Tag Archives: Africa

How RTB researchers try to develop the potential of RTB seed systems

Roots, tubers and bananas share one characteristic that unites them in the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas (RTB): farmers multiply them vegetatively, rather than as true seeds produced by sexual reproduction. Of course, they are also extremely important for the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of the most resource-poor farmers on Earth. And that makes a recent paper in the journal Food Security, which asks why interventions in RTB seed systems do not reach their full potential, important to policy-makers and farmers alike.

Together with RTB colleagues, Conny Almekinders, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, examined 13 previous efforts to improve seed systems for potato, sweetpotato, cassava, yam and banana. “We began to look at these cases in 2014,” Almekinders said, “as it became clear that an increasing number of RTB projects were introducing new varieties and improved multiplication practices, especially in Africa.”

“The case study documents did not show us evidence of many efforts to understand target seed systems,” Almekinders added.

Too often, the projects did not consider the fact that they were intervening in an existing local seed system or farmers who were known to be local seed experts. Many projects simply assumed that some farmers would specialize and become seed-supply entrepreneurs to fill the gap where the public sector could not reach, and the private sector was absent or uninterested. Such projects were often founded on the idea of a central source of high-quality foundation stock, usually produced with advanced technology, such as aeroponic micro-potatoes, yam mini-setts, and tissue culture bananas. These would then be passed to “decentralized multipliers” who would create further generations for distribution.

This approach succeeded sometimes, as with sweetpotatoes in Rwanda, where there was a good link to market for the products. In other cases, Almekinders says, “without project support and subsidies, the technical and economic viability of these decentralized multipliers is not clear.”

One problem, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is that many farmer cultures consider it inappropriate to pay or to ask for payment for planting material. This reticence may be partially overcome in the case of new varieties, but otherwise is likely to limit the opportunities for business-based informal RTB seed systems.

Some projects, such as the introduction of orange-fleshed sweetpotato in Mozambique, focused on health and nutrition and barely considered the seed system. Despite this, adoption and spread, via the informal seed system, have been impressive. “Orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes are now being grown by thousands of women on small plots of land,” Almekinders said. Varieties will spread and be adopted if farmers see a benefit.

RTB community of practice on one of their learning journeys, a joint visit of KEPHIS laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya

Pros and cons

Vegetative reproduction means that the variety keeps its genetic characteristics, unlike sexually produced seeds. This is a boon when getting new material into the hands of farmers, because it means they can share the improved material in their communities. The flip side, however, is that viruses and other diseases can accumulate in the planting material, reducing its performance.

Farmer-to-farmer diffusion remains the primary route for adoption, as farmers with good experiences multiply the improved material and share it with others. For banana, cassava and potato, the cases show that farmers often share new material with five or more others.

Unfortunately, diseases often spread along with the crops, as they have recently for viruses of cassava in eastern Africa and banana bunchy top virus in the Congo basin. Such degeneration is perhaps the most common reason for farmers to seek RTB planting material off their farm. Although this suggests an additional motivation for decentralized multipliers, there is little evidence that farmers will pay for clean planting material of varieties they already have.

What farmers want

The lack of demand is not simply because farmers do not understand the benefits; in many cases they lack other essential resources to make use of better planting material, such as capital or knowledge. Researchers may insert ‘demand’ in their project proposals, but when the project fails to distribute the expected amount of material, they seldom analyze the reasons why predicted demand did not materialize.

“Improved assessment of farmers’ demand will contribute to improving seed system interventions,” said Almekinders.

Government policy represents another barrier to improved seed systems. Certification schemes that guarantee the quality of planting material may raise costs beyond the reach of most farmers. But the absence of such schemes leaves farmers open to the sale of poor-quality seed.

Potential delivered

A 1990 study of potato identified many of the same problems as this more complete and wide-ranging survey of RTB seed interventions. “Not much seems to have changed since,” said Almekinders. But change is now in the air. The International Potato Center is already applying a diagnosis of existing seed systems to all projects going forward. And the project has started to create change beyond RTB.

“Just last week I learned that our framework is being used in a PhD project in Eritrea,” Almekinders said. “The key to progress is to pay attention to what works where, and for whom, and how to scale up good practices. We have not been good at understanding RTB systems or listening to what farmers really need. If we want to improve RTB crops, we have to improve RTB seed systems too.”

CGIAR centres and research programs combine forces to reduce the damage of banana disease in Uganda

Bananas and plantains (Musa spp.) provide a major source of food and income for over 30 million people in Eastern and Central Africa (ECA). Uganda produces an estimated 10 million tonnes annually valued at about US$550 million. Most ECA bananas are domestically consumed with the highest global per capita consumption of over 200 kg. Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), a bacterial disease, emerged in Uganda in 2001 and has since proved to have a devastating effect on banana production, with up to 100% loss if no management practices are adopted. To control the disease, farmers can adopt a package of practices, including single diseased stem removal and cleaning of tools to prevent contamination. Alternatively, resistant cultivars are under development. Several policy interventions are thus available but it is not clear which will have the greatest impact on curbing the spread of BXW while minimizing the costs.

Bioversity International, under the umbrella of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), organized a workshop in Kampala, Uganda, 1–2 February 2018, to understand better the socio-economic impact of BXW spread and quantify the role of policy interventions. The goals of the workshop were to:

  1. Finalize and validate the conceptual framework describing relationships between different elements of BXW spread and its socio-economic consequences, linking different scales – from farm to country levels
  2. Finalize and validate research questions of the study
  3. Identify what data, methods and models are available and what resources are needed to fill in the missing elements
  4. Generate a framework for linking the models 
  5. Formulate scenarios for simulation modeling, which would represent possible alternative future (until 2050) developments to inform policymakers
  6. Roadmap tasks and deliverables 

The research will answer the question: What will be the socio-economic impact of BXW spread in Uganda until 2050 if there are no policy interventions, and under different interventions?

A shrivelled male bud is a symptom of Xanthomonas wilt. Credit: Bioversity International/A. Vezina

This highly complex question requires an integrated modelling approach which can be modelled to see the impact of different interventions on banana production, producers’ revenue, market prices, consumption and nutrition, and link them to costs for different actors, starting from the government and ending with farmers. To address such different areas of focus and implications at multiple scales, from the farm to (inter)national level, the research brings together a highly multidisciplinary team hailing from different CGIAR research centres, different disciplines (agronomists, economists, plant pathologists, mathematicians), different CGIAR research programs, different flagships within the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, together with representatives of Makerere University and the National Agricultural Research Organization of Uganda.

This innovative research links various models in order to understand the economic impact of pest and disease spread. We start with the dynamic global partial equilibrium model – IMPACT, developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM). This is an economic simulation model for analysis of long-term agricultural markets and food security. A crop disease mapping model based on statistical analysis of survey data will be combined with a mathematical model for disease spread dynamics, in order to inform the IMPACT model about the dynamics of BXW spread and its consequences for yield loss. Additionally, we will systematically assess costs borne by different actors in the food system. 

By combining expertise from RTB research clusters on resilient crops, banana bacterial wilt, improved livelihoods at scale, foresight and impact assessment, and sustainable intensification/ diversification, and linking those with the IMPACT model, we have the potential to make innovative breakthroughs that can truly make a difference in the management of the devastating BXW disease and defend Uganda’s economic base and food security. 

Read the original article and learn more about Banana Xanthomonas Wilt on the Bioversity International website. 

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. Additional support, for the IMPACT modelling part was provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) through the Global Futures and Strategic Foresight project.

Global cassava coalition calls for support for cassava transformation in Africa

Press release for immediate release

Ahead of the international conference on cassava, the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) has called on policy makers, donors and the international community to support all efforts that will bring about cassava transformation in Africa.

The call is coming at a time when cassava is becoming central to food security of over 600 million people in the developing world, and has become the fourth most important crop after maize, wheat and rice.

Presenting the upcoming conference on cassava to donors and the international community in Cotonou on Thursday, Dr Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21 said, “despite the key role cassava is playing in Africa’s food security, its productivity had remained low (about 9 tons per hectare), keeping the growers in the trap of poverty. When compared to Asia, cassava productivity in that continent is more than 21 tons per ha—a situation that gives Asia competitive advantage in global cassava trade. Addressing the yield gap demands more funding for cassava research and development from all stakeholders, if truly the world wants to help farmers towards ending hunger and poverty in Africa.”

L-R: Director of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century, Dr Claude Fauquet; Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Republic of Benin, H.E. Dossouhoui Cossi Gaston; Minister of Higher Education, H.E. Mme Attanasso Marie-Odile; and French Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, H.E. Veronique Brumeaux during the press conference on Cassava Transformation in Africa in Benin.

Dr Fauquet noted that the 11-15 June, 2018 conference to be held in Cotonou with the theme ‘Cassava Transformation in Africa’, is one of the ways the GCP21 is contributing towards the transformation of the root crop.

He called for participation of all stakeholders, emphasizing that the conference would provide a unique opportunity for donors, investors, and policy makers to see and access the latest innovations and discoveries in the cassava sector.

The French Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, H.E. Veronique Brumeaux, who hosted the press conference said the conference was timely and would go a long way to address the constraints of cassava production while at the same time proffering opportunities for investors and farmers alike to harness new innovations from the research community.

The ambassador’s position was echoed by the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Republic of Benin, H.E. Dossouhoui Cossi Gaston, while underscoring the importance of cassava to Benin and Africa in general. He said the importance of cassava would continue to increase as its consumption per capita was high and the root crop is resilient to climate change.

Cassava is a critical source of food security for millions throughout developing countries. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

The Minister of Higher Education, H.E. Mme Attanasso Marie-Odile said the Republic of Benin is proud to host the conference. She noted that cassava’s development and transformation would offer opportunities for youth engagement which the country and other African countries could tap.

Invited participants to the press conference included representatives of the embassies of France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Brazil, Holland, Germany, Japan, Canada, United States, and European Union. Others were representatives of development agencies: AfDB, USAID, JICA, GIZ, AFD, EU, UNDP, and FAO.

This year’s conference is being organized by GCP21, in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Institute of Agricultural Research of Benin (INRAB), Faculte des Sciences Agronomique – Universite Abomey-Calavi (FAS-AUC). Other supporting institutions are: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (AfDB); Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research (WECARD), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), International Center for Agricultural Development (CIRAD), and the Institute for Research & Development (IRD).

For more information, please contact:
Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21, c.fauquet@cgiar.org 
Godwin Atser, Conference Communication Coordinator, g.atser@cgiar.org 

Revolutionary mobile app for monitoring crop pests and diseases

Just as the late blight epidemic wiped out potato fields in Ireland in the 19th century, crop pests and diseases still have devastating effects on smallholder farmers today – with scenarios projected to worsen under climate change.

Cassava brown streak disease is spreading westward across the African continent, and together with cassava mosaic disease, threatens the food and income security of over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa. Likewise, banana is threated by fungal and bacterial diseases and banana bunchy top virus, while sweetpotato is faced with viruses and Alternaria fungi.

Farmers are often unable to properly identify these diseases, while researchers, plant health authorities and extension organizations lack the data to support them.

To overcome these issues, a team under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), are working on a revolutionary app to accurately diagnose diseases in the field, which will be combined with SMS services to send alerts to thousands of rural farmers.

Diagnosing cassava disease in the field. Photo IITA

The team, led by David Hughes of Penn State, and James Legg of IITA – who leads RTB’s flagship project on Resilient Crops – together with scientists from CIAT, CIP and Bioversity International, are presenting their proposal as one of 12 finalists for a $US100,000 grant as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenges at the Big Data in Agriculture Convention 2017 in Cali, Colombia this week.

The concept leverages three critical advances in how knowledge is communicated to the farm level: 1) the democratization of Artificial Intelligence (AI) via open access platforms like Google’s TensorFlow, 2) the miniaturization of technology allowing affordable deployment and 3) the development of massive communication and money exchange platforms like M-Pesa that allow rural extension to scale as a viable economic model enabling last mile delivery in local languages.

Painstaking field work using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones at RTB cassava field sites in coastal Tanzania and on farms in western Kenya has already generated more than 200,000 images of diseased crops to train AI algorithms.

Using many of these images, Hughes, Legg and collaborators were able to develop an AI algorithm with TensorFlow that can automatically classify five cassava diseases, and by collaborating with Google, the team have been able to develop a TensorFlow smartphone app that is currently being field-tested in Tanzania. Penn State has also developed a mobile spectrophotometer through a start-up called CROPTIX. Early results suggest it can accurately diagnose different viral diseases in the field, even if the plant looks healthy.

 “The concept leverages RTB’s global network across multiple crops for testing and scaling with national partners and the private sector in all three continents where we work. This technology will enable small-scale farmers to quickly take action and stop the spread of pests and diseases in their farms, protecting these critical sources of food and income security,” said Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director. “We are really excited about this initiative and delighted to be teaming up with Penn State,” he added.

A Tanzanian farmer examines his cassava plants for the presence of pests and disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

The project team has already developed linkages with the Vodafone agriculture SMS platform called DigiFarm, which positions them strategically to link digital diagnostics to large-scale rural text messaging services. The team will deliver farmer tailored SMS alerts on crop diseases and pests to 350,000 Kenyan farmers by July 2018.

Once the diagnostic and SMS systems are up and running, their impact will be determined by assessing how rapid disease diagnosis increases yield in cassava value chains in Kenya involving 28,000 farmers.

An existing platform housed by Penn State (www.plantvillage.org) will enable real time discussions of disease and pest diagnoses across the CGIAR community and with other experts to enhance SMS alerts from the DigiFarm platform.

It’s is envisaged that these innovations, initially piloted in East Africa, will provide a model that can be extended to the range of locations where RTB works, and in so doing impact the farming and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers.

See more in the project flyer. 

Nutritious foods and added value for health and wealth

“It starts with the person who wants to eat affordable, safe, nutritious food,” says Simon Heck, the Mozambique-based sweetpotato project leader for the International Potato Center and the leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 4 on Nutritious Food and Added Value. “The urban consumer will [represent] the majority [of consumers] soon, and we must focus on how they” – along with the smallholders raising and selling the crops – “attain the benefits of roots, tubers and bananas.”

With that vision in mind, this flagship has an important focus on promoting utilization and uptake of biofortified crops – those bred for maximum nutrients – such as orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), cassava, potato and potentially banana and yam too.

Levels of beta carotene in both OFSP and cassava – which the body converts to Vitamin A – is an area of special interest considering its role in the health and development of young children. Lacking sufficient Vitamin A, tens of millions of children in developing countries suffer from stunted growth which limits mental development, as well as premature death and blindness.

Children under five years of age eating OFSP. Photo credit: HKI

While work to enhance OFSP is well underway in RTB, other biofortification efforts show a great deal of promise. Among them: boosting iron and zinc levels in Irish potato and breeding cassava that (like OFSP) contains higher levels of beta carotene. While “cassava doesn’t respond as quickly” as OFSP does, Heck notes, it’s just as critical a crop to smallholders in certain regions.

To that end, geography and economics figure into which crops warrant biofortification research within FP4. “You might say, well, OFSP is much richer in beta carotene than cassava – but cassava can grow in places where nothing else grows,” Heck notes. Indeed OFSP can contain more concentrated levels of beta carotene, “but it’s limited in terms of its distribution.” Potato may be able to modified to contain more zinc, but the higher costs of raising potato may limit the benefit that nutritional boost can have.

Approaches to promoting biofortification in one crop can be deployed in the service of another, Heck says. “You build on what has been achieved,” he says. “It’s one of the values of how RTB approaches this work: in our platform, we can exchange scientific methods to accelerate progress across [multiple] crops. We owe it to the farmers [growing crops] and to the children [consuming them] to make full use of what each of us knows.”

For all crops, the effectiveness of crop processing and storage methods will affect smallholders’ outcomes and consumers’ health, too. The best varieties and harvesting techniques mean little if half the crops are lost due to spoilage or pests, so FP4 is looking closely at best practices in these areas as well. Methods ranging from pureeing OFSP for distribution in vacuum packed bags, to processing zinc-rich potato into flour, to storing harvested crops underground or at ambient temperatures to better support their preservation may be suitable, depending on a region’s climate, topography, financial stability, electrical grid health and other factors, Heck says.

FP4 is also paying close attention to improving the efficiency and reducing the energy and environmental footprint of cassava processing. Great strides have been made to understand how the higher efficiency of large scale cassava processing plants in Asia could be replicated at a much smaller scale in Africa and Latin America, opening up an important space for south-south learning.

Cassava starch processing in Vietnam. Photo N.Palmer/CIAT

In its clusters, FP4 must also pay heed to gender roles that may have long dictated tasks around growing and selling crops.

“Two domains that are often separate in many countries come together [under the auspices of FP4],” Heck says. “Men’s domain roles tend to be perceived to be around agriculture, while those of women are perceived to be around caregiving and feeding. Now, a lot of our assumptions seem to imply that somehow a benefit generated in one sphere will translate into benefits in another sphere, but we know it is not that easy.” The question becomes: “How do we involve both men and women in both spheres?”

Remember: a lot of OFSP, for example, is actually grown by women, Heck notes. By the same token, “we want to involve men in childcare, nutrition, materials extension and activities.” While gender-based roles are certainly bound by tradition, “they are never written in stone.” Working with more organizations that already have credibility in checking these assumptions is key to breaking down gender-based barriers.

Loading OFSP on a bike in Western Kenya. Photo credit: HKI

In addition to working with organizations that can help examine gender-based assumptions, FP4 will develop partnerships with local health clinics and government agencies services. These organizations are often ideally placed to enable consumers to understand the healthful benefits of RTB through programs such as:

  • Teaching adults how to prepare these foods, processed or not
  • Working with pregnant women and mothers to help them learn about the role Vitamin A and other micronutrients play in the health of the developing fetus, infant and child
  • Measuring health outcomes within a given community over time

FP4 is largely about “overcoming barriers of acceptance of crops,” Heck concludes. “One good thing about the biofortification strategy is that the crops you are biofortifying are ones that already exist, that are accepted [in the region]. People already know how to cultivate them; they’re already part of people’s recommended diets. We can tap into the capacity that is already there” – and, partnering with Flagship 5 on ‘Improved livelihoods at scale’ and others, scale up efforts to amplify biofortification’s potential to boost crop nutrition, hardiness and stability in a changing, hungry world.

This is the second in a series of blogs showcasing the new Flagship Projects of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The next edition will examine Flagship 3 on ‘Resilient Crops‘. By Amy Rogers Nazarov

New manuals show how to extend shelf-life of cassava roots to increase incomes & food security

Cassava is a key source of food and income in many developing countries in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is a major staple providing over 20% of calorific requirements and constituting nearly two-thirds of per capita food production.

However, one of the major challenges facing cassava is the rapid postharvest physiological deterioration of fresh roots which usually make them unpalatable within two to three days of harvest. Consequently, cassava roots need to be consumed or processed soon after harvesting.

Smallholder farmers in Uganda pose with their cassava harvest. Innovations that prolong the shelf-life of cassava are in high demand by farmers and traders. Photo S. Quinn/CIP                                                                                   

This short shelf-life severely restricts the marketing options for the crop as it increases the likelihood of losses, marketing costs, and limits access to distant urban markets. It also creates high postharvest losses, often forces farmers and retailers to sell produce at discounted prices and limits food security in the many nations dependent on cassava as a staple food.

The application of technologies that extend the cassava shelf-life, such as waxing and relative humidity storage, can increase marketing opportunities and incomes for smallholders as well as contribute to the reduction of postharvest losses that affect directly mainly retailers and indirectly all value chain actors.

As part of the Expanding Utilization of Roots, Tubers and Bananas and Reducing Their Postharvest Losses project (RTB-ENDURE), two practical manuals have been developed to build the capacities of actors in producing, handling, processing and marketing fresh cassava roots whose shelf-life is extended through these technologies.

The first manual provides information on how setting up a pack house for waxing and relative humidity storage. The second manual guides users on the best handling methods for fresh cassava roots right from field preparation to marketing.

Sharon Acheng of Makarere University holds a waxed (back) and a non-waxed (front) cassava root. Sharon is one of three students who conducted post-graduate research on cassava in coordination with National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda and RTB. Photo S.Quinn/CIP                                                                               

Both manuals are valuable resources for entrepreneurs and organization willing to establish and run such a processing plant as well as farmers interested in supplying roots to the pack house.

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) will continue research to expand the utilization of RTB crops and add value through postharvest innovation, as part of the program’s Flagship Project 4 (FP4).

FP4 will address the perishability of root, tuber and banana crops through improved storage, transportability and diversified use, while promoting gender-equitable development and youth employment along the value chain. The flagship will also develop improved methods for postharvest process modeling that integrate technical, economic and environmental aspects and enhance the sustainability and profitability of the postharvest sector.

Read more about the RTB-ENDURE project’s work on cassava in our photo story ‘Creating change with cassava: Improving livelihoods of cassava farmers and traders in Uganda’

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.

Economically sustainable seed businesses to transform cassava production in Nigeria

Seed sector professionals have said that businesses selling improved varieties and high quality cassava stems for cultivation could help African farmers significantly raise their productivity. This will mean more income from the same land, inputs and effort. The benefits of this raised productivity will be enjoyed by all the stakeholders across the value chain in a sustainable way.

This was part of the resolutions from a national stakeholder conference on cassava seed system organized by the project, ‘Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System’ (BASICS) that was held at the Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan from 20 – 23 March, 2017.

The meeting, which reflected on the experiences of BASICS in 2016 and refined the project plan for 2017 and beyond, brought together national and international researchers, academics, policymakers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and farmers to a roundtable.

Making the case for urgent need for all the stakeholders to work towards a sustainable seed system in Nigeria, Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director for BASICS, reminded the participants that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with a production of about 54 million tons, but its yield per hectare of cassava roots is about 8 tons, less than half of the realizable yields of more than 20 tons per hectare. Researchers say one of the factors responsible for the low yield of cassava is the low adoption of clean and healthy seeds of improved varieties of cassava by farmers.

Participants at the BASICS project meeting in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photo: IITA

“We have to start with the right planting material and nurture it with good agronomy and weed management practices.  Each of these three components has the potential to raise the productivity of cassava by 30 percent. If we do not improve our practices in seed, weed and agronomy, we are incurring a lost opportunity of about 200 billion Naira annually from each of the three issues,” he explained.

BASICS is commercially piloting two distinct pathways of seed delivery. In one, called’Village Seed Entrepreneur model’, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services in Benue and with National Roots Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), in Abia, Imo, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, the project is helping develop a network of 130 community based seed enterprises. These Village Seed Entrepreneurs will source certified stems of improved varieties of cassava from NRCRI and IITA to multiply and sell to the farmers in their vicinity. This way, the farmers will not have to go far to source quality stems for planting. In the second pilot called ‘Processor Led Model’, in partnership with Context Global Development, the project is working with large processors of cassava who will then make available quality stems to their outgrowers with a buy back arrangement for the roots produced.

Lawrence Kent with Peter Kulakow of IITA who is showing the plantlets from the SAH early generation multiplication thriving in the field. Photo G.Thiele/RTB

Emmanuel Azaino of Catholic Relief Services proudly shows their poster which won the people’s vote during the stakeholder meeting. Photo: G.Thiele/RTB

Slow and low multiplication ratio has been a key constraint in cassava seed system. The project is piloting a new technology called Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics for vastly rapid seed multiplication. Once this technology from Argentina is adapted and perfected in Nigeria by the Project, it is expected to have a significant impact on the ability of early generation seed businesses to quickly bring suitable varieties within reach of farmers. The project is also working with National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and Fera of the UK to improve the quality certification system in Nigeria.

Lawrence Kent, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the aim of the project is to build an economically sustainable seed system that is profitable both to the sellers of quality stems and to the farmers who purchase and plant those stems. He encouraged all to create reusable bridges to continuously link technology developers with farmers through business oriented approaches, like the one being implemented under BASICS.

Graham Thiele, Program Director for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, which leads the BASICS project; Alfred Dixon, IITA Director for Development and Delivery, and Project Leader for the Cassava Weed Management Project; Amin Babandi, Director of Agriculture, FMARD, represented by Segun Ayeni, DD Roots and Tuber crops, FMARD; Folusho Olaniyan OON, CEO, Contact Consulting Nigeria and Program Director, AgraInnovate West Africa; Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director of Technical Operations, AATF and Robert Asiedu, Director R4D, IITA-West, all shared perspectives and added their voice for all stakeholders to jointly build a strong and sustainable seed system for cassava in Nigeria and wished all stakeholders well.

The BASICS project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

For more information, please contact
Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director, BASICS h.nitturkar@cgiar.org

‘Carrier women’ shoulder a heavy burden in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Cassava is an RTB crop of key importance in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is often processed into flour and used to make ‘bugali’, a dense porridge served with meat and cassava leaves, ‘sombe‘. Many agree that a meal without bugali is not a meal.

Women play a key role in the production of processing of cassava to feed their families. In Bukavu, a town with a rapidly growing population of around 1.2 million, women also play key roles in the cassava value chain. They work as transporters and carry cassava, among other goods, from markets to final destinations that include restaurants and private residences. Their burden is heavy, carrying between 50-100kg, and the distance they travel may require them to walk for up to 3 hours.

A woman carries a heavy load of cassava cuttings on the farm in Bukavu. Photo: R.Bullock/IITA

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Yet, women worldwide continue to be over-represented in the informal sector, characterized by low skills and wages, poor rates of remuneration that disfavor women, and discrimination and violence against women (ADB, 2013).

Women in Bukavu face significant challenges to earning a living. Conflict and gender inequalities, supported by social norms and practices, are pervasive and undermine women’s progress towards acquiring land, earning income and securing agricultural livelihoods. In Bukavu, many women have sought work in the informal sector in agricultural markets as transporters. The so-called ‘carrier women’ are a visible part of the informal workforce, seen bearing burdens of 100kg or more of cassava, charcoal or sand, for instance.

Women carriers. Photo credit: Boryana Dzhambazova for International Herald Tribune

Over the last few weeks I interviewed 17 women carriers who work at the Muhanzi Beach Market, a key port of entry for ships carrying goods from Idjwi Island. The women told me about their experiences carrying cassava, charcoal and sand in a quiet setting at a local hospital. Through their stories of hunger, of their children’s difficulties and spouses’ illnesses, these women maintained a stoic resolve. Meanwhile, I was thinking, what possibilities might there be for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to support these women’s transition out of these dangerous working conditions?  Too, how might the research activities of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) support the development of alternative income generating activities for these women?

Road in Bukavu with Muhanzi Beach Market in the background. Photo: R.Bullock/IITA

Many families fled from their home villages in rural areas during the Congo War, which officially ended in 2004. Among them were women who sought to earn a living. Today, carrier women often live in the outskirts of Bukavu and walk up to two hours to reach the market in the morning. Then they wait for the boats to arrive with goods coming in from Idjwi Island.

The women interviewed have, on average, been working as carriers for 14 years, some as many as 25 years. Working conditions are very difficult. Furah said, “Children in the neighborhood call me grandmother. I am only 53, but even a 60 year old looks younger than me.” Women went on to complain of body aches, painful knees, even hair loss from the rubbing of the sack on the back of their head. Women also talked about changes in the market over the last decade. In earlier times, most of the carrying was done by women; it was easy to find customers who would hire them to carry goods to their homes or restaurants. Nowadays, young men in search of money are also carrying heavy loads and the competition for customers is high. Young men’s entry into the market has made it more challenging for women to find work. Too, men often accept lower pay for the same tasks. Women once could be sure they would earn ~4 USD per day, now they sometimes end the day with 1.50 USD per day, and worse, sometimes nothing. 

Figure 5. Justine, aged 44, has carried for 9 years

The women I interviewed are the main earners in the household, supporting an average of 8 children. Four are widows. Others’ husbands went off to work in mines, are jobless or ill. Women decide how to spend their money and purchase food and save the remainder to pay rent and school fees. Food is never enough and they often eat one meal in their households, dinner. It is difficult to cover the costs of school fees, yet these women’s ambition is to see their children finish school. Collette explained, “I want my children to study and to one day help me. I don’t want them to perform hard labor, school can help. They could be teachers or nurses.”

These women interviewed expressed hope to save capital and start a small business, selling flour or vegetables, for example. These interviews are a first step to learning about these women’s lives, their challenges, and their aspirations. The stories provide a basis from which to develop business options to enable women to transition out of this type of work. Preliminary ideas for business models include engaging in value chain activities with IKYA Agripeneurs  and with Community Cassava Processing Centers (CCPCs) in South Kivu.

Carrier women of Bukavu and Renee Bullock, IITA Gender Specialist

Figure 5. Carrier women of Bukavu and Renee Bullock, IITA Gender Specialist

International Women’s Day calls upon all of us, women and men, old and young, to work together to achieve change to improve women’s working conditions and opportunities worldwide. IITA and RTB  efforts support progress towards these achievements.

 

Article contributed by Renee Bullock, Gender Specialist, IITA
Contact: R.Bullock@cgiar.org

For more details see the New York Times story ‘Women as human pack horses in the Democratic Republic of Congo’

 

Accelerating Africa’s economic growth through root and tuber crops

The 13th International Symposium for the International Society for Tropical Root Crops- Africa Branch (ISTRC-AB) has kicked off this week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The four day meeting (5-8 March) brings together over 300 delegates from government agriculture ministries in Africa, development partners, international and national agriculture research organizations, academia, private sector as well as farmers with an interest in root and tuber crops in Africa.

Participants will present and discuss latest research, innovations, technologies and trends on root crops in line with the theme “Expanding Collaboration, Catalyzing Innovation of Root Crops for Accelerating Africa’s Economic Growth”.

Farmers rejoice over better access to healthy seed potato in Kenya. Photo: FIPs-Africa

“We hope we will get practical hands-on solutions, that can help address farmers’ constraints in production of root crops, with the modest investment dedicated to research and development of these crops,” said Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (MALF) in a speech read by his Director Dr. Hussein Mansoor. He encouraged researchers to work together with the farmers, policy makers and all stakeholders, for co-ownership of research findings to increase chances of technology adoption for the intended improved productivity and utilization of root crops.

He also further called for applause of the 2016 World Food Prize (WFP) laureates from the International Potato Center (CIP) which is the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) —Drs Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga and Jan Low, all attending ISTRC-AB—for their great achievement in contributing to reduced hidden hunger among women and children of Africa, through the orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP).

Earlier, Dr. Low delivered a key note address, at ISTRC-AB, highlighting significant gains made in sweetpotato work in the region.  “Our breeding work in Africa has grown from only two countries in 2005 to 12 in 2009. A further three are engaged in varietal selection,” said Low.                                  

Dr. Jan Low delivers key note address the 13th ISTRC-AB symposium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: V. Atakos (CIP)

She highlighted investments by national governments as important in supporting roll out of nutritious root crops such as OFSP. “Policy  support is critical in helping change perception of sweetpotato as a crop for the poor,” she said.

The meeting revolves around five sub themes relevant to RTB:

  • Managing priority genetic resources, cropping systems and pests and diseases
  • Commercial seed system, agronomy and weed management
  • Post harvest technologies, nutrition, value chains and market opportunities
  • Enhancing innovative impact through partnerships
  • Mobilizing investors for sustainable root and tuber crop research and development.

The concluding day of the conference on March 09 will feature a special plenary session for RTB to provide an update on the progress and results from the program’s five flagship projects. 

ISTRC-AB conference has been organized by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) working closely with a number of partners including RTB, CIP, and the Natural Resources Institute among others. ISTRC-AB was established in 1978 and is headquartered in IITA.

 

Blog contributed by Vivian Atakos, Regional Communications Specialist, International Potato Center