CIAT and Ingredion Inc. have signed an agreement to develop high-productivity waxy cassava varieties for smallholder producers in Colombia, potentially opening new markets for farmers in line with global aims to eradicate poverty.
Cassava, traditionally a subsistence food, has also become a raw material for an array of processed products and industry. Demand for industrial cassava is expected to increase and has the potential to contribute to agricultural transformation and economic growth for smallholder farmers. This is the case for cassava in the North Coast of Colombia, which is the country’s main production area for cassava for food and industry. To reap the economic rewards of growing demand, producers could benefit from new varieties adapted to growing conditions that are becoming harsher due to climate change.
Development of cassava cultivars requires extensive and intensive field testing, manual work, inputs and evaluation under a wide range of agro-ecological conditions. Deployment of new cultivars quickly and at scale requires investments that are beyond the reach of the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). To reach the crop’s next-generation potential, the Alliance needs to establish strategic partnerships with different research-for-development platforms including private companies.
For these reasons, CIAT signed a limited exclusivity agreement with Ingredion Inc. to develop and bring to market cultivars with roots that have low amylose content (less than 3 percent, a key trait of industry-preferred “waxy cassava”) that are also adapted to the dry environment of the North Coast of Colombia. The objectives of this collaboration are to develop waxy cassava varieties adapted to the area’s growing conditions, give cassava farmers greater diversity of income-generating products, and satisfy the needs of Ingredion’s industrial customers in Europe and the United States.
The Cassava Program at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT has almost 50 years of experience in conducting research and delivering innovations to cassava farming communities to help countries transition out of poverty, especially in rural areas.
The program has developed cutting-edge technologies in phenotyping, genotyping and breeding, which has led to the release and widespread adoption of new cultivars for both food and industry. Developed cultivars include ones with stable dry-matter content, high pro-vitamin A, eco-geographic adaptation and higher yields. These selected cultivars, which include edible and industrial varieties, have benefited millions of farmers and the national programs of countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia and positively impacted the work of many African national programs through our strategic research alliance with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan-Nigeria.
Ingredion is a multinational ingredients company that makes sweeteners, starches, nutrition ingredients and biomaterials for products from foods and beverages to paper and pharmaceuticals. CIAT and Ingredion have had previous successful collaborations related to the development of improved cassava cultivars for industry.
Under this new three-year agreement that began in 2019, Ingredion is investing in conventional and biotechnological cassava breeding at the Alliance. The Alliance’s conventional breeding program will work on crossing waxy cassava selected lines with Colombia’s elite and commercial varieties to develop varieties suitable for industrial purposes. Research under this agreement will also focus on improving cassava productivity per area and is aligned with global initiatives to mitigate climate change and build sustainable food systems.
The materials used under conventional breeding come initially from the cassava line AM 206-5, which was developed serendipitously through multiple generations of traditional breeding trials at CIAT looking for resistance starches (high amylose). It is a clone that was produced through cycles of self-pollination of multiple genotypes selected from several accessions kept in trust at the Alliance’s global cassava collection in Palmira, Colombia.
In addition, CIAT’s genetic transformation platform will use CRISPR-Cas9, a genome editing tool, in proof-of-concept research for cassava improvement. In compliance with the current biosafety regulation in the country, the empirical research may lead to future development of new cassava varieties though none will be deployed under this agreement. The cassava genome editing approach focuses on turning high-yielding varieties such as KU50 (Thailand) and other commercially released varieties in Colombia into new waxy varieties.
Under the agreement, Ingredion will undertake market development, creating a pathway for cassava innovation to reach smallholder farmers. Through this partnership, CIAT seeks to streamline the links between CIAT’s Cassava Breeding Program and end users, and to guarantee delivery and adoption of improved cassava to amplify the program’s impact.
Under this limited exclusive arrangement, the Alliance safeguards the original accessions at the international in-trust collection, which are available to anyone under the conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Likewise, outputs will be available for non-commercial research by public sector organizations and in case of food emergencies. The agreement also contemplates International Plant Treaty conditions on benefit-sharing, which will be carried out in a future commercialization phase.
Finally, the Alliance and Ingredion will promote accessibility and use of the improved waxy cassava varieties by building a dissemination strategy. This will potentially include working with on-the-ground NGOs who work with farmers, and other key local partners in the North Coast of Colombia. This will make high-quality planting material more accessible to smallholder farmers through a capacity-building strategy, while scaling out the impact of the Alliance’s research and meet Ingredion’s market goals at the same time. In this context, the partnership is key to the Cassava Program’s strategy to contribute to the mission of CGIAR.
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