in the poor soil on her farm.
But strong winds, worse in recent years, have blown down the tall-growing cassava varieties she usually plants. So, not long ago, she tried planting new kinds of cassava, developed at the local Hung Loc Research Center, in Dong Nai Province.
“I recently grew two new varieties and my yield doubled,” she said. “The stems do not fall down when it’s windy.”
Huyen Thi Phuc is one of millions of farmers who today can find better, higher-yielding, disease- or climate-resilient cassava varieties as a result of decades of agricultural research.
Cassava is a survivor crop. It can withstand harsh conditions – drought, heat or infertile soils – as agriculture intensifies and populations grow. It is a carbohydrate source for 500 million people globally and a staple in Africa, Asia and South America, which account for 53 percent, 33 percent and 14 percent of global production respectively.
Since the 1990s, agricultural researchers in the region and globally have collaborated to develop highly successful cassava varieties. Take, for example, cassava variety KU 50, now the world’s most cultivated cassava variety.