Asia’s prized climate-resilient cash crop


25 June, 2015 by  (comments)

Seeds of change

In Southeast Asia, cassava is grown by over eight million farmers as a primary source of income and calories, especially among poor, rural upland communities. Despite years of research neglect and stagnating yields during the 1980s, cassava has had a dramatic come-back as a popular cash crop – but it still needs to be coupled with good management practices to be sustainable.

Cassava can be processed into a wide variety of produce and demand is increasing. Credit: G.Smith/CIAT

The brief outlines the role CIAT’s scientists and regional partners have played in developing improved cassava varieties, while promoting best management practices, creating opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their food security and contributing to better incomes through expanded market opportunities.

CIAT’s genebank in Colombia contains the world’s most important collection of cassava germplasm – a total of 6,592 accessions from 28 countries conserved using in vitro techniques. Through collaboration with national partners in Asia, CIAT continues to ensure new and improved cassava varieties are adapted to local conditions.

Opportunities ahead

The Congress in China, which has already opened for registration, is evidence of growing interest in the cassava industry in Asia. The region is now home to the world’s leading cassava exporters. And although demand is driving wider economic development in the region, beneficiaries are still mostly smallholder farmers, making it an important focus for empowering rural communities.

Farmers are trained in management practices which reduce erosion and boost productivity. Credit: G.Smith/CIAT

Scientists continue to work with local communities to make them aware of the impacts of climate change, presenting them with scalable options for mitigating and adapting to weather changes.

Through the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, CIAT continues to build on achievements in the region by breeding new crop varieties to address constraints such as low production and low resistance to diseases. A new emphasis on genomics – the study of genes and their functions – should accelerate future progress toward these goals.

Expanding root and tuber markets, and opportunities and challenges ahead, make for dynamic dialogue at the Congress – watch this space for more information. Download the overview of CIAT’s work in Asia: From roots to riches in Southeast Asia: Improved cassava reduces poverty, hunger and climate risk.

The Congress will discuss many opportunities and challenges, including those presented by pests and diseases. Credit: G.Smith/CIAT

This article was published online at: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and retrieved on 08/29/2015.

Cool heads over global warming

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Smoke from wildfires across the western US fill the horizon as the sun sets over Utah Lake  this month. Photo: Reuters

Smoke from wildfires across the western US fill the horizon as the sun sets over Utah Lake  this month. Photo: Reuters

Time is short but it is still possible to avoid a climate crisis, according to two new books, one each from either side of the Tasman. Tom McKinlay reports.

There’s a crisis in Professor Tim Flannery’s house.

Ralph Chapman

Ralph Chapman

It sounds like it might have something to do with the sixth mass extinction.

That’s the mass extinction brought on by global warming, referenced in his new book, Atmosphere of Hope.

In it he quotes Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2014 study that confirmed the current global rate of extinction is about 1000 times greater than the normal or background extinction rate.

Inasmuch as we tend to hear of extinctions after the fact, they might be expected to involve whimpers rather than bangs.

Species quietly slipping out of existence as the environments that support them become slowly more hostile.

But what is going on at Prof Flannery’s place is something else.

There’s a cacophony, a determination to not go quietly. And there’s also an alternative explanation.

The ruckus is courtesy of a 3-year-old with strong views about nappy changing, explains Prof Flannery down the phone line from Sydney.

The crisis abates and something resembling peace is restored, at least as far as the phone can pick up.

So the Australian climate scientist can turn his attention to the matter at hand, the imminent release of his new book.

It too is concerned with the present and future of 3-year-olds.

Atmosphere of Hope is something of a misnomer.

It argues that there is now little of that most precious commodity, little hope of the international community doing enough to keep global warming on the right side of the 2degC ”guardrail” agreed at 2009’s Copenhagen summit.

On the phone, Prof Flannery insists hope remains but argues, as he does in the book, that to keep the world’s climate from becoming unmanageably hot and dangerous for todays 3 years olds, we need to commit to what he calls ”third way” processes and technologies that will allow us to remove carbon from the atmosphere directly.

Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery

The prospect of keeping global warming within 2degC of pre-industrial levels by cutting emissions alone is fading, he says.That’s one take on the world’s most pressing existential crisis.

Another is courtesy of Associate Professor Ralph Chapman, director of Victoria University’s graduate programme in environmental studies, who is on the phone from Wellington, where all seems calm.

However, the man who has been working on climate change since 1988 – he was a Kyoto negotiator for New Zealand – prescribes urgency rather than calm, and also has a new book to argue for it.

Time of Useful Consciousness: Acting Urgently on Climate Changetakes as its starting point a phenomenon familiar to pilots.

The ”time of useful consciousness” is the ”time between when one loses oxygen and when one passes out, the brief time in which some life-saving action is possible”.

That’s where we are with climate change, Prof Chapman says, so the question becomes: ”What actions in this time period are truly vital?”

So far so grim, but both men are writing in order to catalyse the efforts they say can still turn things around.

First, though, they provide reminders of why the time for action is upon us.

Quoting the World Bank, Prof Chapman writes: ”The science [of climate change] is settled … Our world is on thin ice.”

Tipping points such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheets are not far off (estimated to occur at about 1.6degC of warming above pre-industrial levels) and even the slightly more distant prospect of a 2.7degC rise altering the Gulf Stream threatens if the current emission pathway towards 3degC warming continues.

We have already warmed the world by about 0.9degC.

Prof Flannery chimes in with warnings about ocean acidification – also caused by CO2 emissions – which is already ”having severe economic and environmental impacts”.

Of course, both books are out as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks loom in Paris in late November and December, and Prof Flannery’s (due on shelves next week) follows quickly on the heels of his country’s ”vastly inadequate” carbon dioxide-cutting target of 26%-28% on 2005 levels by 2030, set as part of the Paris process.

New Zealand’s target of a 30% reduction on 2005 levels has been similarly described.

Critically, neither is regarded as sufficient to give the planet a chance of staying under 2degC of warming.

Prof Flannery says he expects to see an agreement in Paris in December but does not think it will put the world on a path to stay inside the 2degC guardrail. Prof Chapman agrees.

”The bottom line of the carbon budget is simple,” Prof Flannery writes.

”To have a 75% chance of avoiding more than 2degC of warming, over the first half of this century humanity can emit no more than 1000 gigatonnes of CO2.

“That sounds like a lot, but by 2012 only 672 gigatonnes remained. At the rate we’re burning fossil fuels, we’ll have used up the entire carbon budget by 2028 – just over halfway into the budget period.”

So to the two men’s prescriptions.

Prof Flannery argues that even if we manage to avoid 2degC of warming, that’s no guarantee that we won’t face catastrophic climate change. Remember the Greenland ice sheets could be collapsing by then.

So he suggests investing now in ”third-way” technologies (so called as they are about neither emissions reductions nor geoengineering) that by 2030 might be in a position to start removing carbon from the atmosphere in meaningful quantities, as well as having another look at carbon capture and storage.

Third-way technologies ”recreate, enhance or restore the processes that created the balance of greenhouse gases which existed prior to human interference”.

We are currently putting about 10 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere a year, so the third-way technologies need to be able to do the job at scale.

Prof Flannery highlights 11 ”sustainable activities” that have the potential to withdraw at least one gigatonne of carbon (about 3.7 gigatonnes of CO2) from the atmosphere per year.

Among the obvious starters is planting trees, which grow by drawing down CO2.

To remove one gigatonne of carbon annually by planting trees would involve reforesting an area the size of Australia by 2050, Prof Flannery says.

A big job but possible.

It would cost $20-$100 a tonne of CO2 captured, or about $370 billion all up.

Another possibility he considers is the production of biochar, which is created by burning vegetable matter in the absence of oxygen.

The biochar is then added to soil, improving it, but also locking away carbon for up to 100 years.

At this stage, the biochar industry is too small to make much of a contribution, but Prof Flannery says it could yet scale up.

But he gets most excited about the prospect of seaweed farming.

Because seaweed grows very fast, it could be used to remove CO2 at scale, according to scientists at the University of the South Pacific.

While growing and processing the seaweed in meaningful quantities is ”far beyond” current capacities, it has the advantage of requiring no new technologies, he says.

Other possibilities raised are carbon-negative plastics and cements (already in production on a modest scale), new chemical processes that can create fuels from water and CO2, and attempts to replicate photosynthesis.

Some would be money-making propositions, others would need government funding to realise, but taken together they could, by 2050, be drawing four gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, he says.

Carbon capture and storage also gets another look from Prof Flannery, who describes the work of Professor Ernie Agee, of Purdue University.

Prof Agee has been investigating the possibility of freezing CO2 out of the air over the Antarctic and burying it in the snow.

None of this is any reason not to reduce carbon emissions by as much as possible now, Prof Flannery says, but given we are currently on a worst-case trajectory, in coming decades such ideas might begin to look very attractive.

Prof Chapman’s analysis is somewhat different.

The ”time of useful consciousness” to which he refers is all about the capacity of governments, nations to work together to avert a climate crisis.

”We will be in a state at some point, maybe in two decades’ time, when governance will start to fall over, when our systems will cease to function because rational decision-making will go out the window,” he says.

With another half a degree or degree of warming, climate destabilisation may well see refugees knocking down the doors and governments starting to fail under the pressures.

There’s a short window between denial of a problem and surrender to its effects, Prof Chapman says.

”And it is that window we are starting to go into now.

”Obama put it quite well … `We are the first generation to start to feel the effects of climate change, and the last to be able to do anything about it.’ Which is exactly the same concept, really, that there is this short window.”

But the Paris talks are unlikely to get us there. So what else is there?

Prof Chapman likes the idea, previously mooted by others, of a climate club.

”Which is the notion that a kernel of important nations agree, so the US and Europe, on a climate agreement, which involves quite rapid decarbonisation, and then they put border tariffs on imports into those countries.”

Then anyone who wants to trade with the US or Europe, which is everyone, has to tackle their own carbon emissions first.

”So it becomes an expanding club, a bit like the World Trade Organisation, in which everyone wants to join but the price of joining is to put a sufficient price on carbon.”

It is an incentive mechanism that could work sufficiently well but requires concern for the climate trumping trade considerations, Prof Chapman says.

”The dominant narrative internationally has been about freeing up trade and investment to grow the economy and that’s all very well if growing the economy is not enormously damaging,” he says.

At some point, governments are going to realise that the most important thing is not growing the economy but keeping the world’s climate system together, and move it to No1 on the agenda.

”The G7, which has clearly been thinking about these issues and has lifted climate change on its agenda, is going to have to go, ‘OK, this is No1 and the sine qua non of future trade and growth’.”

It is easy to glibly prognosticate about the end of civilisation when discussing climate change, he says.

But a rolling back of civilisation as we know it is in prospect.

”The fact is that it could actually start to undermine the sort of civilisation we have developed, with sophisticated trade linkages, globalisation, growth and income to extraordinary levels by historical standards.

”It could actually start to undermine our civilisation quite soon. Not in an instant collapse kind of way but with the sort of spreading of state failure.

”I am seeing more and more concern on the part of people like the Pentagon, the White House, various centres of strategic studies.”

For all the stern and sober realism of the two men’s books, they both end on a positive note.

The situation, Prof Chapman says, is far from hopeless; rapid shifts in public and government attitudes are not only possible but plausible. And New Zealand is in a strong position to be a force for change.

Prof Flannery says we have the tools we need to avoid climate disaster, but we need to crack on.

A growing number of people are taking action in their own lives or in the public sphere, he says.

”Between deep, rapid emissions cuts and third-way technologies, we can do it.”

Three-year-olds might still stand a chance.

Time is short but it is still possible to avoid a climate crisis, according to two new books, one each from either side of the Tasman.

• Tom McKinlay reports.

This article was originally published online at: ODT New Zealand and retrieved on 8/29/2015

Can REDD+ shift the tide against elite capture of forest benefits? Probably not

25 AUG 2015

Collective rights for harvesting forest products must be secure - and the benefits must be equally and fairly distributed among participating individuals. Photo: CIFOR / Aulia Erlangga

REDD+ is the largest coordinated international attempt to reverse the trend of deforestation and forest degradation globally. It remains one of the most dominant items on the agenda of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 countries have had legally binding obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; as the IPCC notes, reduction and prevention of deforestation is the most immediate solution to securing the world’s carbon stock and reducing global emissions.

REDD+ has its roots in the Kyoto protocol, and has undergone many revisions in the annual UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP).

With COP21 set to take place in Paris in December, and the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol it is time to take stock of what has been learned from REDD+ so far.

Benefit sharing is one aspect of REDD+ that receives a lot of attention. It’s increasingly recognized that equitable distribution of benefits from projects is vital for REDD+ success. However, there is still considerable risks that REDD+ faces in terms of unintentionally worsening current inequality.

In preparation for COP21 it is necessary to review the success of REDD+ benefit sharing and see what areas need to be given increased attention in future project design.

The lack of evidence from projects where participants are rewarded for performance means that there are few empirical lessons to draw from at this stage in REDD+ development.

Criticism has been levied at REDD for unintentionally exacerbating existent inequalities, findings show that when tenure rights (de jure and de facto), are legally defined and secure in practice, this will allow for a more equitable benefit sharing.

recent study using two large datasets explored how tenure rights affect benefit sharing. The first dataset was drawn from International Forestry Research and Institutions and comprises 582 forest product records across 350 user groups in 14 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

This work shows that where collective rights for harvesting forest products are secure, the benefits of these products are more equally distributed among participating individuals.

However, this finding is dependent upon the level of ethnic diversity within the harvesting group. Where there is higher levels of ethnic diversity, lower equity is found in benefit distribution and vice versa.

This implies that REDD projects in areas with high ethnic diversity need to enforce additional measures to prevent elite capture by privileged ethnic groups.


Even in contexts where land ownership is clear, the distribution of right to harvest forest products, like timber and charcoal, may still remain unclear.

This is important for the effective design of benefit sharing mechanisms because with secure tenure but without clearly defined harvesting rights, people may be left without a decent slice of the forest-derived livelihood pie.

Undefined harvesting rights within REDD gives scope for elite capture and ongoing economic inequalities in forest dependent communities. So while secure harvesting rights are desirable, the success of these rights are conditional upon local ethnic diversity.

While strengthening of property and harvesting rights is important, alone they won’t solve ethnic inequalities. The imbalances need to be recognized and factored in during the design of benefit sharing mechanisms.

Otherwise efforts to secure rights will only have a limited impact on improving benefit sharing mechanisms.

Clearly defined rights to forest products e.g. fruits, nuts, medicinal plants, charcoal or timber could come in the form of government permits, de facto rights to harvest or legal recognition of user groups.


Another related but yet to be published study with the above title assesses whether benefits from REDD+ projects are likely to be distributed equally amongst forest dependent communities.

This study analyses forest income distribution in relation to non-land assets (e.g. livestock, farming equipment) and compares it with levels of perceived tenure security. The distribution of forest income is regarded as indicative of the likely distribution of benefits from REDD+ projects once they materialize.

From an analysis of 17 subnational sites in 130 villages across six different countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, it was found that higher levels of perceived tenure insecurity and income inequality correlate with villages that possess larger areas of land and a higher number of non-land assets.

It was also found that those with a higher proportion of forested land rather than un-forested land experience lower tenure security.

A noticeable relationship between existing wealth inequalities and benefit sharing from forest incomes was also found. High inequality in terms of non-land assets was found to correlate with high inequality in the distribution of forest incomes.

Consequently the introduction of REDD+ payments in areas of disparity will likely widen these gaps unless project designs are adapted accordingly.

So can REDD-plus shift the tide against elite capture/unequal benefit distribution? Probably not.

Findings from these studies, which gathered data from different countries, add weight to the call for existing wealth inequalities to be addressed prior to the introduction of REDD+.

While it is outside the scope of REDD+ to remedy all inequalities within a society, it is important that existing disparities are addressed so as to avoid a situation in which active social, ethnic and economic imbalances are reinforced.

Esther Mwangi is a Nairobi-based principal scientist for CIFOR, specializing in property rights and tenure. To discuss any aspect of the above article, please contact Esther at

Isla Duporge is currently on attachment at CIFOR, Nairobi. She is currently studying for her MSc in Sustainable Development and Environmental Science. Please contact Isla at

Krister Andersson is a professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, specializing in the politics of environmental governance. Please contact Krister at


MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

Disclaimer: This post is a re-blog for the purposes of information dissemination to a much wider audience and cultural diversity with the interest and focus to share ideas, knowledge and expertise in science, education, climate change, agriculture, etc. The opinion, ideas and content expressed in this particular post remains the owner of the original authors and publisher. Please cite the appropriate sources accordingly. Thanks

A new program at the university of Galway, Ireland, is aimed at students who want to combine scientific and social or policy skills to better understand and make significant contributions to climate adaptation and mitigation in agriculture and food security.

Application deadline: NUI Galway does not set a deadline for receipt of applications (with some exceptions). Offers will be issued on a continuous basis. Candidates are encouraged to apply as early as possible.

The world’s climate is rapidly changing due to global warming, and will continue to do so for the decades and centuries ahead. This poses major challenges for future agricultural systems to provide food and other bioresources for the 9 billion people that will occupy the planet by 2050.

The new MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) provides students with the skills and tools for developing agricultural practices, policies and measures addressing the challenge that global warming poses for agriculture and food security worldwide.

Graduates of this programme will be equipped to pursue roles associated with local, national and international efforts to promote sustainable agricultural production, global food security and climate change adaptation.There is now a growing recognition of how different agriculture systems can contribute to climate change, past and present. Hence, the dual challenge of adapting future agricultural systems to climate change, must also include mitigation of the effects of agriculture on climate change.

The new MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is aimed at students who want to combine scientific, engineering, technical, social or policy skills so that they are better equipped to understand and make significant contributions regarding adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts on global agriculture and food security.

Minimum requirements: NQAI Level 8 honours degree or equivalent to a minimum standard of Second Class Honours, Grade 1 or equivalent in an appropriate discipline
Duration: 1 year
Next Start Date: September 2014
Contact information/Enquiries:
Dr Edna Curley, Programme Co-ordinator | Tel: +353 91 494 158 |
Prof. Charles Spillane, Head of Discipline of Botany & Plant Science | Tel: +353 91 494 148 | Email:

U.S. Graduate Research Grant in Global Food Security


Application Package

Spring 2015 Round – Applications accepted beginning January 12, 2015
Application deadline: Monday, April 13, 2015 11:59 p.m. Eastern time

A complete application will consist of the two components (PART A and PART B) described in detail below.

A complete application will consist of the two components (PART A and PART B) described in detail below.

PART AThe following documents must be submitted as a single PDF document with the file name: “LastName FirstName Spring 2015 Borlaug Graduate Research Grant.”  Submit via email to  with an identically named subject heading.

The following documents must be submitted as a single PDF document with the file name: “LastName FirstName Spring 2015 Borlaug Graduate Research Grant.”  Submit via email to with an identically named subject heading.

  1. A completed Application Form Download Application Form (.docx)
  2. A Project Narrative on given topics Instructions for writing Project Narrative
  3. Completed Budget Form, Budget Justification Form, and Project Timeline Form Download Budget Form (.xlsx)
  4. Proof of US citizenship
  5. Institutional letters of support from the submitting university and from the participating IARC/NARS. The letter from the submitting university should come from a Department Head, Dean, or other appropriate official and should state support for the student’s research and a willingness to take responsibility for the financial management of the grant. The letter of institutional support from the IARC/NARS should come from the mentor’s unit head or center director and should convey the center’s commitment to the project.
  6. A letter of approval from the submitting university’s sponsored programs office. The proposal must be approved by the sponsored programs office (or similar office), and the approval letter must accompany the applicant’s submission.


The two referees named in the Application Form should email their letters of support directly The subject heading of the email should read: “ApplicantLastName ApplicantFirstName Recommendation Spring 2015 Borlaug Graduate Research Grant.”

  • The letter of recommendation from your advisor must include:
    • An assessment of the applicant’s character, motivation, leadership potential, communication skills, and ability to work in groups.
    • An assessment of the student’s academic and professional performance and potential.
    • An assessment of the student’s commitment to global development.
    • A description of the advisor’s role in the student’s research work and the role of the selected IARC/NARC scientist, with respect to both the research linkages between the two institutions and the mentorship of the student applicant.
  • The letter of recommendation from your IARC mentor must include:
    • An assessment of the relevance of the student’s research to the research priorities of the center or to the development priorities of the country.

It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that letters of support are submitted by the application deadline.

Instructions for Writing Project Narrative

The Project Narrative is a critical component of the application packet and it is your opportunity to demonstrate the quality of your research proposal, how the proposed project relates to the Feed the Future initiative, and your leadership potential. The Project Narrative consists of a three-part essay that addresses each of the following topics:

Scientific Background and Graduate Research Plans (1500 word limit). Provide the scientific background for your research that will lead to your graduate degree and describe how your Borlaug supported project will help you obtain your degree.

Vision & Leadership Statement (1000 word limit). Describe your vision for a food security intervention as a means to catalyze agriculture-led economic growth, the role of science and technology in achieving this vision, and how you will apply the knowledge and experience gained from the research experience to achieve that vision. Describe what leadership means to you and what experiences have informed your perspective; include your thoughts on the role of the U.S. in enhancing global development. Provide examples of leadership experiences, how you believe you will be a future leader, and how you expect to develop your leadership skills.

Plan of Activity (750 word limit). Describe a clear plan of activity at the IARC or NARS, including project goals and milestones during the research period.  Include a description of and rationale for the linkages between your graduate program of study and the participating IARC/NARS, including the role of the mentorship in optimizing the research plan of activity. A timeline of activities must be included in the Budget, Justification and Timeline Form.

Internship Opportunity: CTA is looking to recruit an intern to support in its impact assessment of coffee certification in Latin America research

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The International Center for Tropical Agriculture is looking to recruit an intern to support in its impact assessment of coffee certification in Latin America research

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) works to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture.

We are initiating a search for an Internship in Agricultural Economics for the Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) research area. The principal role of the internship will be to support an impact assessment of a new coffee certification in Latin America. The DAPA group is a growing research area of CIAT that works towards CIAT’s mission of eco-efficient agriculture for the tropics by ensuring improved decision making by a range of stakeholders on the themes of climate change, linking farmers to markets and ecosystem services. See the DAPA website and the links below for more details on the project description

This position is a 6-month internship beginning in March and will be based at CIAT headquarters in Palmira, Colombia.

Transport, lunch meals and medical insurance will be covered for the duration of assignment and the selected applicant will be paid a monthly stipend to cover living expenses.

  • Support data processing (cleaning and analysis).
  • Support the development of technical reports, policy briefs and papers as part of the evaluation group
  • Masters of economics or related areas (student or graduate)
  • Econometric skills and proven abilities with common econometrics software such as Stata.
  • Excellent command of the English language.

Applicants are invited to send their CV and a motivation letter to Carolina González ( All applications are to be submitted by February 20, 2015.