Conference report: Second Scientific Conference of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century
We just published a conference report on the Global Cassava Partnership meeting held in Uganda in June. The report can be found at the web site of the journal Food Security, online here (subscription required). Please send me an email if you would like a copy of the report. Here are some excerpts:
Tropical agriculture must feed a growing population under increasingly challenging environmental conditions. Cassava has particularly critical roles to play. It is the third-most important tropical crop after rice and maize, providing livelihoods and food security for hundreds of millions of people. To address challenges for cassava improvement, the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) held its second scientific meeting in Kampala, Uganda, from 19-23 June, 2012. Hosted by the government of Uganda, the conference brought together over 400 scientists and professionals working on various aspects of cassava improvement (Figure 1). The conference – focusing on Africa, where cassava yields have lagged behind the rest of the world – was attended by 260 African delegates from 23 countries, with strong participation from Nigeria (67 participants), Uganda (66), Tanzania (28) and Kenya (26). The remaining delegates came from Latin America (36), Asia (22) and non-tropical countries (86). GCP21 is chaired by Dr. Claude Fauquet of the Danforth Plant Science Center (DPSC) in St. Louis, Missouri, USA and Dr. Joe Tohme of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia.
Special events at the conference included a session on priority setting for cassava R&D. The session was organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. Participants discussed the need for increased efforts in setting priorities for cassava R&D. It was generally agreed that there are different R&D priorities for different regions in the world, given the multiplicity of environments, production systems and problems around cassava production and processing. At the end of the session, more than 250 cassava experts filled out a questionnaire to define key challenges and research opportunities concerning cassava, identified by relevant regions and agro-ecological zones. Conference participants were also treated to a day in the field, visiting cassava farmers and the experiment station of Uganda’s National Crops Research Institute (NaCRRI). The week concluded with a press event held by Ugandan agricultural officials and conference organizers.
Differences in geographic regions and research priorities highlighted possible challenges in the global cassava R&D community. Budget constraints, for example, prevented full representation of cassava specialists from across the three regions. Inevitably the conference was focused on Africa, with less emphasis on important developments in Latin America and Asia. It would be a shame if the growing cassava community in Africa could not attend the next global meeting, planned for China in 2015. Another difference noted at the conference was between cassava R&D for food security and that for agro-industrial production and income generation; the private sector was underrepresented at the conference. Except for the case of cassava development in Nigeria, relatively few presentations covered the growing agro-industrial sector, which is especially large in Brazil and Thailand, and on which millions of smallholder farmers depend. Plenty of research and development advances show that when these regional and thematic gaps are bridged, everyone benefits. The biological control programs that address mite and mealybug problems in Africa and Asia with their natural enemies from Latin America is one such example. Another example is Nigeria’s effort to follow the Thailand model, diversifying from a food security emphasis to one that also focuses on agro-industrial production, multiple uses of cassava, markets and international exports.
 Researchers in the CGIAR Roots, Tubers and Bananas program will make the results of the questionnaire will be available on their project website at http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/surveys