2018 NextGen Cassava Annual Meeting Workshops

From February 19-24, NextGen cassava partners and collaborators will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the 6th Annual Meeting of NextGen Cassava. This will serve both to share results from the fifth year of the project and to set goals and targets for the next five years.

On the last two days of the NextGen Cassava meeting, participants had the opportunity to participate in workshops and go on field visits.

Continue reading

2018 NextGen Cassava Annual Meeting, Day 4 Recap

 

From February 19-24, NextGen cassava partners and collaborators will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the 6th Annual Meeting of NextGen Cassava. This will serve both to share results from the fifth year of the project and to set goals and targets for the next five years.

On February 22, NextGen Cassava inaugurated its second phase in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Continue reading

2018 NextGen Cassava Annual Meeting, Day 3 Recap

From February 19-24, NextGen cassava partners and collaborators will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the 6th Annual Meeting of NextGen Cassava. This will serve both to share results from the fifth year of the project and to set goals and targets for the next five years.

Continue reading

2018 NextGen Cassava Annual Meeting, Day 2 Recap

From February 19-24, NextGen cassava partners and collaborators will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the 6th Annual Meeting of NextGen Cassava. This will serve both to share results from the fifth year of the project and to set goals and targets for the next five years.

Day 2 sessions continued with presentations from team leaders on roadmaps for the next phase of the project.

Continue reading

2018 NextGen Cassava Annual Meeting, Day 1 Recap

From February 19-24, NextGen cassava partners and collaborators will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the 6th Annual Meeting of NextGen Cassava. This will serve both to share results from the fifth year of the project and to set goals and targets for the next five years.

After a brief introduction and scene-setting, Chiedozie Egesi, NextGen project director, delivered a presentation highlighting some of the key achievements of the first 5 years of the project.

Continue reading

Cornell receives $35M to support cassava development for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa

Cassava is vital to the food security of millions of Africans who eat some form of the root crop daily. Although cassava breeders are making progress, they still face significant challenges in developing disease-resistant varieties that also increase overall yield and respond to the needs of smallholder farmers and processors. Cornell University will expand international efforts to deliver improved varieties of cassava to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with $35 million in new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK aid from the United Kingdom.

“This grant funds a second five-year phase that will allow us to build on previous work and focus on getting improved varieties into farmers’ fields,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of Cornell’s International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who leads the project.

During Phase 1 of the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project — also funded by the Gates Foundation and UK aid from 2012 to 2017 — researchers shortened the breeding cycle for new cassava varieties by improving flowering and using genomic selection. Through analyzing plant genotypes and identifying cassava lines with desirable traits, such as resistance to cassava brown streak disease or high dry matter content, breeders also improved their ability to make selections based on genetics and probability without having to wait for seedlings to reach adulthood. These methods save breeding time for a crop where flowering and sexual propagation are issues.

Another goal of Phase 1 was to make cassava genomic information publicly accessible on an open database. Cassava researchers all over the world are now comparing results and improving breeding programs without duplicating efforts by using Cassavabase. To reduce cost per progeny and improve the quality of data uploaded to Cassavabase in Phase 2, NextGen researchers will use additional methods of whole genome sequencing.

“Our focus for the next five years will be to translate this research into breeding practices to increase impact,” said Chiedozie Egesi, NextGen project director and adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell, who is based at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria. “We have a strong gender component to Phase 2. A key goal will be to identify traits preferred by women farmers and end-users and incorporate them into new cassava lines.

chiedozie-edited-lorez

Field technician Tessy Uwangue, and Chiedozie Egesi, project leader for the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project, check field plots of cassava at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria for signs of disease. PHOTO PROVIDED

Egesi said, “We believe we will accelerate genetic gain as well as adopted genetic gain, increase the yields and resilience of cassava production by smallholder farmers, and move African cassava breeding toward greater capacity.”

“Among the 30 new clones developed at IITA using our methods, 10 had higher dry matter yield than any clone currently available for smallholder farmers in Nigeria,” said Jean-Luc Jannink, a research plant geneticist with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and Cornell adjunct associate professor in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell. “Dry matter yield is a close proxy to food yield. Conservatively, we believe that we will increase the rate of genetic gain in cassava by 30 to 50 percent.”

Said Peter Kulakow, IITA cassava breeder and geneticist: “Genetic gain is a measure of the improvement of plant performance between generations and a goal of most modern breeding programs. Swifter improvements mean more new varieties can be tested and released.”

At the sixth annual Next Gen Cassava meeting, Feb. 19-24 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, teams of NextGen breeders, geneticists, data analysts, computer programmers, food technologists, social scientists and crop protectionists will be focusing on goals for Phase 2 and discussing how to better coordinate and leverage the exchange of germplasm and genotypic and phenotypic data from each other.

Developing capacity for sustainable breeding programs

Compared with other major staples like maize, rice and wheat, cassava has undergone few advances in productivity and yield over the last 50 years, making it an ideal candidate for breeding improvement. Because cassava is clonally propagated and has a low multiplication rate, it can take almost six to eight years before a new cassava variety makes it from breeders’ nurseries through field trials to farmers’ fields. Most breeding efforts focus on product development — goals set by scientists and researchers without accounting for the preferences of farmers. In practice, this can result in poor adoption of new varieties and unrealized potential.

“It is critical for breeders to be able to incorporate the diverse needs and preferences of end users into new varieties,” said Hale Ann Tufan, Survey Division Lead for NextGen Cassava. “Our trials in Nigeria and Uganda have revealed that there are significant differences in preferred traits between men and women, as well as various regional cassava processing methods. By understanding how descriptors for ‘good’ varieties, such as softness and texture, can be translated into phenotypes, we can develop methods to efficiently evaluate them along with traits such as disease resistance and climate resilience.”

Strengthening the capacity of national breeding programs will be critical in achieving self-sustaining breeding systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the next five years, NextGen researchers will continue to train the next generation of sub-Sahara African cassava breeders in modern plant breeding techniques like genomic selection and improved breeding methods.

International and regional partnerships are another important element of sustainability. NextGen researchers are reaching out to their counterparts in Ghana, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo to create a broader network of researchers who can work together to improve livelihoods and food security.

Chiedozie_Hawaii_lorez.jpeg

Sharon Motomura, Chiedozie Egesi and Joana Norton, of the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project, flash the ’shaka’ sign of ‘aloha’ in front of an international hybridization plot at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. The plot is planted with high-yielding cassava from Africa that is resistant to viruses and elite material from South America with high dry matter and high beta carotenes. The site provides a disease-free environment for testing. PHOTO PROVIDED

In Africa, NextGen collaborators include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria; the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement in Ghana; the National Crops Resources Research Institute and Makerere University in Uganda; and the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute in Tanzania. In South America, collaborators include Embrapa in Brazil and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. In the US, collaborators are Cornell University (who leads the project), the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell, the University of Hawaii, and the USDA-ARS in Ithaca.

For more information, visit www.nextgencassava.org

Partner Spotlight: NRCRI

More than 10 institutions are affiliated with NextGen Cassava. In our partner spotlights, we feature profiles on individual institutions and the role they play in the project.

The National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria has been a NextGen Cassava partner since the inception of the project. We interviewed Dr. Joseph Onyeka, NextGen Cassava breeding lead and head of  the Pathology and Micro Biotechnology Unit at NRCRI, to learn more about the institution and its work.

DSC01777

Dr. Joseph Onyeka in his office at NRCRI.

Dr. Onyeka explained the benefits of the collaboration: “Moving forward, the partnership between NextGen and NRCRI will not only lead to enhancing the efficiency of NRCRI to develop new cassava varieties, but will actually extend to delivering new superior cassava varieties to Nigerian farmers. NRCRI is a leading institution for cassava breeding in Africa and had provided technical backstopping for other African NARs in the past through the cassava breeding Community of Practice (CoP). NRCRI hopes to take the advantage of this network in the region to create a spillover of the benefits from NextGen project to other countries in the region.”

Read the full interview below:

What is NRCRI’s role in NextGen Cassava? What are the main activities/objectives being accomplished here?
NRCRI as the Nigerian national partner of the NextGen project is involved in the implementation of activities under various objectives: Implementing and empirically testing Genomic Selection in African breeding programs, whereby genomic selection is used to speed-up the process of developing and selecting feature varieties for release to farmers. NRCRI is involved in the identification of methods to improve cassava flowering and seed set, which provides opportunity for breeders to tap desirable traits from genetic backgrounds with poor flowering ability. NRCRI is also involved in the development of centralized cassava database through the contribution of information to the database and the application of modern tools for precise data collection. The institute is also a key player in the current drive aimed at understanding gender-related as well as end-user preferred traits in cassava to aid breeders in designing their breeding objectives. The institute is gradually moving to a standardized and rapid throughput phenotyping for key traits using near infra-red spectrometer in cassava breeding.

Are there any Masters/PhD students funded by NextGen at NRCRI? What is their work focused on?
NRCRI has two PhD students funded by the NextGen project. They are Miss Lydia Ezenwaka who is registered with the West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana with a research focus on Genome-wide association study of cassava green mite resistance and other associated traits in Manihot esculenta; and Mr Ugochukwu Ikeogu who is registered with Cornell University, Ithaca, USA with a research focus on high throughput phenotyping and genomic selection for quality traits in cassava.

file-1

Okoro Maria Justin, a member of the NRCRI gender team and cassava research program, examines a NextGen Cassava field trial.

In what ways has the partnership/involvement with NextGen benefited NRCRI?
NRCRI involvement with NextGen has greatly benefited the institution in many ways which include improved capacity and efficiency in breeding for farmer-preferred cassava varieties, development of human research capacity through short trainings and workshops, upgrade of laboratory and field research facilities including field vehicles for easy movement.

How does NextGen fit into NRCRI’s overall mission and goals?
The NextGen project aptly fits into the main research focus of NRCRI which has the national mandate for genetic improvement of root and tuber crops including cassava in Nigeria.

How do you see NextGen and NRCRI’s partnership moving forward?
Moving forward, the partnership between NextGen and NRCRI will not only lead to enhancing the efficiency of NRCRI to develop new cassava varieties, but will actually extend to delivering new superior cassava varieties to Nigerian farmers. NRCRI is a leading institution for cassava breeding in Africa and had provided technical backstopping for other African NARs in the past through the cassava breeding Community of Practice (CoP). NRCRI hopes to take the advantage of this network in the region to create a spillover of the benefits from NextGen project to other countries in the region.

Any final thoughts?
Being the only research institute in Africa solely devoted to root and tuber crops, particularly cassava, the goal of NextGen Project is the goal of NRCRI.