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Scientists Meet Over Global Cassava Threats

Gathering in the Nigerian city of Ibadan, cassava experts will report progress on efforts to shorten the cassava breeding cycle, enhance flowering and seed set, educate and train African plant breeders, and implement gender-responsive variety selection.
Cassava Crop is under threat from viruses
 

The world's top cassava experts are meeting in Nigeria to report progress on developing new varieties of cassava with higher yield and nutritional content.

The meeting at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan comes at the time when the Cassava crop is being threatened by virus and a range of pests and diseases. 

The scientists are also hoping that enhancing the cassava crop with more nutritious elements will increase its consumption.

Chiedozie Egesi, a project manager with International Institute for Tropical Agriculture's Next Generation Cassava Breeding project (NextGen Cassava) in a statement says Africa produces more than half of the world's cassava — about 86 million tons from over 10 million hectares.

Egesi, whose project is conducting research on bio-fortifying cassava with essential micro-nutrients, says disease pathogens and climate change threaten cassava production and jeopardise the income and food security of smallholder farmers.

Since 2012, scientists on the NextGen Cassava project have been working to increase the rate of genetic improvement in cassava breeding and unlock cassava's full potential.

New varieties with enhanced productivity and nutritional traits typically take up to 10 years to develop.

Scientists on the NextGen project are focused on giving breeders in Africa access to the most advanced plant breeding technologies to deliver improved varieties to farmers more rapidly.

“Partners of NextGen Cassava are using a state-of-the-art plant breeding approach known as genomic selection to improve cassava productivity for the 21st century,” said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics.

Genomic selection according to Coffman shortens breeding cycles, provides more accurate evaluation at the seedling stage, and gives plant breeders the ability to evaluate a much larger number of clones without the need to plant them in the target environment.

Using genomic selection, new releases of cassava are expected soon. “The best clones from NextGen Cassava genomic selection efforts are in Uniform Yield Trials this year and are due to be released to farmers in the next two years,” said Egesi.

Cassava is predicted to be one of the few crops that will benefit from climate change because it requires few inputs and can withstand drought, marginal soils and long-term underground storage.

A cash and subsistence crop, the storage roots of this perennial woody shrub are processed, consumed freshly boiled or raw, and eaten by people as well as animals as a low-cost source of carbohydrates.

In 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID) under its UK Aid programme invested 25.2 million Dollars to improve cassava productivity and build human and technical capacity for plant breeding in sub-Saharan Africa.

The five-year project, led by Cornell University works with 10 institutional partners across six countries including Uganda's National Crops Resources Research Institute -- NaCRRI.