Date released
03 April 2024

A new research project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) aims to develop innovative crop production systems and technologies to ensure the sustainable growth of cassava in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. 

Cassava is a cash crop providing significant farming income to millions of people in the Mekong, but its current cultivation as a repeated monoculture with limited inputs poses significant challenges, including reduced productivity, soil degradation and the spread of pests and diseases. The new project focuses on co-developing adoptable and scalable solutions, such as innovative cropping systems, mechanisation, disease management and digital tools to sustain cassava-based livelihoods in the region.

The new project will consult with local stakeholders and global experts, researchers and scientists to develop technologies that can help address local challenges. Local stakeholders will work closely with the research team to ensure that farmers in the area can benefit from the latest knowledge and technologies.

‘We are confident that our approach in this new project will enable us to bring together stakeholders to co-design alternative production systems that better reflect the modern production and value chain context,’ said project leader Dr Imran Malik from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Group of 6 people standing near sign in front of crop fields of cassava
Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Crops, recently visited Cambodia's cassava intercropping trial site with CIAT experts and Cambodian researchers.

Aligning with priorities of partner countries

For Laos and Cambodia, the new project will align with both countries’ key national strategies and priorities. The project’s approach to sustainable production by intercropping and crop rotation will support Laos' green growth vision and enhance cassava farming practices. Dr Bounphanousay Chay, Director General of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) and project partner in Laos, stated, ‘The project will help boost soil health and cassava production, diversify farmers' income, and contribute to a greener future for Laos.’

The project also aligns with Cambodia's cassava policy 2020–2025, which aims to shift the country from subsistence farming to commercial cassava production while using sustainable land-use practices.  Dr. Ngin Chhay, the General Director of the General Directorate of Agriculture and a project partner in Cambodia, expressed his willingness to collaborate with other countries, NGOs and regional development partners through the project. 

‘I hope the project will establish the network that enables participating countries like Cambodia to share disease control methods and develop new cassava varieties that are tolerant to diseases, with better farming practices leading to better market access and sustainability,’ Dr Chhay said. 

In Vietnam, the project presents an opportunity to expand efforts in developing new disease-resistant cassava varieties, before sharing these varieties with peer researchers across the region.

Collaboration for shared success

Technological innovations play a crucial role in tackling challenges faced by the cassava industry in the Mekong region. Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Crops, explained that ACIAR's objective in this new project is to encourage a culture of innovation by investing in research and developing novel technologies. To be adoptable by smallholder farmers, innovations with positive environmental impact will need to be profitable, in a context of labour scarcity. These innovations could include enhanced cassava varieties, new rotation or intercropped crops, precision agriculture tools and digital knowledge-sharing platforms with farmers and other stakeholders. 

‘These innovations have the potential to enhance productivity, efficiency, and resilience in the cassava value chain, if they respond in a practical way to the needs of smallholders in the region,’ Dr Huttner said.

Smallholder farmers are a vital part of this new project and are involved in developing innovative solutions that are technically sound, culturally appropriate and economically viable. ‘Our approach will empower farmers and partners to take ownership of their success. We hope to help farmers and the industry adopt best practices by facilitating the exchange of information among them through various partnership mechanisms’. 

‘Let's collaborate and take action to create a resilient cassava farming system for the Greater Mekong. We can establish a more robust and sustainable future for all with shared commitment and a determined effort.’ 

ACIAR Project 'Disease-resilient and sustainable cassava production systems in the Mekong region' CROP/2022/110