Researchers and key partners working under the Support for Agricultural Research and Development for Strategic Crops (SARD-SC) have kicked off activities to improve the productivity of cassava by at least 20 per cent in project sites, increase household incomes and food security, and make the root crop work for the poor.
Four countries namely DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia, are the main beneficiaries of the cassava component but the project allows neighbouring countries to tap from technologies that would be generated.
"About 500,000 farmers are to directly benefit from the crop with more than 2 million indirect beneficiaries," said the Project Coordinator for the SARD-SC, Dr. Chrys Akem, at the launch of the cassava component of the project in DR Congo.
Consumed by more than 600 million people in the developing countries, cassava is now competing with crops such as maize and rice as Africa's major staple. But the potential of the crop is still stymied by myriad challenges including pests and diseases, poor adoption of improved varieties by farmers, and low use of improved best practices.
Consequently, yields across most regions from local varieties are below 10 tonnes per hectare as opposed to over 30 tonnes per hectare obtained from improved varieties.
"The SARD-SC project intends to tackle most of the bottlenecks confronting cassava by disseminating improved varieties and unlocking the power of the crop along the value chain," Akem added.
Participating countries welcomed the project, saying that it would help alleviate hunger and poverty, and improve food security in Africa.
The Democratic Republic of Congo's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jean-Chrysostome Vahanwiti, said cassava is a food security crop and that research to improve the fortunes of cassava was a welcome development for the country and the region.
The minister, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Dr. Alexis Makumyaviri, said cassava is important to DR Congo because it is the major source of calorie and protein in the country. He applauded the attention being given to women and youth in terms of wealth and job creation in the project.
Launched last year, the SARD-SC project is a 5-year, multi-CGIAR center initiative funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) that is aimed at enhancing the productivity and income derived from cassava, maize, rice, and wheat - four of the six commodities that African Heads of States, through the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme, have defined as strategic crops for Africa.
The project, which will run until 2016, will be co-implemented by three Africa-based CGIAR centers: IITA, Africa Rice Centre, and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas. IITA is also the Executing Agency of the project. Another CGIAR center - the International Food Policy Research Institute - a specialised technical agency, will support the other three centres.
Drs. Victor Manyong and Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA Hub Directors, said the success of the project depended on joint efforts with partners to ensure that scientific innovations work for the poor. They re-echoed IITA's commitment to work with partners across the continent to deliver benefits to Africa.