Warming threatens Southeast Asia’s cassava industry

April 15th, 2012 - 5:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, April 15 (IANS) Rising temperatures are triggering severe outbreaks of new, invasive pests that could threaten Southeast Asia’s multi-billion dollar cassava industry and the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers, a study reveals.

“Warmer conditions and longer dry seasons linked to climate change could prove to be the perfect catalyst for outbreaks of pests and diseases. . . affecting food crops,” said Pramod K. Aggarwal, regional programme leader for Asia at CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research).

“The cassava pest situation in Asia is pretty serious as it is. But according to our studies, rising temperatures could make things a whole lot worse,” Tony Bellotti, cassava entomologist at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, was quoted as saying in the journal Tropical Plant Biology.

“One outbreak of an invasive species is bad enough, but our results show that climate change could trigger multiple, combined outbreaks across southeast Asia, southern China and the cassava-growing areas of southern India. It’s a serious threat to the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers for whom cassava is a lifeline, and their main source of income,” added Belloti.

Around five million small producers across southeast Asia supply cassava to domestic and foreign processing industries, which convert the roots to animal feed and biofuels and also extract starch for use in a wide variety of food and other products, according to a university statement.

Thailand’s cassava industry accounts for more than 60 percent of global exports. It is one of the world’s biggest producers of tapioca starch, made from the cassava root. In 2011, Thai farmers exported 2.8 billion metric tons of tapioca starch worth almost 48 billion Thai Baht, according to the Thai Tapioca Starch Association.

For cassava in southeast Asia, mealybugs and whiteflies are already endemic in the region. But new threats, such as the tiny green mite, are already emerging.

These findings were presented at the Climate Smart Agriculture conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

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