Millions of small holder farmers in Africa still cultivate the same local cassava varieties that have been used for centuries, but most of those varieties are only known in the fields with very few stored in databases or gene banks, scientists say.
Scientists from southern, eastern and central Africa have came up with a new method of DNA fingerprinting for cassava identification and agro-biodiversity that they say will conserve local varieties and make disease-free cassava accessible to farmers, according to a report in IPPMedia.
They agreed during a two-day meeting in Dar es Salaam on a harmonized process to collect, evaluate, preserve, identify and exchange traditional cassava varieties, or landraces, to ensure breeders have access to a wide variety of diseases-free cassava material that is well documented with farmers’ information.
Such databases do not exist, with most landraces known only in the farmers’ fields, said Morag Ferguson, a molecular scientist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, in the report.
These traditional varieties are a rich source of important genes for improving cassava through biotechnology or conventional breeding, yet very few of these varieties were conserved in germplasm repository, according to the report.
Scientists agreed there was an urgent need to conserve traditional cassava varieties being grown by small holder farmers against deadly cassava diseases.
Dwindling cassava production is linked to viral diseases like the cassava brown streak and mosaic diseases devastating crops in the Great Lakes Region and threatening food security of more than 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Claude Fauquet, director of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century, the report said. A regional conservation effort that includes a regional gene bank will come in handy, he said.
“We need genetic diversity and farmers’ knowledge to develop varieties that will be accepted and adopted by farmers,” Ferguson said.