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Next generation technologies: Tackling climate change in agriculture

Recent reports that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached record high levels and that the world is currently on track to overshoot the targets of the Paris Agreement heighten the importance of developing technologies to help farmers adapt to climate change. This is especially urgent for the poorest and most vulnerable farmers, who already struggle to produce enough food.

There is an urgent need for crop varieties and technologies that help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change. Photo: A.Frezer/CIP

In order to achieve food and nutrition security for the world’s poor, agriculture has become a priority area for climate action for many developing countries. To support such efforts, CGIAR Centers and Research Programs identified 10 best bet innovations for adaptation in agriculture, which can help countries achieve food security under a changing climate, while also delivering benefits for environmental sustainability, nutrition and livelihoods. This includes the development and deployment of stress tolerant root, tuber and banana crops, innovations that are being driven by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and its lead center, the International Potato Center (CIP).

Why root and tuber crops?

More than 300 million people living below the poverty line in developing countries depend on root, tuber and banana crops for food and income, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

These crops, which include banana, cassava, potato, sweetpotato and yam, have immense potential for reducing hunger and malnutrition and helping smallholder farmers adapt to climate change. A major advantage lies in their resilience and ability to produce nutritious food in less time than many other crops. They are thus particularly critical for food security in Africa and will become even more fundamental in the coming decades as the continent undergoes rapid urbanization and population growth.

“With climate change, varieties will need to respond to hotter and drier conditions, but also more weather variability and extreme events, higher salinity with rising sea levels and more attacks from pest and diseases as higher temperatures increase incidence and severity,” notes Hugo Campos, Director for Research at CIP.  

To improve farmers’ capacities to produce more nutritious food in a climate-changing world, CIP and the other RTB Centers are undertaking groundbreaking research to improve RTB crops, seed systems, pest and disease management and postharvest innovations.

Sweetpotato breeders in Mozambique. Crop improvement needs to be enhanced and accelerated to respond to climate change. Photo: M.Andrade/CIP

Climate-smart breeding

With improved varieties needed urgently, scientists are raising the bar for breeding a next generation of RTB crops that are more climate-resilient, nutritious and desirable to local consumers.

CIP has promoted an accelerated breeding scheme that cuts the time it takes to develop and release a new variety from eight years to four. In Mozambique, this approach led to the released of 15 pro-vitamin A rich, drought tolerant orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties in 2011 and an additional four varieties in 2016. Those climate-resilient varieties now constitute about one third of the sweetpotatoes grown in Mozambique, a country where extreme weather events frequently destroy crops. One of them, Irene, is especially popular because its narrow leaves can be eaten as a vegetable 60 days after planting, and its delicious orange-fleshed roots are ready to harvest after 100 days. 

Breeders have likewise developed potato varieties tolerant to drought, heat and salinity, such as the widely cultivated Unica and Tacna, developed and field tested in Peru; Kinga,

Meva, Kinigi varieties in Africa; and the Raniag variety in the Philippines. Tacna, which was introduced to China under the name Jizhangshu 8, covered over 20,000 ha there in 2008.  More recently developed climate change-resilient potatoes include the drought- and soil salinity-tolerant variety Sarnav, released in Central Asia (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) and the heat and soil salinity-tolerant BARI Alu-72, released in Bangladesh.

Mozambican farmers with Irene, the most popular of the country’s drought tolerant, orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties. Photo: B.Rokatoarisoa/CIP

“RTB breeding has already begun to modernize, but climate change is moving the goal posts so we need to change a whole lot faster, better, and smarter,” says Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on RTB. 

Graham and other RTB scientists have proposed a six-step framework for climate-smart breeding that involves downscaling climate change models and crop modeling to look into the future and anticipate the kinds of varieties needed in 20 and 50 years. The framework also includes identifying and understanding key climate change responsive traits and transforming breeding and varietal selection by drawing on increased knowledge of the genome with next generation tools such as gene editing. Big data should also be harnessed to understand how varieties respond in different environments to accelerate genetic gains, and management options developed for climate-smart varieties. The framework also highlights the need for climate-proofing seed systems so that new varieties can reach growers and consumers.

Graham will discuss climate-smart breeding at an official COP24 side event in Katowice Poland, on next generation technologies to tackle climate challenges in agriculture. The event takes place on 6 December, 18:30 – 20:00, Bug Room, COP 24 venue and is part of the Agriculture Advantage 2.0 event series at COP24, a collaborative effort of more than 15 organizations with the mission to transform agricultural development in the face of climate change. Click here to see the series of events at COP24.

Climate smart seed systems

As new varieties are released, managing seed systems is crucial for ensuring that farmers adopt them and maintain quality planting material in the face of increasing incidences of drought and floods.

Sweetpotato farmers plant vine cuttings, and prolonged dry periods can result in widespread shortages of that perishable planting material in sub-Saharan Africa. CIP researchers are thus promoting a practice that allows farmers to produce their own vines in time for the planting season. Known as Triple S – for storage in sand and sprouting – it consists of storing sweetpotato roots in dry sand following the harvest, planting them in seedbeds six to eight weeks before the rainy season, and watering them to produce enough vines to plant when the rains begin. With support from RTB, researchers are scaling this technology, which can result in earlier harvests, providing food and income at a time that is commonly known as “the hunger season”.

In order to maintain disease-free planting material, farmers in high virus pressure areas are using net tunnels to guard against insect vectors such as aphids and whiteflies, which spread viruses.  The net tunnels are effective in reducing infection by sweetpotato virus disease, ensuring availability of clean planting material for higher yield. Such tunnels also contribute towards moisture retention, reducing the amount of water needed for irrigation.

Moving ahead

As climate change deepens food insecurity through factors such as yield losses, the need for crop tolerance to climatic stresses will be greater than ever. Whether it’s early maturing or stress tolerant varieties, the need for more resilient RTB crops is increasingly urgent. Funding for enhanced breeding systems will be crucial for deploying promising next generation technologies to tackle climate change in agriculture.

Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning platform wins silver award in Berlin

The Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning online platform (MEL), used by eight CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) and Centers, has won the silver prize at the 2018 Enterprise Business Collaboration Award in Berlin in the category of ‘Best Collaboration Infrastructure’.

Presented during a ceremony on 19 November, the award positions MEL and its development team as among global leaders in the field of knowledge management and enterprise collaboration. The annual event brought together over 200 industry professionals to discuss the most pressing challenges and solutions, technologies and best practice innovations in enterprise collaboration, with awards to recognize outstanding projects.

 

“The award represents a key recognition of the value in the collaborative effort initiated across institutions and programs for the team. The results reached today could not be achieved without a constant dialogue and exchange among the partners. There is a number of tools available. However, I believe that the effective ones are those you have really adopted and adapted with the user being your primary client,” says Enrico Bonaiuti, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) who received the award on behalf of the MEL team.

MEL is a comprehensive structure that caters for planning, management, monitoring, evaluation, reporting and sharing for program and project activities all in one organized space. It saves time and resources and allows for faster and more informed decision-making both inside an institution and across its partners.

“We move so fast towards the use of advanced ICT tools. Users are sometimes disoriented with multiple platforms, their effective usage and what they can get out of them. MEL helped us to link a variety of tools and work dimensions in order to provide more analytic capacity while boosting collaboration among stakeholders,” adds Enrico.

Enrico Bonaiuti (center right) and members of the MEL team at ICARDA with the Enterprise Business Collaboration Award.

The online platform was launched in 2016 as a collaborative initiative between ICARDA GeoAgro, the now-concluded CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. Other CRPs soon joined the efforts, including the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), which was one of the first partners to adopt MEL and played a role in both refining the software and championing its use among partners.

“The MEL platform is strengthening and smoothing project and program management. From the beginning, it was a collaborative work that mobilized CGIAR Centers, Research Programs and partners,” says Claudio Proietti, RTB Program Management Officer.

Over 600 projects have now been mapped or carried out through MEL and more than 200 are currently managed through the platform – saving hundreds of hours of staff time. In total, more than 800 CGIAR activities are managed through the platform, connecting offices from across five continents.

 

“During the last year, we joined efforts with the CGIAR System Management Office to enhance the interoperability of the different IT platforms within CGIAR. Our aim is to support informed decision-making processes by facilitating the flow of programmatic information through the use of a harmonized IT architecture,” explains Claudio.

Another major advantage of the free-of-charge platform is the flexibility it provides, allowing for organizations and projects to customize it to meet their needs.

“MEL is already built for the future. This small tool brought together partners with no previous working collaboration. The partnership among the people involved will exist beyond the life of the programs implemented. I also expect that MEL will play a key role in the years to come in bringing together new different stakeholders and proving them with a platform to optimize processes and re-think working modalities,” says Enrico. 

Acknowledgement

MEL is the result of the synergic efforts by CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC), CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-food Systems (FISH), The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), The International Potato Center (CIP), The World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), ICARDA GeoAgro, and is powered by iMMAP, Codeobia, D-Space and Amazon Web Services.

 

Disease-resistant potato and banana give hope to farmers

Late blight remains one of the most devastating diseases for potato worldwide, costing farmers an estimated USD3 – 10 billion per year globally. Traditional breeding for resistant varieties takes years, and resistance can break down as the pathogen mutates when it encounters resistance genes, leaving farmers no options than using fungicides up to 15 times per season. Similarly, banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) is a growing threat to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. Since its appearance in Uganda in the early 2000s, BXW has spread rapidly in the region, causing food insecurity and income loss. No resistant cultivars have been identified, and it can only be controlled through on-farm management practices.

In the face of these serious and persistent challenges to food security and livelihoods, RTB centers and national research partners have developed a biotech late blight-resistant potato with multi-gene resistance, and a BXW-resistant cooking banana variety for East Africa. Confined field trials have shown the crops to be very disease resistant, and otherwise identical to the original varieties.

In 2017, a RTB cross-crop initiative began to ensure the responsible management and regulation of biotech crops. Stewardship in plant biotechnology is the responsible management of a product from its inception through its ultimate use (learn more: http://www.excellencethroughstewardship.org). In addition, biotech crops need to be assessed for their safety to humans and animal health prior to release to the public for commercialization. Environmental risk assessments are also an essential part of regulatory decision-making for biotech crops. Consequently, stewardship plans along with risk assessments and experimental evidence are required to gain regulatory approval and for the responsible cultivation of these crops.

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

RTB Annual Meeting 2018: “Staying the best”

The annual meeting for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) took place from October 25-28 in Palmira and Cali, Colombia, hosted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

The meeting, followed the 18th Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops, which also featured much RTB research, brought together more than 80 participants from the program’s five implementing centers, along with other partners attending the symposium. Full details are available from the RTB Annual Meeting Report.

“Our annual meetings are a chance to bring together our team from across the globe to dynamize research moving forward. We need everyone’s buy-in to ensure that RTB stays as one of the best CGIAR Research Programs,” said Graham Thiele, RTB Director, who opened the event. He went on to highlight six areas where RTB is excelling including adding value through synergistic cross cutting flagship research, scaling, gender research, communication, and its Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning platform (MEL).

“Part of what makes us one of the top performing CRPs are our strong partnerships. One of our goals through this meeting was to identify ways in which we can enhance our collaboration with key partners in 2019,” said Thiele.

Towards this, the first day of the event included a set of mini-workshops designed to strengthen cooperation with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture (BIG DATA) and the Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA). During each session, participants including partner representatives, laid out plans of action identified areas of collaboration and their importance, bottlenecks for action and opportunities for resource mobilization.

The development of ontologies for RTB crops and agronomy, and their integration in data collection and data management systems was identified as a potential area of collaboration with BIG DATA, along with the creation of data-driven approaches to enhance transnational pest and disease surveillance and management.

For CCAFS, areas of collaboration included evidence-based awareness initiatives and policy influence, including developing adaptation plans with policy makers to consider the potential for adaptation to climate change and extreme weather events of RTB cropping systems.

Ways of enhancing collaboration with SPIA included supporting feedback and learning loops between scaling strategies and early impact assessments, unpacking the genetic fingerprinting data from impact studies to provide metrics around trait adoption to guide breeding programs and using periodic existing national representative agricultural surveys to include specific questions about technology adoption.

The following day, flagship project teams came together to identify concrete actions for 2019. Teams focused on cross-cutting areas which benefit the RTB program as a whole, assessing interactions among cross-crop and crop-specific clusters of activities, identifying ways they could improve, and highlighting their most exciting piece of research going forward.

Flagship Project 1 – Enhanced genetic resources 
The team from Flagship Project 1 highlighted their plans to make breeding more demand responsive by  incorporating tools such as product profiles and the stage-gate from the Excellence in Breeding Platform and the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative. This would be implemented via the Breeding Community of Practice and link with implementing common sets of recommendations from the Breeding Program Assessment Tool (BPAT) assessments.

An important achievement of the flagship presented during the event is the wealth of genomic information captured from the most diverse crop genetic resources that will help define RTB’s main genepools. “Their relative genetic diversity and genetic distance is opening the unique opportunity to define heterotic pools to accelerate and improve the quantity and quality of RTB crops.  Knowing the relationship among heterotic groups is key for germplasm organization and variety development through hybrid breeding,” explained Luis Augusto Becerra, Flagship Project 1 leader and CIAT scientist. 

Flagship Project 2 – Adapted productive varieties and quality seed
The Flagship Project 2 group, including Karen Garrett from the University of Florida, also discussed the modernization of breeding programs. Additionally, cross-cutting collaboration was proposed around the use of ground penetrating radar for early bulking and root growth estimation in root and tuber crops, and for bananas to measure the growth of the corm. In the area of seed, collaboration was proposed around quality assurance looking at standards and regulations, which could build on work with the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) on gathering evidence of impacts of inappropriate quality assurance standards in RTB crops. Additional effort is needed in shared communication and advocacy strategies to achieve appropriate quality assurance with certification agencies.

Flagship Project 3 – Resilient crops 
The team from Flagship Project 3, including Julian Smith of Fera Science Ltd, agreed that better integration of databases and digital tools for pest and disease monitoring and management is a key area for future work together with BIG DATA. Big data tools and analytics have immense potential to help support transnational surveillance and responses to crop pests and diseases, which are expected to intensify under climate change. Better ways to detect outbreaks are needed for early and effective contingency responses for pests and diseases, along with greater accessibility of this data to a wider user base.

Flagship Project 4 – Nutritious food and added value 
Anticipating changes in food choices by generating knowledge on urban and rural consumption habits of RTB crops, including products and trends, was identified by the Flagship Project 4 team. Better understanding the choices that consumers make and identifying future changes in consumption habits can help to develop behavioral strategies and develop more targeted interventions.

“The team is very passionate and dedicated to their profession and they see their flagship themes related to nutrition, food science and post-harvest as part of the core of RTB. Attending RTB annual meetings is fun for me because it’s an opportunity to meet people and put the names to faces. The annual meeting allows for discussions and planning in person and that enhances productivity. It’s was wonderful team building exercise for me in my new role as flagship leader,” said Tawanda Muzhingi, Flagship Project 4 leader and scientist with the International Potato Center.

Flagship Project 5 – Improved livelihoods at scale  
The Flagship Project 5 team will feature in reporting their progress on linking farm level modelling to strategic foresight which relates biophysical and socio-economic analyses. They highlighted the need to enhance the gender-responsiveness of scaling processes.

“Scaling of innovations is a hot topic that is high on the donor agenda. Flagship Project 5 featured prominently in the ScaleUP conference organised at Purdue and during the World Food Prize 2018 event in Des Moines where I participated in a panel on Science of Scaling. This gives us great momentum to put forward some of the tools, approaches and best practices from RTB, as we are obviously ahead of the game in terms of our thinking and decision support tools. It is important for us to translate our science on scaling into tangible products that can be used by donors and scaling partners to develop more cost-efficient scaling strategies,” said Marc Schut, Flagship Project 5 leader and scientist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Wageningen University and Research.

The flagship also scheduled a ‘Blue Sky Retreat’ for 2019 to review and update the Theory of Change at flagship and at cluster levels and identify and develop outcome stories of how our investments have triggered or contributed to real changes or improved livelihoods. The retreat will also examine what additional or novel investments the flagship needs to make to further advance impact as part of RTB.

The event wrapped up with small groups working through the following strategic cross-cutting themes:

  • Implementing a stage-gate approach in RTB breeding programs
  • Use of the seed systems toolkit
  • Mobile apps and ICT for pests and disease diagnosis and surveillance
  • Gender differentiated end-user preferences for fresh and processed RTB foods, quality traits and breeding
  • Exploring opportunities for applying the scaling readiness approach

The positive and collaborative spirit of the meeting was summed up by Flagship Project 3 leader, James Legg:

Breeding improved cassava varieties that women and men want

Understanding gender differences in trait preferences for cassava can accelerate adoption as this knowledge is incorporated into breeding programs.

Cassava is the daily bread of Nigeria, but it is hardly ever simply boiled and eaten. Nigerian cassava is processed into products like gari (toasted cassava starch granules), which are made in villages and trucked to cities across the country. Processing usually involves several different steps and quite a lot of work. While women do grow cassava, they also provide most of the labor for cassava processing, both for food products to eat at home and in many cases, to make a living from small-scale enterprises. Men grow larger cassava farms than women and prefer to sell cassava as fresh roots, instead of processing it. Because of these varying roles, women and men’s perception of the most critical traits needed in cassava may differ. 

The Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NextGen) project aims to take these traits into account to improve targeting of cassava varieties for end users.  Nextgen uses a new approach to accelerate breeding called genomic selection that relies on statistical modeling to predict cassava performance before field-testing.

Hale Ann Tufan of Cornell University leads the survey component of Nextgen. She explains, “We need to think like a company. Companies have to build consumer profiles of their users and then develop typologies around these to inform the breeding program.” Likewise, plant breeders need to understand how important a trait is for farmers, as not all the traits that farmers list are equally important.

Similarly, the RTBfoods project led by Dominique Dufour, Food Scientist at CIRAD is also working to understand gender differences in trait preferences for important food and income-generating root and tuber products, with the aim to develop new varieties that meet the needs of men and women producers, processors and consumers. “Creating an evidence base for crop and product preferences by gender and other factors of social difference is a new and innovative approach that we are excited about. Importantly, this will further the contributions of breeders to improving food security and income generation in sub-Saharan Africa,” explains Lora Forsythe of the Natural Resources Institute, who leads Work Package 1 on preferences for the RTBfoods project.

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

Pest distribution and risk atlas for Africa includes potato and sweetpotato pests

Insect pests cause major yield losses in agricultural crops. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this impact, with warming temperatures affecting insect populations, range expansion and outbreaks. To inform the development of integrated pest management strategies, the International Potato Center (CIP) launched an online Pest Distribution and Risk Atlas for Africa in early 2017.

This open-access, mobile-accessible resource combines up-to-date information on major insect threats to potato, sweetpotato, vegetable and maize production with current risk maps for each pest and predictions for future climate scenarios. Researchers, agricultural ministry officials and extensionists can use that information to plan efforts that help farmers better manage crop pests now and prepare for future threats. The maps were generated using insect life cycle modelling software (https://research.cip.cgiar.org/confluence/display/ilcym/Home).

“Any increase in temperature caused by climate change will have drastic effects on pest invasions and outbreaks that will affect pest management, crop production and food security,” said Jürgen Kroschel, CIP Agroecology and Integrated Pest Management science leader, who started the Pest Risk Atlas project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessing progress towards sustainable intensification

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

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

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

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

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

Field work

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

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

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

Lessons learned

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

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

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

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

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

Way forward

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

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

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

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

DNA fingerprinting shows high adoption of improved cassava varieties in Nigeria

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

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

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

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