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Expanding the Competitive Edge in Diversified Markets (continued)


Cassava thrives in Asia because of the ability of growers, entrepreneurs, R&D institutions, and policy-makers to adapt to evolving physical, biological, economic and social environments. Optimizing the role of cassava as a catalyst for development in the coming years will build on these attributes and resources. Strategies revolve around the constraints and opportunities described in preceding sections. This discussion concentrates on practical interventions with direct impact on targeted beneficiaries of the cassava system. While recognizing the over-riding influence of the broader socio-economic environment (population growth, economic policy, education, etc.), we consider these issues to be outside the narrower focus of this exercise.

We propose three broad priority areas for intervention by R&D institutions:

  1. Stimulating higher demand through market development.
  2. Adding post-harvest value through process and product development.
  3. Improved production systems through technology for increasing production efficiency and profitability. Institutional support, including education of policy- makers, is an umbrella activity covering all these areas. Interventions in production, processing and marketing cannot be undertaken independently - there is continual interaction and feedback among these system components. There follows a description of tools and methods for integrating these various types of interventions into a system to effectively meet R&D goals. The section concludes with a discussion of information management and communications technology as tools for development (Table 11).

Market development: stimulating higher demand for cassava products

There is a dynamic, iterative relationship between product and market development. Sometimes market demand drives product development, and sometimes new products create marker opportunities. For either to succeed, products and markets need to develop in parallel.

Cassava markets can be described as two broad types with respect to a development strategy: markets where cassava competes directly with other carbohydrate sources; and markets that require the specific traits of cassava. The non-specific markets include animal feed and most of the uses for starch. It is by far the largest current market for cassava in Asia. These broad markets will be driven by macro-economic forces such as growing demand for meat in developing countries, and the ever-widening range of uses for starch. The cassava sector, mainly processors, will need to drive product development for replacement of existing ingredients, including convincing the user that the alternative product is as good, if not better, than that already used. In markets where starch-consuming industries are beginning to use functional ingredients, tremendous market opportunity presents itself, if the starch industry is in a position to assist the users in technical issues relevant to application development.

There is a clear need to promote research on markets that exploit cassava's unique starch characteristics. This is a strategy not without considerable risk, as noted by Ostertag (1996). The technology for starch conversion is well-advanced and evolving rapidly, including high probability for extensive conversion by bio-engineered microorganisms in the medium-term future. This will allow native starch from almost any source to be converted to specific market needs, and thus the differential between general and specific markets disappears. With that caveat, there certainly is still some opportunity for developing markets that favor cassava starch, or expanding existing ones. Success will come from partnerships between R&D institutions and the private sector.

Process and product development: adding post-harvest value

A subsistence crop has a very short pathway from production to utilization - it is usually destined either for direct consumption by the producer, or fed to animals to obtain meat, eggs or milk. The global trend in commodity markets is to continually add value to products as consumers increase their economic position. Low-value raw products at the farm level pass a series of transformations, each of which produces income or other value to a particular consumer. In developed countries, even basic food products may be valued at hundreds of times the price received by the farmer for the raw product. A box of white rice in a United States grocery store costs the equivalent of about US$3 000 per tonne. A box of rice-based breakfast cereal may sell for the equivalent of US$8 000 per tonnes. That cereal will have passed through ten or fifteen value-adding steps before reaching the consumer. As consumers become more affluent, the more they are willing to pay for the convenience, quality, status, aesthetics, etc. that these value-added steps represent.

Table 11. Examples of technologies and methodologies to alleviate poverty, improve food security, and protect the environment.

   Positive impact of technology on:a 
SituationDescription or causeTechnology or methodology availableIncome, equity or food securityThe environmentRemaining constraints or opportunities
Marginal and fragile production environmentsLow soil fertility; acid soilsFertilizer application; use of animal and green manure**** *Credit for input purchases; high labour demand
  Adapted and nutrient-efficient germplasm; cropping systems management* ** *Effective varietal distribution; farmer participatory research
 Steep slopes; erodable soilsFertilizer; minimum tillage; contour-ridging; live barriers; high yielding, early-vigor varieties; mulching; closer spacing; intercropping.****Farmer education on consequences of erosion; farmer participatory research; short-term profitability as incentive for adoption
 Low or erratic rainfallDrought-tolerant germplasm; soil water conservation (e.g., mulches)* * Mulch availability and transport costs
Intrinsic varietal traitsLow yield potentialHigh-yielding hybrids*** Effective varietal distribution; fine-tuning for specific environments and markets
 Low multiplication rateStem treatment and storage technology; rapid propagation techniques* * Rapid propagation methods appropriate for commercial scale application
Biological constraintsNative or introduced pests or diseasesIPM (host plant resistance, biological control, chemical control, crop management)* Monitoring potential threats of new introductions or outbreaks; contingency plans
 WeedsMechanization; herbicides* Credit for input purchases; mechanical weed control adapted to small farms; herbicide-resistant varieties.
Processing constraintsLow processing efficiencyMechanization; high starch varieties** Credit for processing machinery
 Pollution from by-products and waste-waterMicrobial fermentation; recycling; water treatment; value-added re-processing ***Economic waste-water treatment; selection of efficient microbes; new uses for byproducts
 Low or variable product qualityStable varieties; crop management; harvest and post-harvest management* * Economical pre- and post-harvest management practices; extended shelf life by genetic means
 Convenience; ease of handlingProcessing to reduce bulkiness, add value and extend storage* * Cassava-based convenience foods; transfer technologies developed elsewhere
Marketing constraintsLow product demand; low pricesValue-added products* * * Analytical methods to anticipate market shifts; develop new value-added products
 Transportation and market channels under-developedProcessing to transform product to higher value (e.g., reduce water content)* * Infrastructure development; new value-added products
 Irregular product supply to fill demandCoordinated harvests among growers; conversion to more storable intermediate products* * Varieties of differing maturities; long-term storage technology (genetic or management)

Cassava in Asia has moved well beyond the subsistence stage; there is almost always a series of steps between producer and consumer. Each of these steps adds value to the product, and someone receives income from that added value. In the context of a socially and environmentally sensitive global cassava development strategy, participating R&D institutions have an interest in making the rural poor the beneficiaries of the highest possible proportion of this added value. This is not easy. Adding value usually takes place after cassava leaves the farm, and the grower may receive little benefit. A thriving cassava sector is not necessarily indicative of success in meeting targeted development goals. On the other hand, a cassava-based development strategy has little chance of success unless it taps into markets with potential for overall demand growth, even if a large share of benefits do not come back to the growers. This is the perennial conundrum of rural development, probably even more formidable for a cassava-based strategy: how to target a reasonable proportion of development benefits to cassava growers when the driving force of development is the commercial sector?

Without a tradition of consuming fresh cassava, Asia has been a leader in processing innovations to meet demands of new and changing markets. All of these began at the household and cottage-industry level. At the level of household processing, Indonesia is the leading example of diversity and innovation. Also at the household level, Thailand has fine-tuned chipping and drying to a highly efficient and cost-effective system that gets a high quality product to the market in a timely manner. In Viet Nam and China, farmers feed cassava to pigs to obtain a value-added and more marketable product.

Animal feed and starch are the principal growth markets of the medium-range future. Both have a very broad range of levels of sophistication - from rudimentary on-farm exploitation to high-tech industries. Across this range, there are interventions that have high potential to benefit the rural poor. The principal need for processing innovations lies in the early stages of product conversion. These are the stages closest to the producer, and more likely to bring benefit to the rural poor. They are the stages where a product is converted to something that is more likely to be used by an already-developed industry. For example, the animal feed industry can very readily use hard cassava pellets in balanced rations. No new technology is required. However, converting fresh roots to hard pellets came from a series of innovations specific to cassava's characteristics. Likewise, the efficient extraction of high quality starch from cassava requires technology specific for cassava, but the use of that starch in any number of industries is often the same as for any other starch. A major focus of cassava R&D institutions should be on innovations that bring a product to the level where it is competitive in markets driven solely by private sector interests.

The animal feed export sector, which so much defined the dynamics of the Asian cassava industry for more than twenty years, is still a major force for economic development. It is, however, a market that will require every innovation and efficiency just to retain current market share, because of the increasing competitiveness of coarse grains on world markets. No country of Asia is basing its plans for the cassava sector on dramatically expanded possibilities for export of cassava pellets.

Demand for animal feed will continue rapid expansion in developing countries. It is a growth sector for which several cassava-growing countries should be able to create viable internal industries. These industries may be successful across a range of scales of operation - from rudimentary on-farm feeding of pigs to large, intensive poultry operations. There is, however, as in most industries, a continual move toward larger operations that exploit economies of scale. The animal feed market will thrive with or without a cassava component. For cassava to reach its full potential participation will require aggressive R&D input. The animal feed market for cassava is a very mature market. The potential for additional market shares lies in cost reductions, and added value by way of conversions that target specific markets. For example, the pelleting industries could develop capacity to mix complete rations, or even begin contracting the growing of chickens or pigs. Starch factories that now sell native starch can go the next steps into modified starches.

Because of the technical level of the starch and starch derivatives industries, there are few possibilities for adding value at the farm level for this sector. The starch industry will contribute to rural development mainly through a higher demand for raw roots. Industry will be the main beneficiary of growth in this sector, with some trickle-down benefits to producers.

Markets for flour substitution seem to be more difficult to penetrate on a large scale. Quality and supply are very critical. There has been a tendency for demand to fluctuate too widely to interest major commitment from processors. This market needs continued research because of its high potential if price-competitiveness, high quality, and constant supply can be assured.

Improved production systems: increasing efficiency and profitability for farmers

In the simplest of economic terms, producers have three possible alternatives to increase their net income from growing cassava:

  1. produce more, to reduce per-unit production costs;
  2. reduce costs, while maintaining production levels; or,
  3. increase the value of the product offered for sale while keeping costs and production levels the same.

Of course these are not mutually exclusive pathways, and each category has a number of possible variations. Successful crop technology in this century has been overwhelmingly based on the first of these - on developing inputs to increase productivity. The green revolution set the tone for crop improvement strategies, with emphasis on total system output. Consumers have been the greatest beneficiaries, with more abundant food at lower prices. It is a strategy that is eminently sensible in a world of food shortages, where increased supply has high social priority. The developing world is now a mosaic of food shortages and food surpluses, and there is no longer quite as monolithic a strategy for agricultural production. In Asia's comparatively mature market economy, cassava producers can benefit economically from expanded area of production, lowered production costs, higher productivity per unit of production cost, higher market value, or value-added features. They can benefit nutritionally both from the greater purchasing power of higher income, and from nutritional enhancements to cassava itself. Indirectly, they can benefit nutritionally from an increase in production that permits feeding cassava to animals. Less tangibly, technology provides avenues for lifestyle improvements such as less arduous physical labour inputs, or more time to pursue education or leisure.

In countries, and in sectors, that have successfully adopted technologies and methods for increasing crop yields, a few generalized practices are typically observed: moderate to high fertilizer use; chemical or mechanical weed control; effective methods to limit soil degradation (erosion, compaction, nutrient depletion); adoption of high-yielding varieties; and methods to stabilize production against principal environmental variations (irrigation; integrated pest management). We consider cassava's future potential in view of these broader trends in agriculture, as well as its unique position as a crop of the poor.

Environmental resources
Farming practices are inextricably linked to environmental resources. Characteristics of the environment set limits on the types of agriculture that are economically feasible; and in turn agriculture can enhance or degrade the environment where it is practised. Tradition, education, regulation, and economics all influence a farmer's attitude and relationship with the land. Generally, education and regulation can be applied successfully to environmental stewardship only if the economics are favorable. On the other hand, farm profitability is not in itself necessarily an incentive for adopting practices that improve the environment.

This interlacing of attitude and economics is a complex target for R&D institutions. Often the technology for preserving the environment is not complex, but there are inadequate economic incentives. Three priority areas for R&D attention are:

  1. Preservation of natural ecosystems, especially ecologically rich ones such as rainforests. Much of the Asian rainforest is already destroyed, but this continues to be a major issue for the outer islands of Indonesia, and parts of Malaysia and the Philippines. To a large degree, protection of ecologically vulnerable or valuable environments is an internal political decision, but R&D organizations can have positive impact by educating policy-makers, based on solid research background. The most effective solutions may be indirect ones: controlling rates of population increase; and intensifying production in less vulnerable environments in order to reduce the pressure for agricultural expansion.

  2. Soil conservation. Research is clearly a key to resolving soil erosion problems in cassava. A solid baseline of information defining the extent of the problem has come out of a coordinated series of trials throughout Asia (Howeler, 1995). Research on technology components that will both control erosion and give sufficient short-term economic return to motivate adoption is underway. The international coordination, currently undertaken by CIAT, is fundamental to research efficiency, and designing broadly relevant solutions. Reinforcing this network is vital to its capacity to develop and disseminate long-term solutions to soil erosion.

  3. Quality of water resources. Some water quality issues common for other crops are minimal for cassava. Nutrient runoff and subsequent pollution of waterways is insignificant, since little fertilizer is applied. The hazards of pesticides for non-target species are negligible, since very few chemicals are applied. With most of Asia's cassava being processed, and the growing starch market, pollution of water resources from industry becomes a concern. This, like many other environmental issues, requires a combination of regulation and technology. The pollution from starch factories comes mainly from two steps in the process: initial washing to remove soil; and the residual water from starch extraction. The water from washing is simply a mixture of soil and water, and its effect on water quality is probably not severe. The water from starch extraction contains small amounts of starch, cyanogenic glucosides and small amounts of other potential pollutants. Emptied directly into streams, this water will cause proliferation of microorganisms, which then deplete oxygen supplies necessary for aquatic life. The cyanogenic glucosides may cause poisoning of various species. None of these effects are well-documented, and this should be the first step. The problem is likely to become more widely recognized as the industry centralizes into large processing facilities to take advantage of economies of scale. The most effective solutions will be ones that provide some economic return, such as greater rate of starch recovery. Nonetheless, on the whole, reducing this pollution will probably increase processing costs, and there will be reluctance on the part of industry without regulatory enforcement.

Crop management
The greatest returns to research investment on crop technology development should be on interventions that lower the very high labour inputs into cassava, increase yield, and increase starch content.

  1. Agronomic practices. Crop management is already more intense in Asia than elsewhere. Rearrangements of existing practices or resources (i.e., no new external inputs are applied) probably offer limited potential for improved productivity or profitability. For example, changes in stake planting position or plant density normally offer little advantage, unless in conjunction with another major system modification. There are good possibilities for increasing profitability with management in the areas of fertilizer application and efficient weed control. There are, nonetheless, substantial environmental concerns with both these inputs, and these must be addressed as part of any technology development. The feet is however, that cassava will have great difficulty competing in the marketplace with crops where high efficiencies of production are achieved with intensive inputs, unless some of those same inputs are applied.

    The economic response of cassava to fertilizer application is well-established. The constraints to increased use are socio-economic rather than technical. Farmers usually do not have cash reserves that can be tied up for full year, between planting and harvest. Commercial or government-supported credits are not common. Nonetheless, most farmers now have experience with purchase and use of fertilizer on rice, and translating this to use with cassava should not be an insurmountable obstacle.

  2. Pest management. In the Americas, many pests are held in check by the natural parasites and predators that co-evolved with cassava. Few of these natural enemies have found their way to Asia. However, there is currently little incentive to invest in biocontrol research - the losses to cassava from pests and diseases are quite low compared to Latin America or Africa. The mosaic virus of India can be adequately controlled with resistance, but there could be advantages to biocontrol of the whitefly vector. In the area of pest management, the main thrusts will need to be:

    1. continual vigilance on the quarantine front to prevent introduction of new problems;

    2. monitoring potential changes in pest or disease status; and,

    3. having contingency plans available if introduction occurs.

  3. Mechanization. Cassava is still a very labour-intensive crop for most growers. Labour productivity has not been a major goal for cassava research, often based on the assumption that public institutions should be wary of technology that displaces labour in situations where underemployment is already high.

    In any case, mechanization is typically difficult for cassava - economically because of small landholdings, and physically because of cultivation on slopes and uneven terrain, or intercropping. The nature of the plant itself also mitigates against easy mechanization. Planting pieces are bulky and irregular in form. Harvest may need to be in a two-stage . process, first to cut stems for planting material and then to lift roots. Mechanical harvest is energy-intensive because of the size and shape of roots. Most mechanization developed for cassava is only appropriate for large commercial plantations, on level, well-prepared land. There is a need for smaller scale, flexible mechanization to manage some of the more labour-intensive tasks for cassava. Asia has typically been a leader in small-scale mechanization, and this industry will develop spontaneously as labour costs rise to the level of justifying the investment. There would be considerable benefit to partnerships between universities/research institutes and private industry to develop mechanization for cassava.

Varietal development
Breeding programs in Asia began since the early 1900s, mainly aimed at supporting the starch industries in Java and Malaysia. By World War II, all programs of any account had shut down, and much of the advanced germplasm was lost. The next main impetus to establishing breeding programs came with the initiatives of the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute in India, and the International Agricultural Research Centers. Among the latter, CIAT assumed responsibility for collaboration in Asia. This collaboration focused on training breeders and germplasm specialists, introducing new genetic variability, providing workshops to exchange information and plan collaboration, and working alongside national scientists in all phases of breeding.

Cassava has moved through three mega-phases of genetic improvement, characterized by a focus on:

  1. yield potential
  2. production efficiency under conditions of environmental stress
  3. incorporating value-added traits with (1) and (2)

This latter phase is in the initial stages, and will define cassava genetic improvement in Asia for the next several years.

Cassava has a relatively long breeding cycle compared to many crops. And after successful new varieties are developed, distribution is slowed by the low multiplication rate. In Thailand, both government and private industry participate in promoting new varieties. In India, the extension service has developed innovative methods for facilitating distribution. However, in most countries, distribution relies mainly on informal farmer-to-farmer channels. National programs are now recognizing the importance of extension service involvement in variety promotion.

Many Thai farmers have had considerable exposure to new varieties through various promotion channels. Elsewhere, the practice of introducing and evaluating varieties on-farm is less common. The initial tests by farmers that prove the value of a new variety can translate into a continued, long-term interest in variety evaluation, and thereby greatly simplify the job of the extension service. If the momentum for adopting new varieties grows strong enough, there could eventually be motivation to bring the private sector into the picture to develop and sell varieties. This will be difficult, however, given the ability of farmers to save their own seed from one planting to the next.

The bottom line is that public support for cassava breeding will need to remain strong. The ongoing success of new varieties is significant. This will generate widespread interest in accelerating the pace of variety development, and in expanding the options in terms of varietal characteristics offered. Response to these demands will only be possible with continued, and increased, investments in research.

Breeding offers possibilities of adding value to the products that growers move to the marketplace. A prime example is development of the high starch varieties developed jointly between national programs and CIAT. Although higher starch varieties were available early in Thailand's breeding program, the real impetus for their adoption and further development did not come until industry began paying premiums for this trait. The time is now ripe to move into more advanced value-added traits - because the diversification and specialization of industry create a demand, and also because the technology for targeted genetic modification of cassava is on the horizon. Genetic transformation and regeneration will open the door for applying technologies that are already routine in other crops (insect resistance, herbicide resistance), but more importantly for mapping a future for cassava that meets its specific production and market needs and opportunities. Partnerships involving all sectors will be the key to identifying appropriate research goals, as well as funding and executing the research. Some of the areas with highest potential to provide broad benefits through value-added traits are genetic modification of starch characteristics, tailored to specific markets; and increased post-harvest root storability by genetic means.

Biotechnology offers an additional medium-term potential for developing innovative value-added traits. Of those traits already in commercial use, the one with likely application in cassava in Asia is herbicide resistance. This is already available for several common herbicides in various species, and could probably be made to function relatively easily in cassava. The current options for herbicide use in cassava are rather limited, since no commercial development has been specifically directed at this species. Incorporating resistance to glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide of extremely low human and animal toxicity, would likely reduce the risk to farmers who are increasingly using more toxic herbicides, often with inadequate protection either for themselves or for the environment.

Institutional support

Viability of the cassava sector in Asia has been very much the result of both private and public interests. Process, product and internal market development has been primarily in the hands of the private sector. Export development, on the other hand, has had very strong governmental support. While there are some notable examples of private sector participation in support to cassava research, the movement in this direction has been very slow. There is no doubt that in Asia cassava will continue as a basic energy source for food, feed and industry. If public support to research were to decline substantially, there may even be private funding to take on some of the research needs. Certainly, though, the private sector will have a very different development agenda, which would likely include lower priority for directing benefits to the rural poor. The goals of the global cassava strategy - food security, poverty alleviation, equity and environmental protection - do not normally attract large sums of private sector investment. On the other hand, private enterprise seems to have a far better track record than does government, of successfully establishing efficient and profitable business practices. It is apparent that the potential synergy between public and private sectors is worth developing further.

Research to improve production remains largely in the public domain. New varieties; fertilizer recommendations; technology to reduce soil erosion; recommendations on basic cultural practices such as planting material management, planting date, spacing, weed control, and harvest management - all come mainly from the public sector. None of these will attract much attention for private company research in the near future. Longer term, there is some potential for private investment in varietal improvement, especially when biotechnology applications become a practical feasibility. The herbicide industry will, in the medium term, begin to invest in development and testing of more specific herbicides for cassava. This may develop first in Latin America, with areas of larger scale plantings, with possible transfer to Asia. Chemical companies, solely or jointly with a public institution, will probably be the first to incorporate herbicide resistance in cassava, as a means of profiting both from variety and chemical sales. As use of fertilizer increases, there is only a very small investment involved for fertilizer companies to develop capacity to analyze soils and make cassava-specific recommendations.

Given that cassava producers will rely heavily on public research investment for at least a few more decades, the planning for adequate support is crucial. This support is needed for training of scientists, research infrastructure, and operational costs. The Asian countries that are developing rapidly might well take responsibility for full funding of cassava research. Others will be hard-pressed to provide for more than rudimentary programs, and will need outside support.

R&D institutions can have an important role in policy analysis, as an educational resource for policy-makers who need to have access to comprehensive and unbiased information. With few exceptions, cassava producers have little political clout to influence policy that affects their ability to earn a livelihood. Development organizations can take the role of empowering the cassava sector to effectively present its interests before policy-makers. Farmers' organizations can be highly effective policy lobbyists, but these are still not common. Industry and commodity organizations are often well-positioned to speak for the interests of growers, processors and marketers. They usually recognize the need for a healthy total system, for any one sector to benefit. Prominent examples of such groups are the Thai trade associations. Their principal activities are in the realm of industry promotion and trade, but they also promote supply-side benefits such as distribution of new varieties.

Cassava networks have not been active in policy debate, but this is a role for which they have some unique qualifications. The Asia Cassava Breeding and Agronomy Network as the only one with a strictly regional focus, is in the best position to take on policy issues. While an international network would have limited direct voice in national policy debates, it is well-positioned to provide individual members with information and technical backup.

Integrating the system: supply and demand in dynamic balance

Integrated production, processing and marketing project concept
Basic economic theory and experience show that changes in production, processing or marketing of cassava need to be integrated and coordinated to provide consistent, long-term benefits across the system. Increased production in a constrained market simply depresses prices for producers. Expanded markets without ability to increase production capacity can restrain market growth due to excessive price increases. New or more efficient processing may be needed to fit the demands of new markets, or to process increased volumes of raw materials. Unless the integration of these phases is anticipated during the technology development process, the products of research and development will not be implemented in an optimal manner.

Both producers and consumers hope for some imbalance in the supply/demand dynamics. Naturally, these hopes extend in different directions - producers want excess demand to raise farm-level prices, and consumers hope for excess supply to depress prices. At the same time, both recognize their own long term financial health depends on that of the other - supply and demand in dynamic balance.

Even though the markets for cassava are much better developed in Asia than either Africa or Latin America, attention to the continued balance in production, processing and marketing is warranted. The integration of actors - R&D institutions, farmers, processors, marketers and consumers - does not always develop optimally in a totally free-market atmosphere. The integrated project experiences in Latin America are a valuable lesson with high potential for application in Asia as production systems and markets undergo rapid changes (Ospina et al., 1996).

Participatory methods for effective research and development
The research and development process is a partnership among many players who must work together through the various steps. Extensive interaction from planning through implementation can be a major factor in success. While producers are among the key players, their input, if considered at all in research design and evaluation, has usually been filtered through others, such as extension agents. During the past decade, international centers and national programs have made a concerted effort to adapt techniques to involve farmers in research design and evaluation for cassava technology. Much of this has been aimed at producing new varieties, but also includes integrated pest management practices and soil erosion control methods. In Asia, the main initiative in farmer participatory research has been for the evaluation of erosion control methods in a coordinated series of experiments across several countries.

Technology transfer
Technology transfer for cassava is often a bottleneck to achieving impact. Transfer may fail either because the techniques are inappropriate or insufficient, or the technology itself may not be acceptable. Both have had a significant role in Asia; both are amenable to correction and improvement. In a well-functioning system, information flows both ways between the producer and the user of new technology. It is in this sense that technology transfer has an integrative function for the entire production, processing and utilization system. One of the current deficiencies in the cassava R&D world is follow-up information on technology adoption, levels of benefits, and all the potential accompanying information that should feed back to research planners to make design adjustments.

Technology transfer is normally considered an institutional function - the act of moving technology from the hands of science to the fields or factories of end-users, by a public extension service, or by private companies aiming at making a profit. Few of the conventional resources or practices exist at adequate levels for cassava. Virtually all programs in Asia report that extension services for cassava do not function optimally, and some barely at all (CIAT, 1995). In this environment, many programs have used unconventional and creative means to fill the gap left by institutional deficiencies.

The Department of Agriculture in Thailand, uses three separate channels for its highly successful transfer of new cassava varieties: direct transfer to farmers, mainly by way of on-farm regional trials and demonstration plots; through pellet and starch factories, which promoted new varieties to upgrade the quality of the raw product available; and the more traditional extension service methods. In Indonesia, starch factories have also complemented the extension service to multiply and distribute new varieties. India has the most structured technology transfer system, and in general a better staffed public service sector than most countries. They have been able to achieve impact both with new varieties and agronomic practices.

The cassava sector has the opportunity to be at the forefront of designing and testing non-conventional and innovative technology transfer systems. The lack of institutional resources has already motivated public and private partnerships, and an array of other means to get technology to end users. A survey of methods that have succeeded and those that have failed, and to establish a logical basis for about future planning, could be a highly useful exercise for Asia, and with implications elsewhere.

Information management and communications technology

Asia as a whole has relatively advanced communications systems. This can have a large impact on integrating the components of a research and development system, especially if policymakers, researchers, development specialists, farmers, processors, marketers, and industry managers are all linked together. The Internet makes this possible in ways that were not remotely possible just a decade ago. A very practical use of the Internet for specific interest groups is to allow open discussion among these diverse people who otherwise may have no contact with each other. Each has the chance to make known their own viewpoints and learn those of others, or to seek answers to questions. There can be open, immediate interaction between producers, extension personnel, researchers, commercial interests and consumers. This is a functioning reality in some special interest areas of agriculture, and the technology will evolve quickly to make access even to some remote areas possible within a few years. In mid-1997, the International Society of Tropical Root Crops initiated an Internet list server with a focus on root crops. This will require some time to develop fully, but the experiences of other interest groups clearly illustrate the value of this communications tool. While it may now seem that linking small-scale, poor cassava farmers to university professors and research scientists on the internet is an impossible dream, this is only a relatively small step from what is already happening all over the world. R&D investments should be committed to anticipate and facilitate new communication opportunities that will advance the cassava sector.

FAO is the recognized global resource for statistics on agriculture. For cassava, they are unrivaled as a source of information on production, trade and utilization. Nevertheless, the reliability of the information needs serious upgrading by improved in-country data collection. In Asia, and globally, there is a need to improve the quality, organization and availability of product and price information. There may be many possible models for the management of improved information systems at national, regional and global levels, but the key is to develop an ongoing system for reliable data collection and collation.


From the larger social, political and economic environments

From R&D institutional and methodology experiences

From experiences with production practices, technology development, and technology transfer

From post-harvest research


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