The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Cross-cutting Cluster 2.1 had its annual meeting on 14 to 16 March at IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria. The meeting objective was to discuss the progress and main findings on the development and validation of the RTB seed systems Toolbox. Present at the meeting were about 30 international experts who have been working on this topic for the past four years.
The scientists form part of a research community of practice on RTB seed systems, working on five main crops—banana, potato, sweetpotato, cassava, and yam, covering countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. The ultimate goal is to improve the livelihoods of rural people in the developing countries by providing quality seeds of demanded varieties. Improved varieties have better nutritional values and better yields, contributing to improved farmer livelihoods.
The planting materials for RTB crops are vegetative and therefore bulky, expensive and are not easily stored like those of cereals. The RTB seed system is affected by accumulation of pathogens, especially viruses on the planting materials, causing poor seed quality (seed degeneration) and resulting in decreasing yields. Climate change is one of the major drivers of seed degeneration and has a direct impact on RTB seed systems. However, scientists are continuing to make good progress in helping farmers to access quality planting material and improved varieties.
Speaking about the Toolbox, Jorge Piedra-Andrade, Co-Leader of RTB Cross-Cutting cluster, said, “We aim to develop tools that can provide answers relevant to research questions in the seed value chain at different stages. We are partnering with the international universities like the University of Florida and Wageningen University and Research and have a team of PhD students working with us to develop methodologies for improving these interventions. Furthermore, a team of young and talented scientists are working on RTB seed systems testing the tool box with farmers under field conditions.”
The next major step for this group of seed systems scientists is to introduce the tools to NGOs and other national partners to improve interventions at the field level especially in improving the quality of seed and planting materials of these five crops. This is through improving the multiplication rate of producing new clean planting materials and understanding the demands of clean seeds or new varieties from farmers. The tools will also will help scientists have a quick look at existing seed systems, identify main partners, potential conflict among partners, and the major bottlenecks within the seed systems. The methodologies will also help with knowing what seed policies are in place in a country and provide recommendations to policy makers on how to improve these policies.
Presenting on policy studies, Margaret McEwan noted, “In Nigeria where the cassava seed system is predominantly informal, the source of planting materials is usually 87.4% family and friends, and 12.6% government. Towards a better cassava seed system, it is necessary to certify at breeder and foundation seed level; introduce lower quality for subsequent generations of seed; and improve distribution and marketing channels.”
The blog was first published on the IITA website.