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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. 

Spotlight on scaling agricultural technologies

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has ambitious targets to improve the lives of millions of men and women who depend on root, tuber and banana crops by 2022. Achieving those targets means focusing on the most promising technologies and innovations. And it means linking these innovations with the tools and approaches that can take them to scale.

As RTB commences its second phase, it is opportune to shine a spotlight on our approaches to scaling and how they enhance the innovations developed through the program that have the potential to be adopted by millions.

Towards this, RTB held a World Café style event on 10 March in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to match scalable technologies with approaches and tools for scaling, while increasing participants’ understanding of both the technologies and scaling approaches.

Selected RTB program targets by 2022. All program targets align with the SDGs (Click to enlarge)

The event brought together researchers from across RTB’s five program participant centers – the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Bioversity International and Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) – along with donor representatives, Tanzanian national partners, and other partners including Wageningen University and the Natural Resources Institute.

‘Scalable technologies’ are innovations that have resulted from RTB research and which are either already adopted by farmers or other users, or will be adopted over the next three years. Additionally, the technology must have – or will have – a large number of beneficiaries. An outstanding example of a scalable technology is the orange fleshed sweetpotato for health and nutrition improvement, already adopted by over 2 million households, for which three CIP scientists were awarded the prestigious World Food Prize in 2016.

During the World Café, participants circulated among posters of their choice in small group discussions, rotating every 15 minutes and sharing their thoughts on what might be the ‘roadblocks’ or ‘accelerators’ to scaling for each innovation.

Participants rotated to a new poster every 15 mins. Each poster could have a maximum of 10 visitors at any one time to encourage effective conversations. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Posters were divided in the three categories throughout the day: 1) scalable technologies for varieties and seed, 2) scalable technologies for resilient cropping, postharvest and nutrition and sustainable intensification, and 3) approaches and tools for scaling, innovation and enhancing gender relevance.

“The ‘speed-dating’ between RTB’s natural and social scientists led to new ideas on how to further improve the scaling of RTB innovations,” reflects Dr. Marc Schut, IITA Social Scientist and leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 5 on Improved Livelihoods at Scale.

During the event, several scientists commented that the exercise had changed their perceptions of the complexity of the science surrounding scaling and what the process entails, along with a greater awareness of the importance of considering scaling from the outset of a project.

Likewise, social scientists working on scaling of innovations also shared that the small-group discussions led to ideas of how the approaches to scaling could be tailored to better suit certain technologies.

Participants shared factors that could act as ‘roadblocks’ and ‘accelerators’ to the scaling of technologies presented in categories 1 and 2. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

For Juma Kayeke, an agronomist from the Tanzanian Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) based in the region of Mbeya, the workshop provided exposure to new technologies and approaches, and the chance to further connect with partners.

“It was so valuable to interact with people from different backgrounds, specializations, research areas and crops… In the tools and approaches for scaling category, I was particularly interested in the decision support tools, because sometimes when we are talking with farmers and extension officers they get very bound to what they should do at specific times in the farming cycle. If they could have a support tool to enable make decisions about what actions to take at what times, that would be a big breakthrough,” he added.

One technology that stood out on the day to Schut was the AdiosMacho pesticide developed by CIP, which attracts and kills male potato tuber moth species, reducing the population of the pest.

“The scaling of RTB innovations requires focused strategies and human and financial resource investments, and this was clearly shown in the AdiosMacho technology. AdiosMacho evolved from a research product towards a commercial product, and together with the public and private sector roadblocks have been systematically addressing. We need to learn from these cases to accelerate the scaling of other RTB innovations,” he explained.

Examples of ‘roadblocks’ and ‘accelerators’ to scaling of the AdiosMacho technology presented in the poster. (Click to enlarge)

RTB’s Flagship Project 5 will build on the World Café with a repository of scalable RTB innovations, and seek to accelerate scaling, by sharing tools and approaches with projects and scientists in the other RTB Flagships, for sustainable development impacts.

Posters of scalable technologies and of tools and approaches for scaling are available for download from the event page.

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.

Improving cassava processing: less energy, higher efficiency and more stable prices

From the RTB 2015 Annual Report

Much of the cassava grown in developing countries is processed to produce starch or flour used as ingredients in an array of food products. As demand for those products grows, the cassava processing industry will play an increasingly important role for farmers and local economies. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has consequently supported research to help starch and flour producers become more efficient.

In many countries, processing is primarily done by small- and medium-scale operations, which frequently suffer inefficiencies – particularly in energy use – that negatively affect their profitability and the environment. A cross-center team of researchers studied cassava processing operations in several countries to identify problems and measures that could be taken to correct them. Their research resulted in guidelines to improve the efficiency of small- and medium-sized processing enterprises, which can in turn ensure higher, stable prices for the smallholders who supply them.

Sample plan for energy efficient flash dryer for cassava. Credit: Francisco Javier Giraldo Cuero (Univalle), Arnaud Chapuis (CIRAD), Martin Alonso Moreno Santander (Univalle), Dominque Dufour (CIAT, CIRAD), Thierry Tran (CIRAD).

Sample plan for energy efficient flash dryer for cassava. Credit: Francisco Javier Giraldo Cuero (Univalle), Arnaud Chapuis (CIRAD), Martin Alonso Moreno Santander (Univalle), Dominque Dufour (CIAT, CIRAD), Thierry Tran (CIRAD).

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), CIRAD and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), with support from Univalle and Clayuca in Colombia, Kasetsart University and KMUTT in Thailand, and Thai Nguyen University in Vietnam. The cooperation of industrial partners such as Niji Lukas (Nigeria), Ukaya Farms (Tanzania), Almidones de Sucre (Colombia), CODIPSA (Paraguay) was also essential.

The team determined that because artificial drying is faster than sun drying, it can be a key factor for increasing production capacity. However, artificial drying consumes 70%-75% of the total energy used by a typical cassava starch/flour factory, which means that inefficiencies in the drying process can significantly increase production costs. They determined that ‘flash drying’ is one of the most suitable technologies for the production of cassava starch or flour, and that large-scale flash dryers (200-300 tons of product/day) are highly energy efficient. However, on a small scale (< 50 tons of product/day), flash-dryer energy efficiency is only 40-60%, due to inadequate dryer designs.

The researchers developed a numerical model to simulate flash drying at both small and large scales and investigated ways to improve energy efficiency. Using computer simulations coupled with multi-objective optimization methods, they determined the optimal flash dryer dimensions and operating conditions for different production capacities. They then developed guidelines for the design of energy-efficient flash dryers.

Those guidelines and research findings were shared with key stakeholders from the private and public sector at a workshop in Bangkok, Thailand in December 2015. Workshop participants included representatives of cassava processing factories, equipment manufacturers, universities and government agencies from Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Colombia, Nigeria, Tanzania, France and Germany.

Engineers at the Colombian university Univalle are using the guidelines to produce blueprints for an energy-efficient, small-scale flash dryer, a prototype of which is slated to be built in 2016. Other organizations in Indonesia, Myanmar and South Africa have also expressed interest in energy-efficient, small-scale flash dryers. The researchers will continue to share their findings at events in Africa and Latin America.

New technologies make cassava processing more efficient and sustainable

As the global cassava industry continues to grow, new processing technologies are helping factories to reduce energy losses.

The farming and post-harvest processing of cassava is a major economic activity throughout much of South-East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In Africa and Latin America, cassava is a staple food for 500 million people and is increasingly processed into ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat products. Demand for these foods is rising as a result of changing expectations by growing middle-class consumers and urban populations.

In South-East Asia cassava processing for starch in particular is a major market driver, with Thailand being the world’s largest exporter of cassava products, including starch and chips.

In many countries, the processing of cassava takes place in small- and medium-scale factories where process inefficiencies, in particular energy losses, are significant and impact on both production costs and the environment.

Considering the high potential for growth of the cassava industry, driven by growing populations and economic development, it is critical to optimize cassava processing technologies to ensure the industry progresses in a sustainable manner.

Cassava processing for starch in Vietnam. Photo by G. Smith/CIAT

Cassava processing for starch in Vietnam. Photo: G. Smith/CIAT

To improve cassava processing technologies, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) conducted a benchmarking study of cassava starch and flour technologies in several countries, as part of the larger 2013-2015 project “Driving livelihood improvements through demand-oriented interventions for competitive production and processing of roots, tubers and bananas”.

The study was conducted by a team from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and CIRAD with support from Univalle and Clayuca in Colombia, Kasetsart University and KMUTT in Thailand, and Thai Nguyen University in Vietnam.

Findings confirmed that artificial drying of cassava is faster than sun drying and hence a key factor to increase the production capacity of factories. However, research shows that artificial drying represents 70-75% of the total energy used by a typical cassava starch factory, making it a key area to focus on improving energy efficiencies.

‘Flash drying’, the most suitable type of drying for cassava starch and flours, is efficient at large-scales, with 80-90% energy efficiency. However, at small-scales (less than 50 tons of product per day) where the majority of cassava processing occurs, energy efficiency is only 40-60% due to inadequate dryer designs.

Sun drying, as seen here in Vietnam, is less commonly used in favor of artificial 'flash drying'. Photo N.Palmer/CIAT

Sun drying, as seen here in Vietnam, is less commonly used in favor of artificial ‘flash drying’. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

To develop improved drying technologies to make the process more efficient and environmentally sustainable, the project launched a subsequent study using computer-based simulations of the flash drying operation that proved such improvements to small-scale dryers are possible.

A numerical model of flash drying to simulate and compare the drying process at small and large scales was developed, followed by methods to determine the optimum dimensions and operating conditions of flash dryers for different production capacities.

Critically, this led to the development of guidelines to design energy-efficient flash dryers that can help cassava factories or equipment manufacturers reduce their energy losses.

These innovations are now available to interested stakeholders in the cassava processing industry worldwide.

To share findings from the project with key stakeholders from the private and public sector, including cassava processing factories, equipment manufacturers, universities and government agencies, a workshop was held in Bangkok, Thailand from 2 – 4 December, 2015.

The workshop brought together participants from countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Colombia, Nigeria, Tanzania, France and Germany, providing a valuable opportunity for networking and planning future collaborations on the development of the cassava industry.

Processed snack foods made using cassava starch. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

Processed snack foods made using cassava starch. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

The event was organized by CIRAD, Kasetsart University and Biotec, with financial support from RTB, SEA-EU-NET and the Embassy of France in Thailand.

The dissemination of the project’s findings will continue through capacity building events in other regions (Latin America, Africa) and the design and construction of a prototype flash dryer based on the newly developed guidelines for energy efficiency.

Read more

Learn more about the outcomes of the workshop and the project in the workshop report.

Access the project’s research findings and numerical models in the recently published (July 2016) paper, ‘Pneumatic Drying of Cassava Starch: Numerical Analysis and Guidelines for the Design of Efficient Small-Scale Dryers‘, published in the journal, Drying Technology: An International Journal.

Queen’s Anniversary Prize for ground-breaking work on cassava awarded to RTB partner, NRI

World-leading research and development on cassava by the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich (NRI) has been honored with a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is to present the university with a silver gilt medallion and prize-winner’s certificate during a special reception at Buckingham Palace next year.

The prize recognizes NRI’s research and development in the field of cassava, the tropical root crop predominantly grown by smallholder farmers in the developing world, especially in Africa, where it is an important staple food for millions.

Cassava faces a number of challenges: it is vulnerable to attack by pests and virus diseases and faces obstacles to market access, storage and handling issues and a short shelf-life. It has also received less investment than other crops resulting in significant gaps in knowledge.

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) began working with NRI in 2013 on a key project called ‘Driving livelihood improvements through demand-oriented interventions for competitive production and processing of cassava’. The project largely focusses on sub-Saharan African countries, which is a key region for NRI’s work on cassava.

Men and women work together to process cassava in Benin. Photo by  D.Dufour/RTB

Men and women work together to process cassava in Benin. Photo by D.Dufour/RTB

Research included analyzing and improving cassava peeling technologies to reduce time, energy and product losses for cassava processors, who are mainly women, in countries including Nigeria. Two key technologies used by smallholder farmers in Tanzania for drying cassava peels were also evaluated, leading to recommendations on how to improve the efficiency of the process for farmers.

Studies to understand consumer preferences have also been carried out to assess how new processing technologies and improved cassava varieties may impact key cassava products like gari and fufu. Qualitative research also analyzed how men and women perceive and rate the quality of processed cassava products.

The project ‘Driving livelihood improvements through demand-oriented interventions for competitive production and processing of cassava’ is funded by RTB and involves partners including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cirad, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and of course, NRI.

RTB Program Director, Graham Thiele, commented that NRI “is a strategic partner for RTB in post-harvest innovation and we are absolutely delighted with the wonderful news and well earned recognition for path-breaking research.”

Advancements in cassava research will also be a key feature at the upcoming World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, due to take place in Nanning, Guangxi, China, from 18 – 22 January 2016. The Congress will bring together the world’s foremost experts in the field, including representatives from NRI, RTB, CIAT, IITA and Cirad, 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 cassava.

Read the award announcement on the NRI website.

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.


Clean planting material to combat Moko disease of plantains in Latin America

Moko bacterial wilt is the principal bacterial disease limiting plantain production in Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is primarily spread between farms and regions via planting material. Moko disease can destroy up to 75% of crop production in an affected area and annual losses in the region have been calculated to be more than USD $100 million. Most farmers use chemical products, such as disinfectants, herbicides and insecticides to prevent disease dissemination.

Through RTB, CIAT is collaborating with Bioversity and IITA on introducing hybrids and evaluating them for their agronomic performance; resistance to diseases, including Moko and Sigatoka diseases; and acceptability to farmers for consumption or agroindustry in Colombia.

Figure 3.1

A plantain cultivar susceptible to Moko disease (left), compared with a resistant plantain hybrid (right), both established in sites with presence of Ralstonia solanacearum, the bacterium that causes Moko disease

With combined funding from FONTAGRO and RTB, interdisciplinary teams of scientists from CIAT, CIRAD and regional and national partners, have been working on improving the production of clean planting material through the development of innovative and cost-effective mass propagation systems as part of a disease management strategy.

A significant development is the use of thermotherapy chambers for mass propagation of disease-free planting materials. CIAT designed and piloted an inexpensive, efficient and completely automatic system to produce clean planting materials: Using corms, which are first disinfected in a solution of insecticide and fungicide, and then subject to the technique of accelerated reproduction of planting material, the thermal chambers clean infected material by heat generated with a polyethylene cover and solar radiation. The plants stay inside the chamber around 20 days at a temperature of 51 – 55 °C.

Once the conditions needed to propagate planting materials were determined, a larger thermal chamber was constructed that is currently producing pathogen-free planting material for 7,000 farmers in central Colombia.

Figure 1

The thermotherapy chamber implemented in central Colombia guarantees farmers access to clean and high quality planting material

“I produce my own planting material in the thermal chamber and obviously it comes out very clean”, narrates Silverio González, an agronomist at the National Federation of Plantain Producers of Colombia (FEDEPLÁTANO). “This is an innovative system for large-scale production. The planting materials are completely homogeneous and the production with thermotherapy assures that it happens in a pathogen-free environment.”

“After planting the clean planting materials in the field there are no losses and replanting becomes unnecessary, as it presents better establishment in the field”, adds Alejandro Montaña, a Colombian producer. “Further, the first production cycle is shortened by 1.5 months and the production of suckers starts earlier in comparison with crops established using suckers or in vitro plants as planting material”.

image 3

Dr. Rony Swennen, IITA Breeder (left), Elizabeth Alvarez, CIAT Plant Pathologist and Silverio Gonzalez, Plantain Producer, in front of a plantain genotype resistant to Moko disease at Armenia, Quindio farm in Colombia

The technology has since been adopted by at least 10 nurseries or planting material production centers in Colombia. CIAT scientists helped nursery entrepreneurs to improve their production processes and scale the technology out, while involving female household heads in preparations for planting material production and caring for plantlets.

Conducted trials to evaluate the propagation rate inside the thermotherapy chamber found that monthly production increased by as much as 90 plantlets, from 15 suckers per square meter. A total production of 980,000 plantlets was propagated and distributed to farmers in 2014.