Category Archives: News

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).

A second climate smart agricultural revolution in the Andes

Climate change is impacting the lives of potato farmers in the Andean region, intensifying damage from pests and diseases, increasing risk of soil erosion and contributing to loss of biodiversity.

In an award-winning presentation at the 10th World Potato Congress in Cusco, Peru, Graham Thiele, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) looked to the past to see what lessons can be drawn from the way in which the Wari and Inka Empires adapted to a warming climate one thousand years ago.

In the following Q&A with the International Potato Center (CIP), Thiele breaks down the history, the evidence, and key actions that are needed to respond to these challenges.  

What was the first Pan-Andean Climate Smart Agricultural Revolution, and when did it take place?
The first Pan-Andean Climate Smart Agricultural Revolution took place around 1,000 to 1,400 AD. This was a time of climate change and a warming environment. Despite this the Wari and Inka Empires were able to reconfigure and intensify Andean cropping systems at the same time as they made them more resilient and robust in the face of this climate change.

What evidence is there that climate innovation took place at this time?
What we have is something really neat, it’s kind of like a dashboard of changes in biology and local erosion processes and it comes from lake cores, from a dried-up lake near to Cusco, Peru. What we can see from these lake cores is that there was a peak in sedimentation around the 12th century which then tapered off. We think that peak was associated with the construction of terraces that led to momentarily increased soil loss and then stabilization.

We can also see a lot of macro-carbon coming from fires prior to that period, which then drops off too. This indicates a control of fire and a shift to a more permanent cropping system, as previously vegetation would have been burned to create space for agriculture. There is also a sharp increase in pollen from aliso trees, which the Inka were managing as agroforestry systems. So, there was a host of complex of changes that together facilitated a more sustainable and resilient cropping system in the Andes, with a reduction in CO2 emissions.

How did the warmer climate affect their cropping systems?
The effects of global warming in the Andes at that time, made it possible to cultivate maize further up the mountain slopes. That was linked with a shift of potatoes upwards to higher altitudes. So the configuration of potato, maize and other crops across that vertical space was changing, as were cropping practices – particularly with the introduction of terracing.

Peru’s Sacred Valley is hotspot of biodiversity for potato. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

What is the benefit of terracing for potato farming?
Terracing is very good for cropping because you have stabilization of slopes. You have accumulation of soil nutrients by reducing soil loss, and you’ve also got improvements in water management with reduced run-off and irrigation.

What kind of institutional change took place at the time that allowed for Andean societies to introduce extensive terracing?
The Inka Empire was a bureaucratic and very hierarchical state, that developed different ways to manage people. They had a taxation system based mainly on maize and kept registers of people who paid tribute. The state was pushing for increased intensification of agriculture through terracing, in order to create surplus crops – primarily maize – for purposes of taxation. Potatoes would have been very much part of people’s lives and food security but weren’t so central to the Inkas tax regime.

Restored Inka terraces in Pisaq, Peru. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

What evidence is there of climate change related impacts today?
There is compelling evidence of climate related impacts today. We can see reductions in the size of some glaciers in the Andes which is being associated with increased instability of water flows. In terms of direct impacts on agriculture, we’ve already seen that native potatoes which used to be grown at lower altitudes are climbing up the hillsides in search of lower temperatures. In the past 15 or 20 years, we’ve seen both bitter and floury varieties move over 200 meters upwards. There is also an intensification of several insects, pests and diseases. Modelling of projected increase in temperature and rainfall suggests that many farmers growing native potatoes will have to make several more sprays to control late blight which is a very damaging potato disease. Similarly, the Andean potato tuber moth, will be able to complete more lifecycles as the temperature increases and that going to lead to more damage to potatoes when moths multiply in potato stores, creating significant losses for farmers. 

What we can see is that climate change accelerates problems that were already there and makes them worse. Farmers’ local knowledge and practices may not be sufficient to keep up with the pace of climate change.

A young girl holds a native potato variety at her mother’s stall in Cusco, Peru. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

How can what took place during the first climate smart revolution inform what we do today?
A good example is through agro-forestry. We’ve seen a significant loss of trees and especially local species in Andean spaces. We know from looking at agricultural records that agro-forestry was very important for stabilizing hillsides which can erode due to more erratic and intense rainfall. So, we need to think about potatoes in a more holistic way, not just the crop itself, but the whole environment around that crop.

It would also be great if we could restore some more of the Inka terraces, but there are other ways of managing slopes these days that are cheaper and more cost-effective. It’s important that we learn from the past, not as a blueprint, but to look at the ways institutional change occurred across a very large geographic space in a Pan-Andean way and have a modern version of what the Waris and the Inkas were able to do.

What are some of the ways that CIP and RTB are helping farmers adapt to the climate related challenges you have described?
One of the ways that CIP and RTB are helping communities to adapt to these challenges is through participatory plant-breeding. As I mentioned, a warming environment means that some potato varieties are being pushed up hillsides. So, what we would like to do is have new potato varieties which have the benefits and diversity of those older ones, but which are more resistant to diseases like late blight. CIP is working with national partners, such as INIA, on research to use Andean germplasm to breed varieties more adapted to climate change stresses. Some of these such as Puka Lliclla have already been released and are being adopted in the Andes.

View the full presentation via SlideShare below:


Global meeting brings together world’s foremost potato experts

More than 800 potato scientists, industry representatives, government officials and other interested parties from 50 countries have gathered in the Andean city of Cusco, Peru for the 10th World Potato Congress (WPC) and the 28th Congress of the Latin American Potato Association (ALAP), held from May 27 – 31. The event, which includes prominent participation by scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP), the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has raised the potato’s profile in Peru and beyond by highlighting the crop’s rich biodiversity and its potential for reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

The WPC is the most important international event for potato science and business, held in a different country every three years. WPC 2018 marks the first time that the Congress takes place in Latin America. 

In his address to participants, Peru’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Gustavo Mostajo, noted that the decision to hold the event in Cusco was due to the fact that it lies in the potato’s center of origin, near where potatoes were first domesticated almost 10,000 years ago, and where most of the world’s potato biodiversity is found.

Local potato farmer, Victor Lopez Gago, shows one of his favorite potato varieties at his stall at WPC 2018. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

“This will be an opportunity for Latin American researchers – in one great event – to learn about the latest advances in potato science and businesses in different geographical contexts around the world,” he said.

The Congress was inaugurated Monday morning by the President of Peru, Martin Vizcarra, who noted that more than 10 percent of his country’s population depends on potato, but that most of them lead lives of subsistence. He expressed his hope that the knowledge shared during the three-day event will contribute to his country’s goal that “the potato serves to not only to alleviate hunger, but also to generate progress and development for farmers, no matter how small they are.”

In a plenary presentation, CIP’s Director General, Dr. Barbara Wells, described the extent and impacts of hunger and micronutrient deficiencies globally, and the challenges that farmers in the developing world face to grow enough food and earn a decent living. She warned that the challenges of feeding the world and reducing malnutrition will grow over the next three decades, as the world’s population approaches 10 billion and climate change threatens agriculture in many regions. However, she also cited improvements in potato breeding, seed systems, agronomic practices and other areas that can help the global community meet those challenges.

Dr. Barbara Wells delivers a plenary presentation at WPC 2018. Photo: H.Holmes/RTB

She explained that while potatoes are already a good source of carbohydrates, vitamin C, iron and zinc, CIP scientists in Peru have spent the past decade crossing native potatoes with high iron and zinc content to breed biofortified potatoes – with double the original levels of those micronutrients. These efforts will contribute to reducing malnutrition and anemia in several countries in the coming years.

Climate change was also a key issue discussed at the event. RTB Director, Graham Thiele, delivered a presentation during one of the technical sessions entitled ‘A second climate smart agricultural revolution in the Andes for the 21st century’. The presentation examined the ways in which the Inka Empire adapted to climate change around 1000 years ago and drew lessons for the Andean region today. Thiele was awarded Best Oral Presentation under the climate-related technical session. 

WPC 2018 was organized by INIA, which is part of Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, in collaboration with CIP, the National Agrarian University La Molina, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism and the Peru country office of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Read the original version of this article on the CIP website. 

See the social media coverage of the event below by RTB:


Does the scaling of sweetpotato technologies reduce or reinforce gender inequalities?

A recent paper published by scientists from the International Potato Center examines how processes of scaling up technologies to promote adoption can reinforce or reduce gender inequalities.

The article, entitled ‘Scaling up of sweetpotato vine multiplication technologies in Phalombe and Chikwawa districts in Malawi: A gender analysis‘, is based on a gender analysis in those districts which took place in 2013 and 2014. Technologies discussed in the paper include orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties and sweetpotato vine multiplication systems. The paper looks at research that is being done and how the resulting methods or models to improve agricultural practice are then scaled up for wide adoption beyond pilot villages.

Findings illustrate that scaling strategies to promote technology adoption by women should go beyond the technology itself to restructuring both the technical and non-technical aspects of agriculture. This will ensure women can fully benefit from improved technologies.

Thus there is a need to understand the physical and institutional context in which the technology is implemented in order to develop scaling strategies that ensure men and women are able to adopt and benefit.

Key issues highlighted in the study include:

  • Technology scale-up may exclude women, or include them in positions subordinate to men.
  • Gender blind technology scale-up may worsen gender relations and constrain the ability of women to engage in positive and empowering ways.
  • Technology choice is influenced by the resources that men and women within households have access to and control.
  • Benefits from technology adoption may be skewed in favor of men while women’s labour increases.
  • Men and women’s needs should be integrated into technology development for technologies to be adopted and retained.

A woman peels orange-fleshed sweetpotato, which is rich in Vitamin A. Malawi. Photo; S.Quinn/CIP

The paper also analyzes how gendered institutions may discriminate against women and prevent them from participating in technology development and scaling up processes. Further areas explored by the researchers include how the interaction of institutions, technologies, socio-economic rules, images, ideologies influences the ability of different people to adopt technologies.

The research was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Flagship project 5 on ‘Improved livelihoods at scale’, and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

Blog contributed by Netsayi Mudege (CIP Gender Research Coordinator) with contributions from Vivian Atakos (CIP-SSA Communication Specialist).

Read the original post on the CIP website.

Award announced for best scientific paper on sweetpotato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Excellence and Innovation in Sweetpotato: Communication for Change Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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