Tag Archives: seed

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

Early Generation Sweetpotato Seed Production: Can public sector and national agricultural research institutes shift to a business orientation?

In this blog Margaret McEwan, Senior Project Manager with the International Potato Center (CIP), shares her insights and reflections from discussions during the 7th annual Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which took place from 7-8 October 2016.

During this year’s annual Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) meeting in Ethiopia, we held a panel discussion with senior managers of sub-Saharan African institutes engaged in sweetpotato pre-basic seed production. The institutes are part of an effort by the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project and partners to strengthen pre-basic sweetpotato seed programs. The aim is for these programs to be sustained financially by channelling revenue from seed sales back into future seed production.

Here are three fascinating insights I gained from George Momanyi from the Kenya Plant Health Inspection Service (KEPHIS) and Stella Ennin from Crop Research Institute (CRI) Kumasi, Ghana.

  1. There are examples of successful internal revenue generation by national agricultural research institutes (NARIs)

Stella noted that for CRI, commercialization of research results is mandatory, and there is considerable political capital involved. CRI has developed models for short term training targeted at extension staff from NGOs, private sector and farmers. They are also exploring licensing of varieties they have developed and seed multiplication including mango, rubber and pepper.

Panel discussion participants (L-R) Graham Thiele (RTB), George Momanyi, Stella Ennin and Srini Rajendran

Panel discussion participants (L-R) Graham Thiele (RTB), George Momanyi (KEPHIS), Stella Ennin (CRI) and Srini Rajendran (CIP). Photo A. Ndayisenga/CIP

George told us about the Centre for Phytosanitary Excellence (COPE), which advertises and runs courses on a cost recovery basis. KEPHIS also has functions such as inspections, plant health sample analyses and tests for which they can levy charges to raise revenue. The charges for these services are gazetted, however, some of these charges do not make business sense. Therefore the services are not provided as a business, based on a cost-benefit analysis, but are used just to try to raise some revenue.

George highlighted that they have now adopted a business orientation for pre-basic sweetpotato seed production. They have developed a business plan, which they have marketed to management and are in the process of institutionalizing. They discovered that they had exaggerated the cost of producing pre-basic seed, so are carrying out real time data collection, and hope that their pricing will be more realistic and thus more attractive to customers. George explained that they are also working on seed demand estimates, so that their production is aligned to an existing market. George is confident that the business plan is something that will make KEPHIS’ pre-basic seed production successful.

  1. There is flexibility to allow internally generated revenues to be re-invested by the institution in future production activities

There are different options available to them to manage the proceeds from pre-basic seed sales. For example, George explained that it was not necessary to open a separate bank account; instead at his station they opened a sub-ledger specifically for sweetpotato seed sales to be able to clearly track revenue. A management committee provides oversight to approve disbursements related to seed production costs.

Schematic of the sweetpotato seed system. Courtesy SPHI

Schematic of the sweetpotato seed system. Courtesy SPHI

  1. Innovative profit sharing models which provide incentives to staff

At CRI, there is a well-developed profit sharing model. Srini Rajendran, CIP Agricultural Economist, who has been supporting KEPHIS and CRI in real time cost data collection asked Stella to give more details on how this model works.  Stella explained that at the beginning of a project, those involved record their names and their contribution. She said, “we know who brought in the market, mostly it is breeders working in the field. The proportion (share of the profit) is regulated: 10% for the hunters, 30% for the team of workers who did the business, divided according to their percentage contribution, and 60% for institutional costs, which might include electricity and water.” Stella also pointed out that they have realized that some stages in their work flow have to be improved, because some business opportunities generated more profit if they were outsourced rather than implemented by CRI itself.

Finally, in the wrap-up, the panel chair, Graham Thiele, Program Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) said that he was encouraged by the progress in using functional business tools, and excited that there is buy in from senior leadership. As Graham said: “the proof of success will be in the revenues generated.”

Read the post on the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal website

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

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.

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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

Six steps forward for root and tuber crops

Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) shares his top six highlights from the first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, January 18 – 22, Nanning, China.

With root and tuber crops providing food for than 2.2 billion million people around the globe, it is no surprise that our efforts to improve these crops are so broad and geographically dispersed. The first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops, which has just wrapped up in Nanning, China, brought together hundreds of experts working on various areas in the value chain and  is a special forum to share advances across all our crops.

This is one of the reasons why RTB is so pleased to support the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) and Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) as co-organizers. For me, it was also great to see so many friends and colleagues in the roots and tubers community and catch up on progress. There is so much to report back, but I do have a few highlights from the week which particularly struck me to share.

Omics and beyond

It’s astonishing the progress made with understanding the genetic makeup of root and tuber crops and the different pathways from genes to trait expression which the new science of ‘omics’ has made possible. It was impressive to see the progress made by our Chinese colleagues, including a lively presentation from Songbi Chen of the Tropical Crops Genetic Resources Institute of the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) on the application of proteomics cassava breeding to understand how we could improve photosynthetic efficiency and starch accumulation in roots, thus potentially increasing their dry matter content.

A CIAT researcher examines cassava buds in the lab. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

A CIAT researcher examines cassava buds in the lab. Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

Cassava as animal feed

I knew that cassava is a potential feed for livestock but I hadn’t understood that it actually has some special advantages. The presentation from Uthai Kanto, Associate Professor at Kasetsart University, and of the Thai Tapioca Development Institute (TTDI) explained how the fermentation and slight acidity of cassava chips inhibits mycotoxins when it used as a feed. Additionally the presence of low and non-toxic levels of cyanide even gives immunity to disease. These factors mean it’s a healthier alternative feed ingredient for livestock compared to maize, with improved weight gain for the animals although it does need a bit of enrichment with a protein source. This is an important finding for RTB supported work in utilization of cassava peel as animal feed.

Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato farmers in Rwanda. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato farmers in Rwanda. Photo: S.Quinn/CIP

Policy change promotes sweetpotato

Sweetpotato and other roots and tubers are often neglected crops. So it was very encouraging to learn from Jan Low of the International Potato Center (CIP) that because of advocacy and progress in research through the SASHA and SUSTAIN projects implemented by CIP, Rwanda has included in recent policy documents the promotion of biofortified foods, and in three districts (Muhanga, Gakeneke and Rulindo) local governments have included sweetpotato as a priority crop as part of their efforts to fight micronutrient malnutrition and improve the diversification of diets. For sure there are lessons here for other root, tuber and banana crops.


Cassava seed system in Uganda

Anthony Pariyo of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda explained there has been good progress made towards developing a sustainable seed system for cassava in Uganda, including a functional public-private partnership with BioCrops providing 12,000 plants from bioculture and a network of 47 seed entrepreneurs selling seed to farmers. There are some potential lessons here for a new RTB project on cassava seed systems which is getting underway in Nigeria.

Pruning buys time for cassava

Cassava roots deteriorate quickly after harvest, posing a significant challenge for farmers and processors. Harriet Muyinza of NARO took part in an exchange visit to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia sponsored by the RTB-ENDURE project, during which she applied a cassava pruning technique that she learned during the exchange in field trials in Uganda. The results are very promising, showing that with one of the varieties called Tim Tim, pruning reduced post-harvest deterioration to below 20%, compared to 70% without pruning. This suggests that pruning could be effective for farmers to reduce storage loss and have more time to transport their crop to market.

Brown streak disease resistance

Morag Ferguson from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reported the surprising finding that resistance to cassava brown streak disease, previously thought to have come from East Africa, was actually derived from a West African landrace. This, together with their location of molecular markers associated with the genetic inheritance of resistance should importantly enable preemptive breeding against brown streak disease in West Africa. This could be extremely important given that the disease is spreading west from its origin on the coast of Tanzania and potentially affecting the rest of the continent.

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, presents the program's priority assessment plans during the Congress. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, summarizes the findings of the program’s priority assessment during the Congress. Photo: G.Smith/CIAT

I also took the opportunity to present two plenary sessions – the first updating the progress in RTB and giving a closer look at our work on improving climate change resilience, and the second summarizing the findings of the RTB priority assessment. This assessment kicked off at the GCP21 in 2013 and so it was very appropriate to present a wrap up in China.

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

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

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

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

Selected highlights from the Annual Meeting:

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

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

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

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

Theme 3 – Managing priority pests and diseases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New project to develop cassava seed businesses will enhance quality seed access, increase productivity and generate income in Nigeria

We are pleased and proud to announce the signing of a new project entitled ‘Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ with $USD11.6 million funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The four year project aims to sustainably improve farmers’ access to high quality and affordable cassava planting materials through the development and promotion of commercial models for seed provision.

The project will also build the capacity of Nigerian institutions like The National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and the National Root Crops Research Institute in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and other stakeholders, including both men and women cassava farmers, processors and commercial seed producers to develop and put in to place a testing, field inspection and certification system for cassava seed. This will in turn help fast-track improved breeders’ cassava varieties to farmers.

High quality cassava seed improves farmers’ yields and profitability. Photo by IITA

This will help to ensure that good quality, disease-free planting materials are in use throughout the industry to improve productivity and incomes for farmers and their families.

The project will be coordinated by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and implemented by partners including International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), the International Potato Center (CIP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Fera Science Ltd, Context Global Development,  the Nigerian National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and others.

Cassava is the most important food crop for Nigeria, the world’s largest producer. Cassava is contributing to Nigerian agricultural transformation and reducing poverty through its lowering of production costs and increasing productivity, coupled with the employment opportunities that are generated through cassava processing – which are particularly important for women and youth.

Chiedozie Egesi, Assistant Director and Head, Cassava Breeding National Root Crops Research Institute of Nigeria: “Despite the huge potentials of the crop to empower farmers, the cassava seed system has been weak and poorly organized due to lack of motivated seed entrepreneurs. Our hope is that this project will bring solution to a critical link in the crop’s value chain.”

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director: “A transformation in cassava production and processing is underway in Nigeria to fully tap the potential of this crop to contribute to economic growth and livelihoods. One of the missing pieces of the jigsaw was the provision of high quality seed of the varieties which processors and growers need. If we can get this right there is a very large multiplier effect. We need to bring all the players along a seed value chain together in a shared vision. We have a great team in Nigeria and after a lot of hard work to put together a winning proposal we can’t wait to get going.”

The project will work with stakeholders including men and women cassava farmers, processors and commercial seed producers. Photo by IITA.

Commencing in 2016, the project will enhance the cassava transformation by working with four key clients including cassava farmers, commercial processor groups, village seed nurseries and government stakeholders to further support commercial seed producers.

Peter Kulakow, Head of the Cassava Breeding Unit, IITA: “This project will introduce new rapid multiplication technologies to increase the supply of high quality seed and we will engage industry and farmer participation to generate demand for new commercial varieties that meet industry and end user needs.”

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.

Getting the big picture with results-based management and participatory planning

We all have a theory of change. Indeed, when we have a big goal to achieve, we think of what we should contribute to change, with who we may team up and which strategy we may use to make it happen. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) is making its theories of change explicit. The next step is to implement Results-Based Management (RBM) to foster the changes RTB’s interventions are supposed to make in the lives of smallholder farmers.

A growing number of research and development organizations around the world are adopting results-based management. As the website of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development  indicates: “RBM is not a tool, but rather a way of working that looks beyond activities and outputs to focus on actual results; the outcomes of projects and programs.”

RBM is expected to become the modus operandi at CGIAR Research Centers, as it is embedded in the new CGIAR vision.  The management of RTB and its lead center, the International Potato Center (CIP), understand RBM as an integrated cycle to define, monitor and assess programmatic activities together with partners so the end users – the poor farmers who RTB works for – can achieve real benefits, and donors can see the ‘value for money.’

As part of its efforts to reorganize its research agenda, RTB launched a pilot phase in 2014 to introduce RBM across different work packages that are currently reshaping the program architecture. For each of these packages, impact pathways are being designed that allow for a better description of the interventions, a more comprehensive identification of relevant partners, and the implementation of a monitoring and evaluation system (M&E) along the different stages.

Impact Pathway

Simplified illustration of an impact pathway – It is usually not this linear, as the different actors (implementers, next users, beneficiaries) can play different roles along the impact pathway.

In the second half of 2014, RTB and partner researchers attended participatory planning workshops to design impact pathways together. The first issue of the new RTB Brief series presents the key experiences and lessons learned from the defining and co-designing of impact pathways for two selected clusters of activity: an initiative to strengthen Seed Potato Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and an effort to improve Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) Management in Eastern and Central Africa.

One exercise during the Potato Seed System workshop involved projecting oneself 10 years into the future and reflecting on the goals achieved, before going back to account for what had to be done in order to reach those outcomes. By looking at the big picture, participants were able to identify the specific stages, components and skills required to make progress on the pathway to their goals.

Panoramic view of the Potato Seed System in Africa impact pathway

Panoramic view during the Potato Seed System in Africa workshop

Some participants noted with satisfaction the similarity between the management system they were developing and the requirements of donors in terms of progress indicators and ‘value for money.’ “In the end, it’s all about clearly articulating the objectives, and analyzing and defining what we are going to do to achieve them,” said one potato breeder. “By re-articulating the way we operate and monitor, we are now about to align with what many partners and donors require, in a harmonized and structured way.”

While impact pathways and RBM were fairly new concepts for many participants in the BXW Management workshop, most of them appreciated the methodology and provided valuable inputs to improve the intervention logic by refining products and outcomes and identifying additional partners and scaling opportunities.

In the end, working together to construct impact pathways help everyone involved to get the big picture of what they want to achieve and to work out the details of how they need to work together to confront threats, overcome obstacles, and make a major, positive impact on the ground.

Read the RTB Brief “Co-constructing impact pathways with stakeholders for results-based management”

By Véronique Durroux-Malpartida