Cornell University has announced $25.2 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government's Department for International Development in support of a five-year project that seeks to improve the breeding and productivity of cassava.
Through the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project, Cornell and its five partners — the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda, the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute — will use the latest information from cassava genome sequencing to improve cassava productivity and yields by shortening the cassava breeding cycle from almost a decade to as little as six years. The partners also will work to train the next generation of cassava breeders, improve infrastructure at African institutions, and hold awareness-building workshops for farmers, scholars, researchers, and policy makers. Cassava data, expertise, and information collected by the partners will be shared with the public on a Web site.
Small farmers in Africa produce more than half the world's cassava, a tough woody plant that is predicted to be one of the few crops that will benefit from climate change. Currently, some five hundred million Africans consume cassava freshly boiled or raw on a daily basis, and the plant also serves as a low-cost source of carbohydrates for animals.
"Next Generation Cassava will give breeders in Africa access to the most advanced plant breeding technologies to deliver improved varieties to farmers more rapidly," said Peter Kulakow, cassava breeder and geneticist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. "This project will ensure that cassava genetic research is on a par with other top food crops such as wheat, rice, maize, and potato."