Tag Archives: seed systems

RTB launches second phase and enhanced partnership with Wageningen University & Research

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) hosted a seminar and launch event on 11 May at its campus in the Netherlands to celebrate the second phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and its enhanced partnership with the university. The event brought together over 50 participants and included a lively discussion of the role of the private sector, seed systems and youth during a panel debate.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus, WUR, opened the launch and stressed the need to address the social dimension of technological change to achieve development impacts for root, tuber and banana crops. He noted that in this regard the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation (KTI) group at WUR will play an especially important role in the enhanced partnership with RTB.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus, WUR, opened the event on May 11. Photo: WUR

“The second phase of RTB which runs from 2017 – 2022, places an enhanced emphasis on scaling, a key element in the stronger partnership with WUR,” explained Graham Thiele, RTB Director. He went on to note that “RTB has reorganized by interdisciplinary ‘flagship projects’, which are made up by a number of smaller ‘clusters’ or projects dedicated to key research areas. And we are really pleased to have a team from KTI leading a cluster on scaling and partnerships, including a novel method for assessing scaling readiness.” Thiele added that the scaling of innovations lies at the core of achieving RTB’s ambitious targets of reaching millions of beneficiaries by 2022.

“Traditionally, the scaling of innovations or technologies was done at the end of a project with a finished package that was supposedly ready to be adopted by a broader group perhaps linked with summary sheets shared with policy makers. The scaling readiness method will allow scientists and societal partners to think systematically about how scaling of their proposed technology depends on a combination of technological changes, and also the enabling social-organizational environment. Discussing these matters with stakeholders helps to improve scaling strategies and conditions for scaling,” explains Cees Leeuwis, a professor of KTI who leads the RTB scaling cluster.

RTB’s collaboration with KTI first began with research on multiple root, tuber and banana seed systems with Conny Almekinders a KTI researcher. Since then, this work has evolved to include a broader range of tools such as seed tracer studies, and is now a core component of another RTB cluster on “Access to quality seeds and varieties”, for which a workshop was underway concurrently with the launch. A joint presentation during the event by Almekinders and Margaret McEwan of the International Potato Center (CIP) showed why thinking about seed is more than genes, and how these perspectives are critical for sustainable interventions.

L to R: Margaret McEwan, Cees Leeuwis, Graham Thiele and Conny Almekinders participate in the panel discussion on seed systems. Photo: WUR

“In Chencha, Ethiopia, a seed tracer study of seed movements found that surprisingly wealthy male potato farmers most effectively multiply and share seed with poorer farmers including women,” McEwan explained during the presentation. Understanding how seed actually moves can guide improvements in seed system interventions and successful scaling.

“WUR is an exciting and dynamic partner who brings new perspectives and expertise to RTB, especially from the social sciences, around seed systems, scaling and innovation. This is highly complementary to our CGIAR skill set,” says Thiele.

“Often we have great technologies, but they can get stuck in the local pilot site where we began testing. In those cases, it’s essential to know what happened and why the technology didn’t go further. Of course there are excellent examples of scaling in RTB such as with orange fleshed sweetpotato, but there are too few cases like that. So we need to understand better the secrets of success and began to plan for scaling from the beginning,” he adds.

A participant asks a question during the lively panel discussion. Photo: WUR

The partnership also brings potential new capacity development opportunities through the mentoring of students who may be able to conduct research with RTB and WUR towards their MSc or PhD projects.

“I hope that we can find a conducive balance between doing interesting science, and being relevant to international development. And I hope we can operationalize this in part through offering candidates from development partners the possibility to obtain a PhD. Such trajectories are a very effective way of combining research, capacity development and partnership development,” says Leeuwis.

Together both RTB and WUR are working to achieve large-scale societal impact for the benefit of smallholders throughout the root, tuber and banana value chains, and the launch event of RTB Phase II provided an opportunity to celebrate the steps that are being taken towards achieving that shared vision.

Starting from Tuesday 16 May, RTB will release a series of blogs dedicated to the program’s new flagship projects in Phase II.

Economically sustainable seed businesses to transform cassava production in Nigeria

Seed sector professionals have said that businesses selling improved varieties and high quality cassava stems for cultivation could help African farmers significantly raise their productivity. This will mean more income from the same land, inputs and effort. The benefits of this raised productivity will be enjoyed by all the stakeholders across the value chain in a sustainable way.

This was part of the resolutions from a national stakeholder conference on cassava seed system organized by the project, ‘Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System’ (BASICS) that was held at the Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan from 20 – 23 March, 2017.

The meeting, which reflected on the experiences of BASICS in 2016 and refined the project plan for 2017 and beyond, brought together national and international researchers, academics, policymakers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and farmers to a roundtable.

Making the case for urgent need for all the stakeholders to work towards a sustainable seed system in Nigeria, Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director for BASICS, reminded the participants that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with a production of about 54 million tons, but its yield per hectare of cassava roots is about 8 tons, less than half of the realizable yields of more than 20 tons per hectare. Researchers say one of the factors responsible for the low yield of cassava is the low adoption of clean and healthy seeds of improved varieties of cassava by farmers.

Participants at the BASICS project meeting in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photo: IITA

“We have to start with the right planting material and nurture it with good agronomy and weed management practices.  Each of these three components has the potential to raise the productivity of cassava by 30 percent. If we do not improve our practices in seed, weed and agronomy, we are incurring a lost opportunity of about 200 billion Naira annually from each of the three issues,” he explained.

BASICS is commercially piloting two distinct pathways of seed delivery. In one, called’Village Seed Entrepreneur model’, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services in Benue and with National Roots Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), in Abia, Imo, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, the project is helping develop a network of 130 community based seed enterprises. These Village Seed Entrepreneurs will source certified stems of improved varieties of cassava from NRCRI and IITA to multiply and sell to the farmers in their vicinity. This way, the farmers will not have to go far to source quality stems for planting. In the second pilot called ‘Processor Led Model’, in partnership with Context Global Development, the project is working with large processors of cassava who will then make available quality stems to their outgrowers with a buy back arrangement for the roots produced.

Lawrence Kent with Peter Kulakow of IITA who is showing the plantlets from the SAH early generation multiplication thriving in the field. Photo G.Thiele/RTB

Emmanuel Azaino of Catholic Relief Services proudly shows their poster which won the people’s vote during the stakeholder meeting. Photo: G.Thiele/RTB

Slow and low multiplication ratio has been a key constraint in cassava seed system. The project is piloting a new technology called Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics for vastly rapid seed multiplication. Once this technology from Argentina is adapted and perfected in Nigeria by the Project, it is expected to have a significant impact on the ability of early generation seed businesses to quickly bring suitable varieties within reach of farmers. The project is also working with National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and Fera of the UK to improve the quality certification system in Nigeria.

Lawrence Kent, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the aim of the project is to build an economically sustainable seed system that is profitable both to the sellers of quality stems and to the farmers who purchase and plant those stems. He encouraged all to create reusable bridges to continuously link technology developers with farmers through business oriented approaches, like the one being implemented under BASICS.

Graham Thiele, Program Director for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, which leads the BASICS project; Alfred Dixon, IITA Director for Development and Delivery, and Project Leader for the Cassava Weed Management Project; Amin Babandi, Director of Agriculture, FMARD, represented by Segun Ayeni, DD Roots and Tuber crops, FMARD; Folusho Olaniyan OON, CEO, Contact Consulting Nigeria and Program Director, AgraInnovate West Africa; Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director of Technical Operations, AATF and Robert Asiedu, Director R4D, IITA-West, all shared perspectives and added their voice for all stakeholders to jointly build a strong and sustainable seed system for cassava in Nigeria and wished all stakeholders well.

The BASICS project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

For more information, please contact
Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director, BASICS h.nitturkar@cgiar.org

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

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.

9299745560_74890e5006_z

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?

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

Reward

  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.

Submissions
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

Nigeria: $11.6m for Sustainable Cassava Seed System

A four-year $11.6m project ending 2019 to develop a commercially sustainable cassava seed value chain in Nigeria, was recently launched at the headquarters of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Titled ‘Building Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ the project funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is 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.

Read the full story on Science Africa

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

Read the full story at The Nigerian Voice 

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.

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.