Samples of cassava, laid out for HCN testing

Cassava was the flavour of the day when 18 local farmers attended a field day at Quinta Portugal Research Station on 16 October 2009. The farmers tasted samples of the 20 cassava varieties being trialled at Quinta Portugal, both as boiled cassava and as raw cassava, harvested straight from the field.

Farmer Adelina Amaral selected the variety Ca25 as her favourite. “I chose this one as the best because it is sweet to eat, it has a good tuber, it has a smooth texture, and it is big,” she said.

Seeds of Life (SoL) will use farmer feedback from the field day to assist in the selection of cassava varieties to test further in on-farm demonstration trials (OFDTs). The results from both research station trials and OFDTs allow SoL to determine which varieties are best suited to the agricultural conditions in East Timor, and which varieties local farmers are keen to plant in their own fields.

During the field day Seeds of Life research staff tested cassava samples to determine the cyanide concentration (HCN) and starch content of the trial varieties. Cassava varieties with a high cyanide concentration are unsuitable for eating, but can be used for industrial purposes, while cassava varieties with a high starch content provide a valuable source of carbohydrates, much higher than those of maize or rice.

Research staff test cassava for starch content

The MAF Quinta Portugal Research Station is used by Seeds of Life to trial varieties of sweet potato, maize, peanuts and cassava. Each of the 20 cassava varieties was grown on the research station in three replications, in 5 x 5 metre trial plots. Quinta Portugal is located just outside of the town of Aileu, at an elevation of 800 metres, approximately an hour and half’s drive south from East Timor’s capital, Dili.

MAF approved two new varieties of cassava for release in Timor in August 2009. The varieties, named Ai-luka 2 and Ai-luka 4, consistently delivered a high yield in Seeds of Life trials throughout the country, and were well received by farmers who enjoyed the taste of the tubers. The varieties were also low in cyanide and high in starch. MAF’s release of Ai-luka 2 and 4 allows cuttings of the high-yielding varieties to be distributed to a much larger number of Timorese farmers through the MAF crops department and other NGO networks.

Cassava varieties, prepared for taste-testing

Cassava is the third most important staple food crop in East Timor after maize and rice, both in terms of land area and production. It was popularized as a food crop during the Second World War under the Japanese occupation.  It was a favoured crop during the Indonesian period, and in 1997 the area planted to cassava was reportedly greater than that allocated to irrigated rice. Cassava is used mainly for direct household consumption as well as supplementary feeding for domestic livestock, especially pigs. Cassava is important for food security in East Timor as it can withstand drought and poor soil conditions, and families can rely on cassava even if rice or maize crops fail.

More information about Seeds of Life’s cassava trials is available from our 2008 Annual Research Report. The report can be downloaded from the research section of this site.