Food security and economic benefits of newly released cassava varieties

At the end of 2020, IITA’s cassava breeders collaborated with their research partners and released five new varieties. Their names, indicating their attributes to farmers, processors, and consumers, are Game-Changer, Hope, Obasanjo-2, Baba-70, and Poundable.

In January 2021, scientists and breeders from IITA, Next Generation Cassava (NextGen), and the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, Nigeria, came together in a Cornell Alliance for Science webinar to discuss these new cassava varieties and their potential to improve food security and household incomes.

Chiedozie Egesi, the NextGen Cassava Project Leader, said they considered the inputs and needs of stakeholders like women, processors, and consumers in developing these new varieties. Following the release of these five varieties in Nigeria, they plan to release three to four more in Uganda and Tanzania.

IITA molecular breeders Ismail Rabbi and Siraj Kayondo described these varieties as context-specific to the Nigerian market and the West-African subregion at large. These varieties are disease resistant and created to serve three specific market demands: granulated and test products, industrial products, and fresh consumption. Poundable, the fresh consumption variety, has low cyanide content and is suitable for direct consumption after light processing like roasting and cooking.

The high yielding Game-changer and Obasanjo-2 varieties are suitable for industrial products and have a high starch and dry matter content of almost 40%. Hope and Baba-70 are the granulated and test product varieties.

The variety names convey the specific characteristics they carry. Hope promises high income for farmers in garri and fufu production. Baba-70 is adaptable to dry environments and has low cyanogenic potential. Game-changer aims to change the expectations of starch content in cassava needed for industrial purposes. Poundable can soften in 15‒20 minutes of boiling and pounds well. All these are instrumental in fighting hunger and improving the livelihoods of farmers and consumers.

Dr Tessy Madu of NRCRI said NextGen had adopted a gender-responsive approach, ensuring that both men and women benefit from breeding. About 320 farmers, both men and women, across four geopolitical zones in Nigeria, grow the cassava varieties given to them by the NextGen project. The farmers evaluate the crops from planting through harvesting to processing. These farmers were part of the research process from start to finish, ensuring breeders produce demand-driven and beneficial varieties to farmers.

Madu described cassava as a bank to women saying, “Women harvest cassava as the need arises either to pay fees or to meet other specific needs. These varieties will enable women to scale out in their area of land devoted to cassava production and increase their income. They would be able to increase supply to the market and invariably improve their health and education.”

She also noted that men and women had unique preferences influencing their choice of varieties. “Men generally want cassava that will give them higher fresh root yield and early maturing cassava because they want to sell them off quickly. The women are more interested in high-product yield—what the cassava will give them after processing to garri or fufu. The color, texture, and fermenting abilities of a cassava variety are also important to the women,” she concluded.

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