Cassava is the third most important food crop in the tropics, after rice and maize. Esteemed by smallholder farmers for its tolerance to drought and infertile soils, the crop is inherently eco-efficient, offering a reliable source of food and income.
Half a billion people in Africa eat cassava every day, and this high-starch root is also an important staple in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Asia, where CIAT focuses strongly on this crop, cassava serves as a source of food and livestock feed, while also providing raw material for the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, industrial starch, biofuels, and other products. As a result, cassava is important not only for rural households but for national economies.
What we do: Delivering better varieties for income, nutrition, and resilience
CIAT scientists work with partners to boost yields by at least another 30% through continued genetic improvement and better agronomy as well as pest and disease management. CIAT seeks to develop and scale up cassava varieties that are agronomically competitive and more nutritious than varieties currently grown. Particular emphasis is placed on breeding for high content of provitamin A carotenoids.
The Center’s cassava team also develops novel starch quality traits such as the waxy-starch and small-granule mutations which promise to strengthen the crop’s appeal to industrial markets.
To help counter the threat of pests and diseases, CIAT scientists devise diagnostic kits for disease detection and use advanced spatial analysis to study changes in the distribution of key pests and diseases. In search of solutions, researchers identify biological control agents and develop sources of genetic resistance.
We develop better cassava that is:
- Higher yielding
- Better starch quality
- Nutritionally improved (especially provitamin A carotenoids)
- Resistant to pests and diseases
How we do it: Leveraging genetic resources and biotechnology tools
CIAT conserves in vitro the world’s most important collection of cassava gemplasm. The cassava collection held in trust at CIAT includes a total of 6,592 accessions from 28 countries, represented in 5,709 clones of Manihot esculenta and 883 genotypes of wild species conserved using in vitro techniques. Over 37% of the cassava diversity held in CIAT’s genebank originates from Colombia, with another 24% coming from Brazil. Collections from other South American countries (21%), as well as Central America and the Caribbean (7%), and Asia (7%) are also conserved at CIAT.
Cassava improvement at CIAT relies on biotechnology tools to speed progress and solve recalcitrant problems. Center researchers develop molecular markers for traits such as whitefly resistance, quantitative trait loci (QTLs) in populations derived from heterozygous parent materials, and protocols for rapid multiplication of disease-free planting materials through tissue culture.
Through the Cassava Genome Hub, an online platform that produces and stores more than 15 terabytes of genetic data on cassava, CIAT is pioneering a new approach to big data management and analysis. Launched publically in late 2015, and accessible from anywhere in the world, the Hub allows researchers to manage and mine this huge amount of data themselves, using graphical and analytical tools to conduct complex analysis in a user-friendly way.
Farmers’ gross annual income rose by US$386 million, or US$51 per family in Vietnam and US$460 in Thailand, due to increased cassava yields.
The adoption of improved varieties resulting from research by CIAT and its partners in Asia has generated benefits worth almost US$12 billion over the last 20 years.
The returns on investment in cassava research in Southeast Asia are very high, reaching an internal rate of return (IRR) of 345% in Vietnam.
Cassava variety KU 50, bred by scientists at CIAT and Kasetsart University in Thailand, is better adapted to a wider variety of growing conditions, has less of an impact on soil quality, and provides a higher starch content.
CIAT’s cassava research is made possible by an extensive network of partners. The Center works with dozens of national and local organizations in cassava-producing countries as well as with advanced research institutes in the industrialized world. In an effort to better link cassava with dynamic markets, Center scientists also collaborate with private companies such as Ingredion.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, CIAT maintains close ties with an innovative partner network called Corporación CLAYUCA, which promotes the development and spread of improved technologies for cassava production and processing. The Center also plays an active role in the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21).
CIAT’s global cassava research contributes importantly to two CGIAR Research Programs:
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