Tag Archives: seed degeneration

Competition calls for innovative packaging of cassava stems to increase sales

A new competition is calling for innovative packaging designs to sell bundles of high quality cassava stems in Nigeria.

The competition has been launched by the ‘Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ (BASICS) project, which aims to develop a sustainable cassava seed value chain in Nigeria, based on the commercial production and dissemination of improved cassava planting material.


A farmer carries a bunch of cassava stems in Nigeria. Photo IITA

This seed value chain will serve as a vehicle to deliver better quality and more productive cassava varieties in order to improve productivity and food security, increase incomes of cassava growers, processors and village seed entrepreneurs, and enhance gender equity in Nigeria.

Currently, most cassava farmers use the stems from their own farm for planting or buy stems of dubious quality from the local market. To sustainably and significantly change farmers’ behavior to buy improved and quality certified stems, at least two things need to happen:

  1. The improved variety stems need to result in the farmers getting higher cassava production and ultimately translate that into higher net incomes, consistently, meaning that the variety needs to meet the contextual market demand. (Substance)
  2. The improved stems need to be presented well, packaged well and they need to result in a visibly improved crop stand in the farmers’ fields. (Style)

While the ‘substance’ is of greater importance in long term success, the ‘style’ is important to get the attention of the market to influence the initial buying behavior and hence is a vital part of marketing of any new product or service.

This competition invites innovative ideas for the ‘style’ or presentation of the cassava stems. Participants should submit their proposal in maximum of three pages on how to make a bundle of improved/certified cassava stems more marketable to farmers on a large scale.

Entries must include the following:

  1. Your contact details and a brief profile
  2. Cassava stem bundle treatment, packaging, labeling and handling proposal
  3. Overall additional cost per bundle of 50 one-meter stem cuttings (you can make explicit assumptions to get reasonable economies of scale)
  4. What attributes brought about through your proposal do think will entice the farmers to pay the higher price to buy your bundle of stems and come back as a repeat buyer or become an advocate for it?

Any individual or a group of individuals or an institute who has the ability to demonstrate the proposal in Nigeria is eligible to participate.


  1. $1,000 cash prize for the best proposal
  2. A Certificate Of Appreciation for the TOP THREE proposals signed by the Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and Deputy Director General for Research, IITA
  3. $5,000 award for implementing a pilot project of the proposal as a part of the BASICS project. (only if the committee feels the technology/proposal is mature enough to be piloted)

Judging criteria
Entries will be judged based on attractiveness of the proposed presentation of the stems in the eyes of various stakeholders, practicality of the proposal, on ease of availability of additional inputs being suggested, ease of handling of the bundle, tamper proof certification tagging of the bundle, overall cost and value for money considerations.

Important note
Please note that this is not a research proposal. It is expected that you would have experimented and come up with something that is now ready to be tested on a commercial pilot level. Or it could be a proven native knowledge that has been lost to the world and is waiting to be rediscovered. There could be ideas that improve the packaging of the stems and improve ease of handling, there could be methods for improving the look and feel through some low cost dyeing of the stems or some nutrient/fungicide dips to improve the crop establishment in the field. Your proposal could address just one or multiple issues at the same time and the most commercially viable proposal will be picked.

The entries should be submitted in the format mentioned above and should not be more than three pages long. The committee may seek more information at an appropriate time, if required.

Entries should be emailed to h.nitturkar@cgiar.org by July 25, 2016.

Download the full competition details

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.

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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

Assessing the impact of Cooperation-88 potatoes in China

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

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

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

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

Current estimated adoption rates of C88 by season in Yunnan

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

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

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

The Project

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

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

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

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

An enumerator surveys a local potato farmer for the project.

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

A First Look at the Results

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected highlights from the Annual Meeting:

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

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

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

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

Theme 3 – Managing priority pests and diseases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New evidence supports integrated seed health strategy as best option for raising potato yields

Potato is the third most important food crop globally and over half of all production occurs in developing countries. However, the use of poor quality potato seed in these regions is significantly reducing yields and impacting the livelihoods of small-scale potato farmers and their families.

‘Potato seed’, or sprouted potato tubers that can be replanted, become degenerated through a buildup of pathogens and pests caused by successive cycles of propagation. Diseases can be contracted via pathogens present in the soil, air or through vectors like aphids. As potatoes are primarily propagated vegetatively, some of these diseases in the plant can be carried over to the next generation.

Typically, resource-poor small-scale farmers propagate their own potato seed from their fields or acquire them from neighbors or the local market. Research has found that these seed tubers often have poor health status, causing smaller yields and low quality potatoes that fetch lower market prices.

A farmer with his freshly harvested potatoes. Photo by N.Palmer/CIAT

A farmer holds his freshly harvested potatoes in East Africa. Photo by N.Palmer/CIAT

In industrialized countries, potato seed degeneration has largely been overcome through the establishment of certified seed systems. Farmers can purchase seeds that are tested and certified to meet a government-regulated minimum health status, helping to reduce the instance of disease.

However, attempts to establish such formal seed systems in developing countries have had limited success for numerous reasons. Many of these nations lack the infrastructure, resources, trained personnel and governmental or private sector institutions necessary to produce and regulate certified seed. Other factors including the high cost of formally certified seed, uncertain connections to markets due to fluctuating prices and other economic factors also play a role.

Recognizing the complex challenges that restrict the effectiveness of certified seed systems in developing countries, the authors of a new paper published in the journal Plant Pathology entitled, ‘Seed degeneration in potato: the need for an integrated seed health strategy to mitigate the problem in developing countries’ propose a combination of strategies to help farmers improve the quality of their potato seed, and in turn, their yields.

Seed potatoes. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

Seed potatoes. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

The authors argue that advocating the exclusive use of certified seed as a ‘silver bullet’ to manage degeneration in developing countries is overly simplistic. Instead they propose the adoption of an ‘integrated seed health strategy’ that is tailored to the local context. Such a strategy involves using a combination of host plant resistance and better on-farm management practices, in conjunction with strategically replacing diseased seed with certified or ‘quality-declared’ seed (when financially viable).

Such on-farm practices include ‘plant selection’ which involves visually identifying and selecting only symptomless plants as the seed source for the next season, and ‘roguing’ which is the process of identifying, removing and destroying abnormal plants that show symptoms of disease. These methods are both effective and low cost, however they do require farmer training in symptom recognition. Other management strategies such as using straw mulching to affect aphid flight activity also hold great promise for resource-poor farmers.

To aid the implementation of integrated seed health strategies, the authors call for further research in areas including understanding the interrelationships between risk factors affecting potato seed degeneration and cultivar resistance to degenerative diseases. In this regard, a globally collaborative study is currently underway as a part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). One of the objectives of this study is to develop models to predict degeneration that include the effects of host resistance and environmental risk factors.

The research for the paper was funded by RTB, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Scottish Government’s RESAS division. In conjunction with the McKnight Foundation for the projects ‘Strengthening systems for native potato seed in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru’ and ‘Understanding potato seed degeneration in Ecuador’, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant.

Surveying experts in India and Tanzania to fill seed degeneration knowledge gaps

Sara Thomas-Sharma, a post-doctoral researcher at Kansas State University, was hired in 2013 to work on an RTB project to model seed degeneration – the build-up of pathogens in planting material. She received an NSF-BREAD Idea Challenge Award, which allowed her to travel to India and Tanzania and address some of the knowledge gaps on seed degeneration by surveying local experts and visiting a field site. An account of her findings follows:

The vegetative planting material of RTB crops is a notorious source of pathogens in many developing countries, causing significant yield reductions. Since numerous factors affect the build-up of pathogens in seed material, understanding these complex processes in an agricultural system can be quite challenging, especially due to the shortage of data on the subject.

Between December 2013 and January 2014, I travelled to India and Tanzania to survey over 20 experts about the factors affecting seed degeneration in their country and crop of expertise. The scientists’ opinions reflect the published and unpublished information that they have integrated through the course of studying particular agronomic systems for many years. If systematically collected and synthesized, such surveys can reduce knowledge gaps and provide preliminary data to hone hypotheses, and prioritize research and development goals.

Sara Thomas degeneration3

Sara (left) and an IITA researcher check cassava leaves for whitefly at an experimental plot

In general, the experts I surveyed expressed greater uncertainty about estimates involving intricate biotic interactions such as yield loss based on end-of-season infection levels, and disease incidence at varying starting-levels of infection. Some cassava experts in India stated that it is difficult to obtain good yield loss estimates for cassava because there are no healthy cassava plants for comparison. They said cassava mosaic disease is so rampant in India’s cassava growing regions that most farmers have learned to live with it. In contrast, experts had lower uncertainty about providing estimates on management traits, such as adoption of individual management practices and farmer selection skill. Experts classified most of the acreage of RTB crops to be under very low levels of management application (Fig. 1). The ability of farmers to recognize disease symptoms was generally classified as low, although some experts mentioned that farmers recognized plants severely affected with banana bunchy top disease, since yield loss can be dramatic, and cassava mosaic disease, because it has been around for a long time.


Sara Thomas degeneration2

Diseased cassava

Collaborative field experiments studying some of the interactions between biotic and abiotic factors and management practices are currently underway at multiple locations in CGIAR and other research institutes. I was able to visit a cassava seed degeneration trial established in Tanzania by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). This visit to a field site and my in-depth discussions with experts provided me with an excellent opportunity to understand the complexities of field management of seed degeneration. I will expand my initial expert elicitation exercise to include more information on other factors affecting RTB seed systems. This deeper understanding will assist me and my colleagues in building decision support systems to improve management of seed degeneration.