, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 382-387

Can in vitro biology have farm-level impact for small-scale cassava farmers in Latin America?

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Cassava is uniquely suited for food security and economic development in unfavored areas of the tropics. Development research for cassava is an urgent need. In 1998, the Cassava Biotechnology Network (CBN) convened a workshop of cassava stakeholder groups in Latin America. After hearing an opening statement from representatives of small-scale cassava producers and processors, stakeholders formulated a consensus set of research and development (R&D) priorities. An adequate supply of good-quality planting material of desired varieties was clearly the most urgent, followed by R&D on market-value traits; yield losses due to pests, diseases, and drought; and cropping system flexibility.

Two new projects are using in vitro techniques to address priorities of small-scale cassava farmers in Latin America. One project in Colombia combines a nongovernmental organization, a local farmers’ association, and the international research center, CIAT, to explore affordable micropropagation. Findings to date show that most culture medium components can be replaced with local products, and a rustic growth room permits good culture growth without electricity or air conditioning. Low-costs system(s) developed will be assessed as a local microenterprise.

A second project, in Ecuador, couples local cassava germplasm (with oral histories and an in vitro back-up collection) and elite clones (introduced in vitro) with new concepts in agribusiness development, to restart local farmers’ cooperatives after the disastrous 1998–99 el Niño floods. The project was developed through group planning by the cooperatives, the local technical university, the national agricultural research program, and CIAT.

Research to improve in vitro tools focuses on safe and stable conservation and exchange of cassava genetic resources, long-term, less expensive conservation, rapid clonal propagation, and ultimately, genetic transformation technologies to add desired traits to useful cassava varieties.