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August 03, 2009

IITA steps up efforts to save indigenous African cassava varieties

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has stepped up efforts to save native African cassava varieties from genetic erosion, with the collection of 73 local cassava varieties from Guinea

The institute said in a statement in early August in Ibadan, Nigeria that it was partnering with Guinea’s Institut de Recherche Agronomique de Guinee (IRAG). It said the cassava varieties were being conserved under “ex situ” conditions at the IITA-Genetic Resources Centre in Ibadan, and would form part of a safety collection to safeguard the continent’s plant genetic resources.

“The conservation of local cassava varieties provides hope for future cassava breeding programmes and helps to guarantee food security in Africa,” the statement quoted Dr Dominique Dumet, Head of the GRC and Coordinator of the collecting mission, as saying.The collecting mission was co-funded by IITA, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and IRAG-GuineaConakry.

It noted that many local varieties of cassava were threatened by genetic erosion, a process whereby an already limited gene pool of an endangered species of plant or animal diminishes. The state said this happened when individuals from the surviving population died off without getting a chance to breed within their endangered low population.

“In Guinea Conakry, for instance, about seven local cassava varieties are fast disappearing. This is risky, especially for cassava that is a clonal crop,” it quoted Mr Paul Ilona, IITA Senior International Trials Manager, as saying. He said both local and improved cassava varieties alike created a robust gene pool, offering choices for breeders in future breeding programmes. He said the loss of genes due to the extinction of some local varieties might limit future cassava improvement programmes.

“Besides, the endangered varieties may even hold key traits that can offer possible solutions to hunger and poverty in the future,” he added. Ilona said the loss of native cassava varieties might limit the number of genes available for breeders to work with. “As breeders, anytime we lose (crop) genes, it hurts. That is why the conservation of native cassava varieties at the GRC is important to us,” he said.

According to him, apart from cassava, the IITA-GRC holds more than 25 000 accessions of major African food crops, including cowpea, yam, soybean, bambara nut, maize, plantain and banana. Ilona said the accessions were held in trust on behalf of humanity under the auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. He said IITA shared the accessions without restriction, for use in research for food and agriculture.

“The collecting mission in Guinea Conakry makes it the fourth country, after Angola, Togo and Benin Republic, to allow IITA to collect and share their germplasm with other countries. “The process commenced after the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture went into force in June 2004.

The Vanguard

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