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Farmer-to-farmer in the internet age: smartphone extension videos reach thousands in Southeast Asia

As reported by Google, Southeast Asia has the fastest growing internet user base of any region on earth. With a monthly mobile internet connection often costing $US 2-3, an estimated 3.8 million new connections are added every month, and the region is expected to reach a staggering 480 million users by 2020. As internet continues to penetrate daily life and business, recent video extension work by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) under the rubric of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) looked to harness this power to take aim at an RTB crop with high demand for extension information: cassava.

Farmers demonstrate the planting of a peanut intercrop during the filming of the ‘Growing cassava on sloping land’ educational video in Yen Bai, Northern Vietnam. Photo by Paul Van Mele.

In Southeast Asia the smartphone is king, accounting for over 90% of internet connections. For rural people, mobile devices are ideal links to the wider world: portable, inexpensive, easy to charge and maintain, and intuitive to use. Farmers are no exception, increasingly using smartphones to search for information about crops and their markets, to share experiences and observations, and to seek advice on management issues. Here CGIAR’s long history of production and use of audio-visual knowledge products for farmer extension is poised to enter a new era, as internet use trends in Southeast Asia are creating truly unparalleled opportunities for impact.

In a previous blog from 2016, CIAT-Asia announced the launch of two farmer-to-farmer videos for cassava (Grass strips against soil erosion and Growing cassava on sloping land). Dubbed in English, French, Lao, Thai, Khmer, and Vietnamese, these educational videos encourage best practices for sustainable cassava cultivation, including planting, fertilizer use, and the establishment and maintenance of grass strips for erosion control. Produced with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), 500 DVDs were prepared for distribution. In addition, the videos were hosted on YouTube and Access Agriculture, but with no promotional projects, they were left to spread organically. Post-release, both videos were also dubbed by Access Agriculture into Spanish, while Grass strips against soil erosion has additionally been translated into Quechua, Aymara, and Arabic for use in similar cassava production environments. Two years after their release, it is time to ask: how did they do?

To find out, we made use of analytics services built in to video streaming services, which keep logs of the country of origin, watch time, device type, and other details for each view of a video. Overall, the two videos had been viewed a combined 44,072 times by May 2018, representing over 3,816 hours of watch time. Growing cassava on sloping land has been most popular, accounting for 38,000 views, making it the most viewed video on CIAT’s YouTube channel. This video was the first version to go online, benefited from early publicity through a launch by CIAT at FAO’s World Food Day celebration in Lao Cai, Vietnam, and was featured in CGIAR blogs, giving it a boost on social media.

This is a good chunk of views, where were they coming from? To visualize, we created an interactive map for the global viewership of Growing cassava on sloping land.
Mouse over each country to see the number of views as of May 2018. 

Southeast Asia had a combined 9809 views, over 5000 of which were in the Philippines, and an additional 2794 in India. Nigeria, the world’s largest producer of cassava, had 1246 views, while East Africa’s Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania production area had a combined 961 views. All of these are English-speaking countries with high populations.

There were also surprises – Saudi Arabia and UAE each had over 1000 views, and the tiny Caribbean cassava producing nation of Trinidad and Tobago viewed the video 1197 times. Part of what makes extension through public online video platforms so interesting is these ‘unintentional’ effects. Interest in cassava production in the Middle East continues to rise with the search for crops adapted to arid conditions, while Trinidad & Tobago’s increasingly intensified cassava producers seem to have found valuable information in the Asian production models described in the video.

In addition to farmers, getting the attention of program staff and development professionals is important for increasing impact through use in future projects. Growing cassava on sloping land was viewed 6587 times in the USA, 1010 times in Canada, 1428 times in the UK, and 808 times in Australia.

To learn a little more about viewers’ behavior, we broke things down further by looking in-depth at a few key statistics from the English language YouTube version of the video.

For a 15 minute video, these average view times are substantial, considering accidental clicks and rewatches, where users skip through to find a key detail they’ve missed or forgotten from their first viewing. Users who watched the video on a large screen, like a computer or TV (game consoles are included – modern consoles can stream YouTube/internet to a TV), had longer average watch times, while tablet and mobile phone users watched for less time, but were responsible for most liking or sharing of the video on social media.

Views in other languages were low compared to English or French, in part due to larger speaking populations of the latter, but also to the inherent difficulties of using YouTube in languages like Lao or Khmer. This can make finding videos in the first place more challenging. As all language versions of the videos are available for download on Access Agriculture, additional work by research & extension communities could drastically increase viewership through working with in-country partners. We also made no attempt to estimate views from the 500 DVDs distributed as part of the SDC initiative. However, earlier research in Bangladesh indicated that each DVD with farmer training videos left in a community was watched by on average 70 people; assuming a similar rate this would have generated an additional 35,000 views.

In many ways increasing internet penetration democratizes access to information. Analytics help us to understand demand for this type of knowledge product, and give us a concept of the geography and viewing behavior of users. This is critical for improving outreach and further honing future products. These data are not perfect; technologies like VPNs which mask the true location of the viewer are common in countries where internet use is closely monitored or restricted, and can muddle the results. It is also difficult to draw inferences about changes in behavior without follow-up research – meaning that we can confidently speak about raising awareness, but less so about the impacts of this awareness on farmer actions. Despite these challenges, insights generated by these metrics are key to increasing impact moving forward. Based on viewer behavior, for instance, the Access Agriculture video platform has now been made fully mobile enabled, and all videos have been made downloadable in file formats suitable for offline viewing and sharing on mobile devices.

Blog contributed by Erik Delaquis of CIAT and Paul Van Mele of AgroInsight/Access Agriculture. With special thanks for technical support from Kien Tri Nguyen.

African farmers get new help against cassava diseases: Nuru, their artificially intelligent assistant

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Pennsylvania State University, USA, have collaborated to develop and launch Nuru, an Artificially Intelligent Assistant. Nuru (Swahili for light) uses machine learning to accurately recognize leaves damaged by two important viral diseases of cassava (Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease) as well as damage by red and green mites.

Viral diseases are a major problem in cassava production in Africa and reduce the yields that farmers can achieve.

“It’s hard for farmers to get information about their cassava crops, and particularly difficult to get identifications for virus diseases. Nuru can help to overcome both of these challenges as both information about cassava diseases and the capability to diagnose them can be accessed by any farmer or extension officer with a smartphone,” said James Legg, IITA plant health specialist who leads the research on cassava diseases in IITA.

The mobile app ‘Nuru’ can be used by farmers to diagnose crop disease in the field. Photo: IITA

Nuru uses a convolutional neural network to analyze visual imagery and runs inside a standard Android phone offline. The tool is available in PlantVillage in the Google Play Store. It is a free app built at Penn State with support from the 2017 CGIAR Inspire Challenge of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture.

The app can also diagnose the damage of the devastating invasive caterpillar pest–fall armyworm (FAW) on maize which is helpful as farmers often grow maize and cassava together.

She can speak Swahili, French, English and Twi and is learning new languages all the time. Nuru will also help farmers to scout their fields to work out how many plants are affected. She will automatically calculate the incidence of cassava diseases in the fields visited.

In addition, farmers can upload images of any crops to the cloud where a more powerful network works alongside humans to provide a rapid diagnosis.

The data collected will be aggregated from across the African continent into a database to better understand the epidemiology of cassava virus diseases. This will greatly help decision-makers to target resources more effectively.

Cassava farmer, Mr. Khalifa Omari Nkrumah, of Mkurangra district, Tanzania inspects his cassava plants for symptoms of disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Although Nuru’s cassava AI has been developed with IITA in Africa, collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will allow it to be adapted to monitoring the rapidly spreading pandemic of CMD in Southeast Asia. IITA, CIAT and other CGIAR centers work together under the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Nuru works offline, which is important where connection to the internet is not possible. When the user is connected to wifi the information flows into the dashboard platforms. Nuru also offers advice offline in the field and provides a way for farmers to connect, chat and share advice so that they can collectively find solutions to some of their most damaging pest and disease problems.

“An important feature is that it is offline–the farmer can use it as much as they want to examine their field for damage. Nuru is an extension officer that is always there for farmers, in their fields.”  said David Hughes, a professor of Entomology and Biology at Penn State, which led the development of the app together with IITA.

Helping farmers and decision-makers take appropriate action

Once farmers and workers check their crops for infections and upload the required data, Nuru gives advice so that the farmers can take action to manage the situation. Work by IITA has shown the importance of phytosanitaton measures where farmers use recommended practices such as planting virus-free material and resistant varieties.

Data will be validated by Africa-based focal points and transferred to a global web-based platform. It will then be analyzed to give a real-time overview of the situation with maps of cassava infection and measures that were most effective in reducing the losses that farmers experience.

The mapping is especially important to track the spread of Cassava Brown Streak which is considered a major threat to cassava production in West Africa.

A “wicked” challenge – understanding root, tuber and banana seed systems and coordination breakdown: A multi-stakeholder framework

By Jorge Andrade-Piedra and Margaret McEwan of the International Potato Center (CIP), co-leaders of the RTB cross-cutting cluster on access to quality seed.

“Why are the seed systems for roots, tubers and bananas (RTBs) so complex?” As a social scientist, this is an exciting challenge – to understand the interactions between technologies and social conditions and how to improve the linkages and coordination among stakeholders so that different types of farmers can access quality seed of their preferred varieties when they want it. However, when I debate with my agronomist colleagues, they complain – “Margaret, you are making things too complicated – is there not a simple way to present this?”

In 2012, this question was tackled by a group of scientists of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). They work together in cluster CC2.1. which focuses on improving RTB planting material and access to new varieties, part of the program’s Flagship project 2 on Adapted productive varieties and quality seed

RTB crops are vegetatively propagated and have fundamental differences with crops grown using true seed: they are bulky, can easily carry pests and diseases, tend to remain true to varietal type for generations. They also have low multiplication ratios. These features, combined with multiple stakeholders working at different levels in the system – which are geographically and temporally separated – create a “wicked” challenge.

CIP’s partners meet at the Technical University of Cotopaxi in Salcedo to understand potato seed systems in the highlands of Ecuador. They are using the multi-stakeholder framework. March 2018. Credit: I Navarrete/CIP-WUR

The cluster’s answer was to develop a simple yet powerful tool that would allow practitioners and decision makers to analyze key seed system functions from the perspectives of all stakeholders; to identify how their roles mesh together; so that no key functions or players are ignored. This tool is the ‘multi-stakeholder framework for intervening in roots, tubers and bananas seed systems’ (also known as ‘the multi-stakeholder RTB seed framework’).  The framework follows the concepts of seed availability, access and quality first developed in the seed security framework by Remington et al. 2002 and the seed system security assessment (Sperling 2008; McGuire and Sperling 2016). The framework is presented as a table. The first column lists the stakeholders (e.g. seed users, seed producers, traders, regulators, researchers) of the seed system. The top row lists the functions of the seed system (availability, access and quality), subdivided into action-oriented categories. A detailed guide of the framework can be found here. This explains how to use this tool, with gender sensitive guiding questions, at different stages in a project or intervention cycle.

Hot off the press, is a paper in the Journal of Crop Improvement by Bentley and RTB colleagues. This highlights the use of the framework across 13 case studies of (banana, cassava, potato, sweetpotato and yam) seed interventions from Latin America and Africa. Jorge Andrade-Piedra co-author explains: “this cross-case review has revealed how frequently there is coordination breakdown in RTB crop seed systems. For example, between seed demand and seed supply; and around issues of seed quality when seed regulations are not adapted to local realities.”

After using the framework with different sweetpotato seed system stakeholders in southern Ethiopia, Mihiretu Cherinet, Research Associate at the International Potato Center, confirmed that the framework helped them to be more conscious of the need to assess all three dimensions of seed system functioning (availability, access and quality), before implementing activities: “Our interest is to understand how to leverage the strengths of the traditional sweetpotato vine multipliers who have close ties with traders. The results from using the framework showed that, while seed users had greater access to planting material from the traditional system, the quality of the seed from that system was unknown.” Cherinet and his colleagues are now following up with an in-depth study to assess the seed quality from the traditional system.

The use of the framework has led to a study to compare the quality of sweetpotato planting material from the traditional system (above) and from commercial sweetpotato vine multiplier’s (below), Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) Ethiopia. Credits: B Temesgen (above) and M McEwan (below) / CIP.

This framework is part of a set of tools developed by RTB to improve the understanding of existing seed systems on roots, tubers, and bananas, and improve the design, implementation and evaluation of new interventions. The “RTB Seed Toolbox” also includes tools for impact network analysis, seed degeneration models, means-end chains, and seed tracing. The Toolbox will be officially launched at the RTB annual meeting in Cali, Colombia in October 2018. A systematic application of these tools will help us unravel the “wicked” challenge of RTB crop seed systems, so that roots, tubers and bananas can contribute to improved food and nutrition security and income generation for resource poor households.

Learn more about the framework in the below webinar:

Triple S method helps sweetpotato farmers plant and harvest earlier

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) is an impressive crop, able to grow on marginal lands and produce nutritious roots within three months from planting. However, farmers plant vine cuttings rather than seeds, and getting enough vines to plant at the beginning of the rainy season can be a challenge for smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This is especially true in areas with long dry seasons, and it is one of the challenges of growing sweetpotato that will likely grow as climate change advances.

Researchers at the International Potato Center (CIP) are consequently promoting a practice that allows farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to produce their own vines in time for the planting season. It consists of storing sweetpotato roots in dry sand following the harvest, planting them in seedbeds 6-8 weeks before the rainy season, and watering them to produce enough vines to plant when the rains begin. Known as Triple S – for storage in sand and sprouting – this technology can result in earlier harvests, providing food and income at a time that is commonly known as “the hunger season.”

Obtaining sweetpotato vines to plant when seasonal rains being is a major challenge for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Triple S was largely developed by CIP researcher Sam Namanda, who improved upon farmer practices in Tanzania and Uganda, where he did his PhD dissertation research. He now promotes Triple S in Uganda, where it is being adopted by everyone from subsistence farmers to vine multipliers.

“With Triple S, farmers are able to plant earlier, harvest earlier, and get better yields,” Namanda said. He explained that while Triple S is enabling farmers in Uganda’s dry northern regions to grow sweetpotato, whereas in the country’s more humid central and southern regions, the ability to plant with the first rains allows farmers to produce two, and in some cases three harvests of OFSP roots per year.

Mihiretu Cherinet, who works for CIP in Ethiopia, explained that Triple S is facilitating OFSP production in extremely dry areas of his country, such as the Tigray Region, in northern Ethiopia, where the dry season can last as long as nine months. Sweetpotato wasn’t grown in in Tigray before CIP began promoting the crop there, and more than 60 percent of children under five in that region suffer vitamin A deficiency. The Regional Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource Management and CIP are consequently getting the region’s farmers to grow vitamin A-rich OFSP varieties.

Triple S allows farmers to preserve sweetpotato roots in dry sand during the dry months and plant them before seasonal rains begin to produce vines for planting. Photo: E.Abidin/CIP

“Farmers in very dry areas are thankful for Triple S, because it not only allows them to grow OSFSP roots, they can also eat the leaves, which are the only green vegetable they can grow,” Cherinet said.

Margaret McEwan, a social scientist with CIP who works on seed systems, said that Triple S can play a key role in helping to establish the crop in new areas. She explained that a small sand basin, box or pit can that holds 40-50 small-to-medium-sized roots will produce sufficient vine cuttings to plant about 0.36 hectares, which can produce enough OFSP roots to meet the vitamin A requirements of a family. McEwan noted that that because Triple S allows farmers to plant earlier than they otherwise would, and produce more OFSP, it can extend the period during which they have fresh roots to eat, increasing their vitamin-A intake. She noted that it is also a climate-smart technology.

“As rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, farmers need to take advantage of whatever rain there is as quickly as possible,” she said.

Germame Garuma, Deputy Head of the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource Management in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, mentioned during a workshop in Kenya that Triple S is already helping Ethiopian farmers deal with the effects of climate change.

“Global warming has seriously affected root crops due to prolonged drought,” Garuma said. “This technology will help us to solve the problem of planting material conservation during long drought.”

McEwan explained that CIP tested Triple S in nine sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries before it began working with partners to promote it to rural families on a larger scale. She added that in Malawi, CIP project manager Erna Abidin found that families were eating the roots they stored in sand before the planting season arrived, so she began promoting sand storage specifically to preserve OFSP roots for consumption, which can complement storage for planting material if farmers store enough roots. Abidin is currently promoting and evaluating both practices in Ghana and Burkina Faso.

With support from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Scaling Fund, Abidin, Cherinet and other colleagues are working to take Triple S to scale, with an aim of reaching 45,000 farmers in Ethiopia and Ghana between 2018 and 2019. According to McEwan, that initiative combines training of trainers, video-based extension, media campaigns and other efforts to get farmers to adopt sand storage, best agricultural practices, careful selection of roots for vine production and other measures that will help them produce and consume more OFSP – a package she calls Triple S Plus. Videos on Triple S are available here, with Video 1 in the series below:

McEwan said that the initiative is designed to reach as many women as it does men, since women and children have the greatest need for the vitamin A that OFSP provides, yet women are all too often underrepresented in such interventions.  She explained that while the scaling initiative is expected to improve the vitamin-A consumption and incomes of thousands of families, its main goal is to test and improve adaptive strategies for scaling Triple S Plus. She added that the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI), through which CIP works with an array of partners in 17 SSA countries, could serve as a platform for scaling Triple S Plus across the region in the future.

“We are hoping to trigger farmer-to-famer dissemination through experience and testimony, but what is the critical mass for achieving this and ensuring a technically effective implementation of the technology? That’s what we want to test,” she said.

Read the original post on the International Potato Center website

Global cassava conference highlights major progress in crop research and development

The IV International Cassava Conference brought together over 300 cassava scientists, farmers, private sector, government and donor representatives in Cotonou, Benin from June 11 – 15. Convened by the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), the triennial event presented a unique opportunity for a diverse set of stakeholders to exchange scientific, technical and industrial information about cassava.

The event was opened on Monday 11 by the Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Benin, Dr Gaston Dossouhoui, who applauded the event, adding that he hoped it would help overcome some of the barriers restricting the cassava sector on the continent. His comments were followed by a keynote address by Dr Martin Fregene, Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry at the African Development Bank who emphasized their aim to double the productivity of cassava over the next eight to 10 years.

The event brought together over 300 participants in Cotonou, Benin.

Dr Fregene also commended the work of the Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System in Nigeria (BASICS) project to adapt Semi-Autotropic Hydroponics (SAH) for cassava. The technology allows for the rapid multiplication of cassava planting material, helping to overcome the typically slow and low multiplication ratio of the crop. This has historically been one of the major bottlenecks restricting the widespread adoption of improved varieties.

“We need robust seed system of improved cassava varieties, including biofortified varieties,” emphasized Dr Fregene.

Research and projects under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) featured prominently at the event in both plenary and breakout sessions, including a study by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that used DNA fingerprinting to accurately assess the adoption of improved cassava varieties in Nigeria, which is the world’s largest producer of the crop. The project surveyed 2500 households from states responsible for 80% of the cassava production in the country, finding that while 60% of respondents stated they were cultivating improved varieties, DNA fingerprinting revealed this to actually be 66%.

Developments in cassava processing were also presented, including by CIRAD Researcher on Food Process Engineering, Dr Arnaud Chapuis, who gave an update on improved energy-efficient designs for small-scale cassava flash dryers. The production of cassava starch and flour requires drying the product from a moisture content of 40% down to 13% to ensure a long shelf-life. Small-scale producers often do this by drying the starch under the sun, which is both a time consuming and risky method that requires a large area of land, posing a barrier to the growth of processors. The team of researchers from CIRAD and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) successfully designed and built an energy-efficient pilot dryer that is suitable for small-scale processors, and which will be scaled in sub-Saharan Africa.  

“There are also environmental benefits to the technology,” added Arnaud. “The first is reducing the overall energy demand for drying, and if the unit is using fossil fuels this will reduce its carbon footprint. Another area that we are focusing on is using renewable energy sources to power the flash dryers, which would be an even bigger improvement,” he explained.

Using traditional processing methods, cassava starch is dried under the sun, which is a time consuming and risky method. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

Similarly, another new processing technology to turn cassava peels in to an ingredient for animal feed will simultaneously increase the incomes of cassava value chain actors while benefiting the environment. The processing technique was introduced in a presentation titled ‘From Want-Not to Waste-Not’ by Iheanacho Okike of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Each year, nearly 36 million tonnes of cassava peels litter the environment and pollute underground water, with attempts to dispose of the waste by burning equally polluting the air. A new innovation developed by IITA can quickly dry the peels and eliminate harmful toxins, unlocking the potential to create new products and a new industry in the cassava value chain that could employ half a million people each year.

“Real progress came when the main constraint to the use of cassava peels was overcome by CGIAR scientists – drying. The typical method of drying the peels in the sun takes about three days during the dry season, and in the wet season it is almost impossible. To have a technology that shortens the time from three days to only eight hours is a huge leap,” said Iheanacho, who added that it will be particularly beneficial for women who provide the majority of labor in this area.

In fact, this is one of the technologies that will receive funding and support for scaling through the RTB Scaling Fund. Efforts by the program to expand the reach of research innovations was unpacked in a plenary presentation by Dr Michael Friedmann, RTB Science Officer, who introduced the Scaling Readiness Approach used by the program. RTB is building evidence for stepwise thinking about innovation and scaling pathways to support decision-making on the type of research, capacity development and partnership investments that need to be put in place to ensure innovations create lasting impact.

During the event, an award was presented to Dr Claude Fauquet, the outgoing Executive Director of GCP21 in recognition of his life-long dedication to cassava research, while the Golden Cassava Prize was awarded to Dr Hernan Ceballos of CIAT and Dr Alfred Dixon of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture IITA.

The event concluded with proposals for countries to host the V International Cassava Conference in 2021, including Brasil and France, which will be organized under the leadership of the incoming GCP21 Executive Director, Malachy Akoroda.

Recognition Award presented to Dr Claude Fauquet at International Cassava Conference

The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) convened its fourth scientific conference this week in Cotonou, Benin. Spread over five days, the conference – a collaboration between the scientific world and the private sector – facilitated plenary presentations, technical and scientific sessions and state-of-the-art presentations on a wide range of issues from biological, molecular and genomic advances, to progress in value chain development made on cassava over the last three years. 

A surprise award was made to Dr Claude Fauquet, Executive Director of GCP21. The International Scientific Committee of GCP21 took the opportunity to bestow the award in recognition and appreciation of Dr Fauquet’s dedication to the research and development of the cassava crop and, through GCP21, to creating a global cassava community for the future.

Members of the International Scientific Committee of GCP21 present the award to Dr Claude Fauquet (center). Photo: IITA

The award was made as part of the ceremony for the prestigious Golden Cassava Prize, which this year was awarded to Dr Hernan Ceballos of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Dr Alfred Dixon of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), two of the world’s leading cassava breeders, in recognition of their contribution to cassava development.

Presenting the Award on behalf of the Committee, Professor Andrew Westby, Director of the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, congratulated Claude on his leadership, dedication, energy and persistence in driving forward GCP21 since its establishment. GCP21 has provided an important convening mechanism for cassava researchers to share progress, concepts and ideas, as well as supporting the development of early career scientists.

The co-founder of GCP21, Claude, soon to retire as Executive Director, has expertly guided its mission to improve cassava worldwide with outstanding commitment and determination. GCP21 is a global partnership of institutions that together are leveraging plant breeding and biotechnology to transform cassava into a more productive and resilient crop. Through his role at GCP21, Claude is an effective convener and a driving force behind united efforts to further cassava research and transform the crop into a future-proof staple food and income source for millions of smallholder farmers worldwide.


“Claude spoke of cassava the day I first met him and every other time I met him over the past 15 years. He loves cassava science, he loves cassava researchers, and he loves those who depend on this crop for their food and livelihoods,” said long-time friend Lawrence Kent, Senior Program Officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Claude has orchestrated four productive international science conferences since the formation of GCP21 in 2002. The first conference was held in Belgium, 2008, the second in Uganda, 2012, the third in China, 2016 in collaboration with the International Society for Tropical Root and Tuber Crops and this week, the fourth in Benin. Claude has brought together a global collaboration – a cassava community – demanding more organisation, action and information about cassava. “Claude’s enthusiasm is contagious and his dreams limitless. He has the capacity to engage people and GCP21 is the best example of this remarkable capacity,” added former colleague and co-awardee of the Golden Cassava Award, Hernan Ceballos.

An initiator with no shortage of grit, purpose and sheer willpower, Claude’s recognition, more than 30 years ago, that a multidisciplinary and concerted effort was needed to respond to cassava disease and to strengthen both the resistance and production of the staple crop, continued throughout his career. “Claude is one of those rare people who think and act big. Who else but Claude would have come up with the idea to declare war on and defeat cassava viruses and persuade so many of us to go to Bellagio to make the battle plan!” said Graham Thiele, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Spanning more than 40 years, Claude’s prestigious career began after he received his PhD in biochemistry from University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France in 1974. From there, he went on to the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), a French public research institute, where he served as a plant virologist for 28 years, 14 of which were spent in Ivory Coast, West Africa. During this time, Claude worked with 45 different viral diseases affecting both food and industrial crops.

In 1983, with one of the first research grants from the European Community, he established a four-year research project that generated an epidemiological study of cassava mosaic disease (CMD), which poses one of the greatest constraints to cassava production throughout Africa. With the conclusion of the project in 1987, Claude brought together a wide group of experts for a pan-African meeting on CMD which took place in the Ivory Coast, during which it was proposed that cassava biotechnology was needed to respond to this devastating disease. “I first met Claude Fauquet in the cassava fields just outside Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire around what now feels like 200 years ago! What I learned from Claude and the advances he had made in the study of CMD in those early interactions, formed the basis of my fundamental understanding of this complex disease syndrome,” Eugene Terry, former IITA Root Crops Pathologist and respected cassava scientist.

The following year, while on a two-year sabbatical at Washington University working with Prof. Roger Beachy, Claude was awarded grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and IRD to work on rice and cassava biotechnology. His work with Prof. Beachy continued when the pair co-founded the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ILTAB) in 1991 at The Scripps Research Institute, California, USA. ILTAB scientists focused on biotechnology research for virus diseases of cassava, tomato and rice, and obtained the first transgenic cassava in 1995.

From 1999 to 2012, ILTAB was hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, USA. With Claude at its helm, the laboratory’s research projects included cassava genetic transformation for virus resistance and biofortification, promoter studies, gene silencing and molecular plant virology of geminiviruses.

Claude’s discoveries have helped the research community to understand many of the genetic secrets of cassava disease, supporting the development of technologies and approaches to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the impact of cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and CMD. Over the course of his career, he has published a monumental 300 research papers in peer review journals and books, and has been a powerful and outspoken advocate for cassava research, regularly featuring in the media including the New York Times and the Economist.

In 2002, Claude, together with Dr. Joe Tohme, founded the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century – which is now a legacy in honour of his drive and ambition and a platform to continue what he started.

He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the American Phytopathological Society (APS) and a member of the St Louis Academy of Sciences. In 2007, Claude was knighted “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques” by the French Minister of High Education and Research.

He is described by those he works with, as a, friend, colleague, convener, initiator and mentor.

“Claude is also a good, loyal friend. He often makes me smile, laugh, and drink good French wine. Thank you, Claude, for putting your considerable energy and talents at the service of others for so many years.” – Lawrence Kent, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“It’s been a personal pleasure to have worked with Claude on several GCP21 convenings, as we overcame some quite challenging obstacles in pursuit of this dream for our amazing crop.”  – Graham Thiele, RTB Director

“Congratulations for this beautiful career dedicated to science and development of Southern countries.” – IRD colleagues who crossed your path

 “I particularly, and we the members, generally, of the ‘Cassava Fraternity’ and the GC Partnership Mafia owe Claude a huge debt of gratitude which we hope this Special Award to him represents.” – Eugene Terry

 “You don’t sleep. We appreciate you.” – Peter Kulakow, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

“For his retirement, I would like to bestow him with a Doctor of Philosophy in persuasion.” – Alfred Dixon, IITA

 “I admire Claude for his dedication to cassava and he deserves great appreciation and a big ‘Thank you’ from the cassava community.” – Wilhelm Gruissem, Plant Biotechnology

 “Your ‘Can Do’ Spirit deserves to be transferred to the future ‘Claudes’ in our globe.” – Lateef Sanni, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

“We will all remember Claude as one of the pillars on which cassava biotechnology research was built.” – Luis Augusto Becerra, CIAT

 GCP21 consists of 45 member institutions working on the research and development of cassava, a staple crop relied on by more than 500 million people worldwide. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to improve cassava productivity through scientific research and development. The Partnership serves as an advocate for cassava issues and leverages research and development by facilitating dialogue among farmers, stakeholders, producers, researchers and donor agencies via scientific and technical meetings, collectively seeking smart strategies, funding opportunities, and catalysing solutions to technical challenges such as cassava genomics.

Committees for the organisation of the fourth International GCP21Cassava Conference


For additional information, contact:

Inderjit Dhooper,, Communications, NRI
Holly Holmes, Communications Specialist, RTB
Andrew Westby, Director, NRI

Researchers take stock of promising technologies to tackle emerging pests and diseases of RTB crops

Pests and diseases pose one of the most significant challenges for root, tuber and banana crops and can be particularly devastating for small-scale farmers in developing countries who depend on their produce for food and income.

And with the impact of pests and diseases expected to intensify under climate change, developing and piloting novel approaches for predicting, managing and mitigating their effect is a significant area of research for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). The program’s Flagship project 3 on Resilient Crops, which aims to close yield gaps of RTB crops arising from biotic and abiotic threats and to develop more resilient production systems, includes a specialized research cluster on pests and diseases (Cluster 3.1). The cluster aims to mitigate the risks associated with new and emerging pests and diseases under climate change and other drivers of their entry, establishment and spread.

The cluster team met to share research progress, exchange ideas and develop a strategy for moving forward.

Members of this cluster research team from various partner institutions came together in April in York, UK, at the offices of Fera science Ltd for an annual planning meeting to take stock of research progress and develop a plan for the coming year. During the course of the meeting, RTB cluster team participants met with a breadth of Fera specialists in pest and disease diagnosotics, modelling and remote sensing of land and vegetation. Fera is the mainstay of plant health and biosecurity research and evidence to the UK government and also actively partners with many developing country national government plant health bodies and industry.

The meeting provided a valuable opportunity for scientific exchanges, and to highlight opportunities for further developing and promoting the use of new research tools developed under the cluster that can support pest and disease risk planning for potato, sweetpotato, cassava, banana and yam.

Technologies presented during the meeting included the Insect Lifecycle Modeling software (ILCYM), a free software for developing insect phenology models that simulate probablistic population distribution and risk maps under current or future climate change scenarios. This information can help research organizations and national institutions to predict and plan for specific pests and diseases, safeguarding crops.

The state-of-the-art in pest and disease image identification was also presented, with the example of a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to diagnose crop diseases based on a photo that farmers upload to the system. When the app positively identifies a disease, it can send an SMS alert to thousands of farmers, along with providing the latest management advice and pinpointing the location of the nearest source of agricultural extension support. Currently in use for cassava, and just like the ILCYM software, it will be scaled out by the cluster to provide benefits for other RTB crops.

The mobile app, called ‘Nuru’, can be used by farmers to diagnose crop disease in the field. Photo: IITA

Similarly, the potential for further developing and expanding other technologies was presented, including remote sensing and the use of drones for surveillance and diagnostics, the use of modeling in disease risk management, gender-responsive research, and opportunities in Asia for ‘attract and kill’ technology.

Other key areas for work were also identified including the need for a Pest Risk Assessment for potato cyst nematode (PCN) in countries neighboring Kenya. In a recent survey undertaken in Kenya by the International Institiute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), PCN was found to be widespread in 20 potato-producing counties, including several that border Uganda and Tanzania, with a very high incidence of 82% of fields.

Drones can be used to monitor soil and plant health status. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

“The pest is mainly transmitted with the exchange of potato seed tubers, tools and equipment that have contaminated soil attached to them. Among others, the informal potato seed trade in these transboundary regions is a risk factor which could have already favored the spread of PCN to Uganda and Tanzania,” says Laura Cortada-Gonzalez, Postdoctoral Fellow, Soil Health, IITA, in explanation of the need for a Pest Risk Assessment.

During the meeting, the team also developed a strategy on how to enhance the involvement of national partners to ensure they feel greater ownership of the technologies being developed the cluster to further support uptake and use of the tools.

Meeting participants included representatives from the International Potato Center (CIP), IITA and Bioversity International, as well as collaborating partners from University of Florida, Penn State University and the meeting host, Fera science Ltd.

Learn more about RTB’s Flagship project 3 on Resilient Crops which is made up of six research clusters.

New research provides recommendations for more effective disease management in potato and banana

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) supports a number of young scientists to conduct innovative PhD research. In Ethiopia, Shiferaw Tafesse and Elias Damtew work with the International Potato Center (CIP) to study how and to what extent joint learning, disease monitoring and information sharing would contribute to collective management of bacterial wilt and late blight in potato. In Rwanda, working with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Mariette McCampbell studies how mobile technology impacts decision making on control and prevention of Xanthomonas Wilt of Banana. The three are PhD candidates at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands where their projects are included as case studies in the university’s EVOCA project. EVOCA seeks to explore how digital tools, data crowd-sourcing and environmental monitoring can be used to address complex problems in four African countries. Initial results from the case studies were recently published in a special issue of NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences.

In this blogpost, the authors highlight the major takeaways from their research.

Xanthomonas Wilt of Banana (BXW): Can ICT and citizen science offer a solution to a recurrent issue?
Xanthomonas Wilt of Banana (BXW) is a persistent problem and affects millions of farmers in the African Great Lakes region. The diagnostics paper unravels BXW’s embeddedness in the agricultural system and builds on analysis of data from academic and grey literature and data from scoping studies in Rwanda and Burundi. Results show that BXW associated research and interventions most often focus on the biophysical and technological dimensions. Yet, challenges in the socio-cultural, economic, institutional, and political domains critically impact the ability of farmers and governments to control and prevent BXW outbreaks. The authors explore the relation between these challenges and the availability, accessibility and quality of data, information and knowledge about BXW.

Based on this they suggest the use of ICT and citizen science as favorable vehicles to address some of the challenges. For example, mobile phones may be leveraged to crowd-source data about BXW incidences, and send out timely, accurate, and actionable information to farmers and extensionists.  As such, using ICT could help improve disease management. Yet, the authors warn that digital innovations are not a panacea and should be seen as a promising addition to rather than a replacement for face-to-face interaction.

BXW affects the entire banana plant, from stem to fruit. Farmers often lack sufficient knowledge about disease symptoms such as withering of leaves, drying and premature ripening of fruits. Image: CIALCA

Bacterial wilt and late blight in potato in Ethiopia: A systems perspective of the problem
Potato bacterial wilt and late blight are major constraints for potato, which is one of the most important crops for smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. The diseases pose complex problems with various technical and institutional features, involving multiple actors such as farmers, research institutes and local government, who each have different perceptions of the problem. Appreciating such complexity, the study adopts a systems thinking perspective to explore how each party understands the problem situation and its implication for collective management of the diseases. The analysis revealed that actors essentially overlooked key systemic problems in the management of bacterial wilt and late blight, which require coordinated and collective efforts to stop the spread between farms, or even regions. Lack of a preventive disease management culture, limited recognition of interdependencies, power inequalities, and top-down and linear approaches in information and knowledge sharing are identified as those key problems.

The researchers conclude that the best way forward is designing a disease management strategy that, on the one hand, prevents disease epidemics, and on the other hand, fosters learning, horizontal information sharing, and collective action among key actors in the system. Information sharing platforms, such as mobile phones and decision support systems, can play a role in catalyzing new forms of information sharing, broader learning, and collaboration.

Infected seed potatoes are among the main sources of inoculum for Bacterial wilt and Late blight. Symptom of Bacterial wilt (white ooze) are seen on famers’ stored seed potatoes. Image: Elias Assefa, WUR/CIP

Potato disease management: How does Ethiopian farmers’ knowledge inform their practices?
Building on findings of the systems level analysis, this paper examines farmers’ knowledge of bacterial wilt and late blight, analyses disease management practices, and assesses how knowledge affects those practices. The study sheds light on how limited knowledge about key disease features critically impacts farmers’ shaping of daily potato production practices. Generally, farmers have inadequate knowledge about the potato diseases and suitable management methods. As a result, farmer practices, such as sharing planting material and farm tools with their neighbors, contribute to disease spread rather than supporting effective management.

Based on these findings the authors recommended the use of a learning approach (e.g. disease spreading mechanisms and collective disease management methods) that integrates scientific and local knowledge about key disease aspects and can inform farmers’ practices.  

Preliminary multi-stakeholder analysis of the problem situation of potato bacterial wilt and late blight using RAAIS (Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation system) toolkit. Image: Elias Assefa, WUR/CIP

Conclusion and way forward
The EVOCA project’s original central tenet is to leverage digital platforms to address complex problems in Africa. However, our research shows the importance to first holistically assess the problem that such a platform would need to address before moving into a design process. For example, the specific information and knowledge requirements across the different social and technological dimensions of the problem situation need to be identified.

At the moment, various forms of social experiments and empirical studies are designed to further explore the critical (types) of information and content that a successful platform needs to offer. This leads to design choices regarding – for example – the monitoring data that the platform collects, and facilities for both top-down and bottom-up information exchange.   

Blog contributed by Mariette McCampbell (IITA and WUR), Elias Damtew (CIP and WUR) and Shiferaw Tafesse (CIP and WUR).

Calling On Nature To Combat Insect Pests In Vietnam’s Cassava Crop

“Good bugs, huh?” –farmers and homeowners alike all too often give a blank stare when questioned about the beneficial insects that occur on their respective farm, backyard or flower patch. Though insects abound within natural and agricultural ecosystems across the globe, and a fair share of them provide vital services to humanity, we as human beings rarely pay attention to them. Aside from honeybees and the occasional colorful butterfly, we routinely regard these ‘creepy crawlies’ with disinterest, ignorance or even outright fear.


Yet, many of the insects that assume concealed lifestyles in the undergrowth are natural-born killers – specialized in combating pests through a process called ‘biological control’; a cost-free service provided by nature that’s worth $4-17 billion annually to US agriculture. Biological control thus constitutes a most lucrative alternative to pesticide-based measures for crop protection, helps protect the environment and is a core component of sustainable food systems.

One particular type of biological control, so-called ‘importation biological control’, is tailor-made to tackle invasive species problems. More specifically, invasive pests are managed through the careful selection and subsequent introduction of a highly effective, specialized beneficial insect (or ‘natural enemy’) from the pest’s region of origin. By doing so, scientists reconnect insect ‘friend and foe’ and thus restore balance in invaded ecosystems…

Continue reading the article by Dr. Kris Wyckhuys on Science Trends.

World Potato Congress highlights scientific advances

Tubers were the talk of the town in Cusco, Peru during the week of May 27, when the 10th World Potato Congress (WPC) and the 28th Congress of the Latin American Potato Association (ALAP) were held together for the first time.

The event drew more than 800 participants from 50 countries to the potato’s center of origin for four days of scientific presentations, networking, field trips and celebration of the potato’s cultural and economic importance. 

The WPC is the most important international event for potato scientists and businesses. It is held every three years in a different country and is organized by the non-profit World Potato Congress Inc. and local partners.

Continue reading on Potato Pro.