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The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has as its key objectives the alleviation of poverty and improvement of household food security, with emphasis on smallholders and rural women, while preventing environmental degradation. As such, its development projects target areas where the population is extremely poor and may suffer from seasonal food shortages. These areas are often characterized by poor soils and low or unpredictable rainfall. Root and tuber crops are often an integral part of the cropping system, and cassava is frequently an important component of the diet. Being very drought tolerant and well-adapted to grow on poor soils, cassava is often the crop of last resort. During the severe drought of 1982/83 in Ghana, when most other food staples perished, the rural population survived mainly on cassava. After this, and similar experiences elsewhere, cassava gained in importance.

A global cassava strategy

By working in marginal areas, IFAD found that cassava can help alleviate food insecurity, especially in times of war or social unrest, as the crop is easy to grow and can be stored for long periods of time in the ground. Surplus production can be fed to farm animals or sold as fresh roots or dry chips for human consumption or animal feed. Cassava can also be a source of income for small-scale rural processors, who transform cassava into a wide range of food products. In view of the crop's importance for marginalized producers and consumers, IFAD has taken the initiative to bring cassava to the attention of governments and donor agencies. It has spearheaded a worldwide consultation among cassava stakeholders from the government and private sectors, to try to reach a consensus about a global strategy for cassava research and development. It is hoped that a global strategy will enable a more effective and coordinated research and development effort.

IFAD operations

IFAD is presently involved in three cassava related projects. In Ghana IFAD has financed a Smallholder Rehabilitation Program, including a program for the development of new cassava technologies and the release of new varieties (IFAD, 1997). Because of the success of this program, and the fact that cassava is now grown by about 80% of all households, and has become a food of choice rather than a food of last resort, a new Root and Tuber Improvement Program was recently initiated. This program will concentrate on the multiplication and distribution of improved varieties, development of new technologies, integrated pest management and community support.

In Nigeria IFAD has financed a Cassava Multiplication Program in the southern part of the country (IFAD, 1995), emphasizing the multiplication and distribution of new varieties released by IITA. A new project is being developed to supplement cassava varietal distribution with low cost technologies and smallholder processing, and the construction of roads and other rural infrastructure to facilitate marketing.

In Colombia IFAD recently initiated a program to help set up and develop small-scale rural agro-enterprises, initially focusing on the Departments of Cauca, Bolivar and Sucre (IFAD, 1996). Although this program does not target cassava as a major raw material for these enterprises, the crop is important in all three Departments, and cassava processing could become a major component of the project.

IFAD is aware that cassava is already grown in many ecologically sensitive areas, usually with poor soils and located on sloping land or in the forest margins. Increases in cassava production could lead to degradation of soil and water resources. In addition, small-scale cassava processing is often blamed for causing environmental pollution. Therefore, any project that intends to enhance these enterprises must take into account these potential problems and seek effective solutions. For this reason, IFAD commissioned a study to assess the impact of smallholder cassava production and processing on the environment. The study would review best-bet solutions, identify the need for further research, and provide suggestions and policy options to mitigate against negative effects on the environment.

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