Author Archives: RTB

GCP21: Africa must double cassava production by 2050 to avert food crisis

 The Fourth International Cassava Conference in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, from 11-15 June 2018 will bring together 300 researchers, policymakers and more. 

Africa needs to double cassava production to avert a major food crisis by 2050, said the Director of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), Dr. Claude Fauquet, during a press conference in Lagos, Nigeria, on 17 April 2018.

Dr. Fauquet described the low root yields of cassava in Africa as “unacceptable” and called on member nations to adequately invest in the crop to change the current yield per hectare.

While it accounts for 55 percent of global cassava root production, Africa’s yield per hectare is the lowest in the world with about 10 tons per ha, compared to Asia where average yield is 21 tons per hectare — or double that of Africa.

Dr. Fauquet, whose speech comes ahead of the Fourth International Cassava Conference in Cotonou, Republic of Benin from 11-15 June 2018, said a “do-nothing approach” would hurt the continent as it would have to contend with more people to feed, and changes in climate that would become more unpredictable.

(L – R) GCP21 Director Designate, Prof. Malachy Akoroda; Conference Communication Coordinator, Godwin Atser; GCP21 Director, Dr Claude Fauquet; and journalists during the exhibition of cassava products in Lagos.

He argued that reversing the current trajectory would demand deliberate steps including greater investment in research and innovations, provisions of a favorable policy framework, accessibility of loans to farmers at single digit rates, and mechanization across the value chain.

According to him, Africa needs to scale out proven technologies including the recommendations on weed control being developed by the Cassava Weed Management Project, improved cassava varieties, and best-bet agronomic practices such as appropriate fertilizer application.

“If we do these, then to double cassava yield will not be a dream but a possibility,” he said.

Dr. Fauquet said while technologies existed to transform cassava, not many policymakers were aware of such technologies, adding that the forthcoming Fourth International Cassava Conference with the theme ‘Cassava Transformation in Africa’ was a unique opportunity that would create an environment for exchange of technical, scientific, agricultural, industrial and economic information about cassava among strategic stakeholders including scientists, farmers, processors, end-users, researchers, the private sector, and donor agencies.

(L – R) GCP21 Director, Dr Claude Fauquet; GCP21 Director Designate, Prof. Malachy Akoroda; and IITA Head of Communication, Kathy Lopez during the press conference in Lagos.

It is expected that 300 participants including policymakers, scientists, farmers, processors, end-users, researchers, the private sector, and donor agencies will participate in the June conference.

Dr. Fauquet reiterated that the aim of the conference was to raise awareness of the global importance of cassava , reviewing recent scientific progress, identifying and setting priorities for new opportunities and challenges while charting a course to seek research and development support for areas where it is currently inadequate.

The Director Designate of GCP21, Professor Malachy Akoroda, noted that the conference would provide an opportunity for African countries to tap the best, current, and most innovative technologies that would transform cassava value chains across Africa. “This conference is a shining opportunity for Africa,” he added.

About GCP21
Founded in 2003, GCP21 is a not-for-profit international alliance of 45 organizations and coordinated by Drs. Fauquet and Joe Tohme of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). It aims to fill gaps in cassava research and development towards unlocking the potential of cassava for food security and wealth creation for farmers, processors, transporters, marketers, and packaging enterprises.

About the conference
The Fourth International Cassava Conference is supported by several major institutions including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, African Development Bank (AfDB), French Institute in Benin, French Embassy, CORAF, Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA), INRAB – Institut National Agronomique du Benin, and FAS-UAC – Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques de l’Université Abomey – Calavi, Republic of Benin.  A larger number of organizations will join the Conference, sponsoring special events, travel grants, workshops, satellite meetings, as well as private companies from the different parts of the world that will have the possibility to show-case their products at exhibition booths. The Conference will welcome as many as plan to attend.

For more information:
Godwin Atser, GCP21 Conference Communication Coordinator

Taking a farmer-centric approach to Integrated Pest Management

Joshua Okonya is a Uganda-based research associate specializing in crop protection. He shares how he is putting farmers at the heart of his work on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for root and tuber crops.

What first motivated you to begin work on Integrated Pest Management?
I grew up in a poor family of eight siblings with a single mother in a rural village of Katuugo, Nakasongola district, Uganda. We’d grow cassava, sweetpotato and beans on about an acre of rented land.  In Uganda, most farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture and so did my family. Subsistence farmers in our village did not normally store their crop harvest for more than one cropping season, at the most a year.  The crops we planted are what we ate during that season. I think it was in the 90s when there was an outbreak of cassava mosaic disease, which cleared all cassava fields. There was no solution to this disease. Since cassava is a staple crop in Uganda, hunger was widespread not only in my village but the entire country. It meant sleeping without eating three meals in a day sometimes even cutting back to only one meal. I wanted to understand what was happening and vowed that I would one day study agriculture.

How does IPM contribute to food security?
The thing with pests is that they don’t discriminate. Irrespective of how good the seed a farmer is using, or the amount of inputs, when a pest comes it can cause complete crop loss. We saw this happen in 2005 during a banana bacterial wilt outbreak and we’re seeing it now with the Fall Army Worm . Integrated Pest Management has the ability to not only increase food security it can also reduce poverty levels. When farmers are able to preserve their harvests and sell the surplus it means extra cash income for the family.

Joshua Okonya examines potato plants for presence of pests and diseases in Rwanda. Understanding farmers’ perceptions of what impacts their crops helps researchers create culturally appropriate tools to face help farmers face challenges. Photo: Anastase Nduwayezu

What are some of the pest management methods farmers are currently using?
Farmers often use pesticides to eliminate threats. This can be costly and we’ve found that many times farmers are not well informed on safe-chemical use and don’t protect themselves. Educational levels vary. Some of the farmers we work with aren’t literate. It requires really understanding the challenges and level of knowledge of each farmer in order to develop tools that will work for them. Our goal is to feed the farmers with nutritious foods and not chemicals.

Your research really takes into account farmer behaviors and their understanding of pests and diseases. Why is this important?
You always have to put a human face to your research. You can’t just go in the lab and engineer something  without understanding what the farmers want, what they need and how to move forward. Designing an IPM approach or package, needs to fit into their culture and farming system. To do that you need to see how they live, what resources are available and how crop management roles are shared among household members.  For example with pesticides, we can’t simply come in and prescribe standard practices for proper handling of pesticides. We can’t say, place your pesticide containers in storage, some of them don’t have storage and need to keep the pesticides in the house where they live. We need to think about their reality and how we can adapt our approaches of minimizing pesticide poisoning to their lifestyle. For instance, we can advise them to place  pesticides in a cupboard away from food and where the kids can’t reach and to not re-use a pesticide container to store food,  water or salt. As researchers we really need to understand the culture and socio-economic background we are working in before recommending an approach. Otherwise you end up not speaking the same language as the farmer and may not get the desired results and impact.

Including the perspectives of both men and women in field research yields higher-quality information as agricultural practices and crops often are divided by gender. Photo by: Joshua Okonya/CIP

What role does gender play in pest management? How does applying a gender lens deepen the impact of your work?
If your aim is to achieve food security you need to know the factors affecting food security. You will not know this without going out to talk to the smallholder farmers. Even when visiting households, you have to be aware of the cultural dynamics.  In many patriarchal societies women are side-lined.  The head of the household, the husband, will receive an extension officer or researcher visiting a family, and in most cases he will be the only point of contact. This gives researchers a very false impression. Women are the ones who are mainly monitoring pests and diseases during storage, because they spend more time at the home and observe. So, if you’re setting up traps to monitor seasonal variation in insect populations or diseases, and you come and talk to the man, you’ll go away without getting adequate and in-depth knowledge. When it comes to pesticides, mainly the men buy them and apply them, so it’s okay if you talk to a man about chemical application.

What challenges do farmers face in managing pests?
There are a number of challenges that farmers meet when managing pests and diseases. One of them is lack of pest resistant varieties because, for example no variety is currently resistant to the African sweetpotato weevil (Cylas species). Lack of adequate pest monitoring throughout the season can lead to complete crop failure, especially during a prolonged dry season. It is important to engage farmers and get to know at which stage an intervention is needed. Some farmers can’t read pesticide labels. We need to help them understand the effects of chemical pesticides and how to properly handle them.  Extension training of farmers is really important. Many farmers don’t know the names of the pests or diseases affecting their crops. If asked, “what is affecting your sweetpotato” they’ll answer, “oh, it’s the sun,” when it’s really the sweetpotato weevil. Since that pest attacks during the dry season, the farmer will associate a long dry season with sweetpotato damage and they blame it on the sun. As a scientist looking to understand the challenges farmers face you have to dig deep. With the proper training and cultural understanding a scientist is able to ask the right questions to get the correct diagnosis of what the problem is.

A cassava farmer in Tanzania inspects his plants for signs of pests and disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

What IPM support has CIP and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB)  helped to develop?
We give extension training to farmers on more than one method to manage pests, including how to use cultural practices, which are low-cost and require few resources. We encourage the use of virus free seed. CIP has also developed pheromone traps— a type of attract-and-kill technology for use in potato stores. An insecticide is mixed with a pheromone that attracts the male species. These males think it is a female, so when they come looking to mate they come in contact with the pheromone mixed with an insecticide and die. By studying the biology of the pests, CIP has also published a Pest Risk Atlas for Africa which policymakers can use mainly for planning purposes to understand the potential risk of insect pests in the face of climate change.

Why is an integrated crop approach important?
No smallholder farmer in Uganda, Rwanda, or Burundi specializes in only one crop. A sweetpotato farmer will also grow banana, cassava, potato, and beans. RTB  takes a holistic view of these very crops, which all face pest problems. Some invasive pests such as the fall armyworm are polyphagous and will cause economic losses not only on the primary host (maize) but also on other crops including sweetpotato. So, it’s paramount that CGIAR continues to support programs that are cross-crop and cross-center. When research centers work together we are able to capture more information while using fewer resources. The more we work together across all these crops we’ll really improve food security for the farmers and improve their livelihoods.

Blog contributed by Sara Farjado for the International Potato Center (CIP). Read the original post on the CIP website. 

For more on Okonya’s research:
Okonya, J. S., Syndikus, K., & Kroschel, J. (2013). Farmers’ perception of and coping strategies to climate change: Evidence from six agro-ecological zones of Uganda. Journal of Agricultural Science5(8), 252.

Okonya, J. S., & Kroschel, J. (2015). A cross-sectional study of pesticide use and knowledge of smallholder potato farmers in Uganda. BioMed Research International2015.

Legg, J., Okonya, J. & Coyne, D.(2017). Integrated pest management of root and tuber crops 
in the tropics. In C. Rapisarda and GEM Cocuzza, Integrated pest management in tropical 
regions. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing,(p. 90-112).

The business case for seed – a public-private partnership takes root in Kenya

Nearly every production manual for farmers begins with some version of the same statement: “for good production, make sure to use healthy, disease-free seed”. These well-meaning declarations can only be met with a sigh from many developing country farmers, for whom access to tested and certified clean materials often ranges from limited to nonexistent. This challenge is even more serious in root, tuber, and banana crops; staples of diets and economies across the tropics which are all vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs).

VPCs are typically not commercially multiplied through true seed, but instead clonally by cuttings of mother plants (for simplicity these cuttings are often still called ‘seed’). This clonal reproduction from one generation to the next preserves the crop’s genetic identity, but also creates an ideal situation for pests and diseases, which can accumulate in the field and be passed on to each successive generation, building up over time in a process known as ‘seed degeneration’.

Large seed companies have been slow to engage with many VPCs since farmers can regrow the crops year after year without repurchasing seed. However, degeneration means that in many contexts seed replacement may be necessary fairly frequently. In the absence of any certification, farmers are left to take their chances with variety and seed health when acquiring new seed.

A group from RTB visits the GTIL laboratory in Nairobi. These vats are used for producing a lot of tissue culture media – the facility produces roughly half a million plantlets per year. Photo: E.Delaquis/CIAT

In Nairobi, Kenya, a local company is working to change this. Genetics Technologies International Ltd. (GTIL) first began operations in 1995, and through close collaboration with the Kenyan government, is able to provide tested, certified, clean seed to buyers. GTIL currently multiplies more than 10 varieties of potato, in addition to many popular varieties of banana, cassava, sweet potato, various fruit trees, and soon strawberry.

In late March of 2018, a group of researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas  visited GTIL to explore the successes and challenges of making clean VPC seed a commercial winner in Kenya. The group was received at GTIL by Judith Kilonzo, laboratory manager. As she led a dozen staff through the laboratories and screenhouses, Judith began to explain GTIL’s history and business model.

An order of sweetpotato plantlets taking root in the growth chamber. Photo: E.Delaquis/CIAT

Key to GTIL’s success is a close public-private partnership with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS). KEPHIS, the government regulatory body for seed certification, processes plant materials for molecular diagnosis and identification of viruses, a process called indexing. Once these materials are confirmed to be disease-free, they are passed on to GTIL, who use strictly controlled conditions to multiply the material through several stages until the amount is enough to fill users’ orders. These users then further multiply the material under controlled field conditions.

Judith Kilonzo, GTIL laboratory manager (right), demonstrates the procedure for transplanting plantlets into growth media. Photo: E.Delaquis/CIAT

GTIL’s major buyers to date include international organizations, notably the International Potato Center (CIP), other projects, and a handful of large farmers. One major buyer is Kisima Farm, located at the foot of Mount Kenya, in the Rift Valley some two hundred kilometers to the North of Nairobi. Beginning with GTIL’s seed, Kisima Farm has become Kenya’s largest producer of certified potato seed, generating over 200,000 minitubers and 2000 tons of certified seed potatoes per year.

Screenhouses with sandponics and aeroponics for production of clean seed at GTIL. Photo: E.Delaquis/CIAT

To grow into what it is today, GTIL blossomed out of a connection with Stokman Rozen Kenya (SRK), the largest producer of top-grafted roses in Africa. Like roots and tubers, high value crops such as roses and fruit trees are also VPCs, and their production employs similar technologies and techniques. SRK has since gone on to diversify its production to include sizable banana, potato, and strawberry operations. Although independent, SRK and GTIL operate in close communication to fill clients’ needs, and to collaborate on transfer of new varieties and multiplication technologies.

Having a starting source of guaranteed clean seed of significant crops is a critical component of assuring food security in any country. So could GTIL’s model be replicated in other places, or is it a unique one-off scenario? GTIL’s answer is optimistic – they are already eyeing expansion to several neighboring countries in coming years.

Blog contributed by Erik Delaquis, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

FoodSTART+ and SOLID build capacity of facilitators for Farmer Business Schools in Indonesia

The Food Resilience Through Root And Tuber Crops In Upland and Coastal Communities of The Asia-Pacific (FoodSTART+), and the Smallholder Livelihood Development Project (SOLID), both funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), are collaborating to implement Farmer Business Schools in Maluku and Maluku Utara provinces of Indonesia. As the first step in this process, the projects jointly conducted a ‘Training of Facilitators on Farmer Business Schools with Gender and Climate Change Perspectives’ from 19-23 February 2018 in Ternate City, Maluku Utara Province, Indonesia.

The FoodSTART+ project is implemented by the International Potato Center (CIP) in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), within the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). In order to take FoodSTART+ innovations to scale, CIP and CIAT partner with a number of IFAD large-scale development-oriented investment projects in Southeast Asia, including SOLID in Indonesia.

Participants in discussion during an exercise on targeting and selection. Photo: FoodSTART+

Funded by the European Union and IFAD, FoodSTART+ builds on the now-concluded FoodSTART project with the aim of promoting the role of root and tuber crops in reducing food vulnerability and enhancing resilience of poor male and female agricultural producers and consumers.

The Farmer Business Schools (FBS) approach is a participatory action learning process that involves farmer groups’ participation in agricultural value chains. The approach comprises a series of group-based experiential learning activities over a production-marketing cycle while interacting with other chain actors and stakeholders. First developed by CIP in Indonesia in 2008, it is currently being scaled out in the Philippines, Indonesia and India through FoodSTART+.

A panel discussion on business development services available for Farmer Business Schools. Photo: FoodSTART+

The training of facilitators was one of the initial steps for establishing FBS in SOLID project sites. The training aimed at building the capacity of SOLID staff, farmer leaders, extension agents and community leaders to implement FBS. There were 31 participants, including extension agents and farmer leaders at the village level, along with SOLID staff from district and province levels.

A woman sells roots, tubers and bananas at the market where participants collected data for a market assessment. Photo: FoodSTART+

The five-day training began with an opening speech from Ir. Syaiful Turuy, head of the Food Office of Maluku Utara province. In addition to lectures, panel discussions, and exercises, a market visit was also conducted for participants to practice market assessment. 

The final session of the event included action planning by the two provinces for the implementation of the FBS process over the next eight months, culminating with the launch of a new business by each FBS group (five per province). After the training, key people from SOLID and FoodSTART+ met to agree on details of action plan implementation, on FoodSTART+ support to monitoring and mentoring of the process, and on the immediate next steps for the collaboration in the FBS sites in both Maluku and Maluku Utara provinces.

The FBS cycle is planned to start in March 2018 with a target business launch of the enterprises in October 2018. FoodSTART+ will provide the technical backstopping and monitoring-mentoring throughout the implementation of the Farmer Business School.

Blog contributed by Camille Joy Enalbes, Communication Specialist, FoodSTART+

Public-private partnerships and the sustainability of sweetpotato Early Generation Seed production

The third instalment in this blog series for by scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP) and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) discusses how public-private partnerships can contribute to the long-term sustainability of sweetpotato Early Generation Seed (EGS) production.

The sustainable production of EGS (which includes pre-basic/foundation seed and basic seed) is one bottleneck to increasing the availability of new varieties for farmers. Under which conditions is it profitable to produce sweetpotato EGS, and who is best placed to do it? Srini Rajendran and Margaret McEwan of CIP and RTB are determining the cost of producing sweetpotato EGS as part of developing a sustainable business.

Caption below. Credit: W. Mushobozi.

Today, Srini and Margaret discuss how public-private partnerships can contribute to the long-term sustainability of EGS production:

The results from our financial analyses indicate that sweetpotato EGS business is a viable business and can generate revenue in the long-run. The National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARI) we work with are now grasping this business opportunity to generate income for their institutions. However, to date, seed companies have demonstrated limited interest in engaging in seed production for vegetatively propagated crops – with the notable exception of potato (solanum tuberosum). We would like to learn more about potential public-private partnerships for sweetpotato seed production.

The NARIs are often generously endowed with land and water resources. They may have under-utilized facilities, but they have trained staff who are experts in their field (e.g. tissue culture micro-propagation and screenhouse production technologies). The mindset and business orientation of the private sector could contribute to reducing costs, streamlining production processes, and strengthening forward linkages through the seed and root value chain.

What are the different profit sharing models which could be tested? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using variants of contract farming for quality seed production? How might vertical integration of the whole sweetpotato value chain (through to processed products) encourage private investment in quality seed production?

Readers are invited to provide insight in the comments section below.

Read the original post on the website 

This research was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). Implementation was led by CIP. Funding support was provided by the SASHA2 project.

Photo caption: Crop Bioscience Solutions CEO Wilfred Mushobozi understands that in order to be commercially successful he needs to grow his market by developing customer awareness not just about his quality seed, but also the crop. CBS has engaged in innovative marketing strategies – “brand orange” – with outreach to local schools to encourage production and consumption of orange-fleshed sweetpotato. CBS has also partnered with Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA) to supply contract farmers with quality planting material of varieties for the export market to the EU.  Vertical integration and appropriate partnering are options for fruitful PPPs.

Using gender research to increase the adoption of agricultural technology

Vivian Polar, Gender, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas, shares insights on the importance of considering gender when developing agriculture technology.

Do men and women approach agriculture differently?
Men and women approach agriculture differently. Each one of them looks at farming based on their constraints and their strengths, and the context in which they work.  Their technology needs differ from one another.

Including both men and women in agriculture research and technology development helps ensure that the specific needs of individual farmers are met. Photo: CIP

What do you mean when you say agriculture technology is not gender neutral?
When you say that technology is not gender neutral, you are letting people know that whatever they are designing regarding technology may limit men or women’s access to that technology.   For example, you may be designing equipment for harvest or for shredding and what you have in mind is the shredding process, but you haven’t thought of who is going to use that technology. You haven’t thought of how strong or tall that person is or if they will be carrying a baby on their back. Will they be doing this on a small scale for household consumption, or will they be doing this on a large scale? People think of the technology first, in general, that tends to benefit men more than women.

What are the drawbacks of not taking a gender-sensitive approach to technology development?
If you just think about what the technology does or what the variety does, you are thinking of the final product, but you are not thinking of the user.  The benefits of a gender-sensitive technology design is that you are more inclusive. You are not just developing a product for a specific use, but for a specific user— this helps to target a particular type of inequality, which in this case, is limited access to technology.

What is something that most people don’t consider about gender when they’re developing new technologies?
One example that comes to mind is a mechanized potato selection tool. It sorted potato by size. It did the job well. As the prototype was developed, the designers overlooked the fact that women were the ones in charge of the selection process. Field trials gathered input from male farmers, and specific adaptions were chosen based on that all male participation. Adaptions were made but were made with the wrong end user in mind. As a result, the female farmers failed to adopt this new selection tool because it was too high for them and required them to lift bags that were too heavy. It was difficult for the women to operate. They wanted something that was manual.

Gender monitoring and evaluation specialist, Vivian Polar, studies the different approaches that men and women take in agriculture. Photo: S.A.Fajardo/CIP

Can you give us an example of how men and women might approach agriculture technology differently?
Many times women are in charge of crops for home consumption, while men will adopt crops for income generation. That specific difference will determine what type of technology men and women will adopt.  For example for home consumption, women prefer less labor intensive technology with fewer inputs. Efficiency might not be their top priority, but perhaps the culinary traits might be. In the case of men, when they are targeting a market product of the same crop, they’re going to think about the efficiency and higher yields, and not necessarily other traits.

What would you like others to know about the role of gender in agriculture?
What I would like people to know is that we need not be afraid of addressing gender concerns in agriculture. We need to look at it as an opportunity to increase the uptake of our technology development.

I see so many researchers developing with great care technology products to reduce hunger and to address food insecurity.  If we could only enhance that development process to target the other half of the world population, we would increase the adoption of that technology.

What recommendations do you have for other researchers looking at gender in agriculture?
My recommendation is to make it easy and accessible for farmers. I would also like to encourage young female researchers. We need to be part of this development process. A complimentary space of men and women working together will make for better technology products that benefit both male and female farmers.

Vivian Polar is a gender, monitoring and evaluation specialist for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.

Read the original post on the International Potato Center website. 


RTB and CIP scholarship for Peruvian students to attend World Potato Congress

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and the International Potato Center (CIP) are pleased to announce a new scholarship for Peruvian university students to attend the upcoming 10th World Potato Congress in Cusco, Peru, from 27 – 31 May 2018.

The scholarship will cover the attendance of 15 students from public universities who are in their final year of study in agricultural science, and is part of RTB and CIP’s efforts to support Peruvian national institutions and the future of youth in agriculture.

The Congress will bring together more than 800 scientists and potato industry experts from across the world to share interests, innovations, research and information on the theme of “Biodiversity, Food Security and Business”. Organized by the World Potato Congress Inc., the event is dedicated to supporting the cultivation and development of potato around the world.

“RTB is proud to be supporting this initiative with our lead center, the International Potato Center, and giving this valuable opportunity for 15 Peruvian university students to attend the Congress and learn first-hand from some of the world’s foremost experts,” says Graham Thiele, RTB Director.

“It is important that we encourage the next generation of researchers and academics in the field of agricultural science, as we are seeing diminishing numbers of students who are pursuing studies and careers in this area.”

This will be the first time that the triannual event will be held in Latin America, and the selection of Cusco located in the Peruvian Andes is symbolic as it lies in the region where the potato first originated millennia ago.

This is also a region that is already feeling the effects of climate change, with reports that warmer temperatures are forcing farmers to grow their potato crops further up the mountains. Warmer weather is also expanding the reach of pests and diseases that target potato, adding further pressure to local farmers.

Climate change is the topic of a presentation to be delivered by Thiele at the event titled “A second climate smart agricultural revolution in the Andes for the 21st Century”, and is a key area of research RTB.

For more information about the scholarship and applications, in Spanish only, please visit the Congress website.

Effective marketing strategies for sweetpotato seed

The second edition in this blog series for by scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP) and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) explores effective marketing strategies for sweetpotato seed.

The sustainable production of Early Generation Seed (which includes pre-basic/foundation seed and basic seed) is one bottleneck to increasing the availability of new varieties for farmers. Under which conditions is it profitable to produce sweetpotato Early Generation Seed (EGS), and who is best placed to do it? Srini Rajendran and Margaret McEwan, of CIP and RTB, are determining the cost of producing sweetpotato EGS as part of developing a sustainable business.

Here, Srini and Margaret discuss ideas on effective marketing strategies for sweetpotato seed – which is bulky, perishable and costly to transport:

“Quality starts at source”. Pathogen tested tissue culture plantlets under micro-propagation for pre-basic seed production at Crop Research Institute, Kumasi, Ghana. Photo: M.D.Quain.

Effective seed marketing strategies are key to sustaining a profitable business. Some of the National Agricultural Research Institutes now use a differentiated pricing strategy depending on: firstly, the market segment they are targeting (e.g. institutional markets such as government programs or NGOs; or individual multipliers who are the next link in the seed chain); and secondly, whether orders are placed and paid for in advance. Institutional buyers are the major customers for sweetpotato EGS. However, they may then provide this seed free to multipliers, and/or provide demand-side subsidies so that farmers can receive free or discounted seed. This leads to market distortions. We would like to explore what type of push-and-pull strategies might be used to increase demand for quality EGS.

What experiences can readers share for successful marketing strategies, remembering that sweetpotato cuttings are bulky, perishable and costly to transport? Readers are invited to provide insight in the comments section below.

This research was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). Implementation was led by CIP. Funding support was provided by the SASHA2 project.

Read the original post and reader comments on the website 

Can the sweetpotato Early Generation Seed business attract private players?

This is the first in a series of blogs for by scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP) and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) discussing key issues in the sweetpotato seed system.

The sustainable production of Early Generation Seed (which includes pre-basic/foundation seed and basic seed) is one bottleneck to increasing the availability of new sweetpotato varieties for farmers. Only small quantities are needed and the unit production cost is high. Under which conditions is it profitable to produce sweetpotato Early Generation Seed, and who is best placed to do it?

Trailing of vines to increase multiplication rate. Kenya Plant Health Inspection Service (KEPHIS) sweetpotato pre-basic screen house. Credit: E. Ngundo/KEPHIS.

Srini Rajendran and Margaret McEwan, of CIP and RTB, are working with National Agricultural Research Institutes in 11 sub-Saharan African countries to determine the cost of producing sweetpotato Early Generation Seed. This data has provided the basis to conduct financial analysis as part of developing a sustainable business. Read more about determining the costs of Early Generation Seed for sweetpotato here.

Srini and Margaret discuss how we can improve our understanding of farmer demand for quality seed and improved varieties of sweetpotato:

Sweetpotato is a vegetatively reproduced crop, allowing the seed or planting material (vines) to be easily multiplied and recycled from season to season. This leads to an accumulation of diseases and pests causing yield reduction. Sweetpotato pre-basic seed is pathogen-tested and produced under screen house conditions to ensure quality. We know that the demand for quality pre-basic seed is dependent on the demand characteristics of different actors along the seed value chain to the end-user root producers. But understanding the demand for quality seed from male and female farmers is elusive.

When does a farmer become a recurrent buyer of quality seed? What are the implications for the sustainability and profitability of quality seed production at different steps in the seed value chain?

Readers are invited to provide insight in the comments section below.

This research was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). Implementation was led by CIP. Funding support was provided by the SASHA2 project.

Read the original post and reader comments on the website. 

Building momentum for gender-responsive breeding

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, this year with the theme ‘Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives’. Gender research is a core part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), and in the following Q&A, Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, shares his thoughts on gender research within both the program and CGIAR.

This Q&A is part of a broader campaign by the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research.  

What is the value of the gender research currently done in CGIAR?
We do a lot of outstanding integrated gender research in CGIAR. Researchers of all disciplines are taking gender more seriously. Sometimes though our gender research is rather dispersed and responds to a local context but fails to build momentum for broader change. There is something of a translational gap between disciplines – whilst biological researchers want to make a difference in the lives of both men and women, they often lack the specific tools and approaches to take forward their good intentions. We can only cross this gap when gender researchers and biological researchers work together in the same team. For example, close coordination between RTB social scientists and banana breeders is producing a dictionary and ontology of banana traits, such as shape and texture, which are being combined with a Participatory variety selection (PVS) method to understand how men and women value these traits. This information will be used by breeders to ensure that improved banana varieties include traits that will benefit both women and men. These resources will be available in the Community of Practice in Ontology under the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, for use in banana breeding databases.

Harvesting banana in Uganda. Photto: S.Quinn/CIP

How does that gender research fit in the body of knowledge that the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas is developing?
One area where we have progressed in the past 12 months in improving the fit of gender with our broader body of knowledge is through the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI), which is coordinated by RTB and the International Potato Center. There is a big push in CGIAR to have better structured plant and animal breeding programs with well-defined descriptions of the varietal traits to be produced, and which respond to a clear demand. Gender differences often play a major role in shaping that demand. In GBI we are identifying a set of critical decision points in the breeding cycle where gender must be considered. One key part of this will be to ensure that gender differences are considered from the outset of the breeding cycle, and GBI is working on tools to capture this. This requires breeders, gender specialists and other scientists to work together in a highly interactive way to overcome the translational gap I mentioned. RTB is taking this idea forward in its different breeding programs. For example, in Nigeria gari is a major cassava food product and it is mostly women who do the processing.  RTB is assessing improved and farm varieties of cassava in Nigeria together with male and female producers and processors to understand their different priorities with regards to food quality in gari production. This will enable breeders to target specific cassava traits that respond to these differences.

A woman processes gari in Benin. Photo: D.Dufour CIAT-RTB

How do you see the gender-integrated, gender-specific as well as any other CRP research contributing to the IWD’s theme of this year?
We believe that integrated gender research can be transformative. Supporting the generation of appropriate innovations that really consider gender can be empowering. The trick is how this may also engage with strategic gender research. This looks at the broader picture around norms and agency while relating it directly with the practical implications for breeding and may be the more natural entry point for the rural and urban activists who can potentially draw on findings from our research. So, we need to do a great job in communicating what we have found so that others can make use of it for advocacy.

What is the key opportunity for gender research to achieve more impact?
Plant and animal breeding lies at the heart of much of what CGIAR does. So, if we can find more ways to truly integrate gender into breeding, in ways that make a difference, the impact can be huge.