Cassava will be able to cope with expected temperature rises of up to two degrees Celsius in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, and could even be more productive, according to new research from a team of climate scientists. “Cassava is a survivor,” says Andy Jarvis, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) climate scientist and lead author. “It deals with almost anything the climate throws at it. It thrives in high temperatures, and if drought hits it simply shuts down until the rains come again. There’s no other staple out there with this level of toughness.”
Consumed by about 500 million people every day, cassava is the second most important source of carbohydrates in Sub-Saharan Africa. The research, conducted by scientists from CIAT and the CGIAR’s Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Research Program (CCAFS), found that the root crop will outperform potato, maize, bean, banana, millet and sorghum when temperature rises and changes in rainfall patterns are taken into consideration. Jarvis advises, however, against relying solely on cassava: “The ideal situation is for farmers to have a diversity of crops, with cassava acting as a failsafe. This would enhance nutrition and reduce climate risk,” Jarvis adds.
To maximise the potential of cassava, the report calls for further crop improvement efforts, including breeding to improve drought and cold tolerance, and more research to increase resilience to pests and disease outbreaks, such as whitefly, mealybug, cassava brown-streak disease and cassava mosaic disease, to reduce existing threats and prepare for emerging ones. “Tackling cassava’s vulnerability to pests and diseases could be the final hurdle to a food secure future for millions of people,” Jarvis continues. “If we’re well prepared for these threats, cassava could be one of the most climate change-resilient crops an African farmer can plant.”
“We’ve been waiting a long time for some good news about food security and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa,” Jarvis concludes. “Finally, I think it’s arrived. While the other staples will struggle in the face of climate change, it looks as though cassava is going to thoroughly enjoy it.”