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2-Plants: Cassava should be made fit for world markets

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Promoting Cassava as a Source of Food Security
SOURCE: Inter Press Service - Terraviva Europe, Belgium, by Toye Olori
DATE:   Nov 14, 2002

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DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA:Promoting Cassava as a Source of Food Security

IBADAN, Nigeria (IPS) - Ways to transform cassava, or manioc, from its 
present low value status to an industrial raw material and export commodity 
of high value will be discussed at a five-day workshop, which begins in 
Ibadan, Nigeria next week. More than 250 experts from Nigeria, Thailand, 
Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia will converge on the premises of the 
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, southern 
Nigeria, for the workshop. "The workshop aims at making cassava production, 
processing and trade competitive, profitable and efficient," says Simeon 
Anga of the Cassava Development Consortium of Nigeria.

Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, with over 33 
million metric tonnes from a total area of 3.1 million hectares. Grown 
mainly in the south of Nigeria, cassava accounts for 70 percent of the 
total production of the tuber crop in West Africa. Cassava is planted 
mainly by smallholder farmers (average farm size: 0.37-0.50 hectares) on 
upland areas, and dependent on seasonal rainfall. "The lives of millions of 
people are linked to the crop in this most populous country in Africa with 
about 120 million people. In the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, cassava 
provides daily calorie intake to more than 200 million people. The 
cassava's importance spans the whole of sub-Saharan Africa," explains Anga. 
Cassava is a staple in Nigeria, consumed in the form of garri (a hard 
porridge), and starch is made from its flour. Statistics show that 90 
percent of cassava produced in Nigeria is consumed locally.

Experts say, cassava farmers in Nigeria still use primitive tools for 
production, which are not adequate to handle the expanded production needed 
for industrial utilisation. Olusegun Oke, a member of the Presidential 
Initiative on Cassava Development in Nigeria, says next week's workshop 
will address the fundamental problems of lack of competitiveness of cassava 
production; lack of export marketing and Nigeria's position as a major 
player in the global cassava market. "The workshop is the first step 
towards realising the objectives of the Presidential Initiative on 
Cassava," Oke says.

"Unlike cocoa, where the produce is exported for processing, cassava will 
be processed and marketed locally, thereby creating jobs. There is no glut 
in cassava production. We presently eat 90 percent of our cassava but we 
want to increase production and process much of it as a source of foreign 
currency. It is a better money-spinner than cocoa," he adds. Taye Babaleye, 
spokesperson for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture 
(IITA), says cassava often suffers from problems associated with post-
harvest handling because of its high moisture content (70/80 percent). And 
it starts to decay within 2-4 days of harvesting.

But, the introduction of improved post-harvest handling facilities 
developed by the IITA has helped to expand market demand, and extend the 
shelf's life, he says. "Increased attention should be paid to the potential 
of cassava as a source of food security, as well as a cash crop, as 
evidenced by the recent launching of the Presidential Initiative on cassava 
in Nigeria. In view of the current importance of cassava in Nigeria, 
coupled with its potential to serve as an engine for future agricultural 
development, Nigerian industrialists should rise up to the challenge of 
making cassava production, processing and utilisation competitive," says 

A study, involving 16 African countries, shows that cassava is not only a 
food security crop but also a good, commercial crop and an important source 
of cash income for many farming families in Africa. Almost half of all 
cassava harvested in Africa is sold, and not eaten by the grower, according 
to the survey. "Cassava has a tremendous potential to contribute to food 
security, rural income and national economy. Because of its year round 
availability, tolerance to extreme ecological stress conditions and 
impoverished soils, and suitability to existing farming and food systems, 
cassava is playing a major role in efforts to alleviate food crisis and 
rural poverty, and has many industrial uses," Babaleye says.

"Opportunities for commercial development remain largely undeveloped, in 
contrast to the other major zones of cassava cultivation in Asia and South 
America. While providing a major contribution to the feeding of the 
population, cassava possesses tremendous potential for future exploitation 
and as such provides a key to the country's future course of development," 
he says. Nigeria wants to ensure increased cassava production, thereby 
creating jobs and mopping up jobless persons on the streets.

"From 10 tonnes per hectare of current cassava yield, we intend to 
encourage farmers to produce between 20 and 40 tonnes per hectare. They 
will also begin to produce purpose-driven cassava, which will have ready 
markets even before harvest. At present there is no organised market, there 
are millions of small-holder farmers and the cost of gathering small-holder 
cassava enough to get what the factories need, is very high," says Anga. He 
calls on all the 776 local governments in Nigeria to invest in large-scale 
cassava production within their areas. He says 34 million tonnes of cassava 
root is presently being produced each year and even if half of that is 
exported, income from the source will be significant. "If Africa is to feed 
itself then all possible options need to be considered. The use of 
traditional crops such as cassava, should be reviewed and further explored 
rather than ignored in favour of growing, or even importing, modern and 
perhaps less suitable crops," he argues.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Partnership formed to improve cassava, staple food of 600 million
SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization, Italy
DATE:   Nov 5, 2002

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Partnership formed to improve cassava, staple food of 600 million people

ROME, 5 November, 2002 -- Thirty of the world's leading experts in cassava 
research have established the Global Partnership for Cassava Genetic 
Improvement, a new partnership to promote and coordinate global investment 
in the genetic improvement of cassava, an important source of nutrition in 
tropical countries, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 
announced today. "This new partnership is a very positive development, 
reflecting the urgent need to support the genetic improvement of cassava to 
help millions of the world's hungriest people," said FAO Assistant Director-
General Louise O. Fresco.

The tropical root crop cassava is the third most important source of 
calories in the tropics, after rice and corn. According to FAO, more than 
600 million people depend on the cassava in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 
Cassava is grown by poor farmers, many of them women, often on marginal 
land. For these people, the crop is vital for both food security and income 

Despite the importance of cassava in the fight against hunger, FAO says 
that investment in research to improve the tropical root crop has lagged 
far behind that of other basic food crops. This has resulted in only minor 
increases in cassava productivity over the past 30 years -- less than 1 
percent annually compared to 2-5 percent in rice, wheat, and corn. In 
Africa, average cassava yield is 8 tonnes per hectare compared to potential 
yields of over 80 tonnes per hectare. Bacterial and viral diseases, insect 
pests, weeds, and drought have all combined to limit cassava production. 
Attempts by farmers to market their cassava products have also fallen well 
short of their potential, because of rapid post-harvest deterioration and 
inadequate starch and protein content in the roots.

Conventional breeding efforts have attempted to address many of the 
constraints facing cassava productivity, but with limited success. Progress 
has been slow, because of the crop's complex genetic makeup, which makes it 
difficult to breed efficiently.

FAO says that new tools such as advanced molecular biology and 
biotechnology can change this situation by offering new approaches to 
cassava improvement. New technologies have the potential to make cassava 
much more productive, nutritious, and profitable to grow, according to the 
UN food agency.

"The Global Partnership for Cassava Genetic Improvement will develop and 
use advanced biotechnologies such as genomics to create cassava planting 
materials that incorporate desired traits, including: enhanced resistance 
to pests and disease, modified starch quality for better marketability and 
enhanced levels of protein and micro-nutrients that will make the crop more 
nutritious," said Eric Kueneman, Chief of FAO's Crop and Grassland Service.

"Cassava is the most reliable source of food for subsistence farmers in 
Africa, Asia, and Latin America," says Cassava Breeder Alfred Dixon of the 
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, "but it is also an 
important industrial and cash crop that can promote rural development. The 
technologies being promoted by this Partnership will allow breeders like me 
to more rapidly improve cassava's value and performance in the field."

The participating institutions have agreed to coordinate their research 
efforts, share findings, incorporate the views of farmers into the planning 
process, respect safety regulations in research, and strive to build 
scientific capacity in national institutions in cassava-growing countries.

"For the first time, the potential exists to efficiently identify 
beneficial traits in wild and domesticated cassava plants and then transfer 
these traits to farmer-preferred cassava varieties, in a predictable and 
timely manner. If successful, these improvements in cassava will change 
hundreds of millions of lives," said Dr. Claude Fauquet of the Danforth 

According to Dr. Wilhelm Gruissem of the Swiss Federal Institute of 
Technology: "Now that wehave apartnership and a plan, the next challenge 
will be to raise funds for specific collaborative research projects that 
will allow us to develop and use these technologies to make cassava a more 
productive and nutritious crop, particularly for the poor."

The Global Partnership for Cassava Genetic Improvement was conceived at a 
meeting of thirty of the world's leading experts in cassava research held 
at the Rockefeller Foundation Conference Center in Italy in early October.

Founding Institutions: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); 
International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); International 
Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Brazilian Agricultural Research 
Corporation (Embrapa); Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (ILTAB); Swiss 
Federal Institute of Technology (ETH); National Agricultural Research 
Organization, Uganda; Central Tuber Crops Research Institute, India; 
International Atomic Energy Agency (FAO/IAEA Joint Division); National 
Biotechnology Development Agency, Nigeria, Research Institute for Legumes 
and Tuber Crops, Indonesia; University of Bath, U.K.; Root and Tuber 
Improvement Programme, Ghana.


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