Nigeria has released two improved cassava varieties in an effort to maintain its lead as the world's largest producer of the root crop, improve incomes of farmers and make them smile.
The varieties were developed through a collaborative effort between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Nigerian Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike.
The two varieties are originally recognized as IITA developed genotypes: IITA-TMS-I982132 and IITA-TMS-I011206. But with the official release, they are to be known as UMUCASS 42 and UMUCASS 43 respectively.
"Both varieties performed well in different cassava production regions of Nigeria with high yield, high dry matter and good disease resistance. The roots of these varieties are yellow and contain moderate levels of pro-Vitamin A," said IITA cassava breeder, Dr. Peter Kulakow.
Potential maximum yield of the two varieties is between 49 and 53 tonnes per hectare, according to pre-varietal release trials that were conducted between 2008 and 2010. Local varieties produce less than 10 tonnes per hectare.
The varieties are also resistant to major pests and diseases that affect cassava in the country including cassava mosaic disease, cassava bacterial blight, cassava anthracnose, cassava mealy-bug and cassava green mite.
NRCRI cassava breeder, Dr. Chiedozie Egesi, who presented the varieties before the Nigeria Varietal Release committee - the body in charge of officially releasing varieties - said the varieties have distinct qualities.
These include being good for high quality cassava flour, a sought-after trait by researchers for the cassava transformation agenda in Nigeria; high dry matter which is positively related to starch and crucial for cassava value chain development; high leaf retention which is positively related to drought tolerance and is crucial for cassava production in the drier regions and in mitigating the impact of climate change, and moderate levels of betacarotene for enhancing nutrition.
Over the years, cassava has transformed from being a "poor man's" crop to now a cash crop and an industrial crop, as cassava is being processed to products such as starch, flour, glucose and ethanol. This transition has placed demand on cassava.
Researchers say developing new improved varieties is one way that would boost the steady supply of cassava roots to this ever-increasing demand.
According to Egesi, continuous breeding of such improved new varieties will help in stabilising production, processing and marketing of cassava products. "The impact of these efforts will be felt in areas such as rural employment and a virile cassava industrial sector," he added.