Category Archives: Themes


The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has developed a multi-faceted gender strategy that will be woven through its research and development portfolio during  the first three-year phase of the program and beyond. The strategy has been developed over several months and is based on extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. The overall objective of the Program is to improve food security and reduce poverty while strengthening gender equality. For this to happen, all farmers, both men and women, must be able to benefit from science and technology interventions leading to positive development outcomes.

Revised Gender Strategy_WEB 03


Theme 7. Enhancing impact through partnerships

RTB strongly believes in the potential of formal and informal partnerships to mobilize complementary expertise and ensure that impacts are achieved in a cost-effective manner. To fully exploit this potential, the process of partnership building and management needs to be an integral part of program planning, drawing on a range of tools and experiences for “good partnering”.

The objective of this cross-cutting theme is to increase the potential of the program to achieve positive outcomes and impacts on vulnerable groups by setting priorities for RTB R4D, capturing users’ needs and perspectives, engaging the right partners, building capacity, and promoting continuous learning.

RTB will use the partnership learning cycle, illustrated in the figure below, as the “conceptual glue” that keeps the Research Program on track. Five product portfolio areas are linked in a virtuous circle, with each positively informing and strengthening the next, recognizing also that there may be positive overlaps between them.


The following chart demonstrates impact pathways for each of the product portfolio areas:


Theme 6. Promoting postharvest technologies, value chains, and market opportunities

RTB are consumed as a staple or supplementary food by the rural poor across much of the developing world. They enter in the transition to more market-based food systems, especially through added value products, both fresh and processed.

Bulkiness and perishability have traditionally limited RTB use to on-farm and local markets. Specialized storage conditions or postharvest processing are required to extend use beyond harvest periods and for more distant markets.

There is considerable scope for repositioning RTB as added-value cash crops by expanding their use for processing and through the sale of preferred varieties and products to satisfy emerging markets, particularly in urban areas.

Product portfolios for this theme will focus on:

  • Postharvest approaches to improve food security
  • Improving linkages to markets for environmentally-friendly income-generation activities
  • Marketing strategies and policies to add value and promote RTB consumption

Improving chain efficiency needs to be complemented by a focus on equity to ensure that the rural poor (either producers or processors) can participate fairly in expanding value chains to improve incomes and livelihoods. Equally, inefficient use of water and other inputs, process wastes, and sub-optimal use of residues reduce chain efficiency and result in environmental pollution. It is essential to develop and integrate specific technological innovations and also support improved efficiency (economic and resource use) and equity of value chains for RTBs.

The figure below shows the impact pathways envisaged for Theme 6:


Theme 5. Developing tools for more productive, ecologically robust cropping systems

Rural households in developing regions often grow RTB with few inputs beyond their own labor, land, and rainfall. What they produce is mostly used for subsistence consumption. However, market-oriented production opportunities are expanding, and traditional strategies to maintain crop and land productivity are increasingly complemented with purchased fertilizers and, in some cases, irrigation, especially for potatoes and bananas.

The objective of Theme 5 is to develop decision-support tools for more productive, less vulnerable, and more resilient RTB crop systems. Furthermore, it will focus on the development of tools to facilitate more efficient integration of different management practices that improve yields and quality and reduce environmental degradation and risks to human health.

The integration of crop management to overcome biotic and abiotic constraints will be validated and improved through an assessment of current on-farm practices and farmer participatory experiments involving partner organizations.

Product portfolios will focus on:

  • Ecological and physiological understanding of RTB crops and cropping systems
  • Increasing productivity in RTB cropping systems through nutrient/water/light management practices
  • Integrated decision and management tools for RTB crops

The figure below  shows the impact pathway proposed for Theme 5.


Theme 4. Making available low-cost, high-quality planting material for farmers

The quality and availability of planting material are a recurrent concern of small farmers in developing countries, particularly for those who grow RTB crops. Organizations dealing with plant health issues are also concerned about planting material, because it is often an important carrier of new or existing pests and diseases.

Planting material is a key component for reducing the “yield gap” and allowing the expression of the genetic potential of improved or native cultivars in terms of productivity.

Currently, more than 95% of RTB planting material used by small farmers originates from the farmer’s own field or a neighbor’s field, with a few exceptions for potato or banana in limited localities. Lack of access to quality planting material appears to be the single most important limiting factor contributing to the observed yield gap seen in developing countries for all of the RTB crops. Likewise, the lack of effective seed systems holds back the rapid and wide-scale adoption of new cultivars, with their associated pro-poor traits.

Product portfolios for Theme 4 will focus on:

  • Policies, strategies, and decision support tools to improve effectiveness of seed systems
  • Lower cost, more effective mass propagation methods
  • Farmer-based quality seed production and management methods

The following figure shows a generic description of the impact pathways envisaged for Theme 4.


Theme 3. Managing priority pests and diseases

Pests and diseases can reduce yields and even wipe out RTB crops, both in the field and post-harvest. Pests and diseases of RTB crops include some of the most devastating biotic agents known, including diseases such as the viruses of cassava that threaten food security in parts of Eastern and Central Africa and the potato late blight disease, which causes annual losses estimated at $12 billion in developing countries.
Reduced productivity exacerbates inefficient use of soil and water resources. The use of pesticides can lead to pest resistance and carry heavy costs in terms of economics, human health, and environmental degradation.

With agricultural intensification and the effects of climate change, the threats of pests and diseases are likely to grow.

Theme 3 aims to generate knowledge and novel technologies, build communities‐of‐practice, and

strengthen capacities that will better enable farmers to manage RTB pest and disease problems.

Product portfolios for this theme will focus on:

  • Detection, surveillance, and mapping
  • Ecology, biology, and epidemiology of pests and diseases
  • Ecology and management of beneficial organisms
  • Specific management strategies

Vegetatively propagated crops have similar disease issues. For example, viruses are transmitted in similar ways either via vegetative seed or vectors such as whiteflies or aphids, which are common across crops. This limits rapid exchange and dissemination of planting material of improved varieties, and reduces the quality of farmer‐produced seed. Therefore, exploiting the synergies among Centers will help develop common and more efficient vector control strategies as well as effective low‐cost virus (and other pathogens) detection methods for use across RTB for screening in breeding and seed programs. Better standardization of resistance phenotyping (measuring and describing resistance) will improve efficiency of selection for new resistant varieties.

The figure below shows the impact pathways envisaged for Theme 3.



Theme 2. Accelerating the Development and Selection of Cultivars with Higher, More Stable Yield and Added Value

The goal of Theme 2 is to exploit the genetic resources of RTB to improve productivity, enhance climate change adaptation and resilience, and boost nutritional content and commercial value.

RTB crops share challenges regarding their breeding. They are genetically complex and sensitive to inbreeding. Because they are vegetatively propagated, RTBs exhibit relatively low multiplication rates and are subject to high disease load in their bulky and perishable propagating material. This presents challenges for variety delivery and farmer uptake, especially where infrastructure is poor. At the same time, once an improved variety is developed, the clonal propagation makes it easier to multiply plants with the desired improved traits.

Product portfolios for this theme will focus on:

  • Breeding tools, strategies, and approaches
  • Trait capture and gene discovery
  • Population development and pre-breeding
  • Variety development
  • Aligning research with farmers’ and end-users’ priorities

The spread of introduced and endemic pests or pathogens is increasing due to climate change, crop intensification, and crop expansion. It heightens the urgency for developing resistant varieties to improve or stabilize yields, reduce chemical use, and boost farmer profits. Likewise, the great potential of reducing nutritional deficiencies and improving health through biofortification underscores the need for further increasing the natural nutritional benefits of these crops.

Priority Breeding Objectives are presented in the following table:


The figure below shows the impact pathways envisaged for Theme 2.


Theme 1. Unlocking the value and use potential of genetic resources

The four RTB Centers (Bioversity, CIAT, CIP, IITA) play a leading role in the global conservation of RTB genetic resources both in farmer fields and natural habitats in their centers of origin (in-situ) and in genebanks (ex-situ). Each belongs to the “Clonal Crop Task Force” of the InterCenter Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources, which works to preserve, add value, and safely distribute RTB crops.

Over 30,000 accessions of RTB crops are maintained by global collections

Bioversity-Musa Banana

1,298 accessions

CIAT Cassava

6,592 accessions

CIP PotatoSweetpotatoAndean Root and Tuber Crops

6,948 accessions

8,108 accessions

1,564 accessions

IITA BananaCassava



290 accessions

2,783 accessions

3,360 accessions

41 accessions


Theme 1’s overall objective is to build upon the existing competencies of the four CGIAR Centers involved in clonal crop conservation to implement global conservation strategies for RTB crops in close collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) and regional and national genebanks. The intent is to put genebanks at the forefront of efforts to conserve, increase, and better exploit the diversity of RTB genetic resources conserved and to better document the germplasm. This will permit researchers and farming communities to make faster and better use of the germplasm, to address biotic and abiotic stresses faced by RTB, mitigate the effects of climate change, improve nutrition, and supply new and expanding markets.

Specific objectives include:

  • To ensure that the ex-situ conservation of RTB crops is efficient, relevant, and cost-effective.
  • To strengthen and better understand in-situ conservation and on-farm management towards resilient livelihoods.
  • To improve the coverage of in-trust collections.
  • To stimulate the use of RTB germplasm through characterization, description of agronomic features, reaction to pests and diseases, abiotic stresses, and nutritional and technological traits.
  • To promote the use of germplasm by facilitating access to information.
  • To strengthen the global system for the safe exchange of germplasm.
  • To advocate proactively for the value of genetic resources to policy makers and donors.

One of the key products generated by Theme 1 is germplasm of wild species, landraces, cultivars, and improved material, mainly as virus-free plantlets. They are made available for use by RTB breeders for adaptation and improvement. The challenge is to build efficient partnerships with national actors to reach end-users (farmers).


The figure below shows the impact pathways envisaged for Theme 1.