Tag Archives: breeding

Root, tuber and banana breeding in Africa shows wide-scale adoption of improved varieties

Crop breeding and the dissemination of improved varieties has been a cornerstone of research for development in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) for decades, and scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) contributed to research on the impact of this work which is featured in the book Crop Improvement, Adoption, and Impact of Improved Varieties in Food Crops in Sub-Saharan Africa, published in 2015. This ambitious review contains a wealth of information on decades of cassava, yam, potato and sweetpotato improvement in SSA, and it holds lessons for strengthening future efforts to tap the potential of RTB crops for improving food security, nutrition and livelihoods.

The book, which covers the development and distribution of improved varieties of 20 crops in 30 countries, grew out of the ‘Diffusion and Impact of Improved Varieties in Africa’ study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It confirms the important role that RTB centers have played in strengthening crop improvement in SSA, but also shows that it takes a long time to develop and disseminate improved varieties, which is why RTB has prioritized innovations that accelerate the breeding process.

Read the full story on RTB’s 2015 Annual Report website

Banana research in Africa: modern breeding techniques, regulatory and biosafety issues

Registration is now open for an advanced course ‘Banana research in Africa: modern breeding techniques, regulatory and biosafety issues‘ from 19 – 30 September 2016, organized by International Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO–VIB/UGent) in collaboration with KULeuven and NARO, and hosted by NARO-Kawanda in Uganda.

Aimed at Africans engaged in banana improvement programs including scientists, regulators and lawyers, the course will provide training in modern breeding techniques, how to collect relevant and reliable data to perform risk analysis, and how to communicate scientific results and goals.

A researcher checks on the health status of banana seedlings in a screenhouse. Photo by IITA

Supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the program will give an overview of the most important banana diseases and how to address them through breeding as well as biotechnological approaches.The program continues with an overview of regulatory and risk assessment principles relevant to the African region. Participants will also obtain insights in to the metabolomics of banana, bioinformatics methods and banana processing.

Finally, a two-day workshop will teach participants how to communicate research findings and goals to a non-scientific audience and the public at large. The sessions will be interactive, including group work, presentations and discussions. The program also includes visits to confined field trials and local farmers.

A number of scholarships with support from VLIR-UOS for accommodation and travel expenses are available. The deadline for scholarship applications is 31 May, 2016.

For more information on the course program, registration, scholarship eligibility criteria and application forms, visit the IPBO-VIB/UGent website or contact: sylvie.debuck@vib-ugent.be

Registration for the course closes 30 June, 2016

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) is working in partnership with NARO, IITA and KULeuven on a number of projects, including a banana drought response study with KULeuven which showed that selection for high transpiration efficiency could be used to identify cultivars with better performance during both well-watered and water-stress conditions, thus projecting good yield during both normal and dry years. With IITA and NARO, the program is also working on accelerating banana breeding and improving knowledge on the banana genome.

Gender, breeding and genomics workshop – Open call for case studies

You are invited to submit an abstract for a case study of plant or animal breeding that has successfully incorporated gender considerations into its strategies and end products, demonstrating attention to contrasting needs and preferences of men and women end users (producers or consumers) by May 15, 2016. 

A small number of case study authors will be invited to present their study at the upcoming workshop ‘Gender, Breeding and Genomics‘ that will take place in Nairobi, Kenya from October 18- 21, 2016. Travel and accommodation expenses for the authors of selected case studies will be covered by the workshop organizers. Authors of other cases of interest to the workshop may be contacted with respect to inclusion of the case in a book-length or journal publication and/or presentation of a poster at the workshop, which is organized by the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network’s Gender and Breeding working group.

The workshop aims to identify the essential, ‘must have’ ingredients of successful, gender- responsive breeding initiatives and to explore implications of the revolution in genomics for new opportunities and entry points in the breeding research cycle for effective integration of gender.

Gender responsive root, tuber and banana breeding

There have been many cases in which improved crop varieties released by national agricultural research and extension systems were poorly received by farmers because they lacked the flavor or another trait that farmers or consumers wanted. To ensure high adoption rates for the varieties they develop, breeding programs usually survey farmers about the traits they prefer, but all too often, those researchers rely disproportionately on the opinions of men. However, specialization of household roles means that women and men have different knowledge about and preferences for varietal traits. Women are usually responsible for food preparation and small scale processing, but their knowledge is rarely used for the varietal development process.

As The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) works to unlock the genetic potential of roots, tubers and bananas for improving food security, nutrition and incomes, it is also supporting field research to document gender-disaggregated trait preferences. The aim is to ensure that the improved RTB crop varieties developed in the coming years will have as widespread and gender-equitable an impact as possible.

Read more about RTB’s work to incorporate women’s needs and preferences into root, tuber and banana breeding. 

For more information about the upcoming workshop and how to submit a case study, please visit the Gender Network website.

Six steps forward for root and tuber crops

Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) shares his top six highlights from the first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, January 18 – 22, Nanning, China.

With root and tuber crops providing food for than 2.2 billion million people around the globe, it is no surprise that our efforts to improve these crops are so broad and geographically dispersed. The first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, which has just wrapped up in Nanning, China, brought together hundreds of experts working on various areas in the value chain and  is a special forum to share advances across all our crops.

This is one of the reasons why RTB is so pleased to support the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) and Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) as co-organizers. For me, it was also great to see so many friends and colleagues in the roots and tubers community and catch up on progress. There is so much to report back, but I do have a few highlights from the week which particularly struck me to share.

Omics and beyond

It’s astonishing the progress made with understanding the genetic makeup of root and tuber crops and the different pathways from genes to trait expression which the new science of ‘omics’ has made possible. It was impressive to see the progress made by our Chinese colleagues, including a lively presentation from Songbi Chen of the Tropical Crops Genetic Resources Institute of the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) on the application of proteomics cassava breeding to understand how we could improve photosynthetic efficiency and starch accumulation in roots, thus potentially increasing their dry matter content.

A CIAT researcher examines cassava buds in the lab. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

A CIAT researcher examines cassava buds in the lab. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

Cassava as animal feed

I knew that cassava is a potential feed for livestock but I hadn’t understood that it actually has some special advantages. The presentation from Uthai Kanto, Associate Professor at Kasetsart University, and of the Thai Tapioca Development Institute (TTDI) explained how the fermentation and slight acidity of cassava chips inhibits mycotoxins when it used as a feed. Additionally the presence of low and non-toxic levels of cyanide even gives immunity to disease. These factors mean it’s a healthier alternative feed ingredient for livestock compared to maize, with improved weight gain for the animals although it does need a bit of enrichment with a protein source. This is an important finding for RTB supported work in utilization of cassava peel as animal feed.

Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato farmers in Rwanda. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato farmers in Rwanda. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Policy change promotes sweetpotato

Sweetpotato and other roots and tubers are often neglected crops. So it was very encouraging to learn from Jan Low of the International Potato Center (CIP) that because of advocacy and progress in research through the SASHA and SUSTAIN projects implemented by CIP, Rwanda has included in recent policy documents the promotion of biofortified foods, and in three districts (Muhanga, Gakeneke and Rulindo) local governments have included sweetpotato as a priority crop as part of their efforts to fight micronutrient malnutrition and improve the diversification of diets. For sure there are lessons here for other root, tuber and banana crops.

 

Cassava seed system in Uganda

Anthony Pariyo of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda explained there has been good progress made towards developing a sustainable seed system for cassava in Uganda, including a functional public-private partnership with BioCrops providing 12,000 plants from bioculture and a network of 47 seed entrepreneurs selling seed to farmers. There are some potential lessons here for a new RTB project on cassava seed systems which is getting underway in Nigeria.

Pruning buys time for cassava

Cassava roots deteriorate quickly after harvest, posing a significant challenge for farmers and processors. Harriet Muyinza of NARO took part in an exchange visit to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia sponsored by the RTB-ENDURE project, during which she applied a cassava pruning technique that she learned during the exchange in field trials in Uganda. The results are very promising, showing that with one of the varieties called Tim Tim, pruning reduced post-harvest deterioration to below 20%, compared to 70% without pruning. This suggests that pruning could be effective for farmers to reduce storage loss and have more time to transport their crop to market.

Brown streak disease resistance

Morag Ferguson from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reported the surprising finding that resistance to cassava brown streak disease, previously thought to have come from East Africa, was actually derived from a West African landrace. This, together with their location of molecular markers associated with the genetic inheritance of resistance should importantly enable preemptive breeding against brown streak disease in West Africa. This could be extremely important given that the disease is spreading west from its origin on the coast of Tanzania and potentially affecting the rest of the continent.

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, presents the program's priority assessment plans during the Congress. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, summarizes the findings of the program’s priority assessment during the Congress. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

I also took the opportunity to present two plenary sessions – the first updating the progress in RTB and giving a closer look at our work on improving climate change resilience, and the second summarizing the findings of the RTB priority assessment. This assessment kicked off at the GCP21 in 2013 and so it was very appropriate to present a wrap up in China.

Assessing the impact of Cooperation-88 potatoes in China

Potatoes came to China in the early 1600s but were not a major crop until the 1980s. By 1993, China became the world’s largest potato producer, and in 2014, it produced 96 million metric tons – twice as much as India, the second largest producing country[i]. This significant growth in potato production highlights how important potatoes have become in China. This importance is driven by income growth and rapid changes in consumer demand.

Since early 2013, the Chinese government has refined their food security strategy and has been promoting potato as a new staple crop to improve food security and water shortages throughout the country[ii]. Because potatoes have a long storage life and use limited water in production, all while remaining a nutritious option, potato research is now a priority.

As part of the Chinese potato breeding program, several varieties have been produced to increase potato yield while reducing the impact of main biotic constraints in potato production – the most important being late blight.

One of those varieties is Cooperation-88 (C88) which was developed through a collaboration between the International Potato Center (CIP) and Yunnan Normal University (YNU), with the goal of breeding a high quality, late blight resistant variety that tastes good[iii]. In 1996, C88 was named and released as a cultivar. By 2009, it covered 186,667 hectares and was the most widely grown variety in Yunnan[iii]. C88 is now grown in four provinces: Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizghou, and Guanshi.

Current estimated adoption rates of C88 by season in Yunnan

 Season   Estimated Adoption Rate (%)
 Early Spring   27
 Late Spring   17
 Autumn   8
 Winter   56

Source: SIAC Expert Panel in Yunnan on March 10, 2015

It is evident from the high adoption rates that C88 has made an economic impact. The variety is expected to benefit adopting farmers in the form of higher yield (due to its late blight resistance property) and price, which in turn should increase farm income and household food security.

The Project

To measure the impact of C88, a collaborative effort funded by the Standing Panel on Impact Assessment with additional funding from The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), was undertaken by CIP, Virginia Tech (VT), and YNU. Previous studies estimated the adoption of C88 but none rigorously quantified the impact.

The study objectives are to verify previous adoption estimates of C88 in Yunnan, and determine the economic benefits C88 has had on consumers and producers in China.

A random household and a community survey conducted in Yunnan were used to gather information about potato production. The purpose of the household survey was to collect information on potato production and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of potato-producing households. The community survey was used to verify the data from the household survey at the village level and to estimate the yields and cost of production for C88 compared to alternative potato varieties.

Junhong Qin, Research Assistant, CIP, surveys a local potato farmer.

An enumerator surveys a local potato farmer for the project.

From July to early September 2015, a research team from YNU, CIP and VT interviewed 616 farmers in 41 villages. Interviews with value chain actors, such as potato chip processors and wholesalers, were also conducted.

A First Look at the Results

When finished, this project will paint a picture of potato farmers in Yunnan and what influences their decisions to adopt potato varieties. This will inform researchers such that new varieties that meet producer needs can be developed and disseminated more efficiently. The more qualitative results from the value-chain study will also provide feedback to potato researchers and policy makers on constraints faced by farmers in C88’s value-chain.

A major constraint to the adoption of C88 that the survey uncovered is a lack of seed markets. Many farmers grow one variety until another is introduced. They do not generally purchase new seeds of the same variety. Instead, they completely replace one variety for another. As seed quality degrades, production suffers because quality seed potatoes are not available.

Farmers preferred C88 because of its high yield and high quality, which leads them to receive a higher price.

While C88 has many positive traits, the two major problems reported by farmers were decreasing yields as the seed stock ages and late maturity. Although C88 is late blight resistant, it is still affected by late blight because it matures later than other varieties and may still be in the fields as moisture appears. Farmers are beginning to replace C88 with varieties that mature earlier because late blight does not become a major concern until later in the season. However, potato processors value C88 tubers and recognize the importance of the variety to the rapidly expanding processed chip industry.

C88’s value-chain is comprised of two main markets: chip processing and fresh consumption. Medium-sized tubers go to chip processors who prefer C88 over most varieties due to its low water content, high starch, and medium sized tubers. One chip processor reported a shortage of C88 and thus, the need to resort to another variety to supplement his processing business. Larger tubers are destined to the fresh market, and mainly found in large restaurants, such as those in hotels; savvy consumers prefer C88’s taste and quality.

What’s next?

The next steps are to analyze the household and community data to supplement the qualitative findings. This will allow researchers to determine the adoption rate of C88 in Yunnan Province, identifying factors that affect farmers’ adoption decision of C88, and estimating the economic impact of C88 in China. The various research methods, mentioned above, will provide feedback to researchers on the importance of potato research to China and C88’s impact on farmers, consumers, and China.

China is also set to host the first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, due to take place in Nanning, Guangxi province from 18 – 22 January 2016. The Congress will bring together the world’s foremost experts in the field to share advice, review scientific progress, and identify and set priorities for future research, along with raising awareness of the global importance of root and tuber crops like potato.

This blog was contributed by Stephanie Myrick, Jeffrey Alwang and Catherine Larochelle from Virginia Tech, and Guy Hareau and Willy Pradel from the International Potato Center. 

[i] FAOSTAT. (2015). Top 20 Commodities by Country.

[ii] China Daily. (2015, January 8). Potato upgraded as new staple crop.

[iii]  Li, C., Wang, J., Chien, D. H., Chujoy, E., Song, B., & VanderZaag, P. (2011). Cooperation-88: A High Yielding, Multi-Purpose, Late Blight Resistant Cultivar Growing in Southwest China. American Journal of Potato Research.

A year in review: Highlights from the RTB Annual Meeting 2015

The Annual Review and Planning Meeting of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) took place last week from 8 – 10 December, 2015 in Lima, Peru.

The event was hosted by the program’s lead center, the International Potato Center (CIP), and brought together over 50 researchers from the five program partner centers – the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIRAD and CIP – along with colleagues from other partners including Florida State University and Wageningen University. A representative from a key RTB donor, USAID, also attended the event to share in this year’s highlights.

23573958681_4474c2e3e5_o_CROPOver three days, participants reported on highlights and key achievements from the program’s six research themes, which led to enthusiastic and constructive discussion about the results and next steps for the program in 2016. The collegial and dynamic atmosphere set a positive tone for the year ahead as RTB prepares to undergo a significant shift away from research ‘themes’ to ‘flagship projects’ in 2016.

Selected highlights from the Annual Meeting:

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

  • Through complementary funding, RTB has enabled the application of next generation sequencing to change our understanding of genetic diversity, genetic resource collections and breeding populations of root, tuber and banana crops.
  • In several crops, including potato and cassava, we are gaining an understanding of the identity of crop varieties, the status of duplication and misidentifications. This is enabling a much higher level of quality control of information on germplasm and breeding populations to assist with more efficient use of RTB resources.

Theme 2 – Accelerating the development and selection of varieties with higher, more stable yield and added value

  • Metabolomics has been successfully applied to banana, potato, and yam to identify differences between genotypes and treatments.
  • DNA sequencing could separate genepools in cassava based on origin. Sequencing data has proven useful to improve the cassava genome. Further gene characterization raises the question of perhaps using genome editing to reduce cyanide levels in cassava.
  • Genome-Wide Association Studies have applied in banana for the first time, and have identified candidate genes for seedlessness.
  • A ‘Trait Observation Network’ to close potato yield gaps in Africa and Asia started this year and involves extensive G x E phenotyping for drought, late blight, virus resistance, and maturity of already genotyped breeding panels.
  • Shovelomics and other root phenotyping methods to analyze root architecture in relation to drought stress shows potential for screening genotypes at early development stages, as root weight and root dry matter weight is correlated with sweetpotato storage root yields.

Theme 3 – Managing priority pests and diseases

  • Results of work on degenerative diseases show that positive selection, which involves visually identifying and selecting only symptomless plants as the seed source for the next generation, can be as effective as the use of clean seed where selection can be done accurately.
  • Pest Risk Analysis along an altitude gradient was used as a proxy for climate change, and revealed that some diseases have higher incidence at lower altitude, and some have higher incidence at lower levels. Hence, climate change is expected to have some positive and negative effects.
  • Crop land connectivity was used to assess risk for invasion and saturation by pathogens and pests, and showed that the Great Lakes region in East Africa has the highest threat for RTB crops combined.
  • An interdisciplinary Banana Bunchy Top Disease Alliance was set up, and practicable models, tools and procedures for containment and recovery were developed.
  • Single Diseased Stem Removal has been found to be a very effective and farmer-friendly method for controlling Banana Xanthomonas Wilt.
  • A successful Private-Public Partnership has been set up to reduce pesticide use to control Potato Tube Moth through the development of a pheromone-based control strategy that attracts and kills the pest.

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

  • A conceptual framework was developed to analyze RTB seed systems, extract lessons and generate recommendations for improving the design and implementation of future interventions.
  • Quality Declared Quality Planting Materials as an alternative to formal certification is a lower cost and more feasible opportunity for seed system with RTB crops where seed is typically bulky and/or perishable.
  • A key message of the research in this theme was that understanding gender roles in seed systems is critical for positive impact.
  • How can positive selection of seed become adopted as more routine practice in improved seed system?
  • A framework for understanding availability, access and use of quality seed  has been developed and specific research questions have been proposed around this linked to a series of case studies.

 At the end of the first day, CIP hosted an Open House afternoon, showcasing the center’s work in areas including a demonstration of remote sensing of a potato field using a drone and in-house software to collect and analyze the data, and an introduction to the Genebank’s collection of in vitro germplasm of potato, sweetpotato and Andean roots and tubers.

Day two of the meeting covered the highlights from Themes 5 and 6:

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

  • Developing ability to provide targeted recommendations about the next steps for cropping systems improvement, as a function of a farm’s current status (technology limited, resources limited, decision limited).
  • Providing recommendations that can be used by farmers immediately for more robust and profitable cropping systems.
  • Support for farmer soil management through careful analysis of nutrient balances shows promise for smallholder banana production.

Theme 6 – Promoting post-harvest technologies, value chains, and market opportunities

  • Sensory tasting for cassava should be product specific. For example, Gari can be eaten dry, as a paste, in porridge etc. When you want to evaluate the acceptability of Gari you have to decide on one of the products.
  • Much work has gone in to improving drying technologies and there is evidence that some technologies are preferred more than others, such as Cabinet driers in Tanzania.
  • Interlinkages with other projects are building on work that has already been done, e.g. RTB-ENDURE project is testing improved clones in development of value chains in Uganda.
  • Climate change effects: research has shown that the production of bitter alkaloids in the potato tuber increases with temperature making them unacceptable, this has strong implications for  climate change in potato

The meeting concluded with a smaller two-day workshop on 11-12 December to refine the program’s shift away from research ‘themes’ to a new structure based on five ‘flagship projects’ in 2016. More detail about RTB’s new flagship projects will be coming soon.


Incorporating women’s needs and preferences into RTB breeding

There have been many cases in which improved crop varieties released by national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) were poorly received by farmers because they lacked the flavor or another trait that farmers or consumers wanted. To ensure high adoption rates for the varieties they develop, breeding programs usually survey farmers about the traits they prefer, but all too often, those researchers rely disproportionately on the opinions of men. However, specialization of household roles means that women and men have different knowledge about and preferences for varietal traits. Women are usually responsible for food preparation and small scale processing, but their knowledge is rarely used for the varietal development process.

As RTB works to unlock the genetic potential of roots, tubers and bananas for improving food security, nutrition and incomes, it is also supporting field research to document gender-disaggregated trait preferences. The aim is to ensure that the improved RTB varieties developed in the coming years will have as widespread and gender-equitable an impact as possible.

“Next-generation breeding is helping breeders to speed up the process of developing new RTB varieties, but if we overlook the traits that farmers want, if we don’t have the right targets, then next-generation breeding could simply get us to the wrong place faster,” observed RTB Program Director Graham Thiele.

An example of this problem was discovered by CIP gender researcher Netsayi Moris Mudege in a project promoting the cultivation and consumption of nutritious orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties in Malawi. Farmer consultations had resulted in the release of a variety that produces large roots, which men prefer because they fetch a good market price. However, most women prefer another variety that wasn’t released, because sweetpotato leaves are an important part of the local diet and the lobe-shaped leaves of that variety are better for cooking.

Cornell PhD student Paula Iragaba (fifth from the left) and her colleague, Winifred Candiru (first from the left), together with adult women cassava farmers after a focus group discussion in the Arua district.

Cornell PhD student Paula Iragaba (fifth from the left) and her colleague, Winifred Candiru (first from the left), together with adult women cassava farmers after a focus group discussion in the Arua district.

To avoid such oversights, RTB supported various initiatives in 2014 to get the trait preferences of both men and women into breeding pipelines. For example, Mudege and CIP potato breeder Asrat Amele produced an FAQ sheet on integrating gender into the participatory varietal selection of potato in Ethiopia and organized a training workshop in Addis Ababa for 20 representatives of CIP’s main partners there.

RTB and NEXTGEN Cassava have co-funded the collection of gender-disaggregated trait preference data for cassava in Nigeria, using a methodology developed by NEXTGEN Cassava Project Manager Hale Tufan and IITA Gender Focal Point Holger Kirscht. Tufan and Kirscht coordinated research in 2014 by interdisciplinary teams from IITA and NRCRI in eight farming communities in southeast and southwest Nigeria. The teams interviewed 10 women and 10 men of diverse ages and marital status in each village and conducted sex-disaggregated focus groups with 20-30 participants in most of them.

“We’re trying to bring diverse voices, including those of women and youth, into the breeding process. Because we want to tailor breeding programs for the diversity of users rather than opting for one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Tufan.

Tufan explained that traits mentioned by the farmers range from agronomic advantages such as good yield to things like ‘drawing’ when cooked, which is important for making the traditional cassava dish gari. The goal is to get those most difficult quality traits into selection indices, to translate them into standardized, measureable breeding variables, and to link them to genetic markers for genomic selection. Cassava breeders Peter Kulakow (IITA) and Chiedozie Egesi (NRCRI) have helped to tailor the data collection tools in order to ensure that they yield data that will be useful for breeding.

Paula holding two cassava roots during a visit to cassava farmer (in the white t-shirt) in the Apac district, one of her study sites.

Paula holding two cassava roots during a visit to cassava farmer (in the white T-shirt) in the Apac district, one of her study sites.

RTB and NEXTGEN Cassava are also co-funding Cornell PhD student Paula Iragaba, who returned to her native Uganda in 2015 to conduct gender-differentiated field research on cassava trait preferences.

Iragaba is working closely with Kirscht, CIRAD postharvest expert Dominique Dufour, and breeders at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) to help them incorporate the preferred cassava traits that she documents into their cassava improvement program.

“This is really exciting because there is an opportunity for Paula to provide information and set up a model on how to capture and integrate gendered trait preferences into breeding programs,” said Tufan.

Paula and a farmer picking cassava leaf samples in one of the farmer's cassava gardens to be used for studying genetic diversity of cassava varieties.

Paula and a farmer picking cassava leaf samples in one of the farmer’s cassava gardens to be used for studying genetic diversity of cassava varieties.

Iragaba had an opportunity to explain her research to Bill Gates in October 2014, when Gates visited Cornell’s campus to learn about the work of NEXTGEN Cassava, which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds. Iragaba was one of several graduate students who gave short presentations about their research and answered questions from Gates.

“I talked about how women play a vital role in cassava production and processing in Uganda, and how their role needs to be considered by breeding programs in order to improve the adoption rates of new varieties,” Iragaba said. “I’m sure that if gender issues are taken into consideration by our breeding programs, we are going to have tremendous improvements in adoption rates.”

Find this and other interesting articles in the RTB Annual Report 2014

Including women’s preferences to enhance cassava breeding programs – conversing with Bill Gates

Graduate student Paula Iragaba uncovered a major disconnect in the course of her research: While plant breeders in her native Uganda focus on developing cassava varieties with high yield or starch content or disease resistance, the people primarily responsible for processing and cooking the plant – women – have their own priorities.

For those end users, traits such as roots that are easy to pound into flour, or that can be harvested piecemeal, without killing the plant, are especially important. “If women want cassava that is easy to pound, and breeders don’t breed for that trait, at the end of the day, women may not adopt improved varieties,” Iragaba said.

Soon after arriving at Cornell University in August 2014 to begin coursework toward a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics, Iragaba had the opportunity to discuss her findings with Bill Gates himself. The occasion was a lunch roundtable held during Gates’ learning visit to the Cornell campus on October 1st. During the visit, Iragaba and several other graduate students from Cornell’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences also presented their field research on cassava, as well as maize and wheat. Iragaba described her work in Uganda’s Nakasongola District, where she has documented the different cassava traits that are preferred by men and women.

Paula administering a questionnaire to one of the players in cassava industry in Nakasongola, Uganda

Paula administering a questionnaire to one of the players in cassava industry in Nakasongola, Uganda

In that presentation and in their conversation, she provided Gates with more insight into the importance of making crop breeding gender responsive, which can increase adoption of improved cassava varieties, and thus effectiveness of efforts to combat hunger and poverty, especially for smallholder women farmers.

“Cassava has traditionally been considered a women’s crop,” said Iragaba, adding that it is essential for food security. “Women are the ones who do most of the cassava production and postharvest handling. They know more about cassava than the men, who only become involved when it reaches the market — and women have a long list of preferences.”

“End user preferences are hard to capture, or can vary by region, and are hence very hard to breed for,” explained Hale Ann Tufan, NEXTGEN Cassava manager. “Paula will shape her work around linking end user knowledge to breeder knowledge, and work with the farmers to develop cassava varieties that better suit their needs and preferences.”

Iragaba will return to Uganda in 2015 to undertake further field research in that vein. Her research is supported by the NEXTGEN Cassava project – co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development – and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). That support is part of a wider collaboration between NEXTGEN Cassava and RTB to tap cassava’s potential to improve food security and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. “We are very excited by the collaboration with NEXTGEN as it is important to give consideration to gender and user preferences even during very upstream research known as genomic selection,” RTB Director Graham Thiele commented. “We feel that building capacity of younger female scientists like Paula will help this change in emphasis”.

Paula with male cassava farmers as they demonstrated use oxen in land preparation for cassava production

Paula with male cassava farmers as they demonstrated use oxen in land preparation for cassava production

Tufan noted that NEXTGEN Cassava is also working with Holger Kirscht, a social scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), on research into women farmers’ needs and preferences for cassava production in Nigeria.

“We hope that cassava breeding programs can become more gender-responsive, and help put smallholder farmers, especially women, at the center of research and development,” Tufan said.

Paula3

Paula (extreme left in the second line) pose for a photo after a focus group discussion about cassava production and post- harvest handling