Roots, tubers and bananas are the foundation of food security for millions of people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. They will be increasingly important in response to climate change, population growth and urbanization. They can contribute essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A that are especially important for good health in children and mothers.
Women especially stand to benefit from growing and using RTB crops. At present, yields on women-led farms are often lower as a result of gender-specific barriers. Research is needed to improve yields for women farmers and to enhance their role in the production of value-added foods for urban consumers.
A Research Brief from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) makes a strong case for the fundamental importance of its mandate crops within One CGIAR, the ongoing reformulation of CGIAR’s partnerships, knowledge, assets, and global presence.
Graham Thiele, RTB Director, explains: “We are entering an exciting time with the design of the major initiatives for the One CGIAR. We want to make sure that RTB crops get given the attention they deserve, considering their potential contribution as this change happens, and that inspired us to put this brief together. Of course, after reading this brief, we would like all of you to become our ambassadors and help us make the case!”
Across the humid tropics of Africa, RTB crops are the most important staples. They supply 25–57% of calories in the diet. Despite this dependence, the low productivity of RTB crops in sub-Saharan Africa reduces their contribution to addressing undernutrition in rural populations. At the same time, inefficient traditional post-harvest management and supply chain logistics for RTB value chains mean that countries import large quantities of staple grains for rapidly growing urban populations. Outside the humid tropics of Africa and in most of Asia and Latin America, RTB crops are important in rotation with cereals and legumes and in agroforestry systems. Roots, tubers and bananas enhance resilience because they often have key traits that enable them to survive shifting weather patterns, including droughts and flooding, adverse soil conditions like salinity and waterlogging, as well as catastrophic events such as tropical storms (because roots and tubers are buried safely underground).