Known as the bread of the tropics, cassava is arguably the world’s most important and interesting vegetable when it comes to food security. Although over 800 million people eat the starchy staple crop worldwide and in Africa 500 million depend on its calories, the root simply doesn’t grab the attention the way corn, wheat and rice do.
That’s why NextGen Cassava is uniting breeding programs in Uganda, Nigeria and the US to share research results to aid the crossbreeding of stronger varieties and to boost virus-resistant yields. Farmers don’t need to wait for crops to grow, instead analysing DNA to genotype seedlings and select desirable parents. Bill Gates calls this new way of breeding using an international database “a highly sophisticated match.com”.
Currently in the third year of a five-year pilot, the data pooling is already jump-starting a revolution in cassava improvement that could double crops, feed food-insecure areas, ward off malnutrition, and profit the women who grow the next generations of cassava in the tropical world.
Hale Ann Tufan
USA (New York)