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Global partnership to promote genetic improvements to cassava, UN agency says

Global partnership to promote genetic improvements to cassava, UN agency says

Thirty of the world’s leading experts in cassava research have established a new partnership to promote and co-ordinate global investment in the genetic improvement of the root crop, a key source of nutrition in tropical countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today.

FAO described the Global Partnership for Cassava Genetic Improvement as a "very positive development" that reflected the urgent need to support the genetic improvement of the tuber to help millions of the world's hungriest people.

The tropical root crop cassava is the third most important source of calories in the tropics, after rice and corn, according to FAO. More than 600 million people depend on the crop in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where cassava is grown by poor farmers for whom the crop is vital for both food security and income generation.

FAO said that the importance of cassava is not reflected in the investment in research to improve the crop, which has made it lag behind other basic food crops. In the past 30 years, cassava productivity increased less than 1 per cent annually compared to 2 to 5 per cent in rice, wheat, and corn.

Bacterial and viral diseases, insect pests, weeds, and drought have combined to limit cassava production, which, in Africa averages 8 tons per hectare, compared to potential yields of over 80 tons per hectare, the UN agency said. Attempts by farmers to market their cassava products have also fallen short of their potential because of rapid post-harvest deterioration and inadequate starch and protein content in the roots.

New tools such as advanced molecular biology and biotechnology can, however, change this situation by offering new approaches which will make cassava much more productive, nutritious and profitable to grow, according to FAO.

The participating institutions have agreed to co-ordinate their research efforts, share findings, incorporate the views of farmers into the planning process, respect safety regulations in research, and strive to build scientific capacity in national institutions in cassava-growing countries.