Friday, May 18, 2012

Cassava – a 'rambo root' that can fight climate change in Africa

Deutsche Welle: Drought, poor soil and erratic rainy seasons are problems that affect African farmers daily. But scientists are hoping to change that, with the help of cassava roots that seem able to withstand climate change.

Cassava root, also known as manioc, is dark brown on the outside while the inside is grey or reddish. Some varieties taste sweet while others are bitter. They are mostly grown in South America, Asia and Africa. Front runners are farmers in Nigeria. One of them is Abubakar Sadiq Alaji Takingari. "Cassava is a product that can withstand heat and drought and needs little or no fertilizer, " he says. In addition, cassava itself enriches the soil with nutrients. In the current season "we did not need additional fertilizer, because we used our former cassava fields to grow millet and corn. The cassava roots and leaves left on on the ground acted as fertilizer for millet and corn," Takingari says.

Climate researchers have now also become aware of the tuber. They have tested how cassava responds to climate change, looking ahead to the year 2030 when temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to have increased by two degrees celcius. "We have found out that cassava is resilient and can cope with almost all climate conditions. That's why we call it a rambo root," says Andy Jarvis, a climatologist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia.

The researchers are also testing how other staple foods can adapt to climate change. Compared to corn, potatoes, beans, bananas and millet, cassava is the most adaptable. "The big advantage is that cassava can survive even very long periods of drought," Jarvis said. "It slows down its activity and waits until the next rainy season."...

Harvested cassava roots, shot by David Monniaux, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license 

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