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CASSAVA AMONG ALTERNATIVES

According to Debra Roberts, head of environmental planning and climate protection for eThekwini, a key part of the effort is looking at alternative staple crops for the area, including wheat, dry beans, pumpkins, madumbies (a type of yam), cassava and sorghum.

Roberts said dry-land maize productivity is expected to be so seriously hit by climate change that estimates suggest production will nearly disappear sometime between 2045 and 2065.

That prediction, combined with large population growth and low economic growth, threatens disaster for many southern African countries unless changes are made.

Efforts by farmers on their own to choose alternative crops or more suitable maize varieties are not always effective, Roberts said, and the dangers of hunger and food insecurity in the region are growing.

"Poor farmers often have to gamble when deciding what might be better crops to shift to," she said. "In this part of the world, where rainfall patterns and cyclical dry spells are becoming increasingly unpredictable and extreme, even the 'common farming sense' of swapping from one crop to another to find a successful one can backfire."

Crucially, the eThekwini project involves testing how well people like alternative staple crops, and then making recommendation for commercial production of those that are both drought-resistant and considered tasty.

In a November 2009 "Cook Off," residents were able to taste-test many of the newly introduced foods, including sweet potato soup, imfino (pumpkin leaves), sweet potato chips, pumpkin juice, cassava chips, pumpkin slices, cassava bread, roasted pumpkin seeds, fufu, sorghum bread and madumbe soup.

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