Welcome address

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Dr. Papasolomontos, Director, AGP, participants, ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed an honour and my distinct pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and to extend my most sincere and warm wishes for the success of this workshop on post-harvest biodeterioration of cassava.

In the area of root crop improvement, this meeting is a very important one. It is intended to provide a forum for you as scientists to discuss what is known about the rapid post-harvest deterioration of cassava and to develop an appropriate strategy to overcome this severe problem which limits the expansion of cassava production in developing countries.

As you are aware, root and tuber crops are of vital importance to the food security of over one billion people in developing countries. The important role of these crops was underscored by our Director-General at the Eleventh Session of the Committee on World Food Security in 1986 and the Ninth and Tenth Sessions of FAO's Committee on Agriculture (COAG) in 1987 and 1 989 respectively.

FAO's activities on root crops and other food staples are conducted on a multidisciplinary basis involving several FAO services in allied fields in plant breeding, production, protection, post-harvest physiology, storage, processing, marketing, extension, socio-economics (the role of women), etc.

The work programme is research and development oriented and renders assistance to developing countries in the promotion of regional networks aimed at:

• the collation, exchange and dissemination of information on improved cultivation techniques to increase production per unit area, optimize economic return to farm families and users, maximize poverty alleviation and enhance food availability;
• establishing greater technical cooperation with international agricultural research centres (CIP, CIAT and IITA) along with other national, international and regional institutions in the initiation of complementary activities in technology transfer to national programmes developing countries.

In the field programme, special assistance has been given to Member Countries in the implementation of project activities to improve production, post-harvest handling, utilization and marketing within the context of sustainable cropping systems and principally through support to technology transfer, so as to reduce dependence on food imports and trade deficit and to enhance the socio-economic welfare of small farmers.

Of the tropical root crops, cassava is one of the most important food staples in the lowland tropics' and comprises over 50 percent of the total production of root crops. World cassava production in 1991 is estimated at 161.5 million tonnes, some 3 percent more than last year, as a result of increases in nearly all producing countries.

In Africa, cassava production has expanded by 2 percent, the equivalent of 75 million tonnes. This increase was due to favourable weather conditions, the diffusion of new high-yielding varieties and the continuation of restrictive government import policies on cereals in most countries. The improved cassava supply in 1991 is estimated to have contributed significantly to the increase in food availability in Africa, particularly in rural areas. It has also helped to alleviate shortages of cereals in many countries.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, production has increased by 4 percent, the equivalent to 33 million tonnes. The increase in the region's cassava output reflects the development of new varieties and processing technologies, but also changes in government policies, which have favoured an increased demand for cassava products in both food and other uses. Although cassava continues to be an important food security subsistence crop, particularly in the northern parts of Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the development of new processed products over the last decade is resulting in increased market production for food, feed and industrial uses.

In Asia. the production increase is over 4 percent (53 million tonnes) compared to 1990, reflecting mainly a recovery in Indonesia stimulated by relatively high producer prices. In Thailand, the EU-financed programme to divert land under cassava to alternative crops, such as rubber and fruit trees, entered its second phase last year. However, little success has been achieved as cassava continues to be relatively more profitable than other crops to farmers.

There is a large potential for creating higher yielding cultivars with improved storability through proper screening, breeding and selection procedures. For example, IITA has recently been developing, through polyploid breeding, cultivars with multiple pest and disease resistance and with higher nutritive value and consumers' acceptance. Before these improved cultivate could be extended to farmers' fields, it would be necessary to establish plant propagation tenures for the maintenance, rapid increase and distribution of healthy and improved planting material. This would help a great deal to correct the present situation in which farmers save their own planting material, which from year to year suffers severe deterioration due to the accumulation of viruses and other diseases. It would be necessary to assist Member Countries in the identification of improved cultivars adapted to different agro-ecological regions where good yield potential can be achieved. The importance of implementing programmes for integrated pest and disease control cannot be overemphasized.

One of the major limitations on the expansion of the role of cassava as a food resource of the tropics is the poor post-harvest storage life of the roots, which can only be successfully stored for 48 to 72 hours after harvest. This impediment renders the roots unacceptable for both human and animal consumption and also for industrial uses.

This workshop is intended to address this constraint to cassava production and utilization. However, more long-term donor assistance, for both recurrent and capital expenditure, will be required to support more research and development programmes directed to farmers' needs. International agricultural research centres and other agencies may need to establish more integrated activities to support national cassava research programmes in overcoming the major production and utilization constraints, such as biodeterioration. This approach will enable developing countries to achieve greater food self-sufficiency and security. However, a firm commitment and dedication of policy-makers in governments would be required to support such a programme to reduce postharvest deterioration in this crop.

I should like to express my appreciation to all participants who have volunteered to attend this very important workshop to develop sound scientific strategies to overcome this major constraint which limits the expansion of cassava production in tropical countries.

In closing, I should like to extend my warm welcome and wish you every success with your deliberations.

H. De Haen
Assistant Director-General
Agriculture Department



CBN Cassava Biotechnology Network
CENARGEN Centro Nacional de Recursos de Geneticos
CIAT Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical
CIP International Potato Center
CGIAR Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research
COSCA Collaborative Study of Cassava in Africa
DNA Deoxyribonucleic acid
EC European Community
FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
GUS GusA gene from Escherichia coli, which codes for a glucuronidase, as a screenable marker
IBPGR International Plant Genetic Resources Institute
IITA International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
NRI Natural Resources Institute
PEG Polyetheleneglycol

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