First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops will draw international crowd of scientists to Southern China

The event is the result of a collaboration between the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) and the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), both of which are supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

“China is a key location for roots and tubers: it’s the first potato and sweetpotato producer in the world,” explained RTB Director Graham Thiele. “I expect that ISTRC and GCP21 – both close partners of our research program – will draw several hundreds of participants to the Congress, which should help advance the agenda for potatoes, sweetpotatoes, cassava, yams and other roots and tubers, all of which are important crops in developing countries.”

Root and tuber crops are essential food staples for hundreds of millions, and they generate significant income for industry. However, scientists agree that further research is needed to help farmers and businesses fully tap their potential:

  • Some potato and sweetpotato cultivars are especially promising, thanks to their high vitamin and mineral content. Orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes, in particular, can dramatically improve the health of children and mothers in poor areas thanks to their high content of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Some potato cultivars, on the other hand, are rich in zinc, iron, and antioxidants – vital nutrients that millions of people don’t consume enough of.

  • Cassava, a starchy root crop that can be grown in poor soils, is raising a lot of interest given its resilience to climate change. While cassava is consumed by some 700 million people today, it is expected to feed more than 2 billion people by 2050. Cassava is also in growing demand for industries in Africa and Asia.

  • Other root crops, such as yam, taro and cocoyam, are traditional staples that play an important role in food security and income generation, but which would benefit producers and consumers much more if their full potential were tapped.

“The Congress will be a good opportunity to share information on major advances in yam research since the first global conference on that crop in Accra in 2013,” said Robert Asiedu, Director for West Africa of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

‘The theme of the Congress is ‘Adding Value,’ which is appropriate given that – despite their importance – investment in root and tuber research has been much lower than for cereal crops. While root and tuber crops play an important role in food security and nutrition, they hold great potential for improving incomes through direct sales or value-addition via processing for food and non-food uses. Participants will consequently discuss appropriate processing technologies and business enterprise models for developing nations. They will exchange information on themes ranging from varietal selection to pest and disease control to their delivery to processors and markets, but special attention will be paid to gender issues and planning for climate change.

Keith Tomlins, ISTRC President and a professor at UK’s Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, explained that: “The ISTRC fully supports the objectives and theme of the Congress as this is a key policy of the Society. This is our 17th triennial symposium, and the first time that the ISTRC has been involved in a meeting in China; we are very excited by the opportunity and the Chinese Local Organizing Committee has made us feel very welcome. We appreciate working with GCP21 and very much look forward to the Congress.”

The Congress in Nanning will be the third scientific conference for GCP21, which brought together some of the world’s top cassava experts in Ghent, Belgium in 2008 and Kampala, Uganda in 2012. Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21, explained that attendance grew significantly from 2008 to 2012, and he expects a large fraction of the world cassava community to gather in China.

“It will be an excellent opportunity to convene African and Asian scientists, technicians and developers so they can learn from one other,” said Fauquet. “It will also be a great opportunity for the public and private sectors to meet and generate new activities. We have the momentum to make this First Congress on Root and Tuber Crops a real success, for the benefit of the global community.”

Pre-registration for the Congress is currently open via the conference website. Full registration and abstract submission will open by May 1, 2015 and the Travel Grant Program by April 15, 2015. Attendance is limited to 750, so early registration is advised.

National partners for the event include the Guangxi Academy of Sciences (GXAS), the Guangxi Cassava Research Institute (GCRI), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture Sciences (CATAS).

ISTRC: The International Society for Tropical Root Crops was created to foster, stimulate and support any type of activity leading to the general improvement of world tropical root crop production and utilization. Created in 1967, it has an international mandate, through its membership and constitution, to help improve the research and development of cassava, sweet potato, yam, taro, potato and other root crops. As the forum for bringing together those involved in root and tuber crops, it supports, in particular, early-career scientists.

GCP21: The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century is an independent non-profit organization collaborating with several CGIAR Research Programs and an array of research and development (R&D) organizations working with cassava around the world. GCP21 organizes meetings and conferences on a variety of cassava topics aimed at filling gaps in R&D, promoting international funding for cassava R&D, triggering the production of industrial products from cassava, and providing a range of information about the crop and the scientists working on the crop. GCP21’s ultimate goal is to increase cassava productivity in the world.

RTB: The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas is an international collaboration of agricultural research centers working on cassava, potato, sweetpotato, yam, banana, plantain and other roots and tubers that aims to improve the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest families. It combines the expertise and resources of the International Potato Center (CIP) as the lead center, Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and French partners represented by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).

CATAS: Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture Sciences (headquartered in Haikou, China) is a national academy specifically for tropical and subtropical agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of the Chinese government. CATAS leads the cassava research in China, in multiple aspects including germplasm conservation and evaluation, breeding and planting technology; basic research on molecular mechanism of high starch accumulation and tolerance to drought based on genomics, transcriptomics and genomic breeding and evaluation and diagnostic of pests and diseases in cassava. There are two principal cassava research programs, the Chinese Cassava Industry Technology System and the National Basic Research Program of China funded by MOA and MOST respectively.

GCRI: the Guangxi Cassava Research Institute is the second agricultural institutes working on cassava in China. It was established in 2009 with the background of Guangxi being a province very important for cassava production in China, for more than 25 years. The production of cassava in the province accounts more than 70% of the country. The province is also very strong in cassava processing industry development, with major products such as starch and alcohol. Major research activities in GCRI are: breeding, cultivation practices, extension technologies, biotechnology, cassava comprehensive utilization (animal feed, human food, further use of by-products, etc.), rural economic development approaches based on cassava as an important income resource, technical training.

Crops, international, Root, scientists, Southern China, Tuber, World Congress