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The Challenge

In Colombia, cassava is a staple crop planted to more than 200,000 hectares. The Caribbean region of Colombia has the highest area of cultivation in the country (100,000 hectares) but accounts for only 37.8% of the total national production (According to National Administrative Department of Statistics). Production levels there have remained stagnant while other areas of Colombia have improved. This inequity is due to a dominant use of traditional planting systems without proper soil preparation and fertilization, and deficient seed quality.

Cassava is used mainly for food, livestock feed, and the production of native and fermented starches. Certain requirements are needed to meet farmers’ needs and consumers’ expectations. The expansion of cassava starch is critical to obtain a sour taste, a necessary trait for the baking industry, but varieties grown in the Caribbean must also be resistant to pests and diseases, high yielding, and well adapted to humid and dry coastal climatic conditions.

CIAT’s Role

In response to demand for the cassava varieties described above, the Colombian Corporation of Agricultural Research (Corpoica) and CIAT have applied the advantages of considerable and complementing scientific talent, as well as experiment stations located in key regions of Colombia. Thanks to good team dynamics, cassava researchers are able to maintain a constant flow of so-called “segregating populations” for evaluation, along with a constant exchange of ideas and experiences. Every year, CIAT makes thousands of crosses between elite lines, resulting in large quantities of cassava seed, where each seed is a potential new variety.

In April 2017, Corpoica released three varieties adapted to the Caribbean coast: Corpoica Belloti, Corpoica Sinuana, and Corpoica Ropain. These varieties are more resistant to pests such as white fly and thrips, and common diseases such as leaching and those caused by bacteria. These new varieties are better equipped to be stored (for at least one month) in the normal dry and humid conditions of the Caribbean coast, without losing the ability to germinate.

What has changed?

The Caribbean varieties are available to farmers and are being distributed through Corpoica, with expected yields higher than 28 tons per hectare. These varieties signify an improved supply of cassava starch for the important Colombian bread industry. A strengthened partnership between Corpoica and CIAT, according to Hernán Ceballos, CIAT’s cassava breeder, “… enables us to obtain better results through constant knowledge sharing and synergy.” Farmers benefit from increased efficiency in information sharing among CIAT, Corpoica, and the associations that support them.