Tag Archives: climate change

Six steps to speed up climate-smart breeding in roots, tubers and bananas

Research centers and their partners have made good progress toward harnessing the potential of roots, tubers and bananas to improve food security, nutrition and smallholder incomes, but scientists are concerned that impacts of climate change could undercut many of those gains in the coming years.

Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

In response to this threat, a team of scientists working with the CGIAR Research Program on Roots Tubers and Bananas (RTB) collaborated on a paper that underscores the urgency of building greater climate resilience into crops as global weather and climate patterns shift in a warming world. Published in Open Agriculture, the paper, entitled ‘Roots, Tubers and Bananas: Planning for Climate Resilience, outlines six steps needed to enhance the planning, breeding, dissemination and management of climate-smart varieties.

Over the last decade, “the urgency has really increased,” notes Dr. Graham Thiele, Director of RTB and lead author of the paper. “It’s being driven by the growing awareness of the reality of climate change, as well as a growing body of evidence about its potential impacts on agriculture, especially in some of the most vulnerable environments in Africa. Resilience is becoming much more center stage in our research planning.”

Thiele adds that while a gap remains between the sheer scope of the problem and investments into research needed to address it, there are many positive developments, such as more targeted climate-change models that will help researchers plan more effectively for a changing climate in the years ahead. 

RTB is actively collaborating in this area with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security  (CCAFS). Dr Philip Thornton of CCAFS noted: “Decision support tools are going to play a vital role helping to set priorities and targeting research and scaling of climate smart options.” 

“Crops are sensitive to changes in temperature and erratic rainfall patterns, so we need more locally detailed models to be able to understand the overall impacts of climate change and the adaptations needed [to respond to them],” observes Dr. Michael Friedmann, science officer at RTB.  He notes that RTB supports research in East Africa that combines data from farm surveys, weather stations and laboratory experiments to create risk maps and models to predict the threats posed by specific crop pests and diseases under future climate scenarios.

Predictions of potato late blight severity in sub-Saharan Africa using a metamodel                                         Left: current late blight severity; Right: late blight severity predicted by 2050 (source: Sparks et al. 2014)

“Most studies looking into the effects of climate change on food security have only focused on crop yields and may be under-estimating the magnitude of the link between climate change and food security,” said Dr. Dorcus Gemenet, molecular breeder and abiotic stress geneticist with the International Potato Center’s (CIP) Genomics and Crop Improvement group.

She explains that while drought and heat stress are the main threats to crop yield under climate change, crop breeders also need to address related factors such as irregular rainfall and increased pressure from pests and diseases as they work to develop climate-smart varieties. She adds that while improving yield is the top priority for breeders, they also need to understand how climate change may affect crop quality or shelf life, which is an especially important issue for roots, tubers and bananas.

Gemenet is working with scientists at North Carolina State University and other partners to identify DNA markers in sweetpotato that breeders can use to speed up the development of improved varieties. Over the past decade, CIP has worked with sweetpotato breeders in Africa to accelerate the breeding process, cutting the time it takes to cross, select, field test, and release a new variety from eight years to four. Gemenet and colleagues hope that the genomic tools they are currently developing will significantly further reduce in the time it takes to develop new sweetpotato varieties.

Changes in establishment and potential distribution (ERI) and abundance (GI) of the sweet potato weevil, Cylas puncticollis, according to model predictions from 2000 and to 2050. An ERI>0.95 is associated with potential permanent establishment of the pest (source: Okonya et al. 2016).

“If the breeding process cannot be made more rapid, then we won’t be able to develop the varieties that farmers need to adapt to climate change,” says Gemenet, adding that the challenge is both urgent and personal for her.

“Apart from being a scientist, I am the daughter of a peasant farmer in Kenya,” she says. “It is devastating to see a farmer who has lost his crops to drought.”

Gemenet explains that while accelerating the development of climate-smart varieties, breeders need to ensure that they have the traits that men and women want, so that they are widely adopted. RTB is prioritizing this goal though its coordination of the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative.

“There is already pressure to produce enough food now, and it is daunting to think about the future, but we need to prepare for the future,” she says.

Gemenet explains that as pressing as the challenges created by climate change are, she is encouraged by the pace of advances in technology and knowledge sharing that scientists can take advantage of. She adds that CIP and the other RTB centers have already accomplished a great deal toward making root, tuber and banana production more resilient, which she and her colleagues can build upon.

As Thiele observes: “Climate smart breeding means we need to keep doing what we are already doing. We just need to do it faster, better and smarter.”

By Amy Rogers Nazarov and David Dudenhoefer

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. 

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

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.

Leave no one behind: Reflections on RTB’s participations at GCARD3

Sara Quinn, Regional Communications Specialist, International Potato Center

What does it mean to ‘leave no one behind’ in the world of agricultural research for development? This was the question on the minds of those of us that represented the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) at the Third Global Conference on Agriculture for Development (GCARD3), organized by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and CGIAR and hosted by the South African Agricultural Research Council, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

GCARD was created to promote effective, targeted investment and to build partnership, capacities and mutual accountabilities at all levels of the agricultural system in order to meet the needs of resource-poor farmers and their communities. This, the third GCARD meeting, was a clear demonstration of how the global network is working to achieve these goals and was a confident step forward in progressing the global agenda on agriculture.

So, what role do root, tuber and banana crops have to play in this global discourse? And how can agricultural research and development initiatives ensure that the benefits they provide are far reaching, leaving no one behind?

 The CGIAR booth at GCARD3 was a great opportunity to see how the CGIAR was engaging with the GCARD3 process.

The CGIAR booth at GCARD3 was a great opportunity to see how the CGIAR was engaging with the GCARD3 process. Photo by Liya Dejene, CGIAR Consortium.

RTB crops including banana, cassava, potato, sweetpotato, yams and other root and tuber crops are excellent sources of nutrition and income for over 200 million farmers. They are mostly produced, processed and traded locally, making them less vulnerable to price changes on the international market. But as we learned at GCARD3 the world is changing fast with multiple global challenges including climate change and the need for healthier diets for an urbanizing population. Agricultural research for development needs to take this on board.

For RTB and the entire CGIAR network, the GCARD process presents an opportunity to develop the new, vibrant and inclusive partnerships we need to address these challenges and contribute to sustainable development. Mark Holderness, the Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) captured this sentiment to go forward together in his closing statement that the conference has shaped a set of practical actions that “we can proudly take to the SDG review process.” This message was echoed by Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium and keynote speaker at GCARD3 in the Huffington Post article on getting the research response to hunger right: is it our last shot?

Graham Thiele, Program Director of RTB, joined the conference theme ‘Showcasing results and demonstrating impact’: “It was a great opportunity for RTB, to build connections, to find similarity in the work we do and build a common framework. We have a framework for seed, technical constraints and social dimensions, and we are working together to add real value to what is already being done.”

Graham played a key role as rapporteur in the Theme 2 group and helped formulate new collective actions proposed in the GCARD3 Outcome Statement, including: to “create a platform to harmonize agricultural indicators linked to SDGs in order to improve collective action for impact” and to “contribute to national measurements of progress towards SDGs and build national capacity for integrated measurements” engaging with stakeholders including farmers, youth and women. These GCARD3 collective actions link with RTB’s vision for Phase II and shared accountability for development outcomes with our partners.

Theme 2 groups hard at work in GCARD3.

Theme 2 groups hard at work in GCARD3. Photo by Graham Thiele, RTB.

Likewise, colleagues from the International Potato Center (CIP), Adiel Mbabu and Tom Remington, participated in the thematic area of scaling up – from research to impact. Tom shared CIP’s experience on scaling up orange fleshed sweetpotato in Malawi through the DFID-led SUSTAIN project and which provided fantastic fodder for continued conversation throughout the three days of discussions. Adiel reflected that CIP is “…looking at scaling up and supporting policy environment to unitize orange fleshed sweet potato and tackling vitamin A deficiency, looking at a basket of nutritious crops and building capacity to pilot scaling up – and trying to understand the processes that lead to impact at scale.”

Summing up a pledge agreed by the 500 delegates to integrate international and national priority setting and work in partnership, Mark Holderness said: “It’s down to all of us to go away and deliver.”

What’s next?

RTB plans to do just that. With over a billion people living on less than US$ 1.25 per day; with more than 800 million acutely or chronically undernourished and with around 2 billion people suffering from micronutrient deficiency or ‘hidden hunger’ it is essential that we at RTB find ways to connect local and national action with global challenge and remain focused on ensuring our research is relevant and has impact.

GCARD3 brought together over 500 people from 83 countries from scientists, researchers and policy makers to farmers, young people and entrepreneurs. It was an opportunity to debate, discuss and challenge each other on the big ideas concerning agriculture, food security and nutrition.  So what’s next? For RTB, these discussions do not end here. The key challenges highlighted at GCARD will continue to drive our work at RTB as we strive to contribute to the provision of nutritious diets for all; to improving the sustainability of agri-food systems in the face of increasingly complex global challenges and to scale up our research initiatives to contribute to the CGIAR wide goal to bring 100 million people in the world out of poverty by 2030.

At RTB, we are committed to working to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers with new crops and better ways to farm, increasing their resistance to environmental and economic shocks and we will continue to play our role in this global network of organisations to improve livelihoods, nutrition and food security around the world.

Graham Thiele, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers & Bananas being interviewed at GCARD3

Graham Thiele, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers & Bananas being interviewed by Sara Quinn at GCARD3. Photo by Liya Dejene, CGIAR Consortium.

For further information about RTB at GCARD 3

RTB participated at GCARD3 via the CGIAR booth, through media coverage and via the live CGIAR Periscope interview series. In his interview, Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director discussed new cassava processing technologies, native potatoes and reconfiguring value chains to provide nutritious RTB food to growing urban populations especially in Africa. And Adiel Mbabu, Regional Director of the International Potato Center SSA discussed a range of topics including: gender, scaling up and innovation.

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.

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.

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.

Mass Screening of Sweetpotato Germplasm Shows Promise for Climate-Resilient Varieties

Scientists in the International Potato Center’s (CIP) Global Program for Genetic Resources undertook a mass field screening of 1,973 sweetpotato accessions from the CIP Genebank in the lowlands of northern Peru that resulted in the identification of 146 accessions that performed well under heat-stress conditions.

The results of the study, funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), show that CIP has ample genetic material for breeding improved sweetpotato varieties for marginal regions or the extreme conditions predicted under climate change.

Sweetpotato germplasm at the CIP genebank. Photo: CIP

Sweetpotato germplasm at the CIP genebank. Photo: CIP

“We knew that sweetpotato was a robust crop, but the results of this study show that it is very heat tolerant,” said researcher Bettina Heider, who led the field screening.

She explained that the accessions were planted in Peru’s northern desert, near the city of Piura, for two cropping cycles: the southern winter of 2013 and summer of 2014. Summer temperatures near Piura can reach highs of 40 °C during the day and between 20 °C and 30 °C at night.

Warm soil at night typically causes sweetpotato to produce “pencil roots” with little or no value. At the end of each cycle, the researchers recorded details for each accession such as total yield, root conditions, leaf and vine biomass and any pest problems detected.

At least 21 of the accessions showed high yields and early bulking under heat-stress conditions, which makes them good candidates for further selection and breeding efforts. Heider noted that the test site has poor, sandy soil and some plants suffered drought stress, which means the accessions that performed well have real potential for relieving hunger and malnutrition on marginal lands.

“This is really promising because we now know that we have germplasm that we can send to areas that suffer heat and related stress. In many areas of Africa and Asia, all the good farmland is already dedicated to other crops, and as the population grows, farmers are moving into marginal areas,” Heider said.

She explained that her team separated accessions according to know traits such as roots with high beta-carotene, or that are sweet or not sweet, which scientists in different countries are already breeding for. She added that the accessions in the CIP genebank are from all over the world, and some of the ones that performed best under heat stress are from Asia.

“The idea is that this information strengthens the breeding program,” she said. “The next step is to send the accessions that performed well for multiple testing in other regions.”

In addition to producing useful information for CIP’s genebank and sweetpotato breeding program, the field study was innovative in its use of remote sensing data, thanks to a collaboration with the IRD office in Ecuador, a member of RTB’s global partnership with French organizations. Information from remote sensing has not only enhanced the sweetpotato mass screening, it will strengthen the future use of this type of data for evaluation of sweetpotato in the field.

“The good news is that enough of the clones performed well that we have a lot of germplasm that could be used in marginal areas or under climate change conditions. If you look at the clones that performed well under both the heat-stress and winter scenarios, they could be well adapted to the kind of weather extremes that climate change models predict,” Heider said.

Predicting climate change’s impact on crop pests and diseases

As researchers try to predict the potential threat that pests and diseases pose for RTB crops, and develop strategies to help local agricultural research and extension institutions deal with them, the role of climate change is all too often the missing factor in their equations. Long-term shifts in temperature and rainfall are expected to transform the abundance and distribution of crop pests and diseases, yet there is a dearth of information on which crops and regions are the most vulnerable and how quickly things might change.

RTB is consequently funding an ambitious, multidisciplinary collaboration to fill that knowledge gap. Called Management of RTB-critical pests and diseases under changing climates through risk assessment, surveillance and modeling, the project will begin fieldwork following a workshop this week (January 29-31) in Kabale, Uganda. Researchers from the RTB centers and various partner organizations will gather to select an action site in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, prepare household baseline and field surveys to identify and quantify the impact of the main crop pests and diseases there, and draft a work plan for the coming years.

Jürgen Kroschel, Science Leader for Agroecology and Integrated Pest Management at the International Potato Center (CIP), and one of the project’s leaders, explained that the main goals are to conduct risk analyses for the most serious insect pests and pathogens affecting RTB crops in East Africa – through targeted surveillance and use of generic climatic response models for predicting how climate change will affect them – and to use the results to help the region’s governments, non-governmental organizations and private sector to manage those threats.

The collaboration is building upon the experience and tools developed during a three-year CIP led project to model climate change’s impact on critical insect pests in Africa, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Among that project’s results was open-source software called Insect Life Cycle Modeling (ILCYM), which CIP’s Agroecology modeling team developed to facilitate insect phenology modeling and risk mapping under current and future climate change scenarios. CIP is using the software for the principal potato and sweetpotato pests, whereas Bioversity International has begun applying it to banana pests, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is using it for cassava pests, and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) is applying it to maize and other crop pests.

“The idea is for entomologists and plant pathologists working with each RTB crop to be involved in this,” Kroschel said. He explained that one of the priorities is to use the tools in ILCYM to model climate change’s impact on viral diseases that are spread by insects. “We have been modeling several insect pests that are vectors for viruses, but we still need to understand how increased temperatures can affect virus transmission by insect vectors.”

J. Kroschel holding a jar of parasitoid's (Orgilus lepidus) used as a biological control for the potato tuber moth in the Andes.

J. Kroschel holding a jar of parasitoid’s (Orgilus lepidus) used as a biological control for the potato tuber moth in the Andes.

Kroschel explained that after workshop participants have agreed upon the initial action site, approximately 30 weather stations will be installed in that area and partners will begin completing field surveys. He added that the Great Lakes Region was chosen for the initial research because the main RTB crops are widely cultivated there over a range of altitudes, and are vulnerable to an array of pests and diseases. Present climatic data will be collected at various altitude gradients and used to model the impact of climate change scenarios on the potential pest and disease abundance and intensity in the Great Lakes region.

“We want to have tools in place to better understand the risks of pests and diseases that climate change will pose using pest risk analysis,” Kroschel said. “We also want to understand the current impacts of those pests and diseases on crops and livelihoods in the region, and to use the models to predict how much this could change in the future in order to help local people to prepare for those changes.”

RTB has provided funding for three years of field and laboratory work, but Kroschel hopes additional donors and CGIAR Research Programs will join the effort in 2014, which would allow research at action sites in several countries to make model results more robust and facilitate knowledge sharing. He observed that the baseline farm surveys will produce socioeconomic data that will be useful for national organizations and other research programs, and could be complemented with information on other crops produced at the action site.

Kroschel noted that approximately 30 percent of the RTB funding will go to international partners, which include the US universities Kansas State and Ohio State, Denmark’s Aarhus University and CABI. He explained that the first climatic data sets from the field surveys should be ready in late 2015 to run the models and simulate future changes in the occurrence and abundance of pests and diseases. By the end of the third year, initial results and strategies should be available to support policy makers in the preparation of national and regional adaptation plans, which will include integrated pest management strategies and, specifically, biological control.

CIP has already had success with the development of attract-and-kill technology in the Andes, and is collaborating with icipe on the release of 3 parasitoids native to South America to control the leaf miner fly in Kenya. Two of those species have already been successfully established in the field and icipe is currently studying the impact of their release.