Tag Archives: sweetpotato

How RTB researchers try to develop the potential of RTB seed systems

Roots, tubers and bananas share one characteristic that unites them in the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas (RTB): farmers multiply them vegetatively, rather than as true seeds produced by sexual reproduction. Of course, they are also extremely important for the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of the most resource-poor farmers on Earth. And that makes a recent paper in the journal Food Security, which asks why interventions in RTB seed systems do not reach their full potential, important to policy-makers and farmers alike.

Together with RTB colleagues, Conny Almekinders, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, examined 13 previous efforts to improve seed systems for potato, sweetpotato, cassava, yam and banana. “We began to look at these cases in 2014,” Almekinders said, “as it became clear that an increasing number of RTB projects were introducing new varieties and improved multiplication practices, especially in Africa.”

“The case study documents did not show us evidence of many efforts to understand target seed systems,” Almekinders added.

Too often, the projects did not consider the fact that they were intervening in an existing local seed system or farmers who were known to be local seed experts. Many projects simply assumed that some farmers would specialize and become seed-supply entrepreneurs to fill the gap where the public sector could not reach, and the private sector was absent or uninterested. Such projects were often founded on the idea of a central source of high-quality foundation stock, usually produced with advanced technology, such as aeroponic micro-potatoes, yam mini-setts, and tissue culture bananas. These would then be passed to “decentralized multipliers” who would create further generations for distribution.

This approach succeeded sometimes, as with sweetpotatoes in Rwanda, where there was a good link to market for the products. In other cases, Almekinders says, “without project support and subsidies, the technical and economic viability of these decentralized multipliers is not clear.”

One problem, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is that many farmer cultures consider it inappropriate to pay or to ask for payment for planting material. This reticence may be partially overcome in the case of new varieties, but otherwise is likely to limit the opportunities for business-based informal RTB seed systems.

Some projects, such as the introduction of orange-fleshed sweetpotato in Mozambique, focused on health and nutrition and barely considered the seed system. Despite this, adoption and spread, via the informal seed system, have been impressive. “Orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes are now being grown by thousands of women on small plots of land,” Almekinders said. Varieties will spread and be adopted if farmers see a benefit.

RTB community of practice on one of their learning journeys, a joint visit of KEPHIS laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya

Pros and cons

Vegetative reproduction means that the variety keeps its genetic characteristics, unlike sexually produced seeds. This is a boon when getting new material into the hands of farmers, because it means they can share the improved material in their communities. The flip side, however, is that viruses and other diseases can accumulate in the planting material, reducing its performance.

Farmer-to-farmer diffusion remains the primary route for adoption, as farmers with good experiences multiply the improved material and share it with others. For banana, cassava and potato, the cases show that farmers often share new material with five or more others.

Unfortunately, diseases often spread along with the crops, as they have recently for viruses of cassava in eastern Africa and banana bunchy top virus in the Congo basin. Such degeneration is perhaps the most common reason for farmers to seek RTB planting material off their farm. Although this suggests an additional motivation for decentralized multipliers, there is little evidence that farmers will pay for clean planting material of varieties they already have.

What farmers want

The lack of demand is not simply because farmers do not understand the benefits; in many cases they lack other essential resources to make use of better planting material, such as capital or knowledge. Researchers may insert ‘demand’ in their project proposals, but when the project fails to distribute the expected amount of material, they seldom analyze the reasons why predicted demand did not materialize.

“Improved assessment of farmers’ demand will contribute to improving seed system interventions,” said Almekinders.

Government policy represents another barrier to improved seed systems. Certification schemes that guarantee the quality of planting material may raise costs beyond the reach of most farmers. But the absence of such schemes leaves farmers open to the sale of poor-quality seed.

Potential delivered

A 1990 study of potato identified many of the same problems as this more complete and wide-ranging survey of RTB seed interventions. “Not much seems to have changed since,” said Almekinders. But change is now in the air. The International Potato Center is already applying a diagnosis of existing seed systems to all projects going forward. And the project has started to create change beyond RTB.

“Just last week I learned that our framework is being used in a PhD project in Eritrea,” Almekinders said. “The key to progress is to pay attention to what works where, and for whom, and how to scale up good practices. We have not been good at understanding RTB systems or listening to what farmers really need. If we want to improve RTB crops, we have to improve RTB seed systems too.”

Revolutionary mobile app for monitoring crop pests and diseases

Just as the late blight epidemic wiped out potato fields in Ireland in the 19th century, crop pests and diseases still have devastating effects on smallholder farmers today – with scenarios projected to worsen under climate change.

Cassava brown streak disease is spreading westward across the African continent, and together with cassava mosaic disease, threatens the food and income security of over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa. Likewise, banana is threated by fungal and bacterial diseases and banana bunchy top virus, while sweetpotato is faced with viruses and Alternaria fungi.

Farmers are often unable to properly identify these diseases, while researchers, plant health authorities and extension organizations lack the data to support them.

To overcome these issues, a team under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), are working on a revolutionary app to accurately diagnose diseases in the field, which will be combined with SMS services to send alerts to thousands of rural farmers.

Diagnosing cassava disease in the field. Photo IITA

The team, led by David Hughes of Penn State, and James Legg of IITA – who leads RTB’s flagship project on Resilient Crops – together with scientists from CIAT, CIP and Bioversity International, are presenting their proposal as one of 12 finalists for a $US100,000 grant as part of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenges at the Big Data in Agriculture Convention 2017 in Cali, Colombia this week.

The concept leverages three critical advances in how knowledge is communicated to the farm level: 1) the democratization of Artificial Intelligence (AI) via open access platforms like Google’s TensorFlow, 2) the miniaturization of technology allowing affordable deployment and 3) the development of massive communication and money exchange platforms like M-Pesa that allow rural extension to scale as a viable economic model enabling last mile delivery in local languages.

Painstaking field work using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones at RTB cassava field sites in coastal Tanzania and on farms in western Kenya has already generated more than 200,000 images of diseased crops to train AI algorithms.

Using many of these images, Hughes, Legg and collaborators were able to develop an AI algorithm with TensorFlow that can automatically classify five cassava diseases, and by collaborating with Google, the team have been able to develop a TensorFlow smartphone app that is currently being field-tested in Tanzania. Penn State has also developed a mobile spectrophotometer through a start-up called CROPTIX. Early results suggest it can accurately diagnose different viral diseases in the field, even if the plant looks healthy.

 “The concept leverages RTB’s global network across multiple crops for testing and scaling with national partners and the private sector in all three continents where we work. This technology will enable small-scale farmers to quickly take action and stop the spread of pests and diseases in their farms, protecting these critical sources of food and income security,” said Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director. “We are really excited about this initiative and delighted to be teaming up with Penn State,” he added.

A Tanzanian farmer examines his cassava plants for the presence of pests and disease. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

The project team has already developed linkages with the Vodafone agriculture SMS platform called DigiFarm, which positions them strategically to link digital diagnostics to large-scale rural text messaging services. The team will deliver farmer tailored SMS alerts on crop diseases and pests to 350,000 Kenyan farmers by July 2018.

Once the diagnostic and SMS systems are up and running, their impact will be determined by assessing how rapid disease diagnosis increases yield in cassava value chains in Kenya involving 28,000 farmers.

An existing platform housed by Penn State (www.plantvillage.org) will enable real time discussions of disease and pest diagnoses across the CGIAR community and with other experts to enhance SMS alerts from the DigiFarm platform.

It’s is envisaged that these innovations, initially piloted in East Africa, will provide a model that can be extended to the range of locations where RTB works, and in so doing impact the farming and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers.

See more in the project flyer. 

Increasing the resilience of roots, tubers & bananas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nutritious foods and added value for health and wealth

“It starts with the person who wants to eat affordable, safe, nutritious food,” says Simon Heck, the Mozambique-based sweetpotato project leader for the International Potato Center and the leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 4 on Nutritious Food and Added Value. “The urban consumer will [represent] the majority [of consumers] soon, and we must focus on how they” – along with the smallholders raising and selling the crops – “attain the benefits of roots, tubers and bananas.”

With that vision in mind, this flagship has an important focus on promoting utilization and uptake of biofortified crops – those bred for maximum nutrients – such as orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), cassava, potato and potentially banana and yam too.

Levels of beta carotene in both OFSP and cassava – which the body converts to Vitamin A – is an area of special interest considering its role in the health and development of young children. Lacking sufficient Vitamin A, tens of millions of children in developing countries suffer from stunted growth which limits mental development, as well as premature death and blindness.

Children under five years of age eating OFSP. Photo credit: HKI

While work to enhance OFSP is well underway in RTB, other biofortification efforts show a great deal of promise. Among them: boosting iron and zinc levels in Irish potato and breeding cassava that (like OFSP) contains higher levels of beta carotene. While “cassava doesn’t respond as quickly” as OFSP does, Heck notes, it’s just as critical a crop to smallholders in certain regions.

To that end, geography and economics figure into which crops warrant biofortification research within FP4. “You might say, well, OFSP is much richer in beta carotene than cassava – but cassava can grow in places where nothing else grows,” Heck notes. Indeed OFSP can contain more concentrated levels of beta carotene, “but it’s limited in terms of its distribution.” Potato may be able to modified to contain more zinc, but the higher costs of raising potato may limit the benefit that nutritional boost can have.

Approaches to promoting biofortification in one crop can be deployed in the service of another, Heck says. “You build on what has been achieved,” he says. “It’s one of the values of how RTB approaches this work: in our platform, we can exchange scientific methods to accelerate progress across [multiple] crops. We owe it to the farmers [growing crops] and to the children [consuming them] to make full use of what each of us knows.”

For all crops, the effectiveness of crop processing and storage methods will affect smallholders’ outcomes and consumers’ health, too. The best varieties and harvesting techniques mean little if half the crops are lost due to spoilage or pests, so FP4 is looking closely at best practices in these areas as well. Methods ranging from pureeing OFSP for distribution in vacuum packed bags, to processing zinc-rich potato into flour, to storing harvested crops underground or at ambient temperatures to better support their preservation may be suitable, depending on a region’s climate, topography, financial stability, electrical grid health and other factors, Heck says.

FP4 is also paying close attention to improving the efficiency and reducing the energy and environmental footprint of cassava processing. Great strides have been made to understand how the higher efficiency of large scale cassava processing plants in Asia could be replicated at a much smaller scale in Africa and Latin America, opening up an important space for south-south learning.

Cassava starch processing in Vietnam. Photo N.Palmer/CIAT

In its clusters, FP4 must also pay heed to gender roles that may have long dictated tasks around growing and selling crops.

“Two domains that are often separate in many countries come together [under the auspices of FP4],” Heck says. “Men’s domain roles tend to be perceived to be around agriculture, while those of women are perceived to be around caregiving and feeding. Now, a lot of our assumptions seem to imply that somehow a benefit generated in one sphere will translate into benefits in another sphere, but we know it is not that easy.” The question becomes: “How do we involve both men and women in both spheres?”

Remember: a lot of OFSP, for example, is actually grown by women, Heck notes. By the same token, “we want to involve men in childcare, nutrition, materials extension and activities.” While gender-based roles are certainly bound by tradition, “they are never written in stone.” Working with more organizations that already have credibility in checking these assumptions is key to breaking down gender-based barriers.

Loading OFSP on a bike in Western Kenya. Photo credit: HKI

In addition to working with organizations that can help examine gender-based assumptions, FP4 will develop partnerships with local health clinics and government agencies services. These organizations are often ideally placed to enable consumers to understand the healthful benefits of RTB through programs such as:

  • Teaching adults how to prepare these foods, processed or not
  • Working with pregnant women and mothers to help them learn about the role Vitamin A and other micronutrients play in the health of the developing fetus, infant and child
  • Measuring health outcomes within a given community over time

FP4 is largely about “overcoming barriers of acceptance of crops,” Heck concludes. “One good thing about the biofortification strategy is that the crops you are biofortifying are ones that already exist, that are accepted [in the region]. People already know how to cultivate them; they’re already part of people’s recommended diets. We can tap into the capacity that is already there” – and, partnering with Flagship 5 on ‘Improved livelihoods at scale’ and others, scale up efforts to amplify biofortification’s potential to boost crop nutrition, hardiness and stability in a changing, hungry world.

This is the second in a series of blogs showcasing the new Flagship Projects of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The next edition will examine Flagship 3 on ‘Resilient Crops‘. By Amy Rogers Nazarov

The nuts and bolts of collaborative research on roots, tubers and bananas: RTB Annual Meeting

As the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) kicks off Phase II, the team came together in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for an annual review and planning meeting from March 11 – 12.

The meeting built on the momentum from the RTB World Café on Scalable Technologies which took place the day before, and along with updates of progress, focused on refining the nuts and bolts of collaboration to build effective flagship project and cluster teams. 

The event brought together over 80 researchers from across RTB’s five program partner centers – International Potato CenterInternational Institute of Tropical AgricultureBioversity International, International Center for Tropical Agriculture and Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) – along with colleagues from other partners including Wageningen University.

Over 80 participants from RTB partner centers came together for the annual meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director set the scene with an analysis of strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the program, and some key responses to the address the points identified in the analysis.

“RTB is entering its second phase in a strong position. We had one of the highest rated proposals for Phase II, we have clear impact pathways to reach our targeted outcomes by 2022 and our alliance model means we have cemented, effective partnerships that will be critical to allow us to reach those goals. However, we also have areas to improve upon – The cost and complexity of coordinating such a large-scale program with over 350 partners is a challenge, as is the need to carefully steward our W2 funding and  mobilize funding for cross cutting opportunities,” explained Thiele.

“We also need to strengthen flagship leader’s roles in science quality and knowledge management, and cluster leader’s roles in project management, along with maintaining the ‘glue’ of collaboration in cross cutting areas,” he added.

Anne Rietveld shared a program update on gender research, highlighting the successful collaboration with the Gender Responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT) project, which provided training to agricultural researchers from sub-Saharan Africa on gender-responsive research for root, tuber and banana crops in 2016.

Claudio Proietti explained the progress of the new Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Platform launched at the end of 2016 as an all-in-one modular platform for improving planning, management, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. 

Holly Holmes presented progress in RTB communications and outreach, including tracking digital analytics and engagement, and highlighting RTB’s interactive 2015 Annual Report website.

Conny Almekinders (center) of Wageningen University, summarizes key discussion points from the Flagship Project 2 session with the broader group. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Flagship project leaders held interactive groupwork sessions with their teams, which are ordinarily geographically dispersed. A key output of the lively groupwork was a one-year timeline for each flagship detailing key upcoming events and moments in the project calendar, together with ideas for resource mobilization. As each FP presented their timeline and key discussion points to the broader group, members of other flagships identified areas of synergy and cross-flagship collaboration.

Simon Heck, Flagship Project 4 (FP4) leader, noted that the meeting had helped the team to come together and build some momentum.

“This was the first physical meeting of the FP4 team. We discovered that our different crop research groups are already working towards similar goals – strengthening the consumer focus of our research, supporting innovation that diversifies the use of RTB crops, and finding solutions for managing the perishability and environmental footprint of RTB crops as the food systems become more complex,” Heck explained.

Simon Heck (center left) and members of the FP4 team in group discussion. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

“The session gave us a sense of common purpose, and greater confidence that, by working together in the flagship, we can address these large questions more effectively and realistically. As an immediate next step, scientists from all partners and clusters are now contributing to a compelling cross-cutting research agenda for the flagship and are committing to joint research proposals on some key research issues affecting several RTB crops. It was a real energizer for FP4 and many of us will meet again in June to produce the first set of joint outputs,” he added.

Other participants divided into small groups to discuss practical guidance and next steps on the following areas:

  • Coordination and communication of, and between, clusters
  • Strategic Innovation fund
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Big Data Platform
  • Excellence in Breeding Platform

The outputs of these discussions can be found in the annual meeting report.

In order to improve the lives of millions of men and women who depend on root, tuber and banana crops by 2022, it’s essential to ensure we have the nuts and bolts in place for an effective program team. To this end, the RTB Annual Review and Planning Meeting helped to solidify new flagship and cluster teams, and position the group for a strong start to Phase II.

For more detailed information about the meeting, please see the RTB Annual Review and Planning Meeting Report.

Accelerating Africa’s economic growth through root and tuber crops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting revolves around five sub themes relevant to RTB:

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

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

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

 

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

RTB-ENDURE banana project offers solutions for postharvest losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog contributed by Joshua Turyatemba of Bioversity International 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The extruded OFSP snack. Photo courtesy R.Odonomiro

The extruded OFSP snack. Photo courtesy R.Odonamiro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTB Impact Assessment team take stock of progress and plan for Phase II

Assessing the impact of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas’ (RTB) research and development initiatives is a core part of the program’s work. To take stock of progress on RTB’s impact assessment studies currently underway and identify upcoming opportunities for the program’s second phase, RTB’s Impact Assessment team came together in Boston on July 31.

Representatives from RTB partner centers, including Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Potato Center (CIP) presented updates on ongoing RTB related impact assessment activities.

Updates were shared on working papers on strategic research priorities for potato, sweetpotato, cassava, yam and banana.

Potential areas of collaboration for RTB’s second phase were also highlighted: including investigating the global impact of root, tubers and banana crops, modeling and analyzing impacts of sustainable intensification and on rural transformation, and meta-analysis of post-harvest losses for all RTB crops.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to look at potential partnership strategies for future work with MSU and Virginia Tech.

“During the first phase, RTB centers worked together on the strategic assessment of RTB research priorities and advancing critical impact studies for each crop. We need to keep the momentum in the second phase, but we will need to focus on the impact on the system as a whole and beyond the farm-gate. For this, we will need good partnerships to develop and apply appropriate methods,” said Dr. Guy Hareau, Agricultural Economist, International Potato Center.

An enumerator from CIP surveying a C88 potato farmer. Photo: CIP

An enumerator from CIP surveying a C88 potato farmer. Photo: CIP

The meeting followed the CGIAR’s Standing Panel of Impact Assessment (SPIA) meeting from July 29 – 30, during which Dr. Hareau presented the preliminary results of the adoption of the Cooperation 88 (C88) potato variety in China.

Developed through a collaboration between CIP and Yunnan Normal University (YNU) with the goal of breeding a high quality, late blight resistant variety, C88 was named and released as a cultivar in 1996. By 2009, it covered 186,667 hectares and was the most widely grown variety in Yunnan, China.

To measure the impact of the variety, a collaborative effort funded by SPIA and with additional funding from RTB, was undertaken by CIP, Virginia Tech and YNU. The study aims to verify previous adoption estimates of C88 in Yunnan and determine the economic benefits it has brought to consumers and producers in China.

During the SPIA meeting, Dr. Enoch Kikulwe of Bioversity International also presented an overview of RTB’s planned impact assessment activities under the program’s newly developed Flagship Project 5 on ‘Improving Livelihoods at Scale’.

Learn more about RTB’s Impact Assessment work