Normally cassava roots begin to degrade within a few days due to post-harvest physiological deterioration (PPD), but a consignment of carotene-rich roots, accidently left in storage for two months, were found in perfect condition. "The roots should have been totally spoiled and rotten," explains Hernán Ceballos, coordinator of CIAT's Cassava Program, "but when they were cut open they were completely PPD-free." Usually, the cultivation, transport and processing of cassava is severely hindered by the rate of degradation, so the potential implications of this discovery for farmers and industry could be extensive.
For farmers, this discovery could allow them to harvest their entire cassava crop, store it and then plant a new crop straight away. "We don't expect that in 20 years cassava will be stored like potato or sweet potato, but it is possible that roots will be able to be left for two to three weeks from harvest to processing without spoiling," Ceballos adds. "That will be a major contribution." In order to determine whether there is a link between PPD tolerance and the levels of carotenoid in the cassava root, or whether unusual levels of rainfall and the roots' low dry-matter content had an effect, CIAT scientists are carrying out more extensive tests.