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The Challenge

Recent years have seen a growing interest in breeding cassava varieties for Latin America, with the aim of contributing to food security in Colombia and other cassava-producing countries. In Colombia, cassava is a staple crop planted on more than 200,000 hectares. Cassava is used mainly for food, livestock feed, and the production of native and fermented starches. The fermented (sour) cassava starch has been traditionally produced in Colombia’s Cauca Department. Processors are typically small, artisanal, family-operated enterprises known as “rallanderos.” Certain requirements are needed to meet farmers’ needs and also consumers’ expectations. The expansion of cassava starch is critical to obtain a sour taste of the starch, a necessary trait for the baking industry, but processors also require a variety resistant to pests and diseases, high yielding, and well adapted to soil and climate conditions.

CIAT’s Role

In response to the demand for 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, for which each seed is a potential new variety. The role of CIAT and Corpoica was to determine through extensive evaluation which of the thousands of segregating materials show outstanding agronomic performance. In 2016, the result of this lengthy work was the identification of two cassava varieties that were released for Colombia’s Cauca Department in December: Corpoica Cumbre and Corpoica La Francesa.

These varieties were developed with specific trait improvements particularly for the Cauca region: traits such as the ability to grow at high altitudes, a higher number of roots per plant, and a higher starch content. These varieties have also shown the potential to produce good sour starch expansion, a key ingredient in the many traditional Colombian breads, such as pandebono. Varieties adapted to the highlands can also potentially be grown in similar regions in Africa (e.g., Rwanda and Uganda) and Asia (e.g., Laos). Coming at the end of an important collaborative process, starting with investigation and development at CIAT in the year 2000, this achievement also signals the start of new joint efforts by CIAT and Corpoica.

What has changed?

Farmers in the Cauca region are now planting improved cassava varieties that they tested through several years of evaluation on their own farms. These varieties signify an improved supply of cassava starch for the important Colombian bread industry. They also signify a strengthened partnership between Corpoica and CIAT, according to Hernán Ceballos, CIAT’s cassava breeder: “[The relationship] enables us to obtain better results through constant knowledge sharing and synergy.” Farmers benefit from increased efficiency in information sharing between CIAT, Corpoica, and the associations that support them. At the beginning of 2016, Ceballos took part in a meeting with Corpoica researchers to plan and coordinate the next cassava sowing, field activities, and harvest during the remainder of 2016 and into 2017. This work streamlines which varieties are chosen to be developed, eventually leading to new varieties and improving overall crop performance.