Are dual purpose crops a breeding priority? The case of cassava

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    CGIAR Initiative on Market Intelligence
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Jonathan Newby

Seed product market segments and consumer market segments

The CGIAR Initiative on Market Intelligence seeks to help align the CGIAR and national agricultural research systems (NARES) investment in crop improvement to the existing and future needs and preferences of farmers, agribusiness, and consumers. To incorporate the views of multiple stakeholders, a shared language is needed between those engaged in the design and funding of breeding pipelines and seed systems. Market segments have become the cornerstone of the vernacular used to discuss breeding priorities and investments among CGIAR and the NARES breeding team, and other stakeholders.

Market segmentation refers to the aggregation of potential customers into groups based on common needs or similar behaviors. From a general marketing perspective, there are multiple ways to segment a market, which has caused some confusion given the engagement of multidisciplinary teams with breeding, seed system, and consumer science backgrounds. Within Work Package 1 of the CGIAR Initiative on Market Intelligence, market segmentation has been conducted around the concept of seed products, where a seed product market segment (SPMS) is a group of farmers with common variety requirements. Having said this, these segments are defined based on both grower requirements and end-user requirements (see Market Intelligence Brief #1) . Importantly, each SPMS has a unique target product profile (TPP), with associated traits and thresholds.

Within the segmentation process, some of the criteria to define different SPMS are clearly mutually exclusive. For example, a given seed product (variety) cannot be both a hybrid and inbred, or both biofortified and not, or yellow and white. Yet other criteria are less binary in nature. On the production side, a single variety may be grown by farmers in multiple regions, experience variations in climate conditions, or be grown under both rainfed and irrigated management. Indeed, it is sometimes a variety’s robust adaptation to multiple environments and seasons that has led to its extensive cultivation or persistence in farmers’ fields.

The versatility of a variety is also apparent on the consumption side. Indeed, a variety from a unique SPMS may align with multiple consumer market segments. Take the case of cassava in mainland South-eastern Asia, for instance. The breeding programs of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and NARES have been developing varieties for a multibillion-dollar industrial SPMS (one SPMS), with the harvested roots entering a complex global value chain serving industrial and consumer market segments in animal feed and ethanol production (from dried cassava chips) as well as a range of food and industrial starch-based products. These industrial market segments have seen extremely high penetration of improved varieties and are considered to be a single SPMS with a single TPP.

To remain competitive in global commodity markets, efforts have been made to develop varieties that are more differentiated to better serve different consumer market segments. The discovery of the waxy cassava trait, for instance, gave rise to a separate SPMS serving a high-value food application for cassava starch and the growing clean-label consumer demand. A combination of market intelligence and trait discovery are required to continue to ensure that cassava farmers remain competitive as new consumer markets evolve and production environments evolve. (There are other traits that could help differentiate industrial cassava into additional future SPMS that will be addressed in a future Bulletin).

At the other end of the spectrum, cassava remains an important food security crop in Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Pacific. In these cases, variety turnover has been much slower, and a large part of this SPMS remains served by landraces or the initial introductions from South America. Once again, there are multiple ways in which cassava can be prepared in these food market segments—boiled cassava; fried cassava; fermented cassava, etc. While there are certain traits that may define a better boiled cassava from a fried cassava, at this stage they are considered one SPMS.

A single seed product market segment (SPMS) can serve multiple consumer or industrial market segments. Conversely, multiple seed product market segments (SPMS) can serve a single consumer market segment.

Dual purpose commodities

The concept of dual-purpose commodities is common within both plant and animal breeding, where the benefits of specialization of a product are weighed against maintaining versatility, co-production of multiple goods; and expected returns or risk management. Many of the CGIAR crops have multiple component goods or applications at different levels. For instance:

  • Production of multiple goods derived from a single plant with no-rival consumption—for example the co-production of grain and fodder from maize or roots and leaves from cassava. There may be some trade-offs in productivity of each component good derived from a single seed product (variety). Limited land or access alternatives (feed) can give rise to demand for these dual-purpose products.
  • Dual purpose where a SPMS can serve multiple consumer market segments. SPMS exists for both purposes, yet farmers grow a dual-purpose variety to maintain flexibility and manage risk and uncertainty: for example, cassava that serves the fresh market and industrial applications. Underdeveloped markets and risk can lead to demand for this type of dual-purpose product.
  • Dual purpose where products from a SPMS can serve multiple processing or consumer market segments. They feature acceptable consumer/processing traits to enter multiple value chains, such as cassava for gari and fufu.

In general, as the production system becomes more commercially oriented the attractiveness of dual-purpose products tends to decline. Similarly, as the processing sector develops, processors become more decerning about what varieties they buy.

Dual purpose and cassava breeding

Historically in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), farmers would often sell cassava roots to the fresh market when the price was favorable; otherwise, to processing facilities. The price at the processing facility was generally much less compared to the fresh market but can also absorb much larger volumes. This is also the situation in parts of Indonesia (beyond Lampung), where industrial processing often remains at the artisanal or cottage industry scale, and cassava also continues to be an important stable. Farmers have been reluctant to move to industrial SPMS, and what could be described as dual-purpose varieties have persisted.

At the inception of the CGIAR Cassava Program, most of the varieties grown by farmers in Colombia could be called dual-purpose. Accordingly, the breeding program initially attempted to develop varieties that could serve the two consumer markets. According to previous cassava breeders at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), during the 1980s it became evident that the dual-purpose breeding objective was not feasible: genotypes with outstanding dry root yield (ideal for the industry) would be rejected, for example, because of high cyanogenic potential. As a result, two distinctive product profiles were defined: direct human consumption and industrial cassava.

This is not to say that the dual purpose SPMS no longer existed, but it was no longer served by a CIAT breeding pipeline, with efforts put into the unique SPMS of industrial cassava and fresh cassava.

Why reexamine dual purpose cassava again now?

After decades of being largely disease free, the multibillion-dollar, smallholder-based industrial cassava industry in South-eastern Asia faced a new challenge. Sri Lanka cassava mosaic virus (SLCMV), which causes cassava mosaic disease (CMD), was introduced to the continent and first reported in Cambodia in 2015. It is now present throughout the major producing regions of Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.

In response, sources of resistance from CIAT and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) were introduced into the NAREs breeding program in Vietnam and Thailand. At the same time, several best-best options from Africa were evaluated for their performance in Asia as a stopgap strategy. The TPP for industrial cassava in mainland South-eastern Asia now has CMD resistance as an essential trait.

However, in the past decades, CIAT has had limited engagement with breeding programs in Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Pacific. The industrial market segments in these countries will benefit somewhat from the investment in resistance in mainland South-eastern Asia, but the fresh market remains unsupported. Now breeders are faced with the daunting task of the introgression of CMD resistance into the fresh cassava market segments while maintaining the numerous preferred consumer traits.

The question once again arises—is dual purpose a significant SPMS? Now we cannot simply assume that this SPMS will be taken care of by landraces. What does this duality mean in terms of designing the TPP for the unique industrial SPMS and the fresh SPMS? When defining the traits and thresholds, will useful material be discarded from advancement if these market segments are considered in isolation?

These questions are important to consider with NARES breeding teams and other stakeholders as we continue to address emerging disease through our breeding pipelines.

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