Tag Archives: postharvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrier women of Bukavu and Renee Bullock, IITA Gender Specialist

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

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


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

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


Accelerating Africa’s economic growth through root and tuber crops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting revolves around five sub themes relevant to RTB:

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

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

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


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

RTB-ENDURE banana project offers solutions for postharvest losses

Researchers collaborating under the ‘Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their postharvest losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) banana sub-project have identified solutions that will help Ugandan banana farmers and traders reduce income loss due to poor handling of their produce. The solutions were officially launched during the subproject’s final event which took place on 25-26 November 2016 in Masaka and Rakai Districts, Uganda.

Uganda produces about 10 million tons of banana per hectare per year , from an estimated 1.3 million hectares nationwide. For ordinary Ugandans, cooking banana is not just a staple crop but part of the socio-cultural fabric of the smallholder households and is used for medicine, bride price and marriage negotiations, birth and death rituals. The crop has been ranked number one for drought resilience in areas of the cattle corridor which are prone to prolonged droughts and frequent floods.

Participants listen during a session at the Final Event in Masaka. Photo by J.Turyatemba/Bioversity Internationa

In the event’s opening remarks, Dr Eldad Karamura, Bioversity International Regional Representative, said that in the last 15 years, NARO-Uganda and Bioversity International have collaborated on many banana research projects, largely in the pre-harvest sector of the value chain, including diversity conservation. He added that Bioversity International will move to further strengthen the postharvest sector to address hidden hunger in children and young mothers by promoting the consumption of vitamin A- and iron-rich bananas at the household level.

The banana sub-project is part of the larger RTB-ENDURE project implemented by CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) with funding from the European Union and technical support of IFAD. The overall purpose of the RTB-ENDURE project is to improve food availability and income generation through enhanced postharvest management and expanded use of RTB crops in Uganda.

As part of the activities that took place to mark the final event of the project, a science day was held where research findings were disseminated to an audience consisting of researchers, banana farmers, civil society, government agencies, the media, agro-processors, exporters and local government officials.

At the event’s science day, Dr. Diego Naziri, RTB-ENDURE Project Coordinator, explained that bulkiness and high perishability of RTB crops coupled with poor postharvest handling and lack of processing and storage facilities result in a short shelf life, high postharvest losses and limited value addition.

The banana sub-project adopted the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) developed by the International Potato Center (CIP). Under this design, all actors (farmers, collectors, wholesalers, retailers, exporters, researchers, non-governmental organizations, etc.) in the banana value chain are brought together to jointly identify, analyse and exploit market innovations.

A Ugandan banana exporter prepares her produce. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

According to Dr. Enoch Kikulwe, the banana sub-project coordinator, 18.2% of all the cooking bananas produced in Uganda (corresponding to 47.3% of traded bananas) suffer postharvest losses. Of this amount, 8.9% of the bananas deteriorate completely and have no residual value while 9.3% only deteriorate partially and are sold at prices lower than their normal market rates. This particularly impacts retailers, who are largely women.

In order to maximize sales and income, farmers are advised to concentrate on banana varieties that already have an existing market and high untapped demand. The available identified varieties include Mbwazirume, Kibuzi, Musakala and Nakitembe.

In a gender analysis undertaken as part of the project by Susan Ajambo, a Gender Specialist with Bioversity International, it was found that women are concentrated in banana retail, which is the least profitable node of the value chain. The project therefore supported women to participate in the more profitable nodes of the value chain, such as in wholesale and the production of healthy planting material. According to Ajambo, both men and women have already embraced the macro-propagation technique and have established commercial chambers for selling clean banana plantlets of selected varieties.

Among the other areas, the project has also identified optimum harvest time and storage conditions for bananas, developed market linkages, trained hundreds of farmers in enhanced postharvest handling and piloted sales by weight.

During the final event, a tour to a commercial seed multiplication chamber and a mother garden at Ddwaniiro in Rakai district was also organised where farmer groups held practical demonstrations of the new techniques of multiplying popular banana variety cultivars for commercial farming.

A number of institutions partnered in the project, including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), CIRAD, NARO, KAIKA InvestCo, Uganda Fruits and Vegetable Exporters and Producers Association (UFVEPA), district local governments, and the Ssemwanga Group.

The project activities have been piloted in South-west Uganda in the districts of Rakai and Isingiro. This region produces 68% of the cooking bananas harvested in Uganda. The project began in 2014 and ended in December 2016.

Blog contributed by Joshua Turyatemba of Bioversity International 

Nigeria’s gari revolution: improving efficiency and equity of a staple food

Gari is a staple food for millions of West Africans, particularly in Nigeria where its production exceeds 9 million tons a year, and employs hundreds of thousands of people – especially women and children.

Made from cassava, gari is a creamy-white granular flour with a slightly sour taste that is most commonly eaten either by being soaked in cold water together with ingredients such as sugar or roasted groundnuts, or as a paste (eba) made with hot water.

Cassava deteriorates rapidly after harvesting so processing into gari makes an excellent, safe and storable convenience food. It has a lot of potential for feeding rapidly growing urban populations.

The process of turning cassava roots in to gari involves numerous labor-intensive steps including grating the peeled, washed cassava roots and leaving the material to ferment for several days, slowly pressing the fermented mash to remove excess liquid, sieving and then frying and stirring on a large metal pan often over a wood fire. Gari processing itself is largely in the hands of women in small local facilities and represents an important source of income and employment for them.

Small-scale gari processing in Nigeria. Photo G.Thiele/RTB

Small-scale gari processing in Nigeria is a key source of employment for women. Photo G.Thiele/RTB

This process uses locally made, robust and simple equipment. However, it is not very efficient – around five tons of fresh roots are needed to produce one ton of gari and peeling the cassava by hand, a job mainly performed by women, is very time consuming. It also requires large quantities of firewood to roast the gari, and the smoke and general working conditions is a significant health issue for the women involved. The process also generates liquid waste from pressing the gari and heaps of waste peels which are an environmental hazard.

However, there is also a small but growing group of larger modern enterprises which are producing packaged gari using mechanized equipment for peeling, grating and frying.

To establish a detailed roadmap of the actions needed to meet the growing demand for safe and nutritious gari whilst balancing income and employment generation for men, women and youth, the ‘Gari Revolution in Nigeria: Roadmap to an Efficient and Equitable Gari Processing System’ meeting took place in Ibadan, Nigeria, from October 4 – 6, 2016.

Led by the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), the meeting brought together policy makers, scientists and experts from the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) and the International Cooperation Center for Research on Agronomic Development (CIRAD) along with many other partners in Nigeria with participants from Ghana and Uganda as well.

Women working in IITA's gari processing center fry gari, one of the last steps in the process. Photo D.Dufour

Women working in IITA’s model gari processing centre. Frying gari is one of the last steps in the process. Photo D.Dufour

“Because gari is regularly consumed by millions of Nigerians every day, and with cities projected to grow so fast we need to have a ‘gari revolution’. This will involve addressing many challenges simultaneously,” said Dr. Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21.

“If the ‘gari revolution’ is successful we can reposition gari as a food of the future. It can play a key role as a locally produced source of much needed carbohydrates. It is also an excellent vehicle to improve human nutrition both in Nigeria and West Africa. While gari itself provides much needed carbohydrates, it has a relatively low protein, mineral and vitamin content, and there is the potential to enhance this by adding a supplement or through biofortification,” he explained.

Dr. Busie Maziya-Dixon, Senior Scientist, Food and Nutrition, IITA agrees, adding: “Gari provides essential carbohydrates and is an essential part of people’s diets. We are keen to explore options to make it even more nutritious. This is one of the key areas the workshop discussed: How do we improve the nutritional quality of gari without changing the texture and taste which the Nigeria population love so much? And what steps should be undertaken to make this a reality?”

The safety and environmental aspects of gari processing were also major topics of discussion during the workshop, and are of concern to Dr. Acho Okike, Senior Agricultural Economist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) who added: “We really need to get to grips with safety and working conditions in the processing environment which could give cassava a bad name! Collecting and transforming cassava peels into high quality animal feed will be a major first step.”

Workshop participants. Photo G.Aster/IITA

From L-R, Sanni Lateef (Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta), Graham Thiele (RTB), Peter Kulakow (IITA), Busie Maziya-Dixon (IITA) and Claude Fauquet (GCP21). Photo G.Aster/IITA

The workshop built on earlier work supported by RTB’s Flagship Project 4 (FP4) on ‘Nutritious RTB Foods and Value Added Through Post-Harvest Innovation’.

“In FP4 we paid particular attention to the small and medium enterprises where women play a major role. Stakeholders mapped the impact pathway from research on gari including incremental improvements to the processing technology of small processers, protocols for define product quality and waste management, through to livelihood improvements for cassava producers, processors and consumers. The intention is that different partners will use that pathway to improve collaboration and track impact,” said Dr. Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director.

The workshop report will be available shortly. Key lessons include:

  • While gari is already an excellent food product, we need to enhance it to better provide equitable income, food and nutrition security in the context of population growth and urbanization.
  • We need to identify more clearly the cassava varieties and traits which are suitable for gari and communicate that much better to all those involved in the gari value chain to ensure improved varieties are appropriate for processing.
  • Whilst gari is usually a safe food, there are safety and hygiene issues involved that must be addressed.
  • A dual pronged approach is required to progressively upgrade the capability and equipment of small-scale producers while supporting the larger enterprises as well.
  • Fabricators and processors must be engaged in a process of co-innovation of equipment, and the progressive upgrading of equipment must involve access to microfinance and information as well as technology.
  • There is an important aspect of gender equity linked to adoption, appropriate and affordable equipment for the women involved in small enterprises.
  • All of these changes need empowered organizations, and we need to enhance farmers’ and processors’ voices, so that stakeholders are involved in the process of defining what changes are desirable in gari processing.
  • Above all, a clear case must be made to policy makers in order to allocate attention and resources to implement all proposed changes

Nutritious orange-fleshed sweetpotato snack can reduce waste, increase incomes

The 10th Triennial African Potato Association Conference (October 9 – 13, 2016) brought together over 200 researchers, development practitioners, policy makers and more to exchange knowledge and experiences from their work with potato and sweetpotato – including young African scientists and innovative farmers who received scholarships to attend the event.

Through its sponsorship of the conference, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) was proud to award scholarships to seven promising African scientists including Dr. Rachel Omodamiro from the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) of Nigeria, who presented her work on the topic of ‘Optimization of preparation of pro-vitamin A rich snack made with orange-fleshed sweetpotato, okara and maize flours by simplex centroid design’.

“As a research scientist attached to a Product Development Programme in my home institution, NRCRI in Umudike, Nigeria, I made a pro-vitamin A rich beverage from orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) and I had some waste as by-product from this. So I went further and researched how to utilize the waste meal so as to fully utilize the OFSP,” explains Rachel.

Rachel (center front) presents her findings during the APA conference

Rachel (center front) presents her findings during a session of the APA conference. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Rachel and her team took the waste flour from the OFSP beverage processing and combined this with okara, another flour that is the by-product of soy milk production, and white maize meal. The optimum ratio of the flours was established, then mixed and extruded using a single screw extruder at a constant temperature of 80°C, resulting in a nutritious ready-to-eat snack.

The chemical composition of the snack was evaluated to determine its nutritional content, finding that it had a total carotene retention of 94.95% based on the total carotenoid content of the OFSP waste meal.

The final product was then presented to a 20-member panel for sensory testing for traits including taste, texture and aroma – receiving a rating of 8.17 on a 9-point Hedonic scale.

Based on the product’s high rating and nutritional value, Rachel is optimistic that it could play a key role in helping to reduce vitamin-A deficiency, particularly among children. In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness, disease and premature death among children under five years of age.

The extruded OFSP snack. Photo courtesy R.Odonomiro

The extruded OFSP snack. Photo courtesy R.Odonamiro

“Snack eating is an integral part of the human diet that cuts across all ages, so the intended market for this product is everyone and especially children. A healthy snack such as this pro-vitamin A rich product will be more applicable to children as they need nutrients for their growth and development,” says Rachel, who explained that alongside vitamin A, the snack includes important minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

It could also help to provide a source of income for both small- and commercial-scale OFSP processors in Nigeria, and reduce environmental waste through its use of by-products.

“The research is a great innovative novel finding in that it utilizes edible agro wastes that could pose environmental challenges, and provides value addition to OFSP and soy milk production,” says Rachel.

“I hope to complete patency procedure of the research findings and then link up with more commercial enterprises for mass production to maximize the utilization of OFSP and contribute to the fight against vitamin-A deficiency. My institute is engaged in training rural populace on root crops value-addition. I hope to be able to conduct research on the use of a locally fabricated extruder and produce a training leaflet that could be used to train youth and rural small-scale food processors,” she adds.

Along with providing an opportunity to share her research findings with the scientific community, the conference was also a platform to seek potential funding to help bring her product to the wider population through consumer acceptance tests and packaging development.

OFSP can be processed in to a variety of products, including OFSP beverages. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

OFSP can be processed in to a variety of foods, including OFSP beverages as shown here. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

“The most valuable part of attending the APA conference for me was the ability to present my research findings, which was well appreciated by my audience, as well as opportunity to meet with other research scientists, which increased my network,” she notes.

Rachel’s work aligns strongly with RTB’s Flagship Project 4 (FP4) on ‘Nutritious RTB Foods and Value Added Through Post-Harvest Innovation’, which aims to support the fuller, equitable, and sustainable utilization of root, tuber and banana crops for healthier diets and improved income opportunities.

“This is just the kind of work FP4 wants to support as we look for ways to open up OFSP as a nutritious food to a broader urban market and add value. Developing and promoting healthier alternatives to existing snack foods is an important part of this, especially when accompanied by consumer education on healthier diets. We believe that this can build sustainable market demand for nutritious RTB crops like OFSP among young urban consumers,” says Dr. Simon Heck, Flagship Project Leader for FP4 and Program Leader with the International Potato Center.

For more information on the research reported in this article, please contact: majekrachel@gmail.com

What the success of orange-fleshed sweetpotato can teach us

By Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas

This has been a big year for RTB’s lead center, the International Potato Center (CIP), with three of the center’s scientists winning the World Food Prize (WFP) for their work on the biofortification and scaling of vitamin A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), while also celebrating its 45th anniversary year.

I recently joined a lively panel discussion with the WFP laureates – Maria Andrade, Jan Low and Robert Mwanga – during an event to commemorate these achievements in Lima, Peru, where CIP headquarters are located.

During the conversation I shared three key lessons that stood out to me from this important work on OFSP and a reflection on how advocacy in Peru to change the perception of potatoes is relevant for addressing food and nutrition security in Africa.

Lesson 1: Food based approaches to addressing hidden hunger work!
A key component underpinning the success of OFSP to address vitamin A deficiency was that researchers paid very close attention to building an evidence base that it worked. This began by showing the impacts on nutrition that OFSP was having at a local level. Another key element that was stressed during our panel discussion was paying very careful attention to scaling and making sure that the right partners were on board at each stage.

Here in Peru and the Andes the most important hidden hunger we are facing is iron and zinc deficiency. This is also very debilitating for those affected and its quite prevalent in highland communities. CIP and many other partners have already begun exciting and promising work utilizing potato to address this hidden hunger. Potato has reasonable levels of iron and zinc, and some varieties have especially high levels. Through breeding we can further increase those levels, just as was done for Vitamin A with sweetpotato. Of course the more nutrient dense potato would need to enter into family diets and there would be a strong nutrition education dimension to this. But just as with OFSP, if we want to make this a success we need to pay careful attention to getting the evidence of nutritional efficacy and have a strong strategy for scaling. Actually the evidence of impact generates momentum and can build the investment case for scaling.

Women show six different varieties of cooked OFSP. Photo: CIP

Women in Malawi show six different varieties of cooked OFSP. Photo: CIP

Lesson 2: Food based approaches empower women!
By working with OFSP which is locally produced, women are empowered to take control over their nutrition and health and that of their babies and young children. Women themselves pay a central role in accessing vines, growing and harvesting the roots and preparing OFSP food. So this is the equivalent of teaching women to grow their own Vitamin A pills.  However, we also learned that only engaging women doesn’t work. Men play a key role in decision making and access to resources, and need to be involved too. For example, it may be a challenge for a heavily pregnant woman to collect vines for planting or prepare land, so their spouse needs to be on board as well. So empowering women with OFSP really means being sensitive to many gender issues.


Women are empowered to take control over their health and that of their children. Photo: CIP

Lesson 3: Extraordinary results mean extraordinary people and these need extraordinary organizations!
The experience of introducing OFSP and getting impact at scale is a highly complex innovation. It required a series of technical challenges such as breeding to improve dry matter content of OFSP varieties adapted to Africa, engaging the nutrition community to provide the key education messages needed for uptake, but also convincing donors and bringing in many partners across a multitude of countries. This whole process took nearly 20 years!

Jan, Maria and Robert are innovation champions who pushed this though in the face of many difficulties. Jan mentioned that she took this proposal for in initial proof-of-concept research in Mozambique to 21 different donors before she found one who was prepared to fund an integrated agriculture-nutrition proposal. Jan and Maria were even described as ‘the crazy sweetpotato ladies’ for pushing so single mindedly what seemed like an improbable vision.

So the extraordinary results we have heard about required three extraordinary people. Yet this wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t worked in an organization with an incredible team which had the vision and flexibility to support this.

CIP Director General, Barbara Wells, welcome guests to the celebration event in Lima.

CIP Director General, Barbara Wells, welcome guests to the celebration event in Lima. Photo: CIP

Reflection: the advocacy work in Peru to change the positioning of potatoes is very relevant for OFSP and other food based approaches in Africa
One amazing achievement in Peru over the past decade, of which we are immensely proud, has been to dramatically raise the profile of the potato and its consumption. This built on work by CIP, the National Innovation Institute, the Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Nutritional Research, NGOs, chefs, gastronomy schools, supermarkets, processors and farmer organizations. It began by re positioning native potatoes as part of Peru’s cultural and gastronomic heritage, as well as a delicious ingredient with chefs. This spilled over to a more general shift in perceptions leading to the designation of a National Potato Day which is celebrated every year.

There are lessons from this for Africa about how to reposition sweetpotato and other root crops for urban consumers. These are often perceived as the poor man’s or women’s food suitable for villages but left behind as people move to cities. The experience of Peru shows that it’s possible to reposition these as nutritional and delicious functional foods for urban populations. This should lead us to a two-way exploration and joint construction of options among colleagues in Africa with those in Peru and the Andes for promoting healthier diets based around sweetpotato and potato.

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.

Listening to what women don’t say

The field work mentioned in this blog was part of the IITA led Cassava Monitoring Survey project, funded by institutions including the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas. Read the full results of the survey in the Cassava Monitoring Survey report

By Jeff Bentley for AgroInsight.

What women don’t say can be as important as what they do say. As I learned recently in Nigeria.

Cassava is a crop that is native to the Amazon Basin, but spread in early colonial times to much of tropical Africa. The hardy cassava is a short, woody shrub that can live for several years, thanks to its large roots which absorb water and nutrients, which helps the plant to survive the dry season.

Villagers love cassava because of its flexibility. People can harvest the plants one or few at a time, as the household needs food. But cassava can also be tricky. Once the roots are harvested they are fairly perishable and should be prepared into food fairly soon.

Women produce gari in Nigeria. Photo courtesy of AgroInsight

Women producing gari in Nigeria. Photo courtesy of AgroInsight

During a recent fieldwork sponsored by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), we found that, in Southwest and North Nigeria, men grow much of the cassava and women detoxify it by making it into several products, especially one called gari. To make gari, women peel huge piles of roots, one at a time, with a kitchen knife. Then the roots are grated in little motorized grills, and the mash is fermented in sacks, and then the moisture is squeezed out. Men may help with the grating and pressing out the moisture (often for a small fee). Then the women toast the mash into gari on a metal pan over a hot wood fire, continuously stirring the mash with a wooden paddle. The women also collect the firewood. Women can sell gari in village markets to buyers, usually women, who bulk the gari and take it to the cities.

To get cassava to transform into gari, Nigerian women use several strategies. They grow some cassava; they get some from their husbands and they can buy roots in the village. In the photo, a man sells a motorcycle load of cassava to a neighbor who will process it. Within four to five days women can turn the cassava into a bit of cash—which they can spend or keep.

In the villages across Nigeria my colleagues and I interviewed the men and the women separately. Some of the men told us that, among other things, they needed what they called “ready markets,” meaning that the men wanted to be able to sell their cassava  roots raw, in local markets, for a profit.

unloading cassava from motorcycleIn separate meetings, the women had plenty to say, but they never mentioned markets. On the other hand, the women wanted cassava that was easier to peel.

If we had interviewed men and women together, the women would not have bothered to contradict the men, when they asked for better markets for cassava.

The women did not ask for a ready market for cassava, because they already have one. They can always carry a basin full of gari down to the village market and sell it. Even landless women can buy cassava and transform it to make a living, working at home.

Men and women may even have conflicting interests. Higher prices for raw roots might benefit men, but could even harm the women, who buy the roots as raw material to make traditional foods like gari, fufu (with the consistency of mashed potatoes) and abacha (almost a kind of noodle).

In Nigeria, women are quietly feeding the nation; they are happy with the market just the way it is. That is why women don’t ask for ready markets. What women don’t say can be as important as what they do say. To learn women’s specific views and perspectives, we were reminded one more time that it is important to interview men and women in separate groups.

Read the original post on the AgroInsight website.

Understanding gender roles in Uganda’s potato and cooking banana value chains

In Uganda, gender roles in production, processing and marketing of root, tuber and banana crops are complex. Key decisions on production and marketing are often made by men, although women majorly provide labor at crucial stages of production. In the example of potato production and marketing in eastern Uganda, though women are responsible for key production processes, men primarily control harvesting and marketing of the crop. Men also tend to dominate wholesale trade while women are in charge of retailing.

As innovations, including in postharvest and marketing, become more available to farmers, men tend to take over responsibilities for roles that might have previously been largely the domain of women. Men are also likely to adopt new technologies faster than women, especially if they are capital intensive, and studies show that social norms in Uganda may also prevent women from taking up new technologies. For example, women may not have equitable access to training, inputs like land and farming equipment as well as capital which are critical to the adoption of new technologies. Additionally, women may not be empowered to make investment decisions at household level.


In Uganda, the key decisions on production and marketing of root, tuber and banana crops are usually made by men. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

This implies that if gender issues are not taken into account, interventions aiming at value chain development may preclude women from taking full advantage of emerging market opportunities, or even affect them negatively. It is therefore necessary that gender empowerment is promoted in the effort to develop and strengthen root tuber and banana value chains.

The ‘Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their postharvest losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) project prioritizes gender mainstreaming so as to develop gender sensitive interventions. As such, a Gender Action Plan (GAP) was developed by the gender team to ensure that men and women benefit equitably from the project interventions. In execution of the GAP, two situational analyses of the potato and cooking banana value chains in Uganda were recently conducted.

Here we highlight key findings of these studies:


  • RTB-ENDURE is testing and validating potato storage

    Female farmers often have limited control over income from potato sales. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

    technologies. Female farmers are more concerned than men about using poor quality seed which results in poor quality ware potatoes that are more difficult to store and market due to high perishability. Women are responsible for producing and storing seed within households, yet report they are rarely if ever targeted by training on good agronomic practices. Therefore, there is need to promote training of women in this area, as well as selecting them to host demonstration trials where applicable.

  • Due to unequal power relationships within households, men often decide how much, where and whom to sell to, as well as how to use income from potato often without consulting women. Women also report that gender norms designated potato as a men’s crop, implying that women who try to sell potato on their own without their husbands are viewed with suspicion. In some cases, traders raise the price of seed potato and lower the price of ware potato if female farmers are the ones buying or selling, respectively. Women shared that this may deter them from benefiting from higher sales and income from stored potato.
  • Both men and women report that limited access to financial services is a key hindrance to potato production. However, female farmers are particularly affected since poor access to credit is coupled with limited control over income from potato sales. Therefore, they find difficult to timely access inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and farming tools leading to low yields and hıgh postharvest losses. Both men and women mentioned the need for training in savings and credit management as well as better linkages to Micro Finance Institutions and other credit providers.
Potato traders in Uganda. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

In Uganda potato is viewed as a men’s crop. Women who sell potato on their own without their husbands are often viewed with suspicion. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

  • Female traders incur higher postharvest losses since improved storage facilities are not available and, moreover, they are often forced to procure lower quality potato due to capital constraints. This implies that they have a very narrow marketing window before their potato spoil, and thus highly welcome the effort for improving the postharvest management. However, the nature of their trade (retail) and low representation in management positions may prevent them to fully benefit.


  • Female farmers face major challenges in accessing production equipment and hired labor, particularly in peak production seasons. They also decry exclusion from planning and budgeting for proceeds from banana sales as a major problem since men exclude them from marketing. Suggested solutions include access to financing mechanisms to procure quality equipment and agro-inputs as well as sensitization of couples on joint visioning and planning for the family.
  • Male farmers mentioned that brokers obstruct direct interaction between producers and traders or final buyers. As a result, farmers are forced to trade at local level. Furthermore, they face seasonal price fluctuations and at times they completely fail to sell their produce. Suggested solutions included linkage to reliable traders/markets, strengthened dialogue with the final buyers, formation of marketing groups and linking such groups to buyers who purchase by weight.

    Female banana farmers face challenges in accessing production equipment and hired labor. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP


  • The perennial nature of the crop makes loan providers averse to providing credit, and delays in approval of loans prevent farmers from procuring required inputs on time. The proposed strategies include linkages to credit providers who are willing to design agricultural friendly loan packages, including women friendly loan products.
  • Female traders face constraints related to mobility. Banana trade requires inspection of banana gardens and selection of marketable bunches. These activities are challenging for women who mostly depend on men for this. Negotiating with final buyers in major cities requires transportation that is often out of reach for women.

Because women accept these gender inequalities as the way things have always been, the solutions they suggested focused mostly on addressing their practical gender needs – such as better knowledge of potato seed storage to reduce problems they may encounter with their husbands in case the stored seed does not sprout well.

However, the gender strategies proposed for both crops seek to address both practical gender needs and strategic gender interests. For example, it is also clear that women are underrepresented in the management of potato associations but simply electing women into leadership positions that do not involve strategic decision making may not be effective. Women need to be able to meet their strategic gender interests and this may require training on management and negotiation skills.

These reports, besides guiding the implementation of RTB-ENDURE to ensure that the proposed innovations benefit both men and women, also contain important lessons for researchers and policy makers working in the postharvest domain in Uganda and other sub Saharan African countries.

RTB-ENDURE is a three-year initiative (2014-2016) implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas that is funded by the European Union with technical support from IFAD.