How African scientists are improving cassava to help feed the world

Chiedozie Egesi, the director of the Next-Generation Cassava Breeding project, surveys a field of plants in Nigeria.Credit: Amy Maxmen

IKENNE, Nigeria

“I like this one,” says Ismail Rabbi, placing his palm on a cassava plant and smiling coyly, like a parent picking favourites. “It doesn’t look impressive — it’s not tall,” he says, “but it beats all the obstacles we throw at it.”

Rabbi, a geneticist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, and his colleagues are on a mission to improve cassava (Manihot esculenta). Also known as yuca or manioc, its starchy roots provide food and income to more than 800 million people worldwide. In Africa, where consumption is highest, cassava plants bear smaller yields…

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