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New genetic varieties to help Tanzanian cassava farmers
March 4, 2018, 1:16 pm

Tanzania’s efforts to increase food security through growing improved varieties of cassava received a major boost last week with replenished funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK Aid from the United Kingdom.

“The funds will help finance a second, 5-year phase in the ‘Next Generation Cassava Breeding’ project and allow us to build on previous work while focusing on getting improved varieties into farmers’ fields,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of Cornell’s International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which is leading international efforts to deliver improved varieties of cassava to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

During Phase 1 of the ‘Next Generation Cassava Breeding’ project — also funded by the Gates Foundation and UK aid from 2012 to 2017 — researchers shortened the breeding cycle for new cassava varieties by improving flowering and using genomic selection.

Through analyzing plant genotypes and identifying cassava lines with desirable traits, such as resistance to cassava brown streak disease or high dry matter content, breeders also improved their ability to make selections based on genetics and probability without having to wait for seedlings to reach adulthood. These methods save breeding time for a crop where flowering and sexual propagation are issues.

Another goal of Phase 1 was to make cassava genomic information publicly accessible on an open database. Cassava researchers all over the world are now comparing results and improving breeding programs without duplicating efforts by using Cassavabase. To reduce cost per progeny and improve the quality of data uploaded to Cassavabase in Phase 2, NextGen researchers will use additional methods of whole genome sequencing.

A key goal in Phase 2 will be to identify traits preferred by farmers and end-users and incorporate them into new cassava lines to ensure that varieties are responsive to people’s needs.  We believe we will adopt and accelerate genetic gain, increase the yields and resilience of cassava production by smallholder farmers and move African cassava breeding toward greater capacity, said Mr. Coffman.

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