A total of 200 participants, 70 oral presentations, 170 scientific posters on display, two culinary demonstrations, more than a dozen specialized sessions, visits to laboratories and field trials from the cassava program at CIAT, a new president of the ISTRC, and a touching award ceremony. These are some of the figures that show how intense and productive were those four days of work in the 18th Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC), that was held from October 22 to 25 at CIAT’s headquarters.

This event was opened by Ruben Echeverría, Director General of CIAT. In his speech, he highlighted that there is an great future for these crops that are consumed by 20% of the population, and for which he did not hesitate in offering one more time the CIAT gene bank and the Center’s phenotyping platform for getting the best out of a crop such as cassava.

Luis Augusto Becerra, CIAT Cassava Program Leader, reinforced this point by emphasizing on the importance of working as a network and strengthening human capital.

Keith Tomlins, now former president of the ISTRC, addressed the audience inviting all participants to have in mind that “the next 50 years are up to us. We are the future”.

The one that showed how silos are breaking down and allowing “much more interdisciplinary communication because everyone is expecting to see more impact and reach even consumers,” said Meike Andersson, Crop Development Specialist – HarvestPlus. This opinion coincides with Jan Low, one of the four researchers who received the World Food Prize in 2016. For her, the symposium “has allowed us to learn about these different crops, providing us with a source of new ideas useful for key issues, such as saving time and accelerating varieties breeding process.”

Therefore, although she acknowledges “that currently there are more meetings like this one than 10 years ago” Jan does not hesitate in proposing to hold satellite meetings like this one around the world, in order to keep going this conversation “. It is urgent to attract more and more young researchers, because these crops are part of the solution to climate change. I am sure, they will feed everyone, including the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.”

Biofortification is one of the most important steps towards resolving this crucial challenge. This is recognized by Graham Thiele, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Banana. For him, there are clear opportunities for improving the use of roots and tubers. For instance, in what is related to the risks analysis of pests and diseases. An issue in which the current case of Cassava Mosaic Disease outbreak that is affecting mainly Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, demonstrates the importance of “communicating more and better the size and implications of the challenges we face, while combining a coordination that goes beyond the scientific level and includes policymakers, application of accurate methods and techniques for diagnosis and the development of virus resistance.”

Graham also recognizes the importance of influencing broader audiences, promoting step by step a change of perceptions regarding crops such as cassava, potato, sweet potato, and yams. This is how he did not hesitate for putting on a chef hat to perform, together with Nozomi Kawarazuka, social scientist specialized in gender research and winner in this symposium of the first place to the best oral presentation, two culinary demonstrations that put on the table the flavor and diversity of these crops, that can take different shapes ranging from cakes to cocktails.

These cocktails inspired a toast for Sanni Lateef, Professor at the Federal University of Agriculture- Abeokuta in Nigeria, who was elected as the new president of the ISTRC. For him, “The best opportunity lies in scaling innovations and entering into entrepreneur ventures that are open to try and give an opportunity by testing these innovative processes and products derived from these crops. I truly see a bright and promising future in which there will be more products, more income and more applications, “he said.

This is why he highlights the need of “having platforms that allow us to work more and better as a network, combining human talent to generate ideas and solutions” emphasizes Lateef and continues “for that, I thank CIAT, its Director General, its Board of Trustees, and the entire staff that surrounded us and supported us. All to make a reality this important scenario of learning and exchange, “he said.

Scientific excellence was present throughout this symposium and was recognized by granting the award of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Hernán Ceballos, CIAT Cassava Program Breeder. He did not hesitate to take this achievement as an opportunity to thank the team that has supported him for more than 20 years invested in cassava research.

Ruth Prempeh, a young researcher at one of the thirteen crop research institutes of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research of Ghana, received the Pat Coursey Prize for Yam research, as a vote of confidence and an important boost in her scientific career.

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