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Innovating with roots, tubers and bananas January 16th, 2022 by

A new book edited by Graham Thiele and colleagues of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) highlights research over the past decade on a remarkable group of crops that are grown from vegetative seed (such as cuttings and roots). Crops include potato, sweetpotato, cassava, yam and bananas, all of which were domesticated in the tropics and are a big part of the daily diet in many developing countries. Continued research on these crops is important to keep family farmers competitive, and to keep producing food locally in tropical countries.

One chapter of the book describes how cassava is becoming an ever more important crop in West Africa, both for food and for manufacturing (flour, starch and alcohol), yet this has led to a new problem. Cottage processors and food manufacturers are creating mounds of peels, rotting in the open air. Nigerian researcher Iheanacho Okike and colleagues describe their innovation to turn garbage to gold by converting peels into livestock feed. Various feed makers are now making cassava peels into meal, as a substitute for imported maize.

The potato currently enjoys high demand across Africa, where it can be grown at higher altitudes. But a bottleneck has been getting access to disease-free seed, especially of new varieties that farmers want. A chapter by Elmar Schulte-Geldermann and colleagues discuss techniques that can be used by national agricultural programs or local companies to produce lots of seed quickly, using aeroponics and rooted apical cuttings (two methods for growing potato plants from cuttings in nurseries). This seed is distributed to seed producers, who rear and sell seed for farmers.

Margaret McEwan and colleagues describe Triple S (storage in sand and sprouting), a way for smallholders to conserve sweetpotato seed roots during the dry season in nothing more complicated than sand pits lined with mud bricks.

Agricultural researchers have been urged for years to work more closely with farmers, but often with limited guidance about how to do so. This book fills some of that gap. Vivian Polar and other gender experts have a chapter on methods that plant breeders can use to ensure that new crop varieties meet the needs of women and men.

Jorge Andrade-Piedra and colleagues discuss methods for studying seed systems, usually managed entirely by farmers, with little outside influence. These practical study methods would be beneficial to any development organization or project interested in understanding local seed systems before engaging with them.

These and other chapters feature the agronomy and social innovations of yams, sweetpotatoes, cassava, potatoes and bananas. Few books compile the results of agricultural research over ten years, by such a large group of scientists. The results show the value of publicly-funded research to benefit smallholder farmers in the tropics.

Further reading  

Thiele, Graham, Michael Friedmann, Hugo Campos, Vivian Polar and Jeffery W Bentley (Eds.) 2022. Root, Tuber and Banana Food System Innovations Root, Tuber and Banana Food System Innovations: Value Creation for Inclusive Outcomes. Springer, Cham.

The book will be out soon, and can be pre-ordered online from various book-dealers.

5 thoughts on “Innovating with roots, tubers and bananas

  1. Dear sir
    Kindly send one copy of the publication in following address
    Mr. Prabhakar Adhikari
    Secretary
    Pragati, Koraput
    At. Pujariput Po & District. Koraput, Odisha
    Pin code. 764020

  2. Sorry, the book is still in press. Thanks for your interest. A little more patience, please!

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