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Cassava varietal improvement in the Philippines started in the 1960s at the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB), University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). However in 1977, the Philippine Root Crops Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops) was established at Visayas State University (VSU), formerly the Visayas State College of Agriculture (ViSCA), Baybay, Leyte, Philippines. The original aim of the improvement program was mainly on varietal trials of a few local and introduced varieties. The cassava varietal improvement program has resulted in the assemblage of a cassava germplasm, hybridization, evaluation, identification of elite lines and release of superior local and introduced varieties.

Progress in breeding and selection has resulted in the identification of several elite materials possessing high dry matter and starch contents with low to moderate levels of HCN. To date there are already 47 registered cassava varieties in the Philippines to provide growers a wide range of choices. Utilization of these new cassava varieties is being enhanced by the expansion of the cassava area for production of feed and alcohol.

Through the years cassava breeding in the Philippines has aimed to satisfy both the needs of farmers who grow cassava in diverse agro-climatic conditions, and those of processors who utilize the storage roots for food, feed and industrial purposes. Breeding work will continue to focus on the identification of superior varieties that will address the requirement of the cassava-based industry in the country. In the Philippines, cassava is one of the important crops that cater to the food, feed and industrial sectors. Recently the Philippines  has experienced a significant increase in production of cassava in order to meet the demand for animal feed and for production of ethanol to be used as an alternative to molasses for the production of liquor. The existing high demand for cassava, therefore, needs a strong backstopping with respect to new improved cassava varieties from the cassava breeding program.

Cassava breeding in the University of the Philippines aims to satisfy the needs of farmers who grow cassava in diverse agro-climatic conditions, as well as those processors who utilize the storage roots in a variety of ways. The breeding objectives are as follows: high/superior yield, high dry matter and starch content, resistance to pests and diseases, tolerance to environmental stresses and good plant type. The level of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) in cassava, although not correlated with yield, is also considered during selection. Low HCN varieties are identified and selected for farmers who use cassava as staple food. High HCN varieties, on the other hand, are used by starch factories because they tend to produce high yields and have higher starch content, while discouraging thefts. Those varieties having both low HCN and high dry matter and starch contents are considered dual-purpose varieties (for table use and processing type).

Recently, using modern techniques, the UPLB cassava breeding group was granted a project by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research. Because of the project, the germplasm collection in UPLB increased from 50 to 276 accessions. These accessions were evaluated using morphological and molecular markers to assess diversity and promising characteristics for future breeding programs. Based on morphological markers, there is 0.40 dissimilarity coefficient indicating 40% dissimilarity among the accessions. While the 50 SSR markers indicated 70% dissimilarity among the accessions. These suggest that the germplasm collection is highly diverse. In addition, these results were also used to identify the duplicated accessions in the field and prevented their use in breeding programs. There were 45 elite accessions identified based on yield (>20.18 t/ha), starch content (>27%), cyanogenic potential (low HCN content), and disease resistance (87% have resistance to CMV).   Other on-going project on cassava includes establishing DNA fingerprints of the 47 Philippine recommended varieties using SSR markers and development of special types of cassava.

Contact: Dr. Antonio G. Lalusin:

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