The effects of competition on the genetic composition of natural populations are not well understood. We combined demography and molecular genetics to study how intraspecific competition affects microevolution in cohorts of volunteer plants of cassava (Manihot esculenta) originating from seeds in slash-and-burn fields of Palikur Amerindians in French Guiana. In this clonally propagated crop, genotypic diversity is enhanced by the incorporation of volunteer plants into farmers’ stocks of clonal propagules. Mortality of volunteer plants was density-dependent. Furthermore, the size asymmetry of intraspecific competition increased with local clustering of plants. Size of plants was correlated with their multilocus heterozygosity, and stronger size-dependence of survival in clusters of plants, compared with solitary plants, increased the magnitude of inbreeding depression when competition was severe. The density-dependence of inbreeding depression of volunteer plants helps explain the high heterozygosity of volunteers that survive to harvest time and thus become candidates for clonal propagation. This effect could help favour the maintenance of sex in this ‘vegetatively’ propagated crop plant.