SOLIHULL, United Kingdom — Africa faces significant challenges when it comes to food insecurity. According to the British Red Cross, crop yields are often unreliable, while soaring food prices mean more than 160 million people are going hungry.
The difficulty with relying on crop yields forces the continent to import much of its food. From 2016-2018, for instance, it is estimated that Africa imported about 85% of its food.
What Cassava Can Offer
Solving this crisis requires the cultivation of reliable, high-yield, high-calorie crops, which is where Cassava comes in. The woody shrub currently supports the livelihoods of over 300 million Africans, with much more potential.
The crop is particularly effective in its ability to grow in areas prone to drought and poor soils, where alternatives typically fail. It’s also more efficient in generating carbohydrates than the typical alternatives such as wheat and maize.
A New Way Forward
To go further in solving food insecurity, Cassava needs to overcome the challenges of disease and low yields. These are the problems that the NextGen Cassava project seeks to solve.
The project has used selective breeding to produce cassava that offers greater disease resistance, higher yields and useful traits for consumers, such as enhanced cooking and processing qualities.
They’ve also successfully applied new breeding innovations, reducing the time required to complete a breeding cycle from ten to two years. This improvement allows NextGen Cassava to see the results of their breeding experiments more quickly, establishing what works and what doesn’t.
NextGen has been able to speed up Cassava innovations by making their results available to all. It has developed an open-access global repository of Cassava intelligence called CassavaBase. The platform now has over 1,200 users, allowing scientists to explore the results of 2,700 cassava breeding trails. By sharing its findings, the project can utilize scientific opinion from around the world to speed up its progress.
From Africa to the World
The success of NextGen has even led to exploration of projects beyond Africa. They now collaborate internationally with partners in Thailand, Cambodia, South America and the Pacific Islands. Its ambition has widened to combating food insecurity globally.
NextGen has also attracted financial support from international organizations. At the start of its second five-year phase, which concluded this year, it received $35 million in new funding from the Gates Foundation and the U.K. government.
This project demonstrates that despite a challenging environment, Africa’s food production can become more self-sufficient. By removing the periodic yield fluctuations under the old regime, NextGen Cassava is solving food insecurity problems and fighting the crop shortages that drive Africans into poverty and hunger.
– Jack Arrowsmith
Photo: Wikimedia Commons