Becerra said many advances are due to the rich collection of cassava germplasm at the Alliance’s genebank in Colombia, which includes a large collection of native varieties generally more diverse than varieties found further afield. By tapping the resources of the genebank and collections kept by breeding programs around the world, scientists have found traits to make widely used varieties more productive and resistant to disease and climate extremes.
In Vietnam, yields have increased from about 3 tons per hectare to 20 tons, largely through improved varieties and fertilizer management. Intercropping – sowing other crops alongside cassava – and crop rotation to include maize, peanuts, and beans, has improved soil fertility and increased farmer incomes.
"The introduction of germplasm into national breeding programs from the Alliance, combined with improved agronomic practices, markedly increased cassava yield in the region," said lead author Al Imran Malik, who is based at the Alliance’s Lao PDR office. Malik also credited partners who support the new ideas and initiatives.
In Indonesia, breeding has focused on better-tasting and more nutritious cassava. In China, scientists have bred high-starch industrial cassava ideal for higher latitudes, which are generally cooler than those in cassava’s native range.
"Over the past decades, cassava researchers in Asia, particularly breeders, have had to respond to changing market and policy conditions to ensure that the crop and the farmers that grow it are competitive in global markets," said Jonathan Newby, the research coordinator for the Alliance’s Cassava Program in Southeast Asia.
Across the region today, researchers study erosion and health of the soil, sustainable intensification, artificial intelligence, and advanced genetics for crop improvement. Scientists are also intensely focused on controlling emerging diseases, which threaten productivity gains. Last year, the Alliance worked with national researchers and partners to draw up an emergency control plan for Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD), a project led by Becerra.
Becerra is also a global research leader in the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, which contributed to the study.