Toolbox to understand and enhance root, tuber and banana seed systems

Toolbox to understand and enhance root, tuber and banana seed systems

A suite of tools for understanding root, tuber and banana seed systems are helping document and guide the implementation of on-going seed interventions.

Root, tuber and banana crops are clonally propagated, meaning they are grown by planting tubers, suckers, stalks, or vine cuttings, referred to as ‘seed’. This presents several challenges for farmers, including low seed multiplication rates, bulky and perishable planting material and rapid seed degeneration leading to low crop yields.

RTB centers have collaborated to develop tools that allow practitioners to understand and systemically diagnose seed systems and determine how to effectively intervene in them. In 2017, experts from Wageningen University and the RTB centers met to incorporate and describe these tools in a single toolbox using a standard format.

“This toolbox is a much-needed guide, a collection of 14 tools that enables researchers to come to grips with the seed systems of vegetatively propagated crops, and to overcome social, economic and market constraints,” said Jorge Andrade-Piedra, seed expert and plant pathologist at the International Potato Center (CIP). The toolbox is being validated in 14 projects in Asia, Africa, and South America across all major RTB crops.

One of the tools, a ‘multi-stakeholder framework for intervening in root, tuber and banana seed systems’ will be used in all locations to allow the designers of new seed projects to identify the major stakeholders, their roles, and critical bottlenecks of vegetatively propagated seed systems. So far, the framework is being used in ongoing interventions in Nigeria for cassava, in India for potato, in Ethiopia for sweetpotato, and in Uganda for banana. It has allowed researchers to organize multi-stakeholder workshops to analyze the seed system, identify appropriate interventions and to guide the design of household questionnaires to probe deeper into key constraints to seed use.

Cassava seed producers registered in the CST. Blue dots represent commercial seed producers, green dots represent breeder seed and red dots are foundation seed. Credit:CST/IITA

Another tool, the ‘impact network analysis’ is being used widely to improve researchers’ understanding of farmers’ seed exchange networks and how seed degeneration occurs. For example, as reported in the journal Phytopathology in 2017, farmers in Ecuador were surveyed to estimate the structure of the networks of farmer seed and ware potato transactions. This was used to simulate pathogen spread through seed networks and to identify priority nodes for disease monitoring and management training, including a market, certain farms and a farmers’ cooperative called CONPAPA. Karen Garrett, of the University of Florida, explained that “mapping out seed system networks like this can enable us to evaluate different scenarios and options for system improvements, so it’s a really core tool in the RTB seed system toolbox.”

The ‘seed tracing’ tool is being piloted for cassava seed value chain management in Nigeria through a software application called the ‘Cassava Seed Tracker’ (CST). The tracker is tailored to suit seed certification procedures of Nigeria, and the needs of the ‘Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ (BASICS) project which is working to strengthen all components of the cassava seed value chain. CST can be used to access project seed inventory and for real-time tracking of the seed field status. It also provides users with defined data for estimating trends, planning and monitoring and evaluation of project partners’ performance. The CST database includes records of nearly 300 seed fields of BASICS, including 68 seed fields in 2016 and 214 in 2017, with many more to be added in 2018.

The tracker also incorporates features for e-certification by the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and facilitates direct communication between the producer and seed inspector. CST has user accounts for designated seed inspectors to carry out e-seed certification. NASC seed certification officers have been trained to apply CST and will perform e-seed certification in three states (Oyo, Benue and Abia) in 2018. A server facility at NASC headquarters in Abuja was established in 2017 and three of their IT staff were trained to manage the e-certification database.

The toolkit will continue to evolve and improve in the coming years as it is enriched with the results of these and other on-going seed interventions.

Photo: Potato farmers in Ecuador were surveyed to understand the networks of farmer seed and ware potato transactions to simulate how pathogens may spread. Credit: J.L.Gonterre