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CIAT and partners fight cassava diseases in Southeast Asia with new project

In Southeast Asia (SEA) cassava is both a food crop and an industrial crop. This gives the plant, which is used for its roots, the distinction of being both a key to food security and a source of income to the two million smallholder farmers who produce it across the region. At the beginning of the cassava boom of the early 1990s SEA has enjoyed the luxury of not having any serious biological constraints on cassava production. That changed in the early 2010s.

The first major invasive biological constraint to arrive in Asia was the cassava mealybug, which causes significant losses. The Thai Tapioca Development Institute (TTDI), in collaboration with Kasetsart University, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) deployed a parasitic wasp, Apoanagyrus lopezi, as a biocontrol agent with successful results.

Unfortunately, a second disease arrived in the region, first reported in 2015. Cassava mosaic disease (CMD), which can greatly reduce yields by the size of the plant’s root, which had previously caused severe losses in India and Sri Lanka, is putting the livelihoods of SEA cassava producers at risk.

Along with the support of numerous partners across the region, CIAT has put together and ambitious research project titled “Establishing sustainable solutions to cassava diseases in mainland Southeast Asia”. This project was commissioned by the Australian Center for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) for four years with a total investment of AUD4 million.

“The outbreak of CMD is threatening the livelihood of people who, over the last 10 to 20 years, have escaped poverty because of the good income they earn from cassava,” said Eric Huttner, the Research Program Manager at ACIAR. “Addressing the threat is really important.”

Cassava producers in SEA long faced problems caused by mealybug and cassava witches’ broom disease (CWBD), which is slowly becoming more widespread and can potentially reduce yields by as much as 90 percent. While mealybug was successfully controlled, CWBD is still under research with many unanswered questions.

CMD was first detected in Cambodia and is now found in some 40 provinces in three countries, including Lao and Vietnam. To learn more about the disease and joint efforts to understand and control its spread, read this explainer. CIAT and partners recently published a regional emergency control plan for CMD.

The goal of the new project is to enhance the resilience of cassava production systems by quickly addressing the evolution of the disease. This will help improve the livelihoods of cassava-dependent smallholders and bolster economic development in mainland Southeast Asia. Researchers aim to do work on genetics improvement for resistance, disease diagnostic and surveillance, agronomy and the seed system for cassava, as well as propose inclusive policies that can help safeguard rural livelihoods.

The project was announced in September in Vientiane, Lao PDR, during a project inception meeting that included participants from the private sector – such as companies that produce starch and biofuel made from cassava. Researchers from various government and non-government organizations participated as well.

CIAT’s global Cassava Program of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture has been operating in SEA since 1983 aiming at unlocking new markets for cassava growers by implementing its research strategy through six research and services areas. CIAT’s Luis Augusto Becerra Leader is the leader of the research program. Overcoming emerging biological constraints is critical to the bright future that we see for cassava. Many of the attractive traits of cassava in the food ingredient market are yet to be fully tapped. However, ensuring the productivity of the crop in the face of new threats is essential for this vision to be realized.


The project will mobilize the energy and skills of many partner organizations across six Southeast Asian countries. In addition to CIAT, partners include the University of Queensland; Hung Loc Research Agricultural Research Center (HLARC), the Agricultural Genetics Institute (AGI), and the Plant Protection Research Institute (PPRI) from Vietnam; the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) and the Department of Agriculture and Plant Protection Centre (DOA-PPC) in Laos; the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) in Cambodia; the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) in Myanmar. Thai Tapioca Development Institute (TTDI), Kasetsart University, and the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) are also contributing to the project implementation.

In addition, addressing cassava disease in Asia is one of the highest priorities of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers & Bananas (RTB). The new bilateral project supported by ACIAR provides much needed support to research activities that map across four of the five RTB Flagship programs. The partnership between ACIAR and RTB allows the project to both contribute to and draw on global research efforts, the existing scientific knowledge, and experiences, as well as tap into the global capacity for tackling diseases in vegetatively propagated crops.

“Working together with partners, we are strongly committed to taking action to benefit smallholder farmers and industry in Southeast Asia. We are thankful to all national programs for their collaboration at the regional level,” said Jonathan Newby the Asia coordinator for the CIAT cassava program and project Principal Investigator.

Outputs of the project will include:

  1. Commercially competitive and acceptable new cassava varieties resistant to CMD and high yielding.
  2. Source of resistance to CWBD identified and introduced into cassava breeding programs from the existing 6300 cassava landraces held at CIAT.
  3. Enhanced regional diagnostic protocols, tools and information platforms for monitoring, surveillance and certification applications.
  4. Models for the development of economically sustainable cassava seed systems for the rapid dissemination of new varieties and disease-free planting material.
  5. Business models, policy recommendations and alternative funding models for sustainability of interventions.

This blog was first published on the CIAT website. 

Network analysis reveals where to act effectively in seed systems

Photo credit: Paul Rachkara.

An innovative approach to seed systems, spearheaded by scientists working with the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), offers new ways to enhance the adoption of novel technologies and limit the spread of pests and diseases. By focusing on the network that links farmers, traders and others, it identifies the best places to influence how things – seeds, pathogens, knowledge, technologies – travel through the network, suggesting efficient ways in which farmers can be helped to improve their productivity.

Most of the world’s poorer farmers do not buy high-quality seed. They typically plant material they have saved themselves, or that was saved by relatives and neighbors. Some may buy seed from traders, but often that seed was similarly saved by an unknown farmer, with no guarantees of quality. One problem inherent to this kind of informal seed system – especially for roots, tubers and bananas, in which the “seed” is vegetatively propagated rather than a true, botanical seed – is that many pests and diseases are transmitted along with the seed. The result is often seed degeneration, and with it declining yields, because even seeds that start as high-quality accumulate pathogens and pests over cycles of growth and reproduction.

Network architecture

A formal network analysis of the seed system considers the nodes (which might be farms, markets, agricultural stores, extension workers, male and female farmers) and the links among them. Where does a farmer’s seed or information come from? Where does it go?

In a highly-connected network, seed can travel easily from farmer to farmer. A centralized network may allow seed to travel from a single node, perhaps a market, to all the other farmers, but not from farmer to farmer. In a more decentralized network, there may be clusters where seed travels easily within the cluster, but not often between clusters.

“The network architecture can tell us where to monitor for diseases, where to introduce new varieties, how to develop capacity and much more,” said Jorge Andrade-Piedra, plant pathologist at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru.

Where to look for disease

One recent study, on which Andrade-Piedra worked, looked at 48 potato farmers in Ecuador, all of the members of a regional consortium called Consorcio de Productores de Papa (CONPAPA). The consortium includes some specialist farmers who produce higher quality seed potatoes. It provides training and expertise and also processes and sells ware (eating) potatoes on behalf of members. Network analysis revealed that the system is quite sparse, with many links between farmers and both the CONPAPA team and the market in their nearest town, but few links among different CONPAPA-member farmers.

Knowing the structure of the network, the team wanted to know which might be the best locations to detect a newly introduced disease. In a simulation, they introduced the disease on one farm node at random and asked how many other farms it would spread to before being detected at another randomly-selected farm. CONPAPA itself is clearly the most important node for monitoring because it is the source of most of the seed coming from off the farm. By the same token, the most effective route for introducing new varieties and other beneficial technologies to these farmers would be through CONPAPA. While individual farms are less critical for monitoring than CONPAPA itself, the network analysis also shows which farms would be most important for additional analyses of the potential introduction of a pathogen.

“It is clear that some spread can always occur via the seed system,” said Andrade-Piedra. “Knowing where to concentrate monitoring efforts is a good way to reduce the potential spread of pests and diseases.”

The same goes for information. The network for sources of information about integrated pest management (IPM) was similar to the seed network, with most farmers getting their information from the CONPAPA management team. Farmers also often reported that they got information from agrichemical stores. Farmers who reported getting their information about IPM from less reliable sources might be worth monitoring and training, because their farms could have additional risk factors for the introduction of diseases.

Training store owners to share information about pest management with farmers might seem a good idea. The problem is that farmers don’t trust store owners as much as they trust CONPAPA, and that might be justified. Store owners face a conflict between supplying information that they know to be correct and recommending the use of products that they happen to have in stock.

“In addition to understanding network architecture,” Andrade-Piedra added, “we need socioeconomic data to make sure we understand the role of information sources for farmer decision-making.”

Controlling sweetpotato diseases

A related study of sweetpotato in Northern Uganda, conducted with RTB and colleagues by Kelsey Andersen of the University of Florida, found a different network structure. The network is less centralized than the CONPAPA network, with 27 sellers and almost 1000 buyers throughout the network, organized by the village. Most nodes have few links while a few nodes have many links.

As with potato, viral diseases transmitted through seed vines can put a major brake on sweetpotato production. The researchers used this network to study, among other things, how to control an epidemic if a pathogen should appear. Quarantining villages or managing the disease intensively, so that it could not spread, would obviously help to contain a disease, and the more villages are managed, the slower the disease spread. But which villages? The simplest metric, how many incoming links does it have, proved almost as effective as more complex criteria, and much more effective than just managing villages at random. However, management was effective only if 15 or more villages were knocked out of the network.

“The invasion may be able to overcome management of a small number of nodes, even if those are the nodes with the most links,” said Kelsey Andersen. In fact, although such management slows a disease down, it does not actually stop the spread. The network analysis suggests that it may be better to focus on seed health and disease resistance, to prevent diseases in the first place. The paper by Andersen and her colleagues gained a lot of attention and has already been downloaded more than 1,500 times.

Useful methods

Researchers recognize that each seed system is likely to have different network characteristics, but in every case understanding the structure of the network is an important first step in deciding where to allocate resources.

“We’re working to develop methods for the RTB toolbox that will allow scientists to perform what we call an ‘impact network analysis’ – evaluating regional management strategies in linked networks of communication, trade, and potentially spread of pathogens and pests—quickly and effectively,” said Professor Karen Garrett of the University of Florida, who is working with RTB researchers on seed systems. The RTB Toolbox is a collection of tools that allow practitioners to understand and systematically diagnose seed systems and determine how to most effectively intervene in them. The network analysis is an important component of the Toolbox, and Garrett is also working to adapt network analysis approaches for decision-makers.

Mainland Southeast Asia, she points out, is grappling with an outbreak of cassava mosaic disease. Plant health regulations are in place, but they are not being applied to cassava, where the seed system is largely outside the formal sector. Traders regularly transport cassava material for long distances and across international borders. Rather than stricter policing, which might not work, analysis by RTB suggests that it might be better to encourage traders to get seed from regions without reports of the disease, such as the highlands of North Vietnam, and make use of existing trade routes to spread healthier seed.

“Systems analysis that integrates socio-economic and epidemic networks, including seed trade, offers insights that can improve food security,” Garrett says.

Spotlight on Village Seed Entrepreneurs making money from cassava stems in Nigeria

In March of 2019, we visited Village Seed Entrepreneurs (VSEs) in Benue State, Nigeria, that were established as a part of the Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava (BASICS) project. BASICS is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is being led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. We were pleased to see significant progress in turning cassava stems into a profitable business, that will benefit thousands of farmers with access to improved varieties. We were hosted by Emmanuel Azaino, Head of Unit, Agriculture and Economic Growth at Catholic Relief Services (CRS). As a key component of BASICS, CRS is creating demand for the new varieties and supporting business development by the VSEs. We saw good evidence of progress in both areas during our visit.

Creating demand

Sign with information about the plot. The NGO Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JPDC) works with ADPs to support the VSEs.

In Benue, we visited a well-prepared demonstration plot of new varieties in Ashina village. This had the five varieties being sold by VSEs and a local check variety (Akpu-Fefa) for comparison, all clearly laid out and labeled. The demo plot was located just 10 meters from the main road from Makurdi to Aliade where everyone passing by could see the field and its large, informative sign. This demo was organized with the Agricultural Development Program (ADP). It was one of 50 demo plots in Benue State all with the same five varieties being promoted and check variety for comparison, strategically placed beside main roads where passing farmers could see them.

Each local government area has one extension agent. Michael Nomhwangi the ADP extension agent commented: “Farmers prefer 419, it produces big and has a lot of starch”. He said they also like NR 8082 “but it has too much water”

Emmanuel explained that CRS and their partners have been innovating with their outreach style. They switched from promoting the new varieties during field days, where farmers are expected to visit, to promotions during market days where farmers are congregating: “we showed up at traditional market days where we created a scene to attract attention with a procession and dancing. Then we had a presentation about the five varieties and VSEs. We showed farmers the roots of the varieties and had bundles for sale. We held 51 market day promotions in 2018”. Going to the market is livelier, and likely to reach more people.

Business development

On another stop, during our visit, we met John, a VSE in Benue State, who receives support from the local ADP. He planted his one-hectare field with TME 419, one of the most popular improved varieties. He bought stems to plant the field from a foundation seed producer in 2016. He planted at a density of 1m x 0.5m using about 100-120 bundles which is double the usual density, as he specializes in stem production. He sold 344 bundles in 2017, then he ratooned the field and sold more bundles in 2018. One farmer bought 100 bundles at about USD2 per bundle. He processed the roots from this field himself and produced gari for sale. John said, “if you harvest from double density planting at 12 months there are few roots, but at 15-16 months yields are very appreciable”. CRS records show that he made a profit of about USD 1,900 over two years. Specialized stem producers need a few innovations, such as dense planting and ratooning, which they have learned from BASICS.

John next to his well looked after field, planted in August 2018

Another VSE, Bridget, had planted 1 ha of TME 419 in June 2018.  She also had TMS 98/0505 and TMS 30572 still in the ground from which she had already sold roots and bundles of stems.  She said she had already harvested 65 bundles from these.  She also had TMS 30572. She explained that farmers have plenty of TMS 98/0505 and TMS 30572, they want TME 419 which is new. She also planted Akpu-Fefa, the most important local variety, so she could show the difference in yield. This variety yielded very little compared with TME 419. She explained that she would like to expand her business, but available land was too far away.

John said that “Market forces meant there was a rush for 419”

After the field visits, we went to a lively farmers’ meeting at Ahumbe attended by VSEs, their customers, ADPs, JDPC, leaders of five chapters of VSE (Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo, Katsina, and Adikpo) and leaders of the apex network which groups and supports all the chapters. This shady spot in the village of Ahumbe is a central point that is regularly used for large meetings.


During the field visits we had met VSEs, but now we also had a chance to meet their customers, including Ruben, who explained, “the VSE sold stems to me and I planted as instructed. The germination of “sticks” (stem cuttings) of TME 419 was wonderful, growth was wonderful. If I told my neighbors I feared they would cut the stems. I kept the thing quiet. Then the soil started cracking as the roots swelled. The roots were immense. But the stems may expire in 3 years, that’s a problem for me.” Hopefully, Ruben will be able to return to the VSEs in 3 years, when he needs stems.

Farmers concerns

Farmers expressed that they need more training in weed management. “We need household machines to press cassava for processing. We need more assistance from ADPs and support for fertilizers”








Farmers asked what would happen when the project ends. Emmanuel explained that the VSE network was created to support seed businesses after the project ends.











Conclusions and recommendations from our visit:

Business case

  • People are making money from stems; much of the business is around acquiring new varieties, especially TME 419, but also TMS 98/0581, and TMS 98/0505. Some farmers also buy stems from VSEs as they harvested their roots during the dry season to benefit from high market prices and so their own stems had all dried out.
  • The straight stem and tall plant make TME 419 stand out and be distinguished from other varieties. Straight stems are easier to make into bundles and transport.
  • The variety name “419”, which is a well-known penal code in Nigeria, also helps the name to resonate in people’s minds.
  • VSEs in all cases run a mixed operation of stem sales supplemented by root production, typically processed at home.

VSE model

  • A good market for the TME 419 has given the VSE model strength.
  • VSE support depends upon collaboration amongst local partners such as the ADP.
  • VSEs agreed that NASC certification was worthwhile because it gave them status and proof that they were authorized.
  • Many women are active as VSEs and are empowered to speak up, expressing their points of view in public meetings such as during our visit.

Business support

  • CRS and partners successfully support the VSE businesses and are appreciated by the VSEs. The demonstration plots are strategically located, well maintained and clearly labeled, with easy-to-read signs that list the varieties being tested and the planting date. Looking at the wide demand for TME 419, CRS has decided to increase its production and placed orders for more foundation seeds of the variety for future planting.


  • Consider options for improved marketing of varieties
    1. Catchy names for the varieties
    2. Opportunity to use the “419” name as it is well known in Nigeria (as the criminal code section against the advance fee fraud!) as a device for marketing e.g. creating a marketing slogan to be used in promotional campaigns such as “419 cheats yield”.
  • Adapt and update the IITA user manual of agronomic practices including recommendations for different varieties e.g. TME 419 which has tall stems and needs ridging and deep planting as otherwise it may be blown over.
  • Create widespread awareness amongst farmers about the economic benefits of using certified stems of improved varieties.

Written by Graham Thiele, Michael Friedmann, and Hemant Nitturkar.

From Knowledge to Income – Martha Lawrance is recognised as a leading sweetpotato vine multiplier

Martha shows her first-ever seed vines during a monitoring visit by CIP and ISRD Team. Photo credit Philemon Dong-Uuro

Martha Lawrance is a 49-year-old woman from the Chogsia, Wa West District of the Upper West Region in Ghana. She and her husband have four children with the youngest being under five years of age. Three years ago, Martha was introduced to orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) through women groups programs that worked with a local NGO, Innovations for Sustainable Rural Development (ISRD), on a supplementary feeding project targeting children under five largely due to high vitamin A deficiency levels in the region. Martha was among the early adopters of this root crop. She began by cultivating OFSP on a very small scale for roots to feed her children and today has graduated to be a reputable vine multiplier in the district.

At that time Martha’s main source of income was the cultivation and sale of soya beans. She knew little about the economic potential of OFSP and had not thought about cultivation on a large scale due to challenges with the storage of harvested roots and accessing of large quantities of vines in time for planting. However, when the International Potato Center (CIP) Triple-S Scaling project was introduced to her group in 2018, she saw an opportunity, especially because at that time, demand for OFSP roots was increasing. She attended trainings conducted by CIP together with ISRD during the women group meetings. Trainings were done using videos, flip charts and practical demonstrations that covered: harvesting, selecting and storing sweetpotato roots; storage in the sand for sprouting; producing quality sweetpotato vines, among other topics. As Martha was keen, she quickly grasped the methodology and went to try it in her home. Her enthusiasm during the trainings paid off as she was able to successfully expand her OFSP production to about a quarter of an acre, from a small kitchen garden, and even stood out as a champion farmer in the Wa West District. As a result, the District Directorate of Agriculture nominated her for the District Best OFSP Farmer, an award she received during the 2018 National Farmers Day celebration in Meteu.

In the first planting season of 2019, Martha was among the first decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs) to sprout her OFSP roots from Triple-S. She then multiplied vines rapidly, being careful to follow all the recommended agronomic practices she had learned.

Martha shows her first-ever seed vines during a monitoring visit by CIP and ISRD Team. Photo credit Philemon Dong-Uuro

“…I followed all that they taught us, and I must confess that it has yielded good results. I am even surprised at how the vines are growing” She emphasized as she took the CIP and ISRD team around her farm to see the progress.

In order to successfully multiply enough vines for sale and for her planting in her plot, Martha carefully planted out sprouted roots six weeks before the rains in a covered structure constructed using local materials. The cover was to protect the plants from high temperatures that would have otherwise dried them out. She then watered the plants every 2 days to ensure they had sufficient moisture for quick growth. Once the plants were ready for harvesting, Martha sold seed vines to her customers.

So far Martha has supplied planting materials to other women farmers in three communities, Chogsia, Solimbo and Gyinuokoraa, earning her GHC 3650 (USD 670). A total of 85 farmers have benefitted from Martha’s seed vines this season. Additionally, Martha now knows how to store her roots until she needs them for household consumption or sells them in the local market. Currently, she has increased her OFSP roots cultivation to half an acre.

“This year I am cultivating half an acre. I have planted some in the backyard and some are also on the other farm. I am not afraid of storage any longer. I know I can store using the sandpit method we were taught. I also tried the basin method, and it was good” she added.

“…now I am earning good money just selling vines at this time of the year when things used to be very hard for me. I should be able to support my husband to buy fertilizer for his maize farm while saving some money for other needs” Martha explained. Now Martha has a significant additional source of income, apart from what she gets from soya.

With women like Martha, farmers can readily access vines. The challenge of arranging the delivery of vines to coincide with rainy days is over for the other farmers as after a heavy downpour, they are able to walk over to Martha’s farm, buy some fresh vines and plant immediately.

Martha is hoping to harvest and store more roots at the end of the season. She plans to become the major supplier of seed vines to farmers in the Wa West District by the next season. She believes she can do it because her husband is very supportive, and has the support of ISRD staff if she faces any challenges.

The Triple S scaling project in Ghana is funded by the RTB scaling fund with additional support from the African Development Bank through the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) project. 

Written by Issahaq Suleman (CIP Triple-S Scaling Champion) and Dong-Uuro Philemon Puordeme (Director, Innovations for Sustainable Rural Development). Edited by Rosemary Kihiu

Guardians of the Native Potato: 5th Annual Assembly of AGUAPAN

Farmers setting up their stand. Each variety is uniquely adapted to a specific environment, and each one has its own flavor and uses. Photo credit Stefany Naranjo/CIP

Indigenous farmers from the central Peruvian Andes gathered in Paucará, Huancavelica for the 5th Annual Assembly of AGUAPAN (Association of Guardians of the Native Potato). AGUAPAN is a farmer-led association with members from five regions: Huánuco, Huancavelica, Junín, Pasco, and Lima. “Since the start of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, the International Potato Center (CIP) has gradually advanced the implementation of a hotspot-based, in-situ network for potato landraces in the crop’s center of origin” says Stef De Haan, who coordinates CIP’s Andean Initiative, a farmer association dedicated to conserving the biodiversity of native potatoes. 

On the first day of the annual assembly, the 47 members of AGUAPAN and their guests quickly took their seats, excited about the presentations and the news of new partnerships. They learned that a second potato seed company had agreed to partner with AGUAPAN to financially support the guardian families. This will allow more members to join the association as both seed companies (HZPC and AGRICO) are committed to supporting in-situ conservation through benefit sharing.  In addition, the McKnight Foundation will work with CIP and the NGO Grupo Yanapai in a new project to characterize the potato landraces kept by the custodians. The project will also support better marketing of native potatoes, so the public can get to know and love the richness of landraces from central Peru. Furthermore, the project will encourage young farmers to take part in safeguarding the living treasure they have inherited from their parents and grandparents.

Early on the morning of the second day, the group held a panel with farmers and other experts to discuss the challenges that smallholder farmers face while trying to maintain agrobiodiversity, including difficulties arising from climate change. But they were also proud of their success in maintaining diversity and how they were bringing new knowledge to manage an ancient crop. They talked about how to involve young people and they liked the idea of starting a mentorship program with local universities.

On the third day in Paucará, farmers in bright, traditional clothing set up their stands across the sunny town square. Custodian farmers showed off hundreds of potato landraces, of many shapes and colors, brought from their own fields across Peru’s many agro-ecosystems. While this is just a sample of the potato’s landraces, on that morning the plaza of Paucará held vastly more biological diversity than is found in the handful of commercial varieties grown in other parts of the world.

Farmers from Huancavelica. There is more genetic diversity in the potatoes at this gathering than in all the world’s commercial fields. Photo credit Stefany Naranjo/CIP

As visitors visited the stalls, the farmers could tell the story of each potato, with its unique traits, and special value. Some of these colored potatoes are rich in antioxidants that may help to prevent cancer and diseases related to aging. When farmers were asked which their favorite potato was, they couldn’t say.

“I don’t have a favorite potato,” said Marcelo Tiza, a potato guardian conserving more than 120 landraces in his fields. “It is like with your children, you love them all unconditionally and you do not prefer one over the other.”

This is the consensus of the guardians. Farmer Aurea Mendoza Capcha said, “All of the potatoes are my favorite, they each have a unique taste, so I don’t settle on just one. I enjoy seeing all of the distinct colors in the pot when I cook them.”

There is something to say about each landrace, and the guardians of the native potatoes are eager to share their stories. For these farmers to be able to continue, they need the support of stakeholders. AGUAPAN connects the guardians with other stakeholders to allow farmers to earn money by conserving crop diversity. AGUAPAN is helping its members access funds through benefit-sharing where some of the profits derived from using the landraces are shared with the farmers who preserve them. Hopefully, this will support the families that maintain the genetic diversity of potato in its center of biodiversity. AGUAPAN empowers farmers to do what they do best and helps them to overcome the challenges of erratic weather and increases in pests and disease. These custodian farmers will keep striving to protect the hundreds of unique landraces and pass their knowledge on to the next generation of farmers so that they too can conserve the potato’s genetic diversity which allows the crop to evolve and feed the world.

Written by Stefany Naranjo and edited by Stef De Haan and Bettina Heider.  

Making an Impact: 2018 Annual Report

We excited to share our 2018 Annual Report entitled ‘Making an Impact’. We invite you to explore the report website, where you can also download the PDF. We have also created a recap video this year.

In 2018 we saw the positive results of restructuring for Phase II of the CRPs. Our flagship projects provided more focus leading to outstanding science and setting us for better impact in the future. Our passion for great science, a coming together around key cross-cutting topics such as gender, scaling, seed systems, and breeding, and the commitment of our scientists and partners to achieving impact is inspiring.

RTB is recognized as a well-run CGIAR Research Program that adds value to the work of its collaborating centers and partners, contributing to the many successful outcomes and impacts described throughout this report.

Study sheds new light on roles of women and men on RTB farms

Husband and wife harvest potato. Photo credit J. Okonya/CIP

Results from a household survey of farmers in Rwanda and Burundi challenge our stereotypes about how women and men engage in growing roots, tubers and bananas. In male-headed households, decision-making and labor-provision were most of the time joint efforts by men and women, while in female-headed households, men made most of the decisions and supplied most of the labor.

“It is truly surprising,” said Joshua Okonya, lead author on the study. Okonya, a research associate with the International Potato Center (CIP) and CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) based in Kampala, Uganda, says that one of the key messages of the study is that gender is a complex subject that requires a deeper understanding of the community.

The survey looked at 811 farming households in two watersheds, Rusizi in Burundi and Ruhengiri in Rwanda. Each farmer grew at least two of four RTB crops; bananas and potatoes, primarily as cash crops to be sold at market, and sweetpotato and cassava as food crops to be eaten by the family. (Previous results from the survey looked at understanding farmers’ concerns in pest and disease management and the safer use of pesticides.)

Most of the households (80% in Burundi and 84% in Rwanda) were headed by men, usually a father or husband. In Rwanda, female-headed households had a combined on-farm and off-farm income less than half that of male-headed households. In Burundi, by contrast, female- and male-headed households had similar incomes. In general, lower farm incomes were observed where men participated less. This may be because men were able to earn more by working off the farm. Households with lower total income, especially those far from markets, showed increased joint decision-making.

Two factors may explain this, Okonya suggests. “Men can walk or ride a bike further than women, and when markets are far from home the women, who are in charge of most household chores and childcare, cannot spend long hours away from home.”

Woman in potato store selecting seed for planting. Photo credit J. Okonya/CIP

Whose crops?

Traditionally, cash crops are controlled by men while women control food crops, but the survey tried to uncover the details by asking who made the decisions about 10 different activities, from preparing the land to weeding and pest control, through to finally selling the crop. Separately, surveyors asked who actually carried out those activities.

For food crops and cash crops alike, men and women jointly took decisions and provided labor in almost half the male-headed households. Surprisingly, perhaps, in female-headed households men made most of the decisions and provided most of the labor. Fewer than one in five female-headed houses reported joint decision-making and labor. The proportion was slightly higher for cash crops (banana and potato, 17%) than for food crops (cassava and sweetpotato, 13%).

“Most female-headed households have an adult male around; an adult son, a father, a friend or a hired worker,” Okonya explains. “The female head consults and can delegate some duties to these men.”

Social norms rule

Social norms do still govern many activities. In Burundi, for example, girls are not permitted to prepare the land for bananas or plant bananas, because they do not own the land. Men show little interest in sweetpotato as a crop, because the roots are not usually sold. Violence is also a factor, with women telling the surveyors that they avoid asking men how they spent cash from crop sales.

This makes it imperative, the study says, for men to be continually sensitized and enlightened, to stop using violence against their wives and to increase the involvement of women in all aspects of farming. Where women do have their own plots, they decide what to grow and how to spend the proceeds, usually on school fees for their children and taking care of the home.

“Once men appreciate the role and significance of women making decisions and handling the cash from crop sales, then cultural norms as a gender-based constraint may gradually dissipate,” the study concludes.

Achieving equity

A surprise result is that women do not provide 60-80% of the agricultural labor, as was previously thought. At least for Burundi and Rwanda, this is simply a myth, for the four RTB crops in the study. It is not possible to say how much labor the women in this study do provide, because the researchers did not look at time budgets. However, even for weeding, the task to which women contribute the most, in only about 15% of households did women do all of the work.

“This finding absolutely changes the way we previously imagined women’s participation in banana production,” said Okonya. “The reason could be strong cultural norms, where girls are raised from childhood being told that banana is a man’s crop.”

The survey’s results will provide additional impetus for RTB research to deliver improved varieties that farmers like and that are resistant to various stresses. Work to improve links to markets and value chains will also continue. With specific regard to gender, Okonya sees a large contribution to future changes.

“Results will inform policymakers and development partners to design gender transformative approaches to women’s empowerment,” he said.

Traditional gender norms recognize men as the main decision-makers at household and community levels. That perception is already changing. According to this study, women and men perceive their contributions differently. Women tend to say that decisions are mostly made by men, while men say that decisions are mostly made jointly.

“This is a good thing,” Okonya said, “and shows that cultural norms can change and equity can be achieved.”

Scientists show which genetic loci is associated with bunch weight in highland banana

Scientists have, for the first time, located the position of major quantitative trait loci associated with bunch weight and its component traits in Matooke, the East African Highland cooking banana. This is an important breakthrough in efforts to speed up the breeding of improved high-yielding varieties for both food security and improved household incomes in the region.

Increasing banana bunch weight is a major objective in banana improvement since it determines yield. Little was known about the genetic factors regulating it.

Scientists, therefore, sought to understand the genetics underlying bunch weight and its component traits in banana. The components of bunch weight include several traits such as the number of hands and fruits, fruit length and circumference, and the diameter of both fruit and pulp.

Through a genome-wide association study (GWAS), researchers found that chromosome 3 was most associated with bunch weight in banana. This breakthrough has been published in a paper entitled “Association Genetics of Bunch Weight and its Component Traits in East African Highland Banana” in the Theoretical and Applied Genetics journal.

The team studied a banana population of 307 genotypes of the East African Highland banana in the IITA breeding program of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) under three different environmental conditions.

“The findings of the study will facilitate marker-assisted breeding which allows breeders to identify early in the breeding cycle hybrids with poor fruit-filling characteristics and hence low bunch weight, thus saving time and money,” says Rony Swennen, head of IITA’s banana breeding program and corresponding author of the paper.

Cooking banana is an important food and income crop for over 80 million people in the East African Great Lakes countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The study was carried out by a team of researchers at IITA in Tanzania and Uganda in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Plant Breeding, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; Institute of Experimental Botany, Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research from Czech Republic; and Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, Division of Crop Biotechnics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.

It was supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Regional Development Fund project, “Plants as a tool for sustainable global development” and contributions from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

The blog was first published on the IITA website

Scaling up the use of Orange Fleshed Puree for Baked and Fried Products

OFSP puree Photo credit: J.Maru/CIP

In late May the International Potato Centre (CIP) organized a stakeholder engagement and launch meeting in Nairobi, Kenya bringing together over 20 organizations involved in sweetpotato value chain in Kenya. The launch involved representatives at the national level from the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Ministry of Health and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). The new project titled “Scaling up the use of Orange Fleshed Puree for Baked and Fried Products” will be implemented in Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi. The stakeholders worked together on the modalities of creating synergy and layering, mapping them to who is doing what, where and possible linkages, a key ingredient that most projects overlook limiting the efforts to go to scale.

Speaking through the launch Tawanda Muzhingi, CIP regional food scientist explained the potential of orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) as a highly nutritious biofortified crop, that is short maturing (3-4 months), high yielding with low production costs which makes it a suitable to addresses vitamin A deficiency, food insecurity and  low incomes among households in rural sub-Saharan Africa. He explained that extensive scientific evidence had shown that OFSP when consumed regularly reduced vitamin A deficiency in women, young children and the whole family.

John Waithaka, the principal agriculture officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries emphasized the need for increased agro-processing which fits in in the government “Big 4” agenda for Kenya. He noted that increased investment in the OFSP puree processing and OFSP value chain by the private and public sectors in Kenya will create employment and income opportunities for men, women, and youth, which the government is committed to delivering.

Project launch Photo credit N.Ronoh/CIP

Previous efforts to reach both rural and urban dwellers and commercialize OFSP have been hindered by inconsistent production and seasonality. OFSP puree processing and utilization are avenues to address this challenge. It was revealed that technology advancements have led to the development of a vacuum-packaged OFSP puree that can be stored without refrigeration for 12 months, creating the potential for widespread use by bakeries and food vendors.

In the baking industry, it has been shown that OFSP puree can be used as a substitute for up to 30-50% of wheat flour in a range of baked or fried products, reducing production costs by 12% and increasing nutritional content. Some of the largest supermarkets in Kenya, Tuskys, and Naivas, who have baked and sold OFSP products have shown that they are widely accepted and liked by consumers.

Benjamin Kivuva, assistant director of agriculture from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Extension Organization (KALRO) questioned why there were so few investments and yet the technology is simple and products nutritious. “One of the things that limits small and medium investors to get into processing is standardization and food safety,” said Agnes Nzomo of the KEBS and assured the potential investors on the willingness of KEBS to support.

The low production costs of OFSP makes it an ideal crop for youth and women. The OFSP varieties are open access to public goods, so anyone can multiply seed without a license.  This means that people with limited money can get involved in vine multiplication, transportation as well as root aggregation. “Until people learn and get the knowledge of how to run a business, we will keep relying on donor funding and not growing our own business,” said Antonio Magnaghi, a food processing specialist. It was recognized that identifying entrepreneurial youth and linking them to business skills development will be a key entry point for this project.

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas funded CIP with a scaling grant to accelerate the use of OFSP puree in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.  The two-year (2019-2021) project targets both formal (processors) and informal (street vendors) sectors with OFSP puree as a major ingredient to reduce the use of wheat flour and to enrich products with vitamin A. 

Unlike previous efforts to promote the use of OFSP in Kenya, this initiative will employ the scaling readiness approach to identify and address bottlenecks along the OFSP value chain to enable it to go to scale. By addressing the bottlenecks such as farmer organization, seasonal production, limited extension service, food safety, access to credit among others, farmers will benefit from a ready market for their roots, and as a result, increasing incomes.

Increased OFSP root and puree production will lead to expanded markets, attracting investment, creating jobs and income opportunities along the value chain. Making OFSP enriched products more widely available and affordable will improve the nutrition of women and children.

The blog is written and photos provided by Rose Chesoli. 

More equitable crop improvement

Ensuring plant breeders can take women into account

M9 is the code name of a new banana variety developed for the smallholder banana farmers of Uganda, where banana is a very important staple. Yields can be 60% higher and, because the variety is resistant to pests and diseases, it does not need to be replanted as often. When it came to trials, however, men and women differed in their appraisal of M9. Men rejected it, largely because the bigger bunches failed to get a higher price at market. Women, however, who cook bananas every day for their families, appreciated the new variety’s food value. As a result, M9 was the only one of 18 new varieties to be released, women’s preferences being the deciding factor.

M9 is noteworthy precisely because women’s preferences do not often carry much weight. Plant breeders sometimes assess gender differences in attitudes to new varieties, but not in any great depth. Many would like to have the tools to carry out a more profound analysis, and a new approach from the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI) offers just that.

The implications of gender relations for modern approaches to crop improvement and plant breeding, by Jacqueline A. Ashby and Vivian Polar, is a chapter in “Gender, Agriculture and Agrarian Transformations,” a new book from Earthscan. In it, Ashby and Polar address a crucial step in the process of plant breeding and offer ways for plant breeders to ensure that the needs of women are fully taken into account.

Gender-based preferences

Polar is a Gender, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and GBI. She says that in the past, public-sector breeding, to benefit the poor, paid little attention to gender differences in deciding what traits to incorporate in new varieties. “That,” Polar says, “is changing.”

Driving the change, at least in part, is evidence gathered by a CGIAR research looking at gender-based trait preferences. That investigation found only 39 studies that document the preferences of women and men, or women only, for specific traits and offered reasons for the differences. While there are differences across crops and localities, some commonalities emerge.

In some cases, only women may, for example, value ease of threshing, or the storage life of the produce, or the time needed to cook it. In other cases, only men may talk about pest resistance or yield per hectare. Other traits can be mentioned by women and men alike, but there are still many that represent the preferences of either women or men.

A better measure of successful breeding

Plant breeding goes through several stages at which stringent selection is applied to ensure that only varieties likely to be successful pass to the next stage. Success, in this case, is judged by how closely the candidates match something breeders draw up called the Product Profile, a set of heritable traits that is biologically feasible and that will meet demand from a well-identified set of customers.

“That’s where we need breeders to consider women,” says Polar.

Women’s preferences often clearly reflect the work they do. Ease of threshing may be of little interest to men because when they are not responsible for threshing the harvest. But there are also important differences between different crops and places. In lowland rice production in West Africa, for example, women are responsible for weeding, and unsurprisingly prefer varieties that are better able to suppress weeds. With upland rice in Ghana, men do the weeding, and it is they who value weed suppression. Even this difference is not static, as men migrate for off-farm labor and women take on new tasks.

To cope with these complexities, which their chapter examines in detail, Ashby and Polar suggest a framework that breeders, working with social scientists, apply to each trait in the proposed Product Profile.

Do no harm

“The first objective is to minimize the risk of releasing a variety that could exacerbate existing gender inequities,” explains Ashby, who has worked in CGIAR senior management on the application of social and gender analysis to plant breeding, most recently as Senior Adviser for Gender in Research to the CGIAR System Office and to GBI. This she calls “do no harm” analysis. A second analysis asks whether a trait is uniquely advantageous to women, which could give that trait a higher positive rating. Of course, traits can be gender-neutral, with no general differential between women and men.

“A final product profile may end up with all gender-neutral traits,” says Ashby. “Gender screening should ensure that the profile has not overlooked the possibility of a harmful outcome for women. It also lets a breeding project discuss how important the traits beneficial for women should be in the final set of priorities.”

The sort of analysis proposed could help to avoid some of the problems that have beset recently released varieties. In Ethiopia, for example, women objected to modern short-strawed sorghum varieties because they lost income from the sale of the stalks as cooking fuel, while in East Africa women objected to productive maize varieties that had harder kernels, making grinding — women’s work — more time consuming and more difficult.

Sometimes, counterintuitively, women may prefer varieties that need more processing. In central Malawi, poorer women, unlike men, prefer bitter types of cassava, even though they need more post-harvest processing. Bitter cassava is less likely to be stolen.

“Niche traits,” such as specific qualities required for food processing, can be a real benefit for women by relieving their drudgery or giving them the chance to improve their income. Women in Nigeria, who process small amounts of cassava when they need extra income, prefer varieties that can be left in the ground until needed.

Closing the adoption gap

The framework for gender screening, set out in more detail in the book chapter, has been reviewed by breeders and social scientists from the Gender and Breeding Initiative. The analysis generated an informative discussion of gender implications of individual traits that will now inform breeding work in RTB and beyond.

Vivian Polar says “we know that women producers often have lower adoption rates of modern varieties than men, but plant breeding has had difficulty taking gender differences into account, in part because of the complexity of the picture. Gender screening makes it more likely that breeding will include important traits that are better aligned with women’s needs and priorities.”