Scientists at the University of Bath are taking part in a research project aimed at tackling starvation in developing nations.
The £300,000 project, funded by computer tycoon Bill Gates' charity foundation, will look at ways of improving the cassava plant.
Cassava forms a substantial part of the diet of millions of people in Africa.
The Bath scientists will research ways of helping the edible root stay fresher for longer after it has been harvested.
The roots have a shelf life of just one to three days, causing waste and financial loss.
The Bath team will be funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to research the problem over the next five years.
It will use genetic modification and selective breeding techniques.
Dr John Beeching, from the University's Department of Biology and Biochemistry, said improving the shelf life of cassava would have massive implications for life in Africa.
"On a village scale, the short shelf life is not so much of a problem because people can just harvest what they need," he said.
"But increasing numbers of people are moving to cities and the food has to be transported and in the process it is going off.
"So urban dwellers are moving over to bread, which means importing wheat, which in turn means there is a knock-on effect to the economy."
He said the project aimed to help Africans grow crops that would help prevent famine.