CGIAR

A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

Open Access cassava database – unlocking the full potential of agricultural research

Cassava variety with straight stem and healthy leaves. Photo credit: IITA Photo Library

Large volumes of valuable cassava data have been made openly available through a joint initiative between CGIAR Consortium member the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA-Nigeria), Cornell University and other partners. The move highlights a concrete example of CGIAR’s commitment to mainstream Open Access – with members of the CGIAR Consortium making their agricultural research data, information and knowledge widely accessible.

The cassava database, called Cassavabase, was developed as part of the NEXTGEN Cassava project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development.

IITA cassava breeder Peter Kulakow hailed the launch of Cassavabase as a major step towards increasing yields and quality of cassava crops for African farmers.

“It is like putting all your data in a fish bowl for the world to see!” he said.

Cassavabase will be hosted at IITA-Nigeria, a major contributor to the database, providing a one-stop shop for cassava researchers and breeders worldwide, explains a recent blog by IITA. As well as offering the latest data on cassava, the on-line database provides access to tools for genomic selection, a new technique that dramatically accelerates the breeding cycle, as well as social networking pathways for the cassava community.

Although cassava is the main source of calories for 500 million people and particularly crucial for food security in Africa, it has received relatively little research and development support compared with other staples, such as wheat, rice and maize. Challenges include cassava viruses and drought conditions, both of which lower yields.

The key to unlocking the full potential of cassava lies largely in bringing cassava breeding into the 21st century, say researchers involved in the project.

The NEXTGEN Cassava project aims to use the latest advances in breeding methodology to improve productivity and yield in cassava production, incorporating cassava germplasm diversity from South America into African breeding programs. Cassavabase marks an important step in making that possible. Plant breeders and other scientists have already welcomed the database, which they say is well designed and easy to use.

IITA scientists say that the launch of Cassavabase opens doors to designing Open Access systems for other key crops that are the focus of research at the CGIAR Research Center, such as yam and cowpea.

Rapid turnaround

Timing is of the essence when it comes to making new agricultural data available. It took just six months from the launch of the NEXTGEN Cassava project for scientists to release their Open Access cassava database, widely held as marking a milestone for data sharing in agricultural research.

Cassavabase features all phenotypic and genotypic data generated by cassava breeding programs involved in the NEXTGEN Cassava project, and makes the data immediately and openly accessible to all users prior to publication, reports the IITA article.

“In the plant breeding community, data sharing can be delayed until publication, which can limit the opportunity to use the knowledge by the international plant breeding communities,” said Lukas Mueller, of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University and project leader.

“Sharing information will create the opportunity for all African farmers to benefit from the best technologies available to improve the yield and quality of cassava that is needed for food and income,” added Kulakow.

A growing consensus for Open Access

Open Access is a growing international movement, within the agriculture sector and beyond. On May 9, US President Barack Obama signed an order to make all government-held data publicly available in an open format.

The CGIAR Consortiumis firmly committed to making Open Access standard procedure for its Research Centers and Research Programs. The ground-breaking cassava database was showcased at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture, held in Washington DC, 29-30 April 2013. In March 2012, the CGIAR Consortium approved the CGIAR Principles on the Management of Intellectual Assets, which stipulate open and free access to all research results and development activities.

In April 2013, a meeting held at CGIAR Consortium member Bioversity International headquarters in Rome, discussed the CGIAR’s draft Open Access policy and plans for putting into action. Policy approval is expected later this year, with implementation guidelines scheduled for June 2014.

The CGIAR’s move towards Open Access has wide support from donors and partners. As part of the G8 meeting, delegations developed Action Plans with commitments to move towards improved Open Data for Agriculture. Included in the Action Plan from the UK was the statement: “The UK Government will support the implementation of the Open Data roadmap for CGIAR.”

The launch of Cassavabase is tangible proof of the massive contribution that Open Access can make to improving food security and alleviating poverty and hunger, say scientists.

“Open access databases such as Cassavabase enable better decisions based on good quality data by the global cassava breeding community,” said Chiedozie Egesi, assistant director and head of cassava breeding at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Nigeria, a partner in the NEXTGEN Cassava project. “Cassavabase will lead to increased efficiency in agricultural research and ultimately improve the livelihoods of African cassava farmers.”

More information

Cassavabase

NEXTGEN Cassava project

NEXTGEN Cassava project sets precedent for open access data sharing in agricultural research (IITA)

CGIAR Opening Access; moving from piecemeal to panoramic (CGIAR.org)
Opening Access to Agriculture Research Products: The CGIAR Experience (CGIAR.org)
A roadmap for moving CGIAR towards open access: A major milestone (CGIAR.org)
Moving CGIAR towards open access (CGIAR.org)
G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture (April 29-30, 2013 event website)

Featured image: Cassava ministem cuttings in screening pots - Cassava ministem cuttings in screening pots under research observation at IITA Ibadan. Photo from the IITA Image Library.