CROP CONVERSATIONS

More than 650 world experts about Root and Tuber Crops attended the First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops in Nanning, Guangxi, China. The Congress was a fantastic opportunity to collect the opinion of some of them regarding hot topics about these crops. WCRTC has organized a series of public Crop Conversations that were video recorded and posted on the WCRTC website, along the program below. For each session a specific topic was chosen and 4-5 experts were invited to give their opinion in 5-8 mn.

Monday, January 18th - Roots and Tubers: Food for Tomorrow
Around 200 million poor farmers in developing countries around the world rely on root and tuber crops (RTCs) for food security and income. These crops – such as cassava, potato, sweet-potato and yams – are excellent sources of energy, and some are rich in vitamins and minerals. They can typically be processed for a better income; they can grow in marginal conditions and tolerate stress, drought, heat and poor soils.

But in today’s fast-changing world, rapid economic growth and an increasing population must be paralleled by more food and energy production with less inputs and resources.

Economic growth must be balanced with environmental sustainability. Add to this the challenge of climate change - more extreme, variable weather events. Yet roots, tubers and bananas are exceptionally equipped to deal with these challenges - if they are managed properly.
Host: Claude Fauquet, Director GCP21, CIAT, Colombia
Tuesday, January 19th - Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities for Roots and Tubers
Roots and tubers respond well to the impacts of climate change: they can grow in marginal conditions, tolerate stress, drought, heat and poor soils. As a consequence, they can be considered important crops to safeguard against hunger and improve the income of poor farmers who cannot grow alternatives on marginal land.

But the impacts of climate change pose considerable risks, even for these hardy crops. Challenges include: a lack of funding for genetic improvement to ensure these crops continue to adapt: serious pests and diseases which could limit commercial potential and efforts to add value to crops, as well as pose a serious risks to smallholder farmer incomes.
Host: Stefan de Haan - Scientist, CIAT-Vietnam
Wednesday, January 20th - Root and Tuber Crops for Food and Nutrition Security
As staple or supplementary foods, roots and tubers are critical sources of food and nutrition security for millions worldwide - particularly for small-scale farmers and their families. Their main nutritional value lies in their ability to provide one of the cheapest sources of energy in the form of carbohydrates in developing countries. The high yields of most root crops also add considerable benefits compared with grains: contributing both to food and income security.

They can be important staple crops in areas where soil is poor and other crops may not grow well – often areas populated by the poorest people. They can also be processed and added into a diverse range of foods and snacks, earning farmers a higher income to purchase other staple foods such as rice.
Host: Ben Bennett – Economist, NRI, Greenwich University, UK
Wednesday, January 20th - The GCP21 Golden Cassava Prize
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a carbohydrate source for more than 500 million people globally. It ranks fourth among crops for its fresh weight production and is produced as a staple crop in Africa, Asia and South America - accounting for 53%, 33% and 14% of global production, respectively.

Today in Southeast Asia, the crop supports an estimated 40 million mostly poor farmers with less than five hectares, producing about 82 million tons of cassava annually. The crop tolerates stress, drought, heat, and can grow in poor soil in marginal upland environments with minimal investment.

At the WCRTC, Dr. Chareinsuk Rojanaridpiched, formerly of Kasetsart University in Thailand, will be recognized for developing the cassava variety Kasetsart 50 (KU 50), the world’s most widely grown cassava variety, cultivated on more than 1.3 million hectares in South East Asia.

Dr. Reinhardt Howeler from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a soil scientist with more than 20 years of experience in Asia, is honored for his contributions towards improving soil management practices. He worked directly with farmers throughout the region to ensure widespread adoption of new varieties such as KU50 and better crop and soil management, leading to higher yields and farm income.
Host: Claude Fauquet, Director GCP21, CIAT, Colombia
Thursday, January 21st - Adding Value for Root and Tuber Crops: Processing and value chains
In various forms for food and non-food uses, roots and tubers supply an increasingly diverse and lucrative market of billions of dollars. Processing occurs at several scales, supporting both commercial level enterprises and small-scale farmers and processors. Opportunities for both women and men to gain from higher-value agricultural supply chains could be better understood, in particular to ensure that poorer smallholder farmers can continue to benefit from cultivating these crops. And, production and processing bottle-necks need to be addressed and overcome to make the most of opportunities to add value.

But there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Grown in a range of agro-ecological zones in different production systems, ranging from monocultures through to intercropping and agroforestry systems, the role of roots and tubers for smallholder livelihoods varies considerably. At the same time, smallholders sell their product into a range of complex value chains, with different value-chain actors, institutions and policies that influence the way the value-chain functions.

While the private sector is a key stakeholder in delivering improved technologies to farmers, it is also important to understand the capacity and incentives of both public and private sector actors. In some cases, the private sector provides an important link between farmers and researchers; in others, farmers are not well connected to those who can help them invest in productivity improvements at the farm level.
Host: Liang Guo Tao, ACRO Biotech Co., Zhuhai, China
Thursday, January 21st - Cassava Entrepreneurs' Experience in the World
A very important element for the development of cassava in the world is the initiatives of local entrepreneurs, producing the roots, processing them for food needs or for the industrial needs, and also entrepreneurs involved in machineries to produce or process cassava roots.

Asia and South America have initiated mechanization of the cassava production and industrialization of the processing of the roots, several decades ago. Although the African continent is the first producer in the world, with more than 55% of the global production of cassava, Africa is lagging behind. There are however a number of young entrepreneurs, particularly in Nigeria, and the Congress is the opportunity to collect a glimpse of their respective experience in the world.
Host: Claude Fauquet, Director GCP21, CIAT, Colombia
Friday, January 22nd - Harnessing Genetic Resources for the Improvement of Root & Tuber Crops
Roots and tubers are traditionally considered "neglected" in terms of investment. Yet understanding crop genetics could unlock hidden potential to improve yield or nutritional benefits. How can researchers prioritize investments to ensure these crops remain beneficial for smallholder farmers and yet stay commercially competitive?

These crops also contribute to genetic diversity in ecosystems - and conserving this genetic diversity for more varied diets, especially among poorer communities where these crops are traditionally cultivated - is critical at a time when our diets are become less diverse. Plant genetic resources are the basis of food security, and an important component of agrobiodiversity and national heritage. How do we prevent "genetic erosion," and what is the role of genebanks in protecting genetic resources for the future generation?
Host: Stefan de Haan - Scientist, CIAT-Vietnam