BioCassava Plus is an integrated team of scientists from Africa and North America whose objective is to reduce malnutrition among the 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who rely on cassava as their staple food by delivering a more nutritious and marketable cassava.
Biofortified crops – staple crops that have been developed to grow with greater amounts of vitamins and nutrients – are an important way to address micronutrient malnutrition.
- Biofortification ranked among the top ten most promising solutions to global challenges by the Copenhagen Consensus expert panel in 2008.
- Biofortified orange sweet potato is an important source of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor to vitamin A, and contains enough beta-carotene to provide the daily needs of a preschooler.
Cassava is an important staple crop in Africa.
- More than 500 million people in Africa consume cassava every day.
- It is an excellent source of calories but unfortunately it does not contain significant levels of key nutrients to meet minimum daily requirements, especially for women and children
- In Nigeria alone, 75% of preschool children and 67% of pregnant women are anemic. Vitamin A deficiency affects almost 30% of preschool children, according to the World Health Organization.
Researchers have been working for many years to improve the nutritional quality of cassava, using a variety of conventional plant breeding tools as well as genetic modification techniques. Genetic modification is applied when other conventional breeding options are unable to address the challenge and where it offers comparative advantage over other tools. At this time, however, there are no biofortified GMO cassava plants being grown in Africa.
Biocassava Plus research projects have focused on the following nutrients:
A pro-vitamin A cassava to alleviate vitamin A deficiency was developed by the Danforth Center and other partners working together in the BioCassava Plus program. It made use of tools of modern biotechnology (genetic modification, or GM) and was successful in achieving nutritionally-significant levels of pro-vitamin A. A field trial of this cassava was conducted in Nigeria in 2010.
However, a separate group of plant breeders working with HarvestPlus also had success increasing pro-vitamin A levels in cassava and released a product (which is not a GMO) in Nigeria in 2011 and 2014.
Given the success of the HarvestPlus project, the BioCassava Plus pro-vitamin A cassava is not being developed further and will not be released to the public.
The Danforth Center and others in the BioCassava Plus program have also made progress in developing cassava with increased levels of iron and zinc, again using the tools of modern biotechnology. Field trials of this cassava have taken place in Puerto Rico only, and future development plans are being developed in collaboration with National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Nigeria.
The Danforth Center and its BioCassava Plus partners have a multifaceted cassava research program and are making substantial, verifiable progress on these projects. Our scientific teams are finding new answers to increase the nutritional value of this African staple crop. We are optimistic that the work we are doing will help make cassava crop a better food source for millions of people.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds the vital work of the BC Plus project.