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Cassava is a tropical root crop, originally from Amazonia, that provides the staple food of an estimated 800 million people worldwide. Grown almost exclusively by low-income, smallholder farmers, it is one of the few staple crops that can be produced efficiently on a small scale, without the need for mechanization or purchased inputs, and in marginal areas with poor soils and unpredictable rainfall.

Since 2000, the world’s annual cassava production has increased by an estimated 100 million tonnes, driven in Asia by demand for dried cassava and starch for use in livestock feed and industrial applications, and in Africa by expanding urban markets for cassava food products. There is great potential for further production increases – under optimal conditions, cassava yields can reach 80 tonnes per hectare, compared to the current world average yield of just 12.8 tonnes.

Booming demand offers millions of cassava growers in tropical countries the opportunity to intensify production, earn higher incomes and boost the food supply where it is most needed. But how smallholder cassava growers choose to improve productivity should be of major concern to policymakers. The Green Revolution in cereal production, based on genetically uniform varieties and intensive use of irrigation and agrochemicals, has taken a heavy toll on agriculture’s natural resource base, jeopardizing future productivity. In moving from traditional, low-input to more intensive cultivation, small-scale cassava growers should not make the same mistakes.