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New network analysis approach to mitigate spread of potato disease

The spread of disease in potato seed systems is a major risk to production and livelihoods. As root and tuber crops are propagated vegetatively, pathogens and pests can accumulate in planting material over successive cycles of propagation and lead to poor quality seed. Balancing the need to manage and control this, while also facilitating the efficient spread of improved varieties among farmers is a challenge. Addressing approaches for evaluating and mitigating the risk of disease in seed systems is an important research area for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

There are around 85,000 potato farmers in Ecuador, of which 75% are estimated to be small-scale producers. Photo courtesy Garrett Lab.

To address this need, we developed a new method of analysis to identify the most important individual stakeholders in a seed system – such as farms, seed multipliers and institutions – who should be a focus for disease detection and management efforts. We modeled and evaluated the spread of disease in farmer seed provisioning networks, or seed systems. We focused on a network of seed tuber transactions for members of a regional potato farmer consortium in Ecuador, called CONPAPA. An interactive interface allows users to see how a new disease is likely to spread through this network.

CONPAPA is a regionally successful farmer cooperative that helps members to buy disease-free planting material and provides training on how to effectively manage pests and diseases. The cooperative also sells potato that member farmers produce in a wide array of markets. In this case, we found that the CONPAPA seed and potato processing center, the main market in Ambato, central Ecuador, and some specific farmers were high risk, high return sites for disease detection and management. Among the CONPAPA members, the use of disease free seed tubers for planting was found to be 36% – much higher than the 2% previously reported for Ecuador.

We also examined the sources that farmers relied on for information about pest and disease management. Advice from staff at agrochemical stores was common, but was considered by farmers to be significantly less reliable than other sources. Farmer access to information, based on the number and quality of sources, was found to be similar for both women and men. However, women had a smaller amount of the market share for seed-tubers and ware potato.

Mitigating the spread of potato disease is an essential step towards helping boost Ecuador’s potato production, which is lower than neighbors, Colombia and Peru. Photo courtesy Garrett Lab.

The evaluation of seed system networks provided input for scenario analyses to evaluate potential improvements that could be made to the system. In this simple system, CONPAPA staff and facilities, the market in Ambato, small agro-chemical stores and certain farms were identified as priorities for disease management interventions based on the roles they played as sources of information or seed for farmers in the area. Suggested interventions to mitigate the spread of poor quality potato planting material include training on disease management, monitoring and improved variety dissemination.

This work was undertaken as part of an RTB project that seeks to reduce the impacts of “seed degeneration” in root and tuber crops, including potato, sweetpotato, yams, cassava and bananas. Models of disease spread, like the one we present, take into account the accumulation and spread of disease in planting materials, and can be applied to more systems to evaluate strategies for controlling risk. We show how the structure of seed networks influences the risk for seedborne disease, and can inform farmers, scientists and managers about where to invest effort to reduce risks to farmers.

The CONPAPA system is relatively small and simple, but the analyses we have developed here are also being applied to larger and more complicated systems, as part of the development of a general theory of seed system deployment in the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.

This blog was contributed by Chris Buddenhagen (University of Florida), Karen Garrett (Garrett Lab) and Jorge Andrade (International Potato Center), with Holly Holmes (RTB).

Buddenhagen, C.E., Hernandez Nopsa, J.F., Andersen, K.F., Andrade-Piedra, J., Forbes, G.A., Kromann, P., Thomas-Sharma, S., Useche, P., Garrett, K.A., 2017. Epidemic Network Analysis for Mitigation of Invasive Pathogens in Seed Systems: Potato in Ecuador. Phytopathology 107, 1209-1218. Access the open access article: doi:10.1094/PHYTO-03-17-0108-FI 

Technology is not gender neutral

New research examines the factors that influence the adoption of agricultural
technology by men and women.

Closing gender gaps in the agricultural sector is a key element in reducing poverty and improving food security. Women today are the hidden face of agriculture, playing a fundamental role from food production to commercialization, and yet not only do they not have the same access to resources and technological innovations, but often the technologies are not designed considering women’s needs and conditions.

The Latin American gender team of the International Potato Center (CIP) conducted a study to investigate the factors that influence the adoption of agricultural technology by men and women in the Andean region, whose agricultural systems are based on potato production. The main objective of the study was to generate recommendations that can inform the design and development of gender sensitive agricultural technologies. Qualitative information was collected through the implementation of focus group discussions, observation and interviews with technical personnel working directly in CIP’s areas of intervention in the Andean Region (Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) in the promotion of agricultural technology innovation for food security. The study was carried out with the support of the CGIAR Research Programs on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), and on Policy, Institutions and Markets (PIM).

One important result of the study is that technology itself is not neutral and entails gender biases that can occur when the conditions of the target group (men, women, youth, or other disadvantaged groups) are not considered at different stages.

Andean potato farmers with their harvest of native varieties. Photo: CIP

For example, men and women in the community of Achullay in Ecuador, highlighted different aspects about the use of chemical or organic inputs for planting and fumigation. Women claimed that they prefer to use organic fertilizers because of their easy preparation, low cost, and because they can prepare and apply it themselves. Although it may require more time in comparison to the application of chemicals, it is preferred due to health issues. Women mentioned that food produced with organic inputs is tastier. On the other hand, men mention that the disadvantage of using organic inputs is that they are less effective, especially against late blight, a condition that considerably affects potato production. Therefore, they report using chemicals for production destined to the market (because they request larger size potatoes), whereas they do not use chemicals for production destined to home-consumption.

Analyzing the results of the research, we have been able to catalog the different factors that influence technology adoption in three different types: i) internal factors that include elements related to the productive context (social, political, environmental, economic and cultural), historical and educational factors, and gender roles; ii) technological attributes, which are inherent to technology and its use (technical, structural and operational characteristics of the technology); and iii) external factors related to access to productive resources (land, capital, labor), physical access to productive areas and access to information.

The hidden face of agriculture, women play a core role from production to commercialization. Photo: CIP

According to testimonies of farmers from Jacopampa in Bolivia, and technicians working in technology dissemination, one of the important tasks is potato selection by size. They say: “This task is usually performed by women manually.” In order to reduce the time devoted to this task, equipment for mechanized potato selection was introduced. The evaluations showed positive results but the equipment was not adopted. This was due to the fact that in validation meetings more men than women participated and they gladly operated the equipment. However, within the families, it was still the women who carried out this task. Women found the operation difficult due to the height of the equipment and the strength necessary to lift the potato bags to feed the equipment. Once these conditions were understood, a much simpler equipment (lower size, without cranks, where the potatoes slipped by gravity and were pushed manually through sieves) was introduced. This equipment reduced the time allocated to manual selection, but its simplicity, low bearing and lower requirement of physical strength allowed women to adopt it.

Throughout the different focus groups, the relationship between gender roles (accepted in the context) and the type of technology adopted by men and women was clearly observed. In Peru, for example, women more frequently mentioned adopting technologies related to food processing, seed selection, composting, and sprinkler irrigation. These technologies respond to gender roles assigned to women within the household and the community, such as food preparation, production of minor crops for self-consumption and waste management. In the case of men, they more frequently mentioned adopting technologies related to productive infrastructure (seed storage, construction of platforms), plot organization (rotation of crops), and technologies that require physical strength and/or intensive use of labor.

In conclusion, the results of the study showed that the potential adoption of agricultural technologies may differ between women and men, depending on different factors and their interactions. That is to say that factors do not independently influence the adoption of technology by farmers, but rather interact with each other thus shaping the potential adoption of agricultural technologies.

The final report of this work will be available online soon.

Blog contributed by Dr. Claudia Babini of the International Potato Center. 

RTB launches second phase and enhanced partnership with Wageningen University & Research

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) hosted a seminar and launch event on 11 May at its campus in the Netherlands to celebrate the second phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and its enhanced partnership with the university. The event brought together over 50 participants and included a lively discussion of the role of the private sector, seed systems and youth during a panel debate.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus, WUR, opened the launch and stressed the need to address the social dimension of technological change to achieve development impacts for root, tuber and banana crops. He noted that in this regard the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation (KTI) group at WUR will play an especially important role in the enhanced partnership with RTB.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus, WUR, opened the event on May 11. Photo: WUR

“The second phase of RTB which runs from 2017 – 2022, places an enhanced emphasis on scaling, a key element in the stronger partnership with WUR,” explained Graham Thiele, RTB Director. He went on to note that “RTB has reorganized by interdisciplinary ‘flagship projects’, which are made up by a number of smaller ‘clusters’ or projects dedicated to key research areas. And we are really pleased to have a team from KTI leading a cluster on scaling and partnerships, including a novel method for assessing scaling readiness.” Thiele added that the scaling of innovations lies at the core of achieving RTB’s ambitious targets of reaching millions of beneficiaries by 2022.

“Traditionally, the scaling of innovations or technologies was done at the end of a project with a finished package that was supposedly ready to be adopted by a broader group perhaps linked with summary sheets shared with policy makers. The scaling readiness method will allow scientists and societal partners to think systematically about how scaling of their proposed technology depends on a combination of technological changes, and also the enabling social-organizational environment. Discussing these matters with stakeholders helps to improve scaling strategies and conditions for scaling,” explains Cees Leeuwis, a professor of KTI who leads the RTB scaling cluster.

RTB’s collaboration with KTI first began with research on multiple root, tuber and banana seed systems with Conny Almekinders a KTI researcher. Since then, this work has evolved to include a broader range of tools such as seed tracer studies, and is now a core component of another RTB cluster on “Access to quality seeds and varieties”, for which a workshop was underway concurrently with the launch. A joint presentation during the event by Almekinders and Margaret McEwan of the International Potato Center (CIP) showed why thinking about seed is more than genes, and how these perspectives are critical for sustainable interventions.

L to R: Margaret McEwan, Cees Leeuwis, Graham Thiele and Conny Almekinders participate in the panel discussion on seed systems. Photo: WUR

“In Chencha, Ethiopia, a seed tracer study of seed movements found that surprisingly wealthy male potato farmers most effectively multiply and share seed with poorer farmers including women,” McEwan explained during the presentation. Understanding how seed actually moves can guide improvements in seed system interventions and successful scaling.

“WUR is an exciting and dynamic partner who brings new perspectives and expertise to RTB, especially from the social sciences, around seed systems, scaling and innovation. This is highly complementary to our CGIAR skill set,” says Thiele.

“Often we have great technologies, but they can get stuck in the local pilot site where we began testing. In those cases, it’s essential to know what happened and why the technology didn’t go further. Of course there are excellent examples of scaling in RTB such as with orange fleshed sweetpotato, but there are too few cases like that. So we need to understand better the secrets of success and began to plan for scaling from the beginning,” he adds.

A participant asks a question during the lively panel discussion. Photo: WUR

The partnership also brings potential new capacity development opportunities through the mentoring of students who may be able to conduct research with RTB and WUR towards their MSc or PhD projects.

“I hope that we can find a conducive balance between doing interesting science, and being relevant to international development. And I hope we can operationalize this in part through offering candidates from development partners the possibility to obtain a PhD. Such trajectories are a very effective way of combining research, capacity development and partnership development,” says Leeuwis.

Together both RTB and WUR are working to achieve large-scale societal impact for the benefit of smallholders throughout the root, tuber and banana value chains, and the launch event of RTB Phase II provided an opportunity to celebrate the steps that are being taken towards achieving that shared vision.

Starting from Tuesday 16 May, RTB will release a series of blogs dedicated to the program’s new flagship projects in Phase II.

The nuts and bolts of collaborative research on roots, tubers and bananas: RTB Annual Meeting

As the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) kicks off Phase II, the team came together in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for an annual review and planning meeting from March 11 – 12.

The meeting built on the momentum from the RTB World Café on Scalable Technologies which took place the day before, and along with updates of progress, focused on refining the nuts and bolts of collaboration to build effective flagship project and cluster teams. 

The event brought together over 80 researchers from across RTB’s five program partner centers – International Potato CenterInternational Institute of Tropical AgricultureBioversity International, International Center for Tropical Agriculture and Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) – along with colleagues from other partners including Wageningen University.

Over 80 participants from RTB partner centers came together for the annual meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director set the scene with an analysis of strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the program, and some key responses to the address the points identified in the analysis.

“RTB is entering its second phase in a strong position. We had one of the highest rated proposals for Phase II, we have clear impact pathways to reach our targeted outcomes by 2022 and our alliance model means we have cemented, effective partnerships that will be critical to allow us to reach those goals. However, we also have areas to improve upon – The cost and complexity of coordinating such a large-scale program with over 350 partners is a challenge, as is the need to carefully steward our W2 funding and  mobilize funding for cross cutting opportunities,” explained Thiele.

“We also need to strengthen flagship leader’s roles in science quality and knowledge management, and cluster leader’s roles in project management, along with maintaining the ‘glue’ of collaboration in cross cutting areas,” he added.

Anne Rietveld shared a program update on gender research, highlighting the successful collaboration with the Gender Responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT) project, which provided training to agricultural researchers from sub-Saharan Africa on gender-responsive research for root, tuber and banana crops in 2016.

Claudio Proietti explained the progress of the new Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Platform launched at the end of 2016 as an all-in-one modular platform for improving planning, management, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. 

Holly Holmes presented progress in RTB communications and outreach, including tracking digital analytics and engagement, and highlighting RTB’s interactive 2015 Annual Report website.

Conny Almekinders (center) of Wageningen University, summarizes key discussion points from the Flagship Project 2 session with the broader group. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Flagship project leaders held interactive groupwork sessions with their teams, which are ordinarily geographically dispersed. A key output of the lively groupwork was a one-year timeline for each flagship detailing key upcoming events and moments in the project calendar, together with ideas for resource mobilization. As each FP presented their timeline and key discussion points to the broader group, members of other flagships identified areas of synergy and cross-flagship collaboration.

Simon Heck, Flagship Project 4 (FP4) leader, noted that the meeting had helped the team to come together and build some momentum.

“This was the first physical meeting of the FP4 team. We discovered that our different crop research groups are already working towards similar goals – strengthening the consumer focus of our research, supporting innovation that diversifies the use of RTB crops, and finding solutions for managing the perishability and environmental footprint of RTB crops as the food systems become more complex,” Heck explained.

Simon Heck (center left) and members of the FP4 team in group discussion. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

“The session gave us a sense of common purpose, and greater confidence that, by working together in the flagship, we can address these large questions more effectively and realistically. As an immediate next step, scientists from all partners and clusters are now contributing to a compelling cross-cutting research agenda for the flagship and are committing to joint research proposals on some key research issues affecting several RTB crops. It was a real energizer for FP4 and many of us will meet again in June to produce the first set of joint outputs,” he added.

Other participants divided into small groups to discuss practical guidance and next steps on the following areas:

  • Coordination and communication of, and between, clusters
  • Strategic Innovation fund
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Big Data Platform
  • Excellence in Breeding Platform

The outputs of these discussions can be found in the annual meeting report.

In order to improve the lives of millions of men and women who depend on root, tuber and banana crops by 2022, it’s essential to ensure we have the nuts and bolts in place for an effective program team. To this end, the RTB Annual Review and Planning Meeting helped to solidify new flagship and cluster teams, and position the group for a strong start to Phase II.

For more detailed information about the meeting, please see the RTB Annual Review and Planning Meeting Report.

Expanding the horizons of biodiversity for sustainable food futures

The biodiversity of domesticated biota and food-supplying ecosystems holds unparalleled importance for breeding and crop and livestock improvement. This importance has fueled decades-long emphasis and debate on germplasm collections and in situ genetic resources. But the range of interest in agrobiodiversity is also expanding.

Now a new article in the journal Nature Plants by Karl Zimmerer, Pennsylvania State University, and Stef de Haan, International Center for Tropical Agriculture, is focused on these expanding horizons. Their article is entitled “Agrobiodiversity and a Sustainable Food Future.” It crystallizes the four-part framework that is emerging from recent advances and interest. The framework is highly relevant for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas (RTB), which is one of the main CGIAR Research Programs investing in the broader sustainability implications of agrobiodiversity.

Agricultural landscape in Vietnam. Photo S.DeHaan/CIAT

In their Nature Plants article Zimmerer and de Haan draw on new contributions in research, development, policy, academic, and activist institutions worldwide. The article reflects the ‘Agrobiodiversity in the 21st Century‘ forum held last October in Frankfurt at the Institute for Advanced Studies with support from the Strungmann Foundation.

35 international scientists, scholars, and practitioners, including several from the RTB community, participated. Agenda-setting came from the advisory committee of Connie Almekinders, Stephen Brush, Timothy Johns, and Yves Vigoroux, in addition to de Haan and Zimmerer. The Foundation is providing vital support that includes the resulting book (Agrobiodiversity in the 21st Century, to be published in early 2018 by the MIT Press).

Food, Nutrition, and Health
This focus is central to the expanding horizons of agrobiodiversity. The new UN “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” calls for agrobiodiversity to contribute to food security, nutrition. and health. This use links agrobiodiversity to food systems, producer and consumer choices, human nutrition and economic development. This is essential for root, tuber and banana crops as food preferences and uses are main drivers of on-farm conservation. Furthermore, evidence is highlighting the complementary nature of bred varieties and landraces in rural and urban food systems alike.

Genetic Resources, Ecology, and Evolution
Expanding emphasis on the resilience and sustainability of food biodiversity is related to cultural, agroecological, and evolutionary interactions. There is a suite of new research among agroecologists, biogeographers, culture-and-plant researchers, evolutionary biologists, and geneticists. This expansion of concept- and information-based approaches is linking molecular techniques to agroecological experimentation, cultural practices and histories, innovative monitoring, and “big data” methods. It is essential for RTB’s spearheading a robust monitoring framework, e.g. the Chirapaq Ñan Initiative of the International Potato Center in Latin America, which can up- and out-scale across crops and centers of diversity.

Farmers harvest native potato varieties in Peru. Photo S.DeHaan/CIAT

Governance Challenges and Opportunities
Governance mechanisms for agrobiodiversity have been broadened to involve multiple international arrangements, though with incomplete results to-date. Still community, grassroots, and civil society organizations are experimenting with innovative institutions and actions. Many regions rely on robust informal seed networks of food plant biodiversity whose strengths also require scientific and policy support. Not only RTB genetic resources need to be governed, but also the associated OMICS information.

Global Change and Social-Ecological Interactions
Individuals and societies increasingly confront the challenges of global climate, demography, land use intensification and planning, and the large-scale integration of food systems and global markets, as well as urbanization and peri-urban expansion. These interactions also crosscut each of the above areas of focus. Social-ecological interactions amid global change is actively triggering the loss as well as the enrichment and conservation of the biodiversity of agriculture and food.

Native potato varieties from Peru

Potato landraces in Peru. Photo S.DeHaan/CIAT

Rice varieties on display at a market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Rice varieties on display at a market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo S.DeHaan/CIAT

The findings in Zimmerer and de Haan’s new article demonstrate the need for integrative approaches within and among each of these four areas of expanding horizons. Integration also underscores the complex roles of smallholder and indigenous people. These key stakeholders continue to comprise a major segment of the world’s population that is most culturally aware and knowledgeable about agrobiodiversity while being disproportionately food-insecure and impoverished.

Their emerging framework promises to have practical usefulness for the program’s phase II work on genetic diversity. More broadly it also reflects the RTB community, which is among the most active and innovative interdisciplinary groups researching the multiple dimensions of agrobiodiversity use and evolution in a globalized world.

This article was contributed by Karl S. Zimmerer (Pennsylvania State University) and Stef de Haan (International Center for Tropical Agriculture)

RTB-ENDURE banana project offers solutions for postharvest losses

Researchers collaborating under the ‘Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their postharvest losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) banana sub-project have identified solutions that will help Ugandan banana farmers and traders reduce income loss due to poor handling of their produce. The solutions were officially launched during the subproject’s final event which took place on 25-26 November 2016 in Masaka and Rakai Districts, Uganda.

Uganda produces about 10 million tons of banana per hectare per year , from an estimated 1.3 million hectares nationwide. For ordinary Ugandans, cooking banana is not just a staple crop but part of the socio-cultural fabric of the smallholder households and is used for medicine, bride price and marriage negotiations, birth and death rituals. The crop has been ranked number one for drought resilience in areas of the cattle corridor which are prone to prolonged droughts and frequent floods.

Participants listen during a session at the Final Event in Masaka. Photo by J.Turyatemba/Bioversity Internationa

In the event’s opening remarks, Dr Eldad Karamura, Bioversity International Regional Representative, said that in the last 15 years, NARO-Uganda and Bioversity International have collaborated on many banana research projects, largely in the pre-harvest sector of the value chain, including diversity conservation. He added that Bioversity International will move to further strengthen the postharvest sector to address hidden hunger in children and young mothers by promoting the consumption of vitamin A- and iron-rich bananas at the household level.

The banana sub-project is part of the larger RTB-ENDURE project implemented by CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) with funding from the European Union and technical support of IFAD. The overall purpose of the RTB-ENDURE project is to improve food availability and income generation through enhanced postharvest management and expanded use of RTB crops in Uganda.

As part of the activities that took place to mark the final event of the project, a science day was held where research findings were disseminated to an audience consisting of researchers, banana farmers, civil society, government agencies, the media, agro-processors, exporters and local government officials.

At the event’s science day, Dr. Diego Naziri, RTB-ENDURE Project Coordinator, explained that bulkiness and high perishability of RTB crops coupled with poor postharvest handling and lack of processing and storage facilities result in a short shelf life, high postharvest losses and limited value addition.

The banana sub-project adopted the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) developed by the International Potato Center (CIP). Under this design, all actors (farmers, collectors, wholesalers, retailers, exporters, researchers, non-governmental organizations, etc.) in the banana value chain are brought together to jointly identify, analyse and exploit market innovations.

A Ugandan banana exporter prepares her produce. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

According to Dr. Enoch Kikulwe, the banana sub-project coordinator, 18.2% of all the cooking bananas produced in Uganda (corresponding to 47.3% of traded bananas) suffer postharvest losses. Of this amount, 8.9% of the bananas deteriorate completely and have no residual value while 9.3% only deteriorate partially and are sold at prices lower than their normal market rates. This particularly impacts retailers, who are largely women.

In order to maximize sales and income, farmers are advised to concentrate on banana varieties that already have an existing market and high untapped demand. The available identified varieties include Mbwazirume, Kibuzi, Musakala and Nakitembe.

In a gender analysis undertaken as part of the project by Susan Ajambo, a Gender Specialist with Bioversity International, it was found that women are concentrated in banana retail, which is the least profitable node of the value chain. The project therefore supported women to participate in the more profitable nodes of the value chain, such as in wholesale and the production of healthy planting material. According to Ajambo, both men and women have already embraced the macro-propagation technique and have established commercial chambers for selling clean banana plantlets of selected varieties.

Among the other areas, the project has also identified optimum harvest time and storage conditions for bananas, developed market linkages, trained hundreds of farmers in enhanced postharvest handling and piloted sales by weight.

During the final event, a tour to a commercial seed multiplication chamber and a mother garden at Ddwaniiro in Rakai district was also organised where farmer groups held practical demonstrations of the new techniques of multiplying popular banana variety cultivars for commercial farming.

A number of institutions partnered in the project, including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), CIRAD, NARO, KAIKA InvestCo, Uganda Fruits and Vegetable Exporters and Producers Association (UFVEPA), district local governments, and the Ssemwanga Group.

The project activities have been piloted in South-west Uganda in the districts of Rakai and Isingiro. This region produces 68% of the cooking bananas harvested in Uganda. The project began in 2014 and ended in December 2016.

Blog contributed by Joshua Turyatemba of Bioversity International 

How you can help to improve banana research priority setting

Research resources are scarce and making research portfolio decisions is complex and challenging. As part of a multi-crop priority assessment exercise coordinated by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), the impact of different research investments for bananas in terms of economic benefits, poverty reduction and number of beneficiaries has been estimated to provide a basis for prioritizing our research investments.

To close the consultation loop on this exercise, we are inviting stakeholders to participate in an online feedback survey. The survey answers will give the banana community the opportunity to evaluate the parameters used, and as such help to improve the quality of the results. Feedback on the methodology will also help adjust any future efforts. The survey takes only 15-20 minutes to complete. Currently, only the English version is available; the French and Spanish versions will be online by the end of the week. The feedback will be analyzed anonymously and shared on the Strategic Assessment of Banana Research Priorities website (available in English, French and Spanish).

To prepare for the survey, browse the knowledge toolkit to discover the method used to assess research priorities, starting with the results of an online survey to elicit the key constraints faced by small-scale banana producers. The survey, to which more than 500 banana specialists from 54 countries responded, led to the identification of the research options that were assessed.

The expected economic benefits and poverty reduction effects of the identified research options were then calculated using an economic surplus model and subsequent Cost-Benefit Analysis. The results are very encouraging and show that research benefits can run into billions of dollars: thus benefiting up to 31 million people and contributing to lift more than 3 million people out of poverty.

Take the Strategic Assessment of Banana Research Priorities: Feedback Survey

RTB Impact Assessment team take stock of progress and plan for Phase II

Assessing the impact of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas’ (RTB) research and development initiatives is a core part of the program’s work. To take stock of progress on RTB’s impact assessment studies currently underway and identify upcoming opportunities for the program’s second phase, RTB’s Impact Assessment team came together in Boston on July 31.

Representatives from RTB partner centers, including Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Potato Center (CIP) presented updates on ongoing RTB related impact assessment activities.

Updates were shared on working papers on strategic research priorities for potato, sweetpotato, cassava, yam and banana.

Potential areas of collaboration for RTB’s second phase were also highlighted: including investigating the global impact of root, tubers and banana crops, modeling and analyzing impacts of sustainable intensification and on rural transformation, and meta-analysis of post-harvest losses for all RTB crops.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to look at potential partnership strategies for future work with MSU and Virginia Tech.

“During the first phase, RTB centers worked together on the strategic assessment of RTB research priorities and advancing critical impact studies for each crop. We need to keep the momentum in the second phase, but we will need to focus on the impact on the system as a whole and beyond the farm-gate. For this, we will need good partnerships to develop and apply appropriate methods,” said Dr. Guy Hareau, Agricultural Economist, International Potato Center.

An enumerator from CIP surveying a C88 potato farmer. Photo: CIP

An enumerator from CIP surveying a C88 potato farmer. Photo: CIP

The meeting followed the CGIAR’s Standing Panel of Impact Assessment (SPIA) meeting from July 29 – 30, during which Dr. Hareau presented the preliminary results of the adoption of the Cooperation 88 (C88) potato variety in China.

Developed through a collaboration between CIP and Yunnan Normal University (YNU) with the goal of breeding a high quality, late blight resistant variety, C88 was named and released as a cultivar in 1996. By 2009, it covered 186,667 hectares and was the most widely grown variety in Yunnan, China.

To measure the impact of the variety, a collaborative effort funded by SPIA and with additional funding from RTB, was undertaken by CIP, Virginia Tech and YNU. The study aims to verify previous adoption estimates of C88 in Yunnan and determine the economic benefits it has brought to consumers and producers in China.

During the SPIA meeting, Dr. Enoch Kikulwe of Bioversity International also presented an overview of RTB’s planned impact assessment activities under the program’s newly developed Flagship Project 5 on ‘Improving Livelihoods at Scale’.

Learn more about RTB’s Impact Assessment work

What the success of orange-fleshed sweetpotato can teach us

By Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas

This has been a big year for RTB’s lead center, the International Potato Center (CIP), with three of the center’s scientists winning the World Food Prize (WFP) for their work on the biofortification and scaling of vitamin A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), while also celebrating its 45th anniversary year.

I recently joined a lively panel discussion with the WFP laureates – Maria Andrade, Jan Low and Robert Mwanga – during an event to commemorate these achievements in Lima, Peru, where CIP headquarters are located.

During the conversation I shared three key lessons that stood out to me from this important work on OFSP and a reflection on how advocacy in Peru to change the perception of potatoes is relevant for addressing food and nutrition security in Africa.


Lesson 1: Food based approaches to addressing hidden hunger work!
A key component underpinning the success of OFSP to address vitamin A deficiency was that researchers paid very close attention to building an evidence base that it worked. This began by showing the impacts on nutrition that OFSP was having at a local level. Another key element that was stressed during our panel discussion was paying very careful attention to scaling and making sure that the right partners were on board at each stage.

Here in Peru and the Andes the most important hidden hunger we are facing is iron and zinc deficiency. This is also very debilitating for those affected and its quite prevalent in highland communities. CIP and many other partners have already begun exciting and promising work utilizing potato to address this hidden hunger. Potato has reasonable levels of iron and zinc, and some varieties have especially high levels. Through breeding we can further increase those levels, just as was done for Vitamin A with sweetpotato. Of course the more nutrient dense potato would need to enter into family diets and there would be a strong nutrition education dimension to this. But just as with OFSP, if we want to make this a success we need to pay careful attention to getting the evidence of nutritional efficacy and have a strong strategy for scaling. Actually the evidence of impact generates momentum and can build the investment case for scaling.

Women show six different varieties of cooked OFSP. Photo: CIP

Women in Malawi show six different varieties of cooked OFSP. Photo: CIP


Lesson 2: Food based approaches empower women!
By working with OFSP which is locally produced, women are empowered to take control over their nutrition and health and that of their babies and young children. Women themselves pay a central role in accessing vines, growing and harvesting the roots and preparing OFSP food. So this is the equivalent of teaching women to grow their own Vitamin A pills.  However, we also learned that only engaging women doesn’t work. Men play a key role in decision making and access to resources, and need to be involved too. For example, it may be a challenge for a heavily pregnant woman to collect vines for planting or prepare land, so their spouse needs to be on board as well. So empowering women with OFSP really means being sensitive to many gender issues.

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Women are empowered to take control over their health and that of their children. Photo: CIP


Lesson 3: Extraordinary results mean extraordinary people and these need extraordinary organizations!
The experience of introducing OFSP and getting impact at scale is a highly complex innovation. It required a series of technical challenges such as breeding to improve dry matter content of OFSP varieties adapted to Africa, engaging the nutrition community to provide the key education messages needed for uptake, but also convincing donors and bringing in many partners across a multitude of countries. This whole process took nearly 20 years!

Jan, Maria and Robert are innovation champions who pushed this though in the face of many difficulties. Jan mentioned that she took this proposal for in initial proof-of-concept research in Mozambique to 21 different donors before she found one who was prepared to fund an integrated agriculture-nutrition proposal. Jan and Maria were even described as ‘the crazy sweetpotato ladies’ for pushing so single mindedly what seemed like an improbable vision.

So the extraordinary results we have heard about required three extraordinary people. Yet this wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t worked in an organization with an incredible team which had the vision and flexibility to support this.

CIP Director General, Barbara Wells, welcome guests to the celebration event in Lima.

CIP Director General, Barbara Wells, welcome guests to the celebration event in Lima. Photo: CIP


Reflection: the advocacy work in Peru to change the positioning of potatoes is very relevant for OFSP and other food based approaches in Africa
One amazing achievement in Peru over the past decade, of which we are immensely proud, has been to dramatically raise the profile of the potato and its consumption. This built on work by CIP, the National Innovation Institute, the Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Nutritional Research, NGOs, chefs, gastronomy schools, supermarkets, processors and farmer organizations. It began by re positioning native potatoes as part of Peru’s cultural and gastronomic heritage, as well as a delicious ingredient with chefs. This spilled over to a more general shift in perceptions leading to the designation of a National Potato Day which is celebrated every year.

There are lessons from this for Africa about how to reposition sweetpotato and other root crops for urban consumers. These are often perceived as the poor man’s or women’s food suitable for villages but left behind as people move to cities. The experience of Peru shows that it’s possible to reposition these as nutritional and delicious functional foods for urban populations. This should lead us to a two-way exploration and joint construction of options among colleagues in Africa with those in Peru and the Andes for promoting healthier diets based around sweetpotato and potato.

Sweetpotato: for happy, healthy pigs

This series of in-depth blogs investigates the ways in which the RTB-ENDURE project is strengthening the value chains for root, tuber and banana crops in Uganda. This edition explores the potential of sweetpotato silage for pig feed to provide livelihoods and lessen the constraint of livestock feed shortages for smallholder farmers in the country.
Through firsthand accounts from the farmers, traders and scientists at the heart of the project we get an inside look in to the effect this is having on the ground. Reporting and photography by Sara Quinn, Regional Communications Specialist, the International Potato Center.

View the photo story here