Author Archives: RTB

New network analysis approach to mitigate spread of potato disease

The spread of disease in potato seed systems is a major risk to production and livelihoods. As root and tuber crops are propagated vegetatively, pathogens and pests can accumulate in planting material over successive cycles of propagation and lead to poor quality seed. Balancing the need to manage and control this, while also facilitating the efficient spread of improved varieties among farmers is a challenge. Addressing approaches for evaluating and mitigating the risk of disease in seed systems is an important research area for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

There are around 85,000 potato farmers in Ecuador, of which 75% are estimated to be small-scale producers. Photo courtesy Garrett Lab.

To address this need, we developed a new method of analysis to identify the most important individual stakeholders in a seed system – such as farms, seed multipliers and institutions – who should be a focus for disease detection and management efforts. We modeled and evaluated the spread of disease in farmer seed provisioning networks, or seed systems. We focused on a network of seed tuber transactions for members of a regional potato farmer consortium in Ecuador, called CONPAPA. An interactive interface allows users to see how a new disease is likely to spread through this network.

CONPAPA is a regionally successful farmer cooperative that helps members to buy disease-free planting material and provides training on how to effectively manage pests and diseases. The cooperative also sells potato that member farmers produce in a wide array of markets. In this case, we found that the CONPAPA seed and potato processing center, the main market in Ambato, central Ecuador, and some specific farmers were high risk, high return sites for disease detection and management. Among the CONPAPA members, the use of disease free seed tubers for planting was found to be 36% – much higher than the 2% previously reported for Ecuador.

We also examined the sources that farmers relied on for information about pest and disease management. Advice from staff at agrochemical stores was common, but was considered by farmers to be significantly less reliable than other sources. Farmer access to information, based on the number and quality of sources, was found to be similar for both women and men. However, women had a smaller amount of the market share for seed-tubers and ware potato.

Mitigating the spread of potato disease is an essential step towards helping boost Ecuador’s potato production, which is lower than neighbors, Colombia and Peru. Photo courtesy Garrett Lab.

The evaluation of seed system networks provided input for scenario analyses to evaluate potential improvements that could be made to the system. In this simple system, CONPAPA staff and facilities, the market in Ambato, small agro-chemical stores and certain farms were identified as priorities for disease management interventions based on the roles they played as sources of information or seed for farmers in the area. Suggested interventions to mitigate the spread of poor quality potato planting material include training on disease management, monitoring and improved variety dissemination.

This work was undertaken as part of an RTB project that seeks to reduce the impacts of “seed degeneration” in root and tuber crops, including potato, sweetpotato, yams, cassava and bananas. Models of disease spread, like the one we present, take into account the accumulation and spread of disease in planting materials, and can be applied to more systems to evaluate strategies for controlling risk. We show how the structure of seed networks influences the risk for seedborne disease, and can inform farmers, scientists and managers about where to invest effort to reduce risks to farmers.

The CONPAPA system is relatively small and simple, but the analyses we have developed here are also being applied to larger and more complicated systems, as part of the development of a general theory of seed system deployment in the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.

This blog was contributed by Chris Buddenhagen (University of Florida), Karen Garrett (Garrett Lab) and Jorge Andrade (International Potato Center), with Holly Holmes (RTB).

Buddenhagen, C.E., Hernandez Nopsa, J.F., Andersen, K.F., Andrade-Piedra, J., Forbes, G.A., Kromann, P., Thomas-Sharma, S., Useche, P., Garrett, K.A., 2017. Epidemic Network Analysis for Mitigation of Invasive Pathogens in Seed Systems: Potato in Ecuador. Phytopathology 107, 1209-1218. Access the open access article: doi:10.1094/PHYTO-03-17-0108-FI 

Taking agricultural innovations to scale: RTB scaling fund awards first grants

Researchers who develop new technologies often face challenges in translating them into adapted innovations that people and enterprises will use. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) consequently created a flagship project dedicated to improving livelihoods at scale (Flagship 5), which is facilitating the design and implementation of strategies for scaling innovations to achieve the greatest possible impact.

One of the mechanisms created for this is the RTB Scaling Fund, which recently awarded its first grants to three teams of scientists as part of a broader effort to help them take their innovations to scale. Those teams will share approximately US$2 million to scale three promising technologies: 1) an approach for controlling the banana disease BXW known as single diseased-stem removal (SDSR); 2) a method for conserving sweetpotato roots to produce planting material known as Triple S; and 3) a technology for turning cassava peels into an ingredient of animal feed.

A woman reads a flyer as part of efforts to increase the uptake of the SDSR technique. Photo: B.vanSchagen/Bioversity International

“The scaling fund is truly unique in the CGIAR and it shows RTB’s commitment to the scaling of innovations,” says Dr Marc Schut, a researcher with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) who leads Flagship project 5.

Schut observes that researchers tend to invest much more time and energy in developing and improving technologies than in understanding the market, policy and cultural aspects of the enabling environment that can facilitate or hinder their efforts get those technologies to farmers or other end-users. He explains that in addition to the funding awarded for the three technologies, the Flagship 5 team will provide guidance in the design of scaling strategies and monitoring progress toward impacts, while drawing lessons to inform critical thinking about scaling processes in agri-food systems.

According to RTB Program Management Officer Claudio Proietti, the Scaling Fund adds value to and works in synergy with existing projects and ongoing partnerships. He explains that RTB management sent out a call for concept notes on innovations seeking Scaling Fund support in August that resulted in 12 submissions. An independent panel assessed the scaling readiness of those technologies and asked five of the teams to submit full proposals. Those five innovations were assessed and scored, and the three with the highest scores were awarded funding.

SDSR allows smallholders to reduce BXW incidence without destroying large numbers of plants. Photo G.Blomme/Bioversity International

One of the innovations to be funded is SDSR: a method for managing BXW by cutting down symptomatic banana plants, sterilizing tools, and removing flowers from healthy plants to prevent insects from infecting them. SDSR allows smallholders to reduce BXW incidence to very low levels without destroying large numbers of banana plants, which means they can continue producing fruit and earning money.

Dr Boudy Van Schagen, a social scientist with Bioversity International, explains that while approximately 20,000 households in Central and East Africa have adopted SDSR, more than 20 million households in the region have been impacted by BXW. The initiative’s goal is to get approximately 100,000 households in Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to adopt SDSR while making it more gender-responsive and adaptive to farmers’ needs.

Another innovation funded, Triple S (Storage in Sand and Sprouting), involves storing sweetpotato roots in sand during the dry season and planting them in seedbeds 6-8 weeks before the rains are expected, which allows farmers to produce enough vine cuttings to plant when the rains resume. Margaret McEwan, a social scientist working on seed systems at the International Potato Center (CIP), explains that Triple S has been successfully tested in varied agroecologies and used by farmers across nine sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. CIP and partners will use the Scaling Fund grant to train trainers and run gender-responsive mass media campaigns with the aim of getting 80,000 farmers in Ethiopia and Ghana and other spillover countries to take up the technology.

“We want to institutionalize Triple S into existing programs,” she says, adding that the scaling efforts will piggyback on other sweetpotato vine dissemination interventions.

Triple S involves storing sweetpotato roots in sand during the dry season and planting them in seedbeds 6-8 weeks before the rains are expected. Photo: E.Abidin/CIP

McEwan notes that the process of applying for the Scaling Fund included assessing Triple S’s scaling readiness and developing a theory of scaling. This led her team to modify the approach to include training in best agronomic practices and positive selection of roots, in order to produce better harvests. She adds that because Triple S scaling will be done in collaboration with the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative, which works across 17 SSA countries, there is potential for using strategies developed and refined in this initiative to scale Triple S elsewhere.

“Scaling requires a certain level of standardization, but we need to learn how to ensure that scaling can also be adaptive and responsive to local contexts,” says McEwan.

The third innovation funded is a technology to turn cassava peels – a waste product from garri and lafun production in Nigeria – into a high quality cassava peel (HQCP) mash that can be substituted for 15-60% of the maize in livestock or fish feed. According to Dr Iheanacho Okike, an agricultural economist consultant with IITA, Nigeria’s cassava processing industries produce more than 12 million tons of cassava peels annually, the disposal of which constitutes an environmental problem but holds potential for income generation. While a few factories in Nigeria have already adopted the HQCP technology, IITA and partners plan to engage government institutions, cassava processors and feed producers to scale it out for greater economic and environmental impact.

“Involvement in the competition for the Scaling Fund helped us to deepen our thinking around what we should be doing, our scaling strategies and/or models, and who we should be engaging with,” says Okike.

HQCP powder can replace 15-60% of maize in animal feed. Photo: I.Okike/IITA

Proietti notes that the two innovations that weren’t funded this year are also quite promising and should be top contenders for the next round of funding. Those innovations are: 1) an initiative to expand the use of OFSP puree in baked goods in East and Southern Africa; and 2) the promotion of a technology for waxing cassava roots to increase their shelf life in Tanzania and Uganda.

According to Proietti, the process of developing proposals and assessing technologies’ scaling readiness served as an exercise that helped researchers better understand their innovation’s adaptability to the conditions in target countries. “We’ve encouraged scientists to take a more systems view of their technologies and address how well adapted they are to the real world,” he says. “This process is resulting in new insights on how to improve scaling strategies, partnership arrangements and a learning process that can support adaptive management.”

Schut notes that while each context is unique in terms of agroecology, end-user needs, market, infrastructure and policies, there will be lessons learned from these scaling experiences that can be applied to other crops or technologies. He adds that the Scaling Fund contributes to critical reflection on the return of RTB investments, helping to determine which investments have the highest potential for scientific progress towards achieving agricultural development.

“We have already learned a lot, and many scientists have provided us with feedback that the scaling fund has made them much more aware that scaling requires other types of approaches, capacities and partnerships,” he says. “However, the principle objective is to ensure that the initiatives funded contribute to achieving the RTB outcomes.”

by David Dudenhoefer

RTB Symposium at International Conference on Global Food Security to address the challenges of scaling agricultural innovations

Whereas private companies have successfully rolled out new technologies in less-developed countries, innovations developed by research centers to help smallholders improve their food security and incomes often reach only a fraction of the people they were created to help. As the stakes for agricultural research for development rise in an increasingly warm and crowded world, this gap between research and impact is becoming a major concern of governments, international organizations and donors.

In an effort to help researchers develop innovations that people are more likely to use, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has teamed up with Wageningen University & Research (WUR), in the Netherlands, to develop, test, and apply ‘science of scaling,’ in order to make better decisions about which kinds of innovations, research and partnership investments will lead to development impacts. Scientists who are involved in these efforts will share their insights and research on scaling during a symposium this Sunday, December 3, as part of the Third International Conference on Global Food Security, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Entitled “Science of scaling: connecting the pathways of agricultural research and development to improve rural livelihoods,” the symposium brings together scientists and development professionals from several international research centers and companies. Their presentations will cover cases ranging from work to improve smallholder cocoa and coffee production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to an International Potato Center led partnership initiative that has gotten nutritious, improved sweetpotato varieties to more than 2.8 million households in SSA.

Getting the products of agricultural research to the smallholders who need them can be a major challenge. Photo H.Rutherford/CIP

For Dr Marc Schut, a researcher with IITA and WUR and the leader of the RTB Flagship on Improved Livelihoods at Scale, the first lesson is that “scaling does not happen just like that. It requires strategizing, competence and investment.”

Schut adds that the good news is that a growing number of tools are available to help research-for-development scientists make better decisions in terms of the type of research they do and the partnership investments they make. “Evidence-based design, implementation, and monitoring of scaling strategies can help us to achieve better impact,” he says.

One of the symposium’s presenters, Dr Elisabetta Gotor, who heads the Development Impact Unit at Bioversity International, observes that most scientist don’t know how to go about getting the innovations they develop into the hands of large numbers of users. She explains that when a researcher develops a new agricultural innovation – whether it be an improved crop variety or an approach for managing a crop pest or disease – it is important that they start by analyzing and measuring the likelihood of its success in the given context.  She adds that this is a complex task, because there are gender and cultural elements that must be taken into account, but it is essential for an innovation to be successful.

“As researchers, we have the obligation not only to develop technologies, but also to ensure that those technologies are transformed into products that are usable by the populations we want to influence,” Gotor says.

Scaling agricultural innovations requires understanding local demand and cultural elements, a well designed strategy and investment. Photo G.Smith/CIAT

Gotor’s presentation will cover efforts by RTB scientists to connect foresight research and impact assessments in order to establish feedback loops through which those methods can inform one another. She notes that this will enhance the scaling of innovations while producing information that donors or policy makers can use to guide future investments in research for development.

Adebowale Akande, an Agribusiness Development Specialist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will give a presentation on scaling the Alfasafe bio-control product in Nigeria, in order to reduce aflatoxins in agricultural value chains, as well as current efforts to turn that technology over to the private sector. He recommends that researchers demonstrate the proof of concept of their innovation to the private sector, engage both the private and public sectors to create an enabling environment, and gain access to financing to successfully scale their innovations.

Dr Graham Thiele, Director of RTB, will present an overview of the measures that RTB has taken to help scientists assess the readiness of their innovations for scaling and work toward getting them widely adopted. “There is huge interest right now in scaling and RTB is ahead of the curve on its thinking,” he explains. “Scaling is right at the top of the agenda for many donors as they look for enhanced impact.”

People attending the International Conference on Global Food Security can learn more about scaling by attending the “Science of Scaling” symposium this Sunday, December 3 at 12:30. It will be held in Aloe Hall, in the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

“This is a great opportunity for us to share our approach on scaling with a broader group in an important forum, to show people what we have and get feedback to improve further,” says Thiele. “I’m really looking forward to this event!”

RTB is applying the science to scaling to ensure that agricultural innovations have the greatest possible impact. Photo H.Rutherford/CIP


More details on the symposium are available here.
Learn more about RTB’s work on scaling and participation at the event here

A surprising focus on roots, tubers and bananas at the Sugarcane Research Institute of Tanzania

By Graham Thiele, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB)

Judging by the name, the Sugarcane Research Institute of Tanzania is not the first place one would expect to find research on roots, tubers and bananas. However, as members of RTB’s Independent Steering Committee discovered on our recent visit, the principle focus of research at the institute is on cassava and sweetpotato, for which they have the mandate for Eastern Agro-ecological Zone of Tanzania.

Dr. Kiddo Mtunda, Director of the Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI), explained that whilst it’s important to keep “sugar cane” in the institute’s name because of support from the sugar industry, in practice much of the work at the station is on roots and tubers, which began in 1989. Research work on sugarcane started in 1971 and is done at the sugarcane plantations closer to the growers.

A partner of RTB, the institute has a dedicated ‘Root and Tuber Crops Research Programme’, which is wide ranging, including participatory varietal selection, production of breeder and pre-basic seed and post-harvest value added. Dr. James Legg, Plant Health Specialist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and leader of RTB’s flagship project on ‘Resilient Crops’, explained that there is a very close collaboration between researchers at SRI and both International Potato Center (CIP) and IITA scientists.

During the RTB Independent Steering Committee’s visit, which followed the committee’s annual meeting, members were fortunate to visit labs and fields at Kibaha. The first stop was the Nematology lab, where Dr. Nessie Luambano explained that she had completed her PhD in plant nematology and was currently conducting a project on the diversity of three banana nematodes species and susceptibility to nematodes of different banana varieties from major banana growing areas of Tanzania.

Many staff at SRI wear several hats! Dr. Luambano also works with sweetpotato and she explained that one of the activities underway is to generate revenue and create a self-sustaining business at SRI with pre-basic seed.

She went on to explain that clean material, from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, was multiplied with support from the Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa project (with CIP) and distributed as pre-basic seed Importantly, the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) inspects the pre-basic seed including virus testing at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute laboratory. SRI sells the pre-basic seed on to multipliers. It’s encouraging that demand for this is increasing.

Dr. Luambano also said that SRI is carrying out a full costing of seed production with support from CIP scientists as part of a CIP project on building seed businesses with the public sector.

SRI also works on cassava seed systems with a rapid multiplication method using two node cuttings supported by USAID. There has been a shared learning across different crops with IITA and CIP collaboration promoted by RTB’s research cluster on seed. As Dr. Simon Heck, leader of RTB’s flagship project on ‘Nutritious food and added value’ noted, “We all dance together on this!”

The next port of call was to see research carried out by Dr Esther Masumba. Dr Masumba is collaborating with the DSMZ Plant Virus Department in Germany with five genotypes from Latin America that reputedly have immunity to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Dr Masumba is looking for quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for immunity, and a next stage in the research will involve a crossing block for cassava breeding in Dodoma District, Tanzania.

Then the ISC got back on the bus to visit cassava trials of SRI at the Chambezi substation. This is a high disease pressure area for cassava with problems of green mite, cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and CBSD.

We saw materials from the “New Cassava varieties and Clean seed to Combat CBSD and CMD” (5CP) project – a regional initiative which brought together five African countries.  Now concluded, 5CP was a unique project where the best five varieties/clones for CBSD resistance were pooled from each participating country, plus three controls, then all 28 were shared with all countries through tissue culture. Altogether evaluation trials like these are being conducted at 33 sites in the five countries.

Varities from 5CP. Photo G.Thiele/RTB

We then saw a cassava seed degeneration trial. This included a) Kikombe, a variety susceptible to CBSD and b) Kiroba, a variety resistant to CBSD but susceptible to CMD. The trial compared planting in two rainy seasons, one with shorter periods of rainfall with many whitefly present (which transmit the virus), and the second with longer periods of rainfall and less insects.

So far, the trial has run for four seasons during the long rains and three seasons in short rains. In the shorter season, CBSD had reached 30-60% incidence. Dr. Legg explained that previously the difference between seasons had not been well understood, and as cassava is mostly grown in the short rainy season, the trial concluded that it would be advantageous to switch to farming during the long rainy season. A simple solution that could make a big difference for small-scale farmers! The degeneration trials are part of a suite of degeneration studies with RTB supported by modelling by the University of Florida.

This was an excellent visit and the ISC committee members were very interested to learn more about the research being done by our partners at SRI. Dr. Rupert Best, the ISC chair commented “although the name highlights sugarcane, this was a perfect visit from an RTB perspective, showcasing collaboration with an important partner and spanning most of our crops.” Dr. Barbara Wells, Director General of CIP added that “we were hugely impressed to see so many dynamic women scientists coming to the fore.”

New tools improve smallholder access to quality planting material

From the RTB 2016 Annual Report

Because root, tuber and banana crops are propagated clonally—by planting tubers, suckers, stalks, or vine cuttings—they present common challenges for farmers that include low multiplication rates, perishable planting material and low yield as a result of seed degeneration. Government agencies and non-government organizations have developed seed systems to disseminate improved varieties and high-quality planting material (commonly referred to as ‘seed’), but only a small fraction of smallholders have access to those formal seed systems.

To increase farmer access to quality planting material and improve yields, centers under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) have collaborated on cross-crop research to develop tools for improving seed systems and seed degeneration management.

RTB researchers developed a multi-stakeholder, seed systems framework and used it to analyze 13 formal and informal seed systems for five RTB crops in Africa and Latin America, extracting lessons that can be applied across crops and contexts. The International Potato Center (CIP) then used the framework for a scoping study of potato seed systems in Karnataka and Maharashtra, India, identifying bottlenecks that prevent more farmers from gaining access to quality seed potatoes. RTB researchers will make the framework more gender responsive and use it to assess more seed systems in 2017.

Potato farmers in Ecuador. Photo: CIP

Seed degeneration – the transmission and accumulation of pests or pathogens from one seed cycle to the next via planting material – is a major cause of yield loss, and is consequently a priority for RTB. Researchers conducted literature reviews on seed degeneration, developed a theoretical seed degeneration model, and used it to assess the effectiveness of different approaches to managing seed degeneration. This resulted in the development of an integrated seed health strategy, which combines the use of disease-resistant varieties with on-farm management practices such as roguing (removing plants with disease symptoms), positive selection (choosing healthy planting material in-field for the next planting cycle), and strategic replacement of seed with disease-free material.

To better understand the dynamics of seed degeneration, researchers have conducted field trials in different agro-ecologies of eight African and South American countries. The trials used popular varieties of banana, cassava, potato, sweetpotato and yam infected with 11 pathogens and spanned multiple cropping cycles over several years. They included evaluations of common on-farm management practices, generation of data on pathogens and vectors, and the effects of weather, varietal resistance levels, seed management, and other agronomic practices on seed degeneration.

The resulting data are being used to develop crop-specific seed degeneration models that scientists can use to predict how varieties will perform in specific agro-ecologies under determined disease pressures, weather conditions and management strategies. They will be used to develop management performance maps and decision support tools that research and extension agencies, and seed producers can use to identify the best options for managing degeneration.

The field research has shed new light on pathogen dynamics and management strategies. For example, potato research in Ecuador demonstrated that reversion (naturally occurring reduction of pathogen incidence within a seed lot) takes place at higher altitudes. Researchers used impact network analysis to study planting material movement in informal sweetpotato seed systems in northern Uganda, completing in silico simulations of the introduction of a novel virus to identify nodes within those distribution networks of importance for disease sampling and mitigation.

“There is a bias against informal seed systems, and most interventions try to create seed systems from scratch,” said CIP seed specialist Jorge Andrade, who coordinates the RTB seed systems research. “It is important to understand the dynamics of informal seed systems and farmer demand for planting material before designing any intervention.”

Andrade explained that RTB is developing a toolbox of analytical and diagnostic methodologies that government agencies, national agricultural research systems, NGOs, and donors can use to improve the design and execution of seed-system interventions and the management of seed degeneration.

New app diagnoses crop diseases in the field and alerts rural farmers

28 September, 2017

The team behind a new mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to accurately diagnose crop diseases in the field has won a $US100,000 award to help expand their project to help millions of small-scale farmers across Africa.

Cassava brown streak disease is spreading westward across the African continent, and together with cassava mosaic disease, threatens the food and income security of over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa. Likewise, banana is threatened by fungal and bacterial diseases including the devastating Banana bunchy top virus, while late blight still plagues potato farmers.

Farmers are often unable to properly identify these diseases, while researchers, plant health authorities and extension organizations lack the data to support them.

To stop the spread of these pests and diseases, a team under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has developed a revolutionary app to accurately diagnose diseases in the field, which will be combined with SMS services to send alerts to thousands of rural farmers.

“Smartphones are becoming more and more common in rural Africa. Smallholders or extension officers with a basic smartphone with a camera will be able to download the app for free, fire it up, point it at a leaf with disease symptoms and get an instant diagnosis. That is truly revolutionary!” explained Dr. James Legg of the International Institute of Topical Agriculture (IITA), who leads the project together with Dr. David Hughes of Penn State.

The app is currently being field tested in Tanzania. Photo: IITA

The app will also provide the latest management advice for all major diseases and pests of root, tuber and banana crops, and pinpoint the location of the nearest agricultural extension support for farmers.

The team were winners of a $US100,000 grant as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenges at the Big Data in Agriculture Convention 2017 in Cali, Colombia on 21 September.

Currently developed for cassava, the grant will allow researchers to expand the app for other root, tuber and banana crops that are critical sources of food, nutrition and income security for millions.

“This prize is transformative. It allows us to expand across multiple sites in Africa and multiple crops that are critical for food security on the continent. We can amplify by 100 times what we have achieved so far,” said Dr. David Hughes of Penn State.

Painstaking field work using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones at RTB cassava field sites in coastal Tanzania and on farms in western Kenya generated more than 200,000 images of diseased crops to train artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.

Using many of these images, Hughes, Legg and collaborators developed an AI algorithm that can automatically classify five cassava diseases, and by collaborating with Google, the team were able to develop their smartphone app with TensorFlow. It is currently being field-tested in Tanzania.

A plant shows symptoms of cassava mosaic disease in Tanzania. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

Penn State has also developed a mobile spectrophotometer through a start-up called CROPTIX. Early results suggest it can accurately diagnose different viral diseases in the field, even if the plant looks healthy.

“The app employs AI in real time so the farmer can be an active participant in disease diagnosis and crop health management, leading to more yields for smallholder farmers. It is also revolutionary because our artificial intelligence is based on the world’s best human intelligence on African crops – the research scientists at CGIAR and RTB,” added Dr. Hughes.

The project team has developed linkages with the Vodafone agriculture SMS platform called DigiFarm, which will allow them to link digital diagnostics to large-scale rural text messaging services.

The team will deliver farmer tailored SMS alerts on crop diseases and pests to 350,000 Kenyan farmers by July 2018.

The project is being carried out by a global network of scientists from IITA, Penn State, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Potato Center (CIP) and Bioversity International, as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

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For interviews, photographs, and more information:
Holly Holmes
Communication Specialist
CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas

About the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas
The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) is an alliance led by the International Potato Center implemented jointly with Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), that includes a growing number of research and development partners. RTB brings together research on its mandate crops: bananas and plantains, cassava, potato, sweetpotato, yams, and minor roots and tubers, to improve nutrition and food security and foster greater gender equity especially among some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.

CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by 15 Research Centers in close collaboration with hundreds of partners across the globe.

Technology is not gender neutral

New research examines the factors that influence the adoption of agricultural
technology by men and women.

Closing gender gaps in the agricultural sector is a key element in reducing poverty and improving food security. Women today are the hidden face of agriculture, playing a fundamental role from food production to commercialization, and yet not only do they not have the same access to resources and technological innovations, but often the technologies are not designed considering women’s needs and conditions.

The Latin American gender team of the International Potato Center (CIP) conducted a study to investigate the factors that influence the adoption of agricultural technology by men and women in the Andean region, whose agricultural systems are based on potato production. The main objective of the study was to generate recommendations that can inform the design and development of gender sensitive agricultural technologies. Qualitative information was collected through the implementation of focus group discussions, observation and interviews with technical personnel working directly in CIP’s areas of intervention in the Andean Region (Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) in the promotion of agricultural technology innovation for food security. The study was carried out with the support of the CGIAR Research Programs on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), and on Policy, Institutions and Markets (PIM).

One important result of the study is that technology itself is not neutral and entails gender biases that can occur when the conditions of the target group (men, women, youth, or other disadvantaged groups) are not considered at different stages.

Andean potato farmers with their harvest of native varieties. Photo: CIP

For example, men and women in the community of Achullay in Ecuador, highlighted different aspects about the use of chemical or organic inputs for planting and fumigation. Women claimed that they prefer to use organic fertilizers because of their easy preparation, low cost, and because they can prepare and apply it themselves. Although it may require more time in comparison to the application of chemicals, it is preferred due to health issues. Women mentioned that food produced with organic inputs is tastier. On the other hand, men mention that the disadvantage of using organic inputs is that they are less effective, especially against late blight, a condition that considerably affects potato production. Therefore, they report using chemicals for production destined to the market (because they request larger size potatoes), whereas they do not use chemicals for production destined to home-consumption.

Analyzing the results of the research, we have been able to catalog the different factors that influence technology adoption in three different types: i) internal factors that include elements related to the productive context (social, political, environmental, economic and cultural), historical and educational factors, and gender roles; ii) technological attributes, which are inherent to technology and its use (technical, structural and operational characteristics of the technology); and iii) external factors related to access to productive resources (land, capital, labor), physical access to productive areas and access to information.

The hidden face of agriculture, women play a core role from production to commercialization. Photo: CIP

According to testimonies of farmers from Jacopampa in Bolivia, and technicians working in technology dissemination, one of the important tasks is potato selection by size. They say: “This task is usually performed by women manually.” In order to reduce the time devoted to this task, equipment for mechanized potato selection was introduced. The evaluations showed positive results but the equipment was not adopted. This was due to the fact that in validation meetings more men than women participated and they gladly operated the equipment. However, within the families, it was still the women who carried out this task. Women found the operation difficult due to the height of the equipment and the strength necessary to lift the potato bags to feed the equipment. Once these conditions were understood, a much simpler equipment (lower size, without cranks, where the potatoes slipped by gravity and were pushed manually through sieves) was introduced. This equipment reduced the time allocated to manual selection, but its simplicity, low bearing and lower requirement of physical strength allowed women to adopt it.

Throughout the different focus groups, the relationship between gender roles (accepted in the context) and the type of technology adopted by men and women was clearly observed. In Peru, for example, women more frequently mentioned adopting technologies related to food processing, seed selection, composting, and sprinkler irrigation. These technologies respond to gender roles assigned to women within the household and the community, such as food preparation, production of minor crops for self-consumption and waste management. In the case of men, they more frequently mentioned adopting technologies related to productive infrastructure (seed storage, construction of platforms), plot organization (rotation of crops), and technologies that require physical strength and/or intensive use of labor.

In conclusion, the results of the study showed that the potential adoption of agricultural technologies may differ between women and men, depending on different factors and their interactions. That is to say that factors do not independently influence the adoption of technology by farmers, but rather interact with each other thus shaping the potential adoption of agricultural technologies.

The final report of this work will be available online soon.

Blog contributed by Dr. Claudia Babini of the International Potato Center. 

New mobile app diagnoses crop diseases in the field and alerts rural farmers

Researchers who developed a new mobile application that uses artificial intelligence to accurately diagnose crop diseases in the field have won a $100,000 award to help expand their project to help millions of small-scale farmers across Africa.

Cassava brown streak disease is spreading westward across the African continent and, together with cassava mosaic disease, threatens the food and income security of more than 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa. Likewise, banana is threatened by fungal and bacterial diseases, including the devastating banana bunchy top virus, while late blight still plagues potato farmers.

Farmers often are unable to identify these diseases properly, while researchers, plant-health authorities and extension organizations lack the data to support them.

To stop the spread of these diseases, a team under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has developed a revolutionary app to accurately diagnose diseases in the field, which will be combined with SMS services to send alerts to thousands of rural farmers.

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Researchers stumped by plants with multiple chromosomes plan new collaboration

Some of the world’s most beloved plants — coffee, bananas, potatoes, and roses, to name a few — could be made even better, but the complexity of their chromosomes either stumps or stifles scientists who study them.

“They’re polyploids, which means instead of having two sets of chromosomes like humans or corn or soybeans or peaches, they have four, six, eight or even more sets,” said Dr. David Byrne, professor of Rosa and Prunus breeding and genetics for Texas A&M AgriLife Research, College Station. “They are among the most important ornamental and food crops, but they are always a challenge when trying to develop better varieties.”

“With a diploid, or species with only two sets, researchers have two choices per gene when introducing a trait to breed a better variety,” he explained. “With a polyploid, if it has four sets of chromosomes, you have four choices per gene, for example. So it’s that much more complicated with multiple sets when trying to interpret what’s going on within the plant.”

Photo N.Palmer/CIAT

Byrne decided to bring together scientists from around the world, including from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), to ponder how to collaborate and compare findings with the hopes of accelerating work on these plants. With a $47,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture, about 40 researchers will convene in San Diego in January 11-12 to begin the work.

“In RTB, we are developing genomic tools to analyse polyploid and highly heterozygous genomes which are typical of our crops (cassava is diploid, but highly heterozygous), in order to assist and enhance breeding programs,” added Dr. Michael Friedmann, Science Office with RTB.

RTB breeding programs target the improvement of root, tuber and banana crops across a range of areas including nutritional content, resistance to pests and diseases, better tolerance to heat and drought, along with traits valued by consumers, such as high dry matter content in sweetpotato and cassava.

“This work is very challenging, and we look forward to collaborating with this initiative. We have much to contribute to each other, as these various crops share similar problems, and the tools developed can be made widely applicable,” said Friedmann.

Photo S.Quinn/CIP

Byrne went on to explain that advances in DNA sequencing, for instance, can cut through the genetic code of diploid crops in rapid speed, but lag when yielding information and methods of analyzing data on polyploid crops.

Byrne said while researching the topic, he realized various scientists are studying the issues of polyploids on individual species but not working together for overall, common areas that could benefit all of the crops and hasten advances and improvements.

“In general, progress in a breeding program that is working with polyploids is slower than diploids to begin with, and then not having the genomic tools to accelerate the breeding just makes it worse. There may be a study in potatoes and another in chrysanthemums, but they are not working together,” he said. “And we have a lot of the same issues in all these crops. So the concept here is to bring them all together and agree to work together — to try to put our heads together to solve some of the basic problems we have.”

In addition to scientists currently working on polyploid crops, Byrne plans to include affiliated industries interested in the advancement of these crops. He expects a “white paper” produced from the January meeting to clearly identify gaps in techniques and understanding along with providing suggestions on what research is needed to solve these problems.  

“Hopefully by the time we are done, we will have a work plan to develop a grant that will enable us to work on improving all the polyploid crops,” Byrne said.

Read the original article and find more information on AgriLife Today website.

Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal, visits CIP’s Headquarters

The International Potato Center, the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), was honored to host Her Royal Highness Anne, Princess Royal at the center’s headquarters on Saturday, 16 September. The Princess Royal toured the world’s largest in vitro potato genebank which also houses one of the largest plant cryopreservation programs globally.

“It was an honor to welcome The Princess Royal to CIP,” said Dr. Oscar Ortiz, Deputy Director General. “We are thrilled with her continued interest in our work to achieve food security, well-being, and gender equity for poor people in root and tuber farming and food systems in the developing world.”

“I had a chance to talk with The Princess Royal about the work of RTB, and she was interested to learn that CIP was leading a program including bananas as well as roots and tubers,” said Dr. Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director. “I was especially impressed by her deep knowledge of nutrition and agriculture. She explained the work of the British scientist Elsie Widdowson and her team who had gone to the Lake District just after World War II when rationing was in place and had demonstrated that it’s possible to live on a diet mostly of potatoes for three months, as this provides all essential nutrients.”

Her Royal Highness Anne, Princess Royal, speaks with Dr. Oscar Ortiz (center) and Dr. Graham Thiele (right). Photo: CIP

The Princess Royal’s visit comes after a successful year for the organization with the launching of the Potatoes on Mars project – a series of experiments to test potato growth in extreme climates on Earth using Mars atmospheric conditions – and the awarding of the 2016 World Food Prize to CIP scientists Dr. Maria Andrade, Dr. Jan Low and Dr. Robert Mwanga for their work on biofortified crops to reduce hidden hunger and specifically vitamin A deficiency, one of the most pernicious forms of undernourishment in the developing world. Both projects were presented to The Princess Royal by Dr. Dorcus Gemenet and Dr. Hannele Lindqvist-Kreuze.

The visit was a follow on from The Princess Royal’s July 2007 visit to CIP’s headquarters.

For more information and media enquiries, please see the CIP website.