Undervalued root and tuber crops

THE different root and tuber crops (RTCs) have been noted to be “versatile” because of their various purposes, not just in agriculture and health, but also in food security and climate change resilience.

Following the onslaught of super typhoon “Yolanda” (International name “Haiyan”) in the Philippines, sweetpotato and cassava were the main crops that were distributed as planting materials in the food relief and rehabilitation efforts in the provinces of Leyte and Samar.

However, despite their potential to address agricultural, environmental, and health-related concerns, RTCs are often overlooked and undervalued.

There are untapped opportunities for increasing utilization and consumption of RTCs, and the productivity in smallholder farms remains low due to a host of reasons.

Efforts of policies that are geared toward the improvement of the industry and investment in research and development (R&D) have been noted to be limited and dissemination of technology was inefficient.

Nevertheless, over the last decade, initiatives have emerged through the financial support provided by the local government, international organizations, and donors.

Among which is the recent regional congress dubbed “Root and Tuber Crops for Food Security and Climate Change Resilience in Asia” that was organized by the International Potato Center (CIP) and Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD).

It was in collaboration with Philippine Root Crop Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops) of the Visayas State University with financial support coming from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the European Union (EU).

The regional congress became a venue for discussing and promoting cross learning in RTC science and technology, policy measures, and pragmatic approaches for exploiting opportunities and challenges amidst climate change.

The event also aimed at sharing the key findings, knowledge products, and recommendations for further scaling up of innovations introduced by the FoodSTART+, a research grant funded by the EU and IFAD, which partnered with five large scale IFAD investments in the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam to enhance food resilience in upland and coastal communities, the most vulnerable to climate change, through RTC innovations.

Over 100 participants registered for the Congress.

Aside from the large representation from the Philippines, participants from several other Asian countries have joined and contributed, including from India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Indonesia, and Pacific islands.

The Congress consisted of four parts: Plenary Sessions on breeding, agronomy, pest and disease management, and contribution of roots and tubers to the resilience of agri-food systems; Knowledge Learning Fair (KLF) showcasing innovations in seed systems, postharvest practices and product development from selected organizations; Roundtable discussions; and Field Visits in the province of Pampanga to present successful experiences on cultivation, processing, and contractual arrangements for sweetpotato and cassava.

Through this initiative, it is expected that researchers, extension workers, policy makers, private sector, development practitioners, farmers’ organizations, donors, media practitioners, and the general public gained improved understanding, greater awareness, and increased appreciation of RTCs and their benefits in addressing societal issues, including food security and climate change resilience. ([email protected]/PN)

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