Research and development
GCDS provides information on strategic research and development activities undertaken by its partners in areas related to genetic improvement and biotechnology, improved production systems, post-harvest and processing, environmental considerations, institutional development and policy research. GCDS also focuses on supporting the development of action plans on global cassava improvement, global cassava post harvest and global cassava marketing. In addition, GCDS provides information on some key national, regional and global projects on cassava research and development.
Genetic improvement and biotechnology
GCDS suggests that genetic improvement of cassava be related to the use of cassava. Thus the "best" cassava is no longer the highest yielding cassava, or the cassava with the greatest resistance, unless it is the "best" cassava to use for the production of a specific product.
Conventional breeding efforts have attempted to address many of the constraints facing cassava productivity, but with limited success. Progress has been slow, because of the crop's complex genetic makeup, which makes it difficult to breed efficiently. Biotechnology provides new tools for overcoming some of the problems that hindered cassava improvement. New technologies have the potential to make cassava much more productive, nutritious and profitable to grow.
Cassava genetic resources
With the increasing importance worldwide of cassava for human consumption, animal feed and industrial applications, there will be an increasing need for a wide range of genetic resources (e.g. cassava germplasm, wild Manihot and related species) to develop cultivars having specific characteristics and for adaptation to different ecologies. To this end cassava biodiversity deserves international support and cooperation in its collection, conservation, study and use.
Conserving, maintaining and safe duplication of cassava genetic resources using a combination of available conservation methods will facilitate the:
- safeguarding of important cassava-related germplasm from loss due to environment degradation;
- study of relatedness of the species of the Manihot genus;
- availability of a germplasm pool for screening for potential important agronomic traits (i.e. disease resistance, post-harvest characteristics, nutritional qualities, apomixis);
- availability of a source of genes for transfer of beneficial traits to farmer-preferred cassava cultivars.
There are some gaps in the existing ex situ collection, with respect to the representation of genetic diversity from many geographical areas. Few collections of wild relatives of cassava have been assembled and conserved in ex situ genebanks.
Due to the destruction of natural habits where wild relatives of cassava are growing and also due to the trend in the abandonment of old traditional cassava cultivars by farmers adopting improved varieties, there is a need to collect the cassava biodiversity not represented in the existing collections for ex situ conservation. Concurrently, germplasm characterization using agrobotanical descriptors and molecular markers should be intensified to assist in the selection of core collections and the elimination of duplicates, thus increasing the efficiency of germplasm management and its use.
Appropriate strategies for in situ or on-farm conservation of cassava genetic resources should be developed and encouraged to complement ex situ conservation. Policies governing the areas for the conservation of cassava biodiversity and its use and access should be well articulated to ensure that the genetic resources are accessible to the users. GCDS will support the effort to reduce varietal and genetic resources erosion, develop better tools and harmonize protocols and methodologies for characterization of cassava genetic diversity.