Cassava a “Climate Ready” Crop
Cassava could be called a “climate ready” crop, says Dr. Rod Lefroy, research coordinator at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in an ABC Radio Australia interview this Friday.
Recent bouts of extreme weather in the US, the UK, and other countries have prompted concerns about food production and shortages as crops suffered droughts and unusual precipitation levels. For millions of chronically malnourished people around the world, a slight increase in food prices due to the effects of climate change is one they cannot afford. Taking away 10% caloric intake from a chronically malnourished person’s baseline consumption of 1,750 calories a day would put him at risk of starvation and even death.
Cassava has long been eyed as a food security staple for years by scientists and researchers. With studies showing that cassava has the potential to adapt and even be grown widely under changing conditions that threaten other crops, the root crop is gaining more well-deserved attention. Research on cassava and how to improve it as a crop has lagged behind better known staple cousins like potatoes and corn.
Earlier this year The Guardian featured cassava as a ‘Rambo’ root crop for sub-Saharan regions, where scant water supplies and hot conditions limit food production. It has been labeled as a survivor of food crops after performing above maize, potatoes, bananas, beans, sorghum and millet in climate prediction tests and crop suitability models. Scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Research Program conducted the research.
Cassava was found to survive projected conditions in west Africa when potatoes showed a decrease in production by 15%, bean suitability by 20%, and bananas 13%. In east Africa, cassava actually showed an increase of 10%. In southern Africa, cooler climate is expected to bring 5% increase in cassava production. In central Africa a 1% decrease was the only registered reduction for cassava. Indeed, IITA looks to three vitamin A enriched varieties of cassava as an answer to nutrition deficiency problems particularly in Nigeria. According to the World Heritage Organization, between a quarter to half a million children deficient in vitamin A suffer blindness every year, with 50% of them dying within a year of becoming blind. The new vitamin A fortified varieties of cassava could potentially decrease this problem while providing economic benefits to the nation.
Cassava itself is popular not only in Africa but also in Asia and Latin America. Cassava-based dishes have developed in various regions over time thanks to its characteristics similar to the potato. Starchy and bland when cooked, cassava can be fried, grilled, baked, mashed, and boiled. It could be made into stew, bread, desserts, and other dishes. In the Caribbean it is made into casaba (cassava bread), in India it is eaten with fish curry, in the Philippines it is made into sweet cassava cake, and in the Dominican Republic it is an alternative to French fries.
If cassava can be improved and its vulnerability to diseases, pests, etc. dealt with, it could become one of the most important climate change-ready and resilient crops for the world today.
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