The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recently announced it will receive a 30 million dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop modern and efficient breeding systems for root, tuber, and banana (RTB) staple crops for sub-Saharan Africa.
The International Potato Center (CIP), one of the research centers of CGIAR, lists banana, cassava, potato, sweet potato, and yam, some of Africa’s most important staple crops, as the crops at the heart of RTB in Africa. ‘This commitment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is recognition of the increasing importance of root, tuber, and banana staple crops in Africa. It will support our breeding partnership between CGIAR and national institutions that have proven to translate scientific research into tangible benefits to small-scale farmers and consumers in Africa,’ says CIP-Director General Dr. Simon Heck.
The RTB Breeding project will be led by Dr. Hugo Campos, Deputy Director of General Research at CIP. The project brings together breeding expertise across CGIAR Centers and works in close partnership with an extensive network of African National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and universities. ‘By modernizing RTB breeding and seed systems, we are enabling farmers to fight climate change,’ says Campos, adding that the center works directly with farmers to develop the varieties of RTB crops that will survive in harsh conditions and provide them income and their communities food security. Dr. Sonja Vermeulen, Managing Director of Genetic Innovation at CGIAR, states that RTB Breeding represents a step change for CGIAR, working across multiple crops with a value chain perspective, encouraging cross learnings, and enabling the delivery of higher genetic gains and accelerated adoption rates of new varieties among smallholder farmers in Africa.
RTB crops are important staple crops in Africa and the world’s poorest regions, states CGIAR, providing nearly 50 percent of total caloric intake in D.R. Congo, Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda, 30 percent in Uganda, and 25 percent in Africa’s most populated country, Nigeria. Many RTB crops can be grown with few inputs and often under harsh conditions. ‘RTB crops are also drought and heat tolerant, two climate-smart characteristics of importance to the African continent experiencing record temperatures and a historic drought’, adds CIP. The center reports that, for more than a decade, RTB research has developed modern and efficient breeding systems in Africa in the form of superior crop varieties and seed systems that have a significant impact on food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, and the quality of life of farmers, processors, and consumers in rural and urban areas. CIP Board Chair Helen Hambly concludes that, thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognizing the importance and potential of these climate-smart crops, advanced varieties can become more widespread and improve the African continent’s food and nutrition security needs.
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