Monday, February 19, 2018

Cassava is an important staple food for Africans

Cassava deserves to be a most leading crop in African countries for it is among the draught resistant crops grown throughout then year. It is a non seasonal crop and that is why Tanzania is in the forefront to mainstream the cultivation of this crop. Tanzania’s efforts in increasing food security by having improved varieties of cassava have received a major boost of 35 million US dollars in new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK aid from the United Kingdom. According to a statement issued by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) yesterday, Cornell University will expand international efforts to deliver improved varieties of cassava to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. “This grant funds a second five-year phase that will allow us to build on previous work and focus on getting improved varieties into farmers’ fields,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of Cornell’s International Programmes in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who leads the project. During Phase 1 of the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project - also funded by the Gates Foundation and UK aid from 2012 to 2017 - researchers shortened the breeding cycle for new cassava varieties by improving flowering and using genomic selection. 

Through analysing plant genotypes and identifying cassava lines with desirable traits, such as resistance to cassava brown streak disease or high dry matter content, breeders also improved their ability to make selections based on genetics and probability without having to wait for seedlings to reach adulthood. These methods save breeding time for a crop where flowering and sexual propagation are issues. In Africa, NextGen collaborators include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria; the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement in Ghana; the National Crops Resources Research Institute and Makerere University in Uganda and the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute. Another goal of Phase 1 was to make cassava genomic information publicly accessible on an open database. Cassava researchers all over the world are now comparing results and improving breeding programmes without duplicating efforts by using Cassava base. To reduce cost per progeny and improve the quality of data uploaded to Cassava base in Phase 2, Next Gen researchers will use additional methods of whole genome sequencing. “Our focus for the next five years will be to translate this research into breeding practices to increase impact,” said Chiedozie Egesi, NextGen project director and adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell, who is based at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria.

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