Category Archives: News & Events

Award announced for best scientific paper on sweetpotato

For a second year, the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) has announced an award to recognize the best scientific paper published in 2017 on sweetpotato.

Through a generous endowment established by Dr. Jan W. Low, a principle scientist at the International Potato Center (CIP) and a 2016 World Food Prize Laureate, a prize of US$500 will be presented to the publication’s lead author. The award is intended to be split among the co-authors.

A farmer in Kenya with large orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes. The crop is rich in Vitamin A. Photo: H.Rutherford/CIP

The main criteria to assess submissions will be the originality, degree of innovation and potential impact of the research being published. Other factors are impact factor of the journal, age of the lead author (to encourage young scientists to publish), number of readings as assessed through Research Gate, number of downloads as assessed through Research Gate, number of citations as assessed through Research Gate, and collaboration with other institutions, assessed through the number of coauthors from different National Research Systems or Advanced Research Institutions. 

The competition is open to all individuals who work under the umbrella of the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI). This includes staff from national agricultural research institutes, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners who work on sweetpotato, as well as staff from CGIAR Centers and Research Programs.

To enter, please submit a PDF file of your paper by email to the chair of the committee, Dr. Hugo Campos, at and a cover letter stating the official citation of where the article was published, and the name, age, sex, position, institution, mailing address, email address and contact phone number of each co-author.  If the award is not to be split equally among the co-authors, the percentage going to each (based on contribution) should be specified. 

The deadline to receive applications is 30 July, 2018, with the winner scheduled to be announced during the annual SPHI meeting, to be held 24 – 27 September, 2018.


Excellence and Innovation in Sweetpotato: Communication for Change Award

The Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative has announced that the ‘Excellence and Innovation in Sweetpotato: Communication for Change Award’ will take place for a second year in 2018.

The annual award was established last year with a generous endowment from Dr. Jan Low, a principle scientist at the International Potato Center and a recipient of the World Food Prize in 2016, to recognize the best sweetpotato communication product. 

This year the prize will be awarded for the best communication product related to sweetpotato that was produced in 2017 (January-December), with the winner to receive an award of US$500. The award will be presented to the lead publisher and is intended to be split among the co-publishers.

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato is rich in Vitamin A which is essential for young bodies, improving their vision and protecting them from illness. Photo: H.Rutherford/CIP

The main criteria to assess submissions will be: originality, quality, appropriateness for key audiences, and the results of the communications product and/or its contribution towards the impact of your organization, program or project. The competition is open to all individuals who work under the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) umbrella. This includes staff from national agricultural research institutes, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners who work on sweetpotato, as well as staff from CGIAR Centers and Research Programs.

The deadline to receive applications is 15 August, 2018. The winner will be announced during the SPHI annual meeting, to be held 24-27 September 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya.

SPHI is a multi-partner, multi-donor initiative that seeks to reduce child malnutrition and improve smallholder incomes in 10 million African families by 2020 through the effective production and expanded use of sweetpotato.

More information including eligibility requirements, judging criteria and entry forms can be found here on the SPHI website.


Scientists meet to tackle challenges facing root, tuber and banana seed systems

Have you ever wondered what the potatoes, cassava, bananas and sweetpotatoes you eat are grown from? While they are still called ‘seed’, they take the form of suckers, roots and tubers. This kind of planting material comes with quite a unique and complex set of challenges, in part stemming from their bulky and perishable form, and vulnerability to passing disease from the parent to progeny plant. So how, and under which conditions, do farmers get the quality seed needed to produce our food? The answer to this question is in turn complex and requires a collective interdisciplinary effort.

For this reason, researchers from around the world came together in late March, 2018, in Nairobi, Kenya. The group of researchers met with the goal of discussing a toolbox to study root, tuber and banana seed systems, learn from them, and design better seed interventions, all with the goal of ensuring that quality seed is made available to farmers and gets into the food production chain.

An orange-fleshed sweetpotato seed multiplier on his farm in Uganda. Root, tuber and banana planting material has a unique and complex set of challenges. Photo: V.Atakos/CIP

On the first day of the meeting, 13 tools developed by this group of scientists, were presented to and discussed by the participants. Some of these tools such as the multi-stakeholder framework for intervening in root, tubers and bananas seed systems tracing, and seed tracing are helpful in the study of the social characteristics of farmers, while others focus more on the biological characteristics of the seed system (seed degeneration models and performance mapping). Several projects carried out Ecuador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Vietnam presented their progress regarding the validation of these tools.

At the end of a busy and informative first day, the participants were divided into two teams as the next day involved learning journey visits to two important institutions contributing significantly in the production of quality seed in Kenya. These are the ‘Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service’ (KEPHIS) and ‘Genetic Technologies International Ltd’ (GTIL).

Early the next morning participants traveled to either KEPHIS or GTIL and had guided visits facilitated by staff at the two institutions. They toured the laboratories and screenhouse facilities and asked questions about the role of these institutions in the Kenyan sweetpotato, potato, cassava and banana seed systems. After the visits, the teams reconvened at the meeting venue and shared their experiences.

A group photo of workshop participants from Bioversity, CIAT, CIP, IITA, University of Florida and WUR. Photo: F. Njunge/CIP

The third day had a lot of fruitful discussions that ranged from a recap of experiences, new projects and even new tools. The recap was helpful to assess the lessons from the previous days and identify emerging research questions and gaps in the development of the tools. Four new projects were introduced to the participants. Two related to gender issues and seed systems, the third to understanding seed systems in Haiti, and the fourth focused on seed systems and markets (presentations can be found here). After these presentations, three new tools aiming to track seed, map the seed flow and track the costs of seed production were introduced and discussed.

On the last day, there was space for further discussions about the different tools. The teams involved in the validation discussed the limitations of each tool and how to use them in comparing the different crops. Dr. Karen Garret, an eminent professor from the University of Florida facilitated this session. The comparison between the different crops was one of the main concerns for the participants. As the workshop drew to a close, participants spent an hour and a half discussing communications and knowledge management (KM) for the team. The facilitator of the session, Rosemary Kihiu a communications and KM specialist for the International Potato Center (CIP), guided the team through a session on identifying successes in the team’s communications and KM activities, existing gaps and how best to address them.

“The meeting in 2018 was for me the best effort yet to solidify activities around the seed systems backbone and to reveal challenges that occur across crops and across production systems,” Aman Omondi, an Associate Scientist with Bioversity International in Benin summarized his experience of the four days at the workshop. He is hopeful that in the near future similar workshops will continue to refine the group’s glossary of tools and approaches, and hopefully enable more cross-crop tools to emerge. No doubt the seed systems team has this goal on their agenda and continues to make progress towards standardized tools.

This meeting was convened as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Flagship project 2 on ‘Adapted productive varieties and quality seed‘. The flagship aims to make available good-quality planting materials of a diverse set of high-yielding root, tuber and banana varieties that are adapted to the needs and preferences of different stakeholders in the value chain.

Blog contributed by Israel Navarette, PhD student, CIP Ecuador, with editing by Rosemary Kihiu.

15 Peruvian university students to attend World Potato Congress with RTB and CIP scholarship

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), together with the International Potato Center (CIP), is delighted to announce the selection of 15 promising agricultural science students who have been awarded a scholarship to attend the upcoming 10th World Potato Congress in Cusco, Peru from 27 – 31 May 2018.

The scholarship, co-funded by CIP and RTB, was awarded to students from public universities including in Lima, Cusco, Ayacucho, Chiclayo and Piura following a competitive process.

The award is part of their efforts to support Peruvian national institutions and the future of youth in agriculture.

“RTB is thrilled to support this unique opportunity for 15 agricultural science students, who through their participation in the event will gain valuable experience and insights into the challenges and opportunities for potato farming, research and business – not just in Peru but globally,” says Graham Thiele, RTB Director.

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.

Scholarship recipients:

  • Olga Paula Tiburcio, Ames Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Ciencia de los Alimentos
  • Chiara Maccera Nuñez, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Agronomia
  • Angie Sibel Trujillo Zambrano, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Agronomía
  • Carmen Cecilia Silva Diaz, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Biología
  • Tania Priscilla Rojas Estrella, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Agronomía
  • Claudia Fiorella Ortega Morales, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Agronomía
  • Wilmer Jose Duran Chero, Universidad Nacional de Piura Ingenieria, Agronoma
  • Lesly Dayana Alarcón Rodríguez, Universidad Nacional del Centro del Perú, Agronomía
  • Mirian Yanina Correa Meléndrez, Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruíz Gallo, Biología
  • Joel Arone Diaz, Universidad Nacional de San Cristobal de Huamanga, Agronomía
  • Katherine Quispe Huaypar, Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Ciencias Biologicas
  • Franklin Ccayca Ccama, Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Agronomía
  • Maite Ainara Oxa Condori, Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Agronomia
  • Maday Alvarez Gonzales, Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Agronomía
  • Henrry Quispe Canahuiri, Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Agronomía

Planning workshop prepares researchers to scale out agricultural innovations

Representatives of three teams whose proposals were successfully awarded funds from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Scaling Fund, along with program leadership and technical experts in scaling, came together in Nairobi, Kenya, in March. The aim of the workshop was to equip the teams with the tools and knowledge needed to plan and implement strategies to take their innovations to scale. Participants left the workshop challenged with new ideas, new ways of addressing challenges to their scaling projects and a better understanding of how to scale up their technologies with the support of the tools provided.

“I want to learn how we can make scaling work responsibly, taking on a systems perspective,” Graham Thiele, RTB Director, responded when asked about his expectations of the meeting. The other participants also agreed that overall, they wanted to learn how to make scaling work and work well.

Participants during the workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: R.Kihiu/CIP

For the program’s second phase, RTB established a Scaling Fund as a mechanism to foster the scaling of the most promising RTB innovations, generate an evidence base around the scalability of these innovations and improve scaling strategies, approaches and tools. Three promising technologies were awarded grants following a competition selection process: 1) an approach for controlling the banana disease BXW known as single diseased-stem removal (SDSR); 2) a method for conserving sweet potato roots to produce planting material known as Triple S; and 3) a technology for turning cassava peels into an ingredient of animal feed.

During the workshop, Theory of Scaling experts Seerp Wigboldus (Wageningen University & Research) and Murat Sartas (Wageningen University and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture), introduced the participants to the theory of scaling and the tools that support successful scaling up of projects with special focus on the Scaling Readiness tool. Participants worked in groups to identify their project core components and secondary components; assessing their readiness as well as identifying components that may cause challenges in achieving scaling and how to best address them.

At the end of each group work session, a representative of the team presented the group’s discussions to the plenary. Each presentation benefited from rich debate, comments and suggestions.

Below are some thoughts from the participants on their take-aways from the workshop.

Broadening BXW scaling in East and Central Africa project
Boudy van Schagen, Bioversity International
“We find scaling readiness an excellent approach for structuring and making explicit the important elements in bringing a technology to scale. During an August 2017 workshop we had identified two ‘soft’ innovation components that we had classified as complementary innovation components. The two components were related to capacity building of next- and end-users. Reviewing these as a team at this workshop, we realized the necessity of upgrading these to ‘core’ innovations. We had become aware that for scaling to take place it is not possible to separate our technological innovation from relevant social, political, financial and institutional dimensions.”

Cassava peel transformation team on scaling readiness:
Iheanacho Okike, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
“The scaling readiness tool is certainly a useful one.  In unpacking technologies, it enables deep reflections, teasing out and sequencing the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ components of the technology and envisaging roles and responsibilities of potential partners by disciplinary advantage.  In further examining components for scaling readiness and indicating critically constrained ones which could be addressed through substitution, out-sourcing, improvement, relocation or change of goal, the tool further broadens partnership scoping and thought process.” 

Triple S Plus:
Margaret McEwan and team, International Potato Center
Germame Garuma (BoANRD, Ethiopia):
I have now understood that ‘scaling’ is not just about one issue such as the technology or training; it is a package. This includes policy elements, infrastructure (power, ITC) and markets. This means we need to involve other departments, ministries and sectors at the regional level, e.g. Cooperative Management, Trade and Industry.”

Sam Namanda (CIP-Uganda – technical backstopping)
“My thinking has changed. As we worked on the readiness and use tool, it helped us think through our approach to orientate different partners and their roles. However good the technology is, unless we identify the right partners we may not succeed.”

Margaret McEwan (CIP-SSA project lead):
“Systematically unpacking Triple S helped to surface implicit assumptions and started to build a stronger mutual understanding of what the technology was in different country contexts. We worked through the readiness scale and use scale, and this showed us what was the weakest link – which was different for each country.”

Tom van Mourik (CIP Ghana – using video as an extension tool):
“Unpacking and assessing readiness led to two additional innovations: i) what kind of dissemination strategy or delivery channel was required for the videos; ii) adapting our dissemination approach to the structure and approach that scaling partners were already using.”

The next step in this process of scaling is a kick-off planning workshop in country for each project team and their partners using the tools and knowledge acquired from the workshop, to hit the ground running. With the relatively short project timeline of the Scaling Fund, 2 years, it is imperative that the technologies are rolled out effectively and quickly for maximum impact.

Clean seed systems for roots, tubers and bananas: What can Tanzania learn from the US?

Kwame Ogero of the International Potato Center takes an in-depth look at the National Clean Plant Network for Sweetpotato in the United States, drawing lessons for Tanzania, where sweetpotato is a major source of food and income.

Seed is one of the most important farm inputs. A farmer’s harvest depends a lot on the quality of seed planted.  Whereas grain crops are propagated through true-to-type seed which is easily conserved, root, tuber and banana crops are propagated through bulky and highly-perishable vegetative parts. The ‘superior’ characteristics of grain crops have attracted huge private sector investments. This is not the case for RTB crops such as sweetpotato, potato, cassava and bananas.  However, developed nations such as the US have invested significantly towards the improvement of vegetatively propagated crops.

Early this year, I got a chance to visit and share experiences with stakeholders involved in sweetpotato seed systems in the US. This was through a nine-week placement at Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter) made possible through the CGIAR-Norman Borlaug Fellowship supported by the United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS). My activities included studying the role of sweetpotato foundation seed programs in maintaining the integrity of commercial seed stocks by providing virus-tested (VT) foundation seed to commercial producers.

Working at LSU AgCenter under the supervision of Dr. Christopher Clark and Dr. Arthur Villordon, I learnt how virus-tested foundation seed is produced and disseminated to farmers through the elaborate and well-coordinated National Clean Plant Network for Sweetpotato (NCPN-SP).

The author, Kwame Ogero, extracting DNA from sweetpotato root samples. Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, LA. Photo credit: C. DeRobertis.

A nation-wide network
The NCPN-SP is a member of the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN) which is a voluntary association of Clean Plant Centers, scientists, educators, regulators and industry representations who have joined forces to promote the use of pathogen-tested, healthy plant material for food crops in the US. It operates under the auspices of three federal agencies within the USDA, which work cooperatively to support research, quarantine and outreach activities for the network.

Similarly, the NCPN for Sweetpotato (NCPN-SP) is comprised of six Clean Plant Centers, scientists, educators, state and federal regulators, certified seed growers, and commercial growers from the fresh market and processing industries concerned with the health of planting material. Through the NCPN–SP, whose motto is ‘Start Clean, Stay Clean’, virus-tested foundation stock is propagated in carefully controlled greenhouses and monitored for diseases. This is then provided to certified seed growers and commercial farmers. This has tremendously boosted sweetpotato production in the US where the crop is commercially cultivated.

Virus-tested foundation seed in one of the greenhouses at LSU AgCenter’s Sweet Potato Research Station. Chase, Louisiana, USA. Photo credit: K. Ogero.

Clean Plant Centers

With funding from USDA, state governments and industry (including farmers), the NCPN-SP Clean Plant Centers produce virus-tested seed based on orders by farmers, therefore avoiding wastage and ensuring that farmers’ needs are met. Reliable estimation of demand also enables proper budgeting. The Centers have diverse strategies that enable them to meet their goals. This includes focusing upstream production on few seed multipliers, some of them certified, such as in North Carolina.

The Centers have invested differently along the seed value chain based on their goals and competencies. For instance, LSU AgCenter has invested heavily on a robust virus-testing program, while Mississippi State University has focused its resources in greenhouse bulking of virus-tested plants received from other Centers.

The Mississippi State University multiplies three varieties starting with only six tissue-culture (TC) plantlets per variety therefore not requiring a very sophisticated TC laboratory. About 90,000 – 100,000 vine cuttings are produced from the 18 TC plants. This is a stark contrast from North Carolina State University which does massive micropropagation from nuclear stocks in tissue culture. In NCSU, about 10,000 tissue culture plants of the variety Covington are produced per year. A major weakness of the NCPN-SP is lack of costing of the production process. Most of the Clean Plant Centers have not determined the cost of production per unit of seed. This implies that the price of seed is an estimate.

Dr. Christopher Clark preparing samples for virus detection at LSU AgCenter. Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, LA. Photo credit: K. Ogero.

Lessons for Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa

The NCPN–SP has been successful for many reasons, but importantly, farmers have a big influence in prioritization of research and extension agenda since their needs affect funds allocation from both federal and state governments. The USDA requires that priorities for research come from industry. Research and extension priorities of the NCPN–SP are reviewed annually and changing industry needs are given major consideration. Recognizing the importance of farmers’ inputs, the NCPN-SP organizes annual meetings with farmers.

This is an important lesson for Tanzania and the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region – to include farmers’ voices in developing agricultural research agenda. Farmer-participation in defining agricultural research is very low in Tanzania. The situation is even worse for RTB crops which are often neglected by the government. Given the importance of industry in driving growth of any sector it is necessary to proactively involve farmers, otherwise beneficial research outputs might not be adopted as required. Participatory outreach programs that encourage feedback from farmers and other industry players can contribute towards achieving this. The success of the US system also shows that governments have a major role to play in establishing reliable seed systems for RTB crops given the low interest from the private sector. Established by the Congress through the 2008 Farm Bill, the NCPN is recognized and financially supported by USA government.

Functioning seed systems are key to improving production of RTB crops in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Potato Center (CIP) is committed to building sustainable seed systems for sweetpotato in Tanzania and other SSA countries. Learning from the successes and challenges of the US, can contribute towards establishing sustainable seed systems for sweetpotato and other RTB crops in sub-Saharan Africa. Recognizing the challenges facing sweetpotato seed systems in the region, CIP established a Sweetpotato Seed Systems and Crop Management Community of Practice (SSSCoP) to encourage exchange of experiences and knowledge generation which could help identify new ways to tackle these issues.  The SSSCoP brings together stakeholders interested in sweetpotato seed systems across Africa including scientists, seed producers, farmers, policy makers and the media.  The next SSSCoP meeting will be held in Kigali, Rwanda from May 15 – 17, 2018.

The International Potato Center is the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Tanzania: Banana Experts Meet to Discuss Hybrid Varieties

An international project whose goal is to boost banana production in Tanzania and Uganda brings together a team of international researchers to deliberate on delivery of hybrid varieties to farmers.

The team will starting today to Friday gather at Arusha-based Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) to review their progress and plan for next years’ activities. “The Breeding Better Banana project is focused on breeding varieties that farmers like and with resistance against the key problems.

However, bananas are difficult to breed because they are sterile and do not produce seeds. “Breeders deal with this (challenge) by using fertile parent varieties that produce seed but the process takes long time,” Lead Banana Breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and project’s team leader Prof Rony Swennen said.

Continue reading on All Africa.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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)