For three days, world’s top cassava experts gathered in Ibadan to report progress made on developing new varieties of cassava with higher yield and nutritional content. The meeting, held at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan, between March 14-16, 2017, availed Scientists opportunity to detail progress and challenges regarding global cassava threats in Africa.
IITA-based project manager of the Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NextGen Cassava) project, Chiedozie Egesi, disclosed that Africa produces more than half of the world’s cassava-about 86 million tons from over 10 million hectares.
Egesi however, lamented that disease pathogens and climate change threatens cassava production and jeopardise the income and food security of smallholder farmers. “Since 2012, scientists on the NextGen Cassava project have been working to significantly increase the rate of genetic improvement in cassava breeding and unlock cassava’s full potential.”
Cassava is a clonally propagated crop and seed set is difficult. New varieties with enhanced productivity and nutritional traits typically take up to 10 years to develop.
According to him, 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.
Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics, director of International Programs, who is the principal investigator on the multi-partner grant, said 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.
“Genomic selection 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 ready in as little as six years.”