Category Archives: News & Events

New case studies are powerful examples of gender-responsive plant and animal breeding

Adoption and impact of new crop varieties and animal breeds depend on the tangible benefits these provide for the women and men involved in their production, consumption, processing and marketing. It is therefore important for breeders to understand and respond to the needs, priorities, and constraints that women and men assign to crop and animal products along the entire value chain. What steps can be taken for a breeding program to be gender-responsive and to ensure that breeding products have more equitable outcomes?

Many breeding programs, both within and outside CGIAR, recognized long ago the need for crop and animal breeding programs to consider gender differences, and have understood that if they overlook traits important to women farmers and consumers, they will not only further disempower these women, but also can aggravate household food insecurity and poverty.

Tanzanian farmers with an improved bean variety. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

However, breeding programs still do not have practical methods and decision-support tools that can be used routinely and can indicate how to be more gender-responsive and to understand the changes and the implications in breeding schemes. In addition, without convincing evidence—exemplified by case studies across commodities and countries—our arguments for gender-responsive research are often disregarded and dismissed.

We thought there was a major knowledge gap. The gender and breeding working group of the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network took the challenge and organized a workshop on gender, breeding, and genomics, with the aim of contributing to reduce this gap. The event, held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 18–21 October 2016, brought together a diverse group of experts in breeding, genomics, and social sciences that stimulated an active exchange of ideas, reflecting different perspectives and experiences. In preparation for the workshop, the group made an open call of case studies that could present experiences of gender-responsive breeding.

The workshop concluded that the knowledge and experience exist; however, are scattered in different sectors and disciplines and needs to be connected by a multidisciplinary team effort. The CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI) was launched to pull together a strategy for gender-responsive breeding with supporting methods, tools, and practices by the same interdisciplinary group of breeders and social scientists who participated in the 2016 workshop and convened the “Innovation in Gender-Responsive Breeding” workshop, held in Nairobi on 5–7 October 2017.

This working document, entitled “State of the Knowledge for Gender in Breeding: Case Studies for Practitioners“, is part of a series of knowledge products designed to share the outputs from the 2017 workshop, and to share GBI’s collective knowledge more widely across CGIAR and partner breeding programs. The purpose of this case study synthesis is to identify illustrative cases of current approaches toward gender-responsive breeding programs and to highlight useful methods and lessons learned for practitioners.

By no means comprehensive, with these 10 cases we hope to emphasize the point that considering gender in breeding program design, working with women in the breeding process, and acting on these findings can have dramatic consequences on breeding programs.  We begin by setting the scene with a chapter reflecting on how taking gender into account matters for the success of plant or animal breeding programs with welfare or development goals and a focus on smallholders. The case studies are then organized around steps of a plant breeding cycle, examining cases that consider gender in setting breeding priorities, selection, testing experimental varieties, and seed production and distribution.

The cases cover a wide range of commodities: beans, cassava, forage grasses, poultry, maize, sorghum, matooke, barley, and groundnuts. Although the majority of cases focus on sub-Saharan Africa, we also present one case from China and one from Syria. These cases not only provide evidence that men and women have different trait preferences, access to resources, or opportunities to engage in production, processing, and marketing of diverse commodities; they also illustrate what was done by the breeding programs to address these issues. In beans, “cooking time” was recognized as a must-have trait, the breeding program changed by incorporating such a trait in the selection process; in maize new opportunities for seed production and sale were created for women; in matooke breeding programs participatory processing for food quality was added. These are only a few examples, but are powerful illustrations that documenting differences is not enough—the real focus should be on change.

A cassava farmer harvests her crop in Tanzania. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

Finally, we did not intend to have a compilation of case studies that could be representative of breeding programs in general. The cases were selected for their unique interest as examples of ongoing experience of considering gender in different stages of the breeding cycle. Therefore, we cannot generalize about practice from the case studies but can draw some suggestions for promising approaches and lessons learned.

We hope that these cases, together with the companion publications from GBI on design principles, gender and social targeting, breeding decisions, and uptake pathways, compel and challenge breeding programs to become truly gender-responsive.

We hope you will find the working paper helpful and a source of inspiration to design and implement a gender-responsive breeding program. We are aware that this compilation is far from being exhaustive and many more cases are out there.

Please share the document through your institute, colleagues and networks.

Read the original post on the GBI website by Stefania Grando, Honorary Fellow, ICRISAT, India and International Consultant

Vitamin A-rich bananas offer new hope to address micronutrient deficiency

Researchers in East Africa are introducing banana varieties from across the world to address severe vitamin A deficiency. Taste tests help to identify and fast track new varieties that consumers prefer.

Vitamin A deficiency is high in the East African countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and Kenya, ranging from 39% to 64%. Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections in children and it contributes to poor pregnancy outcomes among women, besides being the leading cause of preventable blindness in children.

In East Africa and the Great Lakes Region, bananas are an important part of the diet for over 100 million people who eat an average of 250 to 400 kg of bananas a year. Banana varieties grown in this region are generally low in vitamin A with 7 to 27 nmol g-1 dry weight, but some varieties from South Asia, West Africa and the Pacific have levels (as much as 220 nmol g-1). Vitamin A deficiency could be avoided by introducing these banana varieties that are naturally rich in the vitamin. This is particularly useful for banana, which is difficult to breed.

Bioversity International and partners screened over 400 varieties of bananas and found a number that were rich in vitamin A. But healthy food is of little value if people will not eat it. So, researchers from Bioversity International and partners did taste tests (organoleptic, or sensory tests) at eight locations in Burundi and in North Kivu and South Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The study compared eight introduced varieties (five for cooking and three dessert varieties) with 10 varieties grown locally (six cooking and four dessert types). 

Continue reading the story in the RTB 2017 Annual Report: From science to scaling

Assessing progress towards sustainable intensification

Sustainability might well be the biggest buzz word of our era. The term is fancied, used, misused, framed and distorted by scientists, the private sector, donors and policy makers alike. In the last decade or so, the concept of ‘sustainable intensification’ (SI) has gained momentum and has been put forward as a promising way to address food security and environmental security for a growing world population. However, the meaning and applicability of this popular concept are subject to fierce debate.

I was therefore excited when my thesis supervisor at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) offered me the opportunity to go to Uganda to explore and test a novel way of assessing technologies in the light of SI answering questions such as “What is sustainable intensification?” “How can we assess it?” And “how can we use this knowledge to develop and target suitable technologies?” I was collaborating with scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) in cross-cutting cluster 5.2 on ‘Sustainable Intensification and diversification’ under the program’s Flagship Project 5 on ‘Improved livelihoods at scale’.  Within this cluster the desire for a more inclusive interpretation of SI emerged; one which not only considers productivity and the environmental domain but also the economic, the social, and the human health domain.

The author speaks with a farmer as part of research to assess the impact of a management package to control Banana Xanthomonas Wilt disease in Uganda.

In order to operationalize this, we selected relevant indicators from the SI framework from Musumba et al (2014).  This framework takes a (new) technology as point of departure and then assesses, using specific indicators for each domain, how this technology will deliver (or not) over the different domains making up sustainable intensification.

In order to test the framework, we applied it to the control of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) disease in Uganda and I was soon on my way to collect data for this purpose.

Field work

The case study I conducted revolved around assessing the impact of a management package to control BXW disease. The package involves removing infected banana plants using an effective approach called single diseased stem removal (SDSR), in combination with the early removal of male buds to prevent insects from infecting plants with the bacteria, and sterilizing farm tools after contact with diseased plants.

To this end, I used the SI framework to select relevant indicators in each of the five SI domains to assess the impact of the package (the technology). I designed a survey and a small-scale visual bio-physical assessment to collect information on each of these indicators. In addition, we organized four focus group discussions to discuss and verify the findings. The study was conducted in Central and South-west Uganda.   

Focus group discussions were used to discuss and verify the data collected.

Lessons learned

Operationalizing SI, considering the five domains (productivity, environment, economic, social and human health), proved to be useful because it reveals a series of consequences and implications that give a superior insight into what (positive and negative) impacts can be expected over all these areas. These insights enable scientists and end-users to detect trade-offs and can support decision-making on whether or not to invest in a certain technology or not.   

For instance, indicators in the human health domain showed that although the food security of households was generally high, food produced on farm was generallly low in essential micronutrients like iron, zinc, proteins and vitamin A. These kinds of insights allow for the identification of suitable entry points for interventions, in this case the nutritional quality of the food produced, rather than the quantity. This example illustrates the greatest strength of the framework: it enforces taking evaluations of interventions further than just agronomy, thus stimulating interdisciplinarity and revealing insights that might otherwise be overlooked.

There are also some challenges in using the framework. The assessment is data-hungry; for every domain a set of indicators needs to be selected, each requiring data. The kind of data needed varies widely and can be very site-specific, time-consuming and expensive to collect. For instance, the environmental domain requires specific soil, water and/or biodiversity data. Indicators for productivity and the environment tend to be well-defined, with strong sets of metrics and established tools or procedures for data-collection. For other domains however, especially the social domain, this is much less the case. In order to improve the framework, it is essential to collaborate with social scientists. This is especially important since most of the constraints hampering successful implementation of interventions are not solely agronomic, but often socio-economic or cultural in nature.

The case study on BXW control packages in Uganda showed that the framework serves well to assess a farming system in terms of SI, but that it is more difficult to assess the impact of specific SI interventions. This is mainly due to multiple confounding factors that influence the indicators, besides the intervention (the BXW package). In other words, it would be incorrect to conclude that differences shown in radar charts occur as a result of an intervention, unless a causal effect from the intervention on the indicator is proven and the reference point of the system at which the intervention is implemented is well established.

Despite this difficulty, the framework provides a much-needed tool to consider ex ante how interventions “may have direct and indirect effects outside the primary focus” of a project, whether they are positive or negative (Musumba et al., 207, pp. 14). As such, the framework is helpful for designing research on tailoring interventions and assessing the potential impact.

Way forward

Based on the lessons learned, recommendations for future studies carrying out SI assessments can be boiled down to the following four recommendations:

  • On-farm monitoring and yield measurements should be combined with household surveys and focus group discussions. Ideally, the study design should be longitudinal to track differences in time.
  • Identify confounding factors influencing the selected indicators and account for these factors in the study design and analysis.
  • Test whether differences shown in radar charts are caused by the intervention of interest, and whether these differences are significant.
  • Strengthen collaboration with social scientists to further develop and strengthen the social domain.

I am grateful to Anne Rietveld, Katrien Descheemaeker and Godfrey Taulya for their input and feedback on this blog. I also thank the RTB cluster 5.2 team for their support during my thesis and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for hosting me.

Article contributed by Harmen den Barber, Research Assistant, Plant Production System Group, WUR

DNA fingerprinting shows high adoption of improved cassava varieties in Nigeria

DNA fingerprinting has improved the accuracy of adoption studies and revealed that 66% of surveyed cassava farmers in Nigeria are cultivating improved varieties.

Improved cassava varieties can boost yields, helping rural African farm families to become food secure and overcome poverty. A study published in 2017 by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and partners, with support from RTB, suggests that the adoption of improved cassava varieties is higher than was previously thought. DNA-fingerprinting of cassava leaves revealed that about 66% of surveyed Nigerian cassava growers have adopted improved varieties. Extrapolating these results suggests that around 3.1 million households nation-wide grow the new cassava varieties.

Since the early 1970s, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has been breeding cassava varieties with resistance to major diseases such as cassava mosaic virus disease (CMD) and cassava bacterial blight (CBB). IITA and partners have developed and released more than 46 high-yielding, disease-resistant cassava varieties, working with the National Root Crop Research Institute of Nigeria (NRCRI), state governments and multiple agencies and projects to promote uptake.

Continue reading the story in the RTB 2017 Annual Report: From science to scaling

Genetic markers identify the sex of yams and accelerate breeding

Researchers have identified the genetic markers that distinguish the sex of yam plants, saving time and resources for future breeding efforts.

White Guinea yam (Dioscorea rotundata) is native to West Africa, where it has been a food security crop for centuries. As Africa is rapidly urbanizing, yams are now being grown commercially. This labor-intensive crop provides a source of rural employment. The large tubers are traded in open air, city markets and are increasingly sold as prepared food, such as ‘pounded yam’ in popular, moderately-priced restaurants.

However, productive yam cultivation is constrained by various pests and diseases and by the lack of improved varieties. Yam has been an orphan crop with progress in breeding limited by a lack of genetic and genomic tools. This may be about to change. For the first time, researchers have sequenced the genome of the white Guinea yam, the most important food yam in West Africa. Using the sequence information, and characterizing lines segregating for different traits, the team identified genetic markers, including those for the sex of the yam, which has male and female flowers on separate plants. The markers will allow plant breeders to separate male from female plants at the seedling stage, greatly improving the efficiency of planning and carrying out crosses in breeding programs.

Continue reading the story in the RTB 2017 Annual Report: From science to scaling. 

An agri-food revolution for tropical root and tuber crops

“When, where and how will tropical root and tuber crops lead to the next agri-food revolution?” More than 200 participants have gathered in Cali, Colombia, this week for the 18th Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC), to share research and experiences under the theme of this guiding question.

The event kicked off today, Monday 22 October, at the headquarters of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and brings together some of the world’s foremost experts on root and tuber crops, including cassava, potato, sweetpotato and yam.

Group photo of participants from the first day of the ISTRC meeting. Photo: CIAT

Over the span of the four-day conference, participants will identify opportunities for new research and collaboration, propose strategies that can strengthen public-private partnerships and suggest areas of intervention for more favourable policies. The event brings together four out of five implementing centers of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) – the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), and CIAT, along with numerous other program partners.

The event was opened by Ruben Echeverria, the Director General of CIAT, who invited participants to take advantage of the gathering and contribute to “the great future of these crops, which feed around 20% of the world’s population.”

The ISTRC president, Keith Tomlins, also welcomed delegates to the event by painting a picture of the world 50 years ago when the Society was first founded in Trinidad; man had not yet landed on the moon and Chairman Mao was the leader of China. “What contributions have root and tuber crops made in those last 50 years?” he asked. Thanks to progress in breeding and understanding of genetics “…we now have varieties with higher yields and we can combat pests and diseases. The savings here, through increase increased yield and pest and disease resistance, must amount into the billions of dollars,” he said. Tomlins also highlighted the shift in thinking around the nutritional value of the crops and the great strides made in biofortification, which will feature as a session topic during the event.

Day one featured a session on scaling, with an opening presentation by RTB’s Flagship Project 5 leader, Marc Schut, who introduced the program’s approach to scaling. “What we are trying to do under RTB is scaling ‘the new way’,” he said. “That means we start thinking about scaling before we start writing the project proposal and before we start doing the work. This ensures that we have skilled people in the project team from the outset who know how to do the scaling – scientists who understand the research, those who understand the business and the people who understand the policy,” he explained.

The ‘Scaling Readiness Approach’ used by RTB treats innovation as a flexible package of technological, organizational and institutional components that may include crop varieties, equipment, management practices, legislation and marketing. An innovation may be ready in a technical sense, for example a new crop variety may thrive in the local environment, but if farmers lack funds to buy seed or if the policy environment discourages the uptake of new varieties, it may not be adopted. This approach assesses the potential of technologies and other innovations supported by RTB to be used at scale, and guides researchers and other stakeholders in implementing these innovations in practical contexts.

The importance of considering gender for creating scalable technologies was also discussed in a presentation by CIP social scientist, Nozomi Kawarazuka, who emphasized the importance of understanding the differing needs and interests of women and men when developing agricultural machinery. Her presentation unpacked examples from case studies conducted under the GENNOVATE project, including sweetpotato silage chopping machines in Uganda and potato grading equipment in Bolivia. Adjustment was needed to make these machines more suitable for women farmers due to their body size, physical strength and limited experiences of using the equipment.

Modifying machinery to meet women’s needs is often undervalued in the process of development and introduction, but it is a very important factor to increase adoption. Based on findings from the case studies, RTB developed a set of guidelines to support project leaders, researchers and development workers to ensure that gender is adequately addressed in research design and interventions in agricultural machineries.

RTB Director, Graham Thiele, together with Kawarazuka – who is also a trained chef – delivered a compelling presentation later in the day on the power of ‘culinary innovation’ to both transform the perceptions of roots and tubers, and support scaling by creating demand. Their session introduced the Participatory Market Chain Approach used by CIP to develop a market for native potato varieties in Peru, where a thriving gastronomic scene has played a role in its sustained success. Other examples were also described, including a growing export market for cassava liquor in Cambodia.

RTB scientists will continue to present research throughout the event, on topics ranging from next-generation breeding, management and monitoring of pests and diseases, seed systems, and more.

Following the conclusion of the event, RTB will host the program’s 2018 Annual Meeting onsite at the CIAT campus on Friday 26 October. The meeting will provide an opportunity to review progress across RTB’s five flagship projects and to plan for the coming year.

Watch a livestream of the ISTRC event here:
Join the conversation and follow live updates on Twitter using: #ISTRC2018

Applying the science of scaling

A new RTB initiative is applying the science of scaling to accelerate promising agricultural technologies, showing researchers how to reach more farmers, much sooner.

Scaling up agricultural innovations is one of the biggest challenges facing research and development organizations. Projects have often tried to scale technologies at the end of the intervention, in an ad hoc way such as by giving flyers to farmers, or briefs to policy makers. However, the successful scaling of a new technology depends largely on the enabling environment and needs to be considered from the outset.

The Scaling Readiness Approach treats innovation as a flexible package of technological, organizational and institutional components that may include crop varieties, equipment, management practices, legislation and marketing. An innovation may be ready in a technical sense, for example a new crop variety may thrive in the local environment, but if farmers lack funds to buy seed or if the policy environment discourages the uptake of new varieties, it may not be adopted. This approach assesses the potential of technologies and other innovations supported by RTB to be used at scale, and guides researchers and other stakeholders in implementing these innovations in practical contexts.

Continue reading the story in the RTB 2017 Annual Report: From science to scaling

Gender mainstreaming in value chain development triggers women’s empowerment in Uganda

A gender focus introduced in value chain development in Uganda has allowed women and men to start new seed businesses, to train other farmers, and to share planting material of varieties that consumers want.

Banana is a major staple in Uganda. However, traders and other value chain actors face post-harvest loses that limit their incomes. The ‘Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their post-harvest losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) project implemented the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) with a gender lens to address this concern.

Jointly facilitated by Bioversity International and the International Potato Center (CIP), the PMCA began with a gendered value chain study to identify the needs of banana value chain actors and new market opportunities specifically considering post-harvest losses. This identified the short shelf-life of most cooking banana cultivars and the mismatch between the varieties grown by farmers and those demanded by consumers. Other challenges included low production of the market-preferred varieties due to a lack of access to clean and affordable planting materials, and limited linkages between farmers and major market outlets. Male and female value chain actors also highlighted these challenges in the first stakeholders’ meeting held as part of the PMCA.

Continue reading the story in the RTB 2017 Annual Report: From science to scaling. 

From science to scaling: 2017 Annual Report

We are pleased to share the 2017 Annual Report from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, entitled ‘From science to scaling’. We invite you the explore the report as an interactive website where you can also download the PDF.

2017 was a notable year for our program. It marked the start-up of Phase II, where we significantly accelerated the scaling of the diverse set of innovations developed since the program’s inception in 2012. This is supported by our Flagship Project 5, which is facilitating the design and implementation of strategies for scaling innovations to achieve the greatest possible impact.

One of the mechanisms created for this is the RTB Scaling Fund, which in 2017 awarded its first grants to three teams of scientist working on bringing to scale: 1) an approach, known as single diseased-stem removal, for controlling the disease banana Xanthomonas wilt; 2) a method for conserving sweetpotato roots to produce planting material, known as Triple S; and 3) a technology for turning cassava peels into an ingredient of animal feed.

Likewise, we have seen the impact that the breeding of improved root, tuber and banana varieties – a core part of our program since its onset – has had through RTB-supported adoption studies. The report explores the adoption of improved potato and cassava varieties.

In 2017, we launched the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative. The Initiative brought together plant and animal breeders and social scientists to develop a strategy for gender-responsive breeding with supporting methods, tools and practices. This includes a practical guide to help plant and animal breeding programs become more gender-responsive.

Learn more about our achievements and successes in 2017 in the report.

Read the 2017 Annual Report

Scientists’ breakthrough brings hope for banana resistance breeding to deadly bacterial wilt disease

A team, led by scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), have announced a breakthrough in the search for banana varieties that are resistant to the lethal bacterial banana wilt disease. This debunks the notion that all banana varieties are susceptible to the disease and opens the possibility of breeding resistant varieties.  

The disease, which causes premature ripening and rotting of the fruits, wilting, and eventually death of the plant, has drastically affected the highland cooking banana production in East and Central Africa (ECA) and the food and income of millions of farmers.

Symptom development for representative accessions for different reaction types at 35 days postinoculation. The varieties are Musa balbisiana (resistant), Pelipita (tolerant), Ilayi Red (moderately susceptible) and Pitu (highly susceptible).

Until now, the scientific world believed that all banana varieties in the region, except for a wild-seeded banana called Musa balbisiana, were susceptible to the disease, which originated from Ethiopia and has now invaded all banana growing areas in the highlands of eastern and central Africa.

The discovery by the team led by Prof Rony Swennen, Head of banana breeding; Dr George Mahuku, Senior Plant Pathologist for Eastern, Southern and Central Africa; and Dr Valentine Nakato, Plant Pathologist, was reported in the Plant Pathology ( journal.

The disease is caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum bacteria and its symptoms include yellowing and wilting of leaves, a cream to pale yellow bacteria-laden oozing when the plant is cut, shriveling of the male bud, premature ripening, internal discoloration of fruits, and finally death of infected plants. Transmission is fast and mainly through contaminated tools, insect vectors, and planting material. Therefore, major investments by national programs, donors, and scientists have been geared towards rigorous monitoring of banana fields, removal of diseased plants, and decontaminating farm tools.

“This discovery is very important for the millions of smallholder banana farmers in the region as one of the most effective ways to control any disease is by developing resistant varieties,” says Nakato, based in IITA, Uganda.

Bananas are an indispensable part of life in the region providing up to one-fifth of the total calorie consumption per capita. The average daily per capita energy from banana consumption in ECA is 147 kcal: 15 times the global average and six times the African average. The region has over 50% of its permanent cropped area under banana; this is around half of the total area under banana cultivation across Africa. ECA countries (Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) produce annually 21 million tons of banana with a value of USD4.3 billion.

The team systematically screened the entire banana collection at IITA, Uganda, and identified 13 other sources of resistance next to M. balbisiana.  Most importantly, Nakato identified several diploids derived from Musa acuminata—another wild banana—and which are already part of the existing highland breeding program of IITA and NARO (National Agricultural Research Organisation, Uganda).

“The findings of this study are very significant for the banana breeding community and we will redouble our efforts in developing banana varieties with resistance to the disease,” says Swennen.

IITA and NARO have developed superior high-yielding matoke hybrids dubbed NARITA and now those NARITA, which were developed with the resistant banana varieties, will be screened for bacterial wilt resistance and become part of future breeding schemes to develop bacterial wilt resistant matoke varieties.

Other partners in the study included the University of Pretoria, South Africa and Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research, Institute of Experimental Botany, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. This research was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. 


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