Tag Archives: pests and diseases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Increasing the resilience of roots, tubers & bananas

Given its focus on the resilience of root, tuber and banana crops, Flagship Project 3 (FP3) aims to incorporate environmental, biological, ecological and economic considerations into the various ‘clusters’ – distinct projects within the flagship.

Crop resilience can be compromised in myriad ways, notes James Legg, FP3 leader and a plant virologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Among them:

  • Biological factors: including pests, diseases and the inevitable introduction of alien invasive species into a new geographical region as a function of increased international trade and people’s global movement patterns
  • Environmental factors: ranging from drought and increased soil salinity to unexpected spikes or drops in temperature
  • Agro-ecological factors: such as the over-exploitation of land through multiple cycles of cropping, which leads to soil degradation, nutrient deficiencies and other problems
  • Social factors: T for example, population growth leading to greater pressure on agricultural land, or the impacts on shareholders of increasingly smaller farming plots
  • Factors related to changing global climate: these effects will differ greatly among crops and could include shortened life cycles and increased economic damage from major pests.

Cassava farmer examines his field infected by cassava witches’ broom disease in Cambodia. Photo G.Smith/CIAT

Across this array of threats to resilience, technology is vitally important for achieving the goals of FP3, Legg says. For example, sequencing DNA from a specific pest can help the team determine which species are present in which locations, leading to more precisely targeted control efforts.

Moreover, the ability to use new tools to diagnose a disease more quickly and cheaply goes a long way toward containing the threat it poses.

“The invasive pathogen Fusarium oxysporum fsp cubense – Tropical Race 4 – was detected for the first time on the African continent, in a single farm in Mozambique, through the use of a molecular diagnostic method using polymerase chain reaction (PCR),” Legg says. “FP3 scientists and their partners are now using these diagnostics in a containment programme that will map the geographic spread of this new pathogen prior to designing a comprehensive control strategy.”

Yellow and wilted leaves are typical symptoms of Fusarium wilt. Photo G.Blomme/Bioversity International

Sometimes, efforts to boost crop resilience occur in isolation from efforts to enhance other desirable traits. Yet that won’t always be the case: Legg observes that increasingly in Phase II, FPs will combine to “bring these two lines of work together so that improved nutritional profiles” – whose development IN orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), cassava and banana is being addressed in FP2 and FP4 – “will be combined with resistance to major biotic and abiotic threats in new varieties developed and promoted.” In fact there are multiple natural points of intersection among FP3’s focus on resilience and its sister flagships. By the same token, germplasm development work housed under FP2 will dovetail with specific clusters in FP3. In addition, FP3’s project to improve diagnosis and control using phytosanitation of banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) is being linked to other flagships to help scale up efforts to control its spread.

In theory, how long would it take for Legg and the rest of the FP3 team to ascertain if resilience has increased in a given crop? It all depends on the factors against which resilience is being gauged, he says.

For example, since FP3 covers much of RTB’s disease-management work, it might only require two or three growing seasons (ideally in different locations) to measure whether crops now display greater ability to withstand pest and disease pressures. Yet “for factors such as climate change or soil degradation, the period required may be longer,” he says.

“Much of the cross cutting thinking on resilience in FP3 is being undertaken within cluster 3.2, Sustainable Cropping Systems,” Legg continues. “Under this cluster, research is being undertaken that aims to develop resilient production systems. Since this work considers the whole system, with its diversity of crops and environments, there is an inherent complexity. This will mean that it will take several years before systems with enhanced resilience can be developed, and several more years before the robustness of those systems can be confirmed.”

Cassava farmer, Mr. Khalifa Omari Nkrumah, of Mkurangra district, Tanzania inspects his cassava plants for the presence of Cassava Brown Streak Disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

As resilience increases, so too can smallholders’ potential economic and social benefits. Yet Legg cautions that there’s no quick path from greater resilience to greater revenue.

“Yield increases can be converted to estimates of economic gain and increased income,” he notes. “Calculating the impact at the community level is significantly more challenging, and requires the implementation of impact studies conducted at the community level both before baseline and after the implementation of resilience-promoting activities.” Typically speaking, community level change is achieved only after a meaningful period of scaling – which is where FP5 Improved Livelihoods at Scale will engage and support.

“The key theme unifying all of the FPs is the development of productive, profitable and sustainable systems that will ensure that roots, tubers and bananas make a major contribution to sustaining and enhancing the livelihoods of the growing number of people living in the tropical parts of the developing world,” Legg says. “In all the FPs, we share a common goal, and we are working closely together to achieve that.”

This is the third in a series of blogs showcasing the new Flagship Projects of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The next edition will examine Flagship 2 on ‘Adaptive Varieties and Quality Seed‘. By Amy Rogers Nazarov

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

Uganda President Museveni officiates at Bioversity International Banana Farmers Day

Story by Joshua Turyatemba for Bioversity International

Banana is one of the most important sources of food and income in Uganda. People consume on average 7 bananas per day and the local word for bananas – matooke – means food.

Last Friday 11 November 2016, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni officiated at the first Banana Farmers’ Day, held in the South-Western district of Bushenyi. The district is one of the most affected by the banana bacterial wilt (BBW) infestation that peaked in 2013, with some farmers losing entire plantations and their source of income.

In a collaboration involving Bioversity International, the National Agricultural Research Organization-NARO, together with the Kenyan counterparts – the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization – and the Rural Energy and Food Security Organization, scientists piloted a project and used control measures that saw the disease incidence reduced by 90-98% within 6 months of intervention.

The President visited one of the farm households involved in the project who had excelled at combating BBW using the control tools developed by Bioversity International and NARO. He later toured an exhibition of banana-related inputs and products and local projects such as the community seedbank.

Dr. Eldad Karamura, Bioversity International Regional Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa, welcomes President Museveni to the first Banana Farmers Day in Bushenyi, Uganda. Photo: J.Turyatemba/Bioversirt

Dr. Eldad Karamura, Bioversity International Regional Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa, welcomes President Museveni to the first Banana Farmers Day in Bushenyi, Uganda. Photo: J.Turyatemba/Bioversirt

In appreciation of the effort, the President offered four heifers to the homestead to enable them to increase their income as well as a source of manure for the banana plantation, which has since recovered and is now very productive. In the Bushenyi district, the disease incidence on farm has been brought down from 70-100% in 2012 to 2-5% currently.

Addressing the guests later at the ceremony, President Museveni said he is committed to ensuring that incomes at household level increase through mixed farming: “If a person has 4 acres, it is possible that by planting bananas, tea, coffee and rearing animals he can generate over 100 million Uganda shillings per year.”

Giving the example of Mr. Stanley Rwabukye, the host farmer who currently generates about 20 million shillings, the President said that he wants to see such models replicated all over the region and the country in order to get people out of poverty. “I am always talking about commercial farming. I am happy to see it is being done and that there are fruits. We need to address the bottlenecks of lack of water, poor soil and improve seed varieties,” he added.

Addressing the President and guests on behalf of Bioversity International, former Director General, Emile Frison, said:  “We are very pleased to work with such a strong collaboration of partners in Uganda to improve productivity, address food security and nutrition for smallholder households.”

As part of the project to combat BBW using the Learning and Experimentation Approaches for Farmers (LEAFF) management tool, competitions were held to select the best farmers out of 10 groups of 10 households each. The first and second overall winners – Mr. Stanly Rwabukye and Mr. Juvenal Mugyizi –received heifers. All the participating farmers went home with a gift.

The McKnight Foundation, who funded the project, and the project implementers Bioversity International and NARO were honoured with awards for their support and intervention by the BBW project farmers. The chief guest, President Museveni received an award by Bioversity International for his “wise leadership and support for agriculture in East and Central Africa.”

In his remarks, Dr. Eldad Karamura, the Bioversity International Regional Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa, emphasized that the control measures for BBW had been tested and found to be working effectively. Karamura added: “The Banana Farmers’ Day is an occasion for celebrating partnerships that were forged in combatting BBW as well as the recovery of livelihoods relying on bananas for income.”

The event was held under the theme ’Bananas for Better Livelihoods’ and attracted a large number of guests from the research, academic, policy, local leadership and agricultural sectors. The Banana Farmers’ Day was also attended by the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries; the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation; and the Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister; and Members of Parliament from the district.

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.

Stakeholders combat banana bunchy top disease

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has intensified efforts aimed at preventing the further spread of Banana Bunchy Top Disease, that is debilitating banana production in sub-Saharan Africa.

The disease, first discovered in Nigeria, in Odologun community, in Yewa South council area in 2012 by IITA in collaboration with University of Ibadan and Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service (NAQS), has reportedly spread to Ado-Odo/Ota, Yewa North, Imeko-Afon and Abeokuta North council areas. It has also been recorded in Ibarapa zone of Oyo state…

Read the full article on The Guardian Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Registration for the course closes 30 June, 2016

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

New project to build commercially sustainable cassava seed system in Nigeria

A four-year project (2015 – 2019) to develop a commercially sustainable cassava seed value chain in Nigeria, was officially launched Monday 18 April at a public event at the headquarters of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Titled ‘Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ (BASICS), the $USD11.6 million project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Despite being the largest cassava producer in Africa, Nigeria’s average yields of 14 tons per hectare are less than half of what may be realistically attainable.

The project aims to help Nigerian producers reach this potential through developing a commercially sustainable cassava seed value chain based on the purchase of quality seed by farmers provided by vibrant and profitable village seed entrepreneurs and basic seed production linked to cassava processors.

These seed businesses will provide healthy seed of more productive cassava varieties leading to adoption of new varieties to improve productivity and food security, increase incomes of cassava growers and village seed entrepreneurs and enhance gender equity.

Kicking off the public launch, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, Director General, IITA, explained that the key to industrializing cassava is to increase productivity, and this means addressing the problem with weeds, improving agronomy and providing quality seed.

Dr. Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, gave the project overview: “Our vision is that by 2019 smallholder cassava growers are buying high quality stems of their preferred varieties and planting them with improved agronomic practices. As a result yields have jumped by at least 40% and farmers have more secure markets for expanded production… Novel rapid multiplication technologies have lowered the cost of producing seed and accelerated the introduction of new varieties. Vibrant new businesses have been created all along the cassava seed value chain creating employment especially for women and youth.”

Mrs. Doyin Awe, Representative of the Hon. Minister, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development gave the official address and public launch. She noted that exciting new opportunities are opening for cassava, but planting materials for cassava present special challenges as they are bulky and perishable. She committed the full support of the Ministry to the new project and thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for providing the funding.

Dr. Julius Okonkwo, Executive Director, National Root Crops and Research Institute (NRCRI), noted that much of Nigeria’s cassava seed system was informal and that NRCRI was very pleased to form part of the project in developing a modern seed system for cassava.

Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) said: “I am excited to get back to BASICS so that we could move forward for a Food Secure Nigeria”. He emphasized the need to work on the entire innovation to impact pathway and said that today history is being made, and that he was very proud to see such a great initiative unveiled.

Mr. Louw Burger of Thai Farms, a cassava flour processing company, explained that better roots are easier to harvest and that its extremely important to start with the right seed.

Following the launch the project partners including National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), the National Root Crops and Research Institute (NRCRI), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Context Global Development, and FERA (UK) took part in a participatory workshop to finalize work plans and move ahead with the project.

# # #

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) is a broad alliance of research-for-development stakeholders and partners. Our shared purpose is to exploit the underutilized potential of root, tuber, and banana crops for improving nutrition and food security, increasing incomes and fostering greater gender equity – especially amongst the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.

For further information and interview requests please contact:

Holly Holmes
Communications Specialist
CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas
h.holmes@cgiar.org

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.

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.