Cassava is a good source of dietary energy; its leaves provide micronutrients and some protein. It is adapted to a wide range of environments and tolerant to drought and acidic soils. In Africa, an estimated 70 million people obtain morethan 500 kcal per day from cassava. Its ability to grow on poor soils and under difficult climatic conditions, combined withthe advantage of flexible root harvesting whenever there is a need, make cassava a key crop to bridge the hunger gap, the “crop of last resort” for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in areas where subsistence agriculture is dominant. Cassava is produced mostly on marginal and sub-marginal lands in the humid and sub-humid tropics.
In the last decade, significant yield losses of cassava were caused by devastating viral diseases. The Great Lakes region saw a crop reduction of 15 to 25%. As the health of cassava plants is crucial for vulnerable households – who have few other coping mechanisms – the UN and the EU worked closely since 2006 to restore cassava-based production systems. The partnership put systems in place to multiply and distribute virus-free cassava planting material of improved varieties to farmers and sensitised farmers and policy makers on the impact of cassava diseases. It promoted better cassava growing, processing and conservation practices among farmers and improved early warning systems to gather disease data for better control and management of cassava-related diseases. These interventions helped governments mitigate hunger in Eastern and Central Africa.