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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on scaling agricultural technologies

The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has ambitious targets to improve the lives of millions of men and women who depend on root, tuber and banana crops by 2022. Achieving those targets means focusing on the most promising technologies and innovations. And it means linking these innovations with the tools and approaches that can take them to scale.

As RTB commences its second phase, it is opportune to shine a spotlight on our approaches to scaling and how they enhance the innovations developed through the program that have the potential to be adopted by millions.

Towards this, RTB held a World Café style event on 10 March in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to match scalable technologies with approaches and tools for scaling, while increasing participants’ understanding of both the technologies and scaling approaches.

Selected RTB program targets by 2022. All program targets align with the SDGs (Click to enlarge)

The event brought together researchers from across RTB’s five program participant centers – the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Bioversity International and Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) – along with donor representatives, Tanzanian national partners, and other partners including Wageningen University and the Natural Resources Institute.

‘Scalable technologies’ are innovations that have resulted from RTB research and which are either already adopted by farmers or other users, or will be adopted over the next three years. Additionally, the technology must have – or will have – a large number of beneficiaries. An outstanding example of a scalable technology is the orange fleshed sweetpotato for health and nutrition improvement, already adopted by over 2 million households, for which three CIP scientists were awarded the prestigious World Food Prize in 2016.

During the World Café, participants circulated among posters of their choice in small group discussions, rotating every 15 minutes and sharing their thoughts on what might be the ‘roadblocks’ or ‘accelerators’ to scaling for each innovation.

Participants rotated to a new poster every 15 mins. Each poster could have a maximum of 10 visitors at any one time to encourage effective conversations. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Posters were divided in the three categories throughout the day: 1) scalable technologies for varieties and seed, 2) scalable technologies for resilient cropping, postharvest and nutrition and sustainable intensification, and 3) approaches and tools for scaling, innovation and enhancing gender relevance.

“The ‘speed-dating’ between RTB’s natural and social scientists led to new ideas on how to further improve the scaling of RTB innovations,” reflects Dr. Marc Schut, IITA Social Scientist and leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 5 on Improved Livelihoods at Scale.

During the event, several scientists commented that the exercise had changed their perceptions of the complexity of the science surrounding scaling and what the process entails, along with a greater awareness of the importance of considering scaling from the outset of a project.

Likewise, social scientists working on scaling of innovations also shared that the small-group discussions led to ideas of how the approaches to scaling could be tailored to better suit certain technologies.

Participants shared factors that could act as ‘roadblocks’ and ‘accelerators’ to the scaling of technologies presented in categories 1 and 2. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

For Juma Kayeke, an agronomist from the Tanzanian Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) based in the region of Mbeya, the workshop provided exposure to new technologies and approaches, and the chance to further connect with partners.

“It was so valuable to interact with people from different backgrounds, specializations, research areas and crops… In the tools and approaches for scaling category, I was particularly interested in the decision support tools, because sometimes when we are talking with farmers and extension officers they get very bound to what they should do at specific times in the farming cycle. If they could have a support tool to enable make decisions about what actions to take at what times, that would be a big breakthrough,” he added.

One technology that stood out on the day to Schut was the AdiosMacho pesticide developed by CIP, which attracts and kills male potato tuber moth species, reducing the population of the pest.

“The scaling of RTB innovations requires focused strategies and human and financial resource investments, and this was clearly shown in the AdiosMacho technology. AdiosMacho evolved from a research product towards a commercial product, and together with the public and private sector roadblocks have been systematically addressing. We need to learn from these cases to accelerate the scaling of other RTB innovations,” he explained.

Examples of ‘roadblocks’ and ‘accelerators’ to scaling of the AdiosMacho technology presented in the poster. (Click to enlarge)

RTB’s Flagship Project 5 will build on the World Café with a repository of scalable RTB innovations, and seek to accelerate scaling, by sharing tools and approaches with projects and scientists in the other RTB Flagships, for sustainable development impacts.

Posters of scalable technologies and of tools and approaches for scaling are available for download from the event page.

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.

Economically sustainable seed businesses to transform cassava production in Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerating Africa’s economic growth through root and tuber crops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting revolves around five sub themes relevant to RTB:

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

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

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


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

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 

What can CGIAR’s new research programs learn from systems approaches?

Graham Thiele, RTB Program Director, shares his insights and reflections from the Systems Research Maketplace event, which took place earlier this month. 

As we prepare for the second phase of CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) in 2017, this is an opportune time to reflect on, and learn from, the approaches our programs have taken during their first phase.  In particular, as the programs shift from a commodity focus to an agri-food systems (AFS) approach, it’s critical that we share the learning from the systems CRPs of the first phase and the products they produced, which could be valuable in the next cycle.

This was precisely the rationale behind the recent Systems Research Marketplace event, which I attended in Ibadan, Nigeria from 15 – 17 November – jointly organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humidtropics and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). During the meeting, we heard an overview of progress by the systems CRPs and reflections on how to include systems approaches during the second cycle of CRPs from 2017.

The highlight for me was the ‘World Café’, an interactive workshop space where many of the tools and concepts developed by systems programs were shared. Small groups of researchers, or prospective users, rotated around poster presentations by the tool developers for an interactive exchange of views. At the end of the World Café users provided feedback on which tools they intended to use in their research programs and why – “what is in your shopping basket?”

Participants at the Systems Marketplace event. Photo by O.Abioye/IITA

Participants at the Systems Research Marketplace event. Photo IITA

I was invited to prepare a short perspective in the meeting on what the second cycle of CRPs could learn from the ‘Marketplace’ of approaches and tools presented.

The first question I asked was “Do we need systems tools?”

The evidence from what we saw in the World Cafe is: “Yes, absolutely!” We saw many outstanding tools and concepts that have been developed and refined through CGIAR’s research programs, including:

Many of these methods help to engage with broader groups of stakeholders, and make our thinking less ’researcher centric’. It’s also clear that going to scale will require a heavy investment in capacity development for facilitators and action agents. So I was especially excited to see resources for building capacity for scaling – for example The Blended Learning Program.

Men participate in a focus group discussion in Uganda to understand how women and men adopt and benefit from innovations. Photo A.Rietfeld

Men participate in a focus group discussion in Uganda to understand how women and men adopt and benefit from innovations. Photo A.Rietfeld

The second question I asked was “What do we need to do next with this rich legacy of tools?”

I could see a number of next steps:

  1. Sifting through and organizing the ‘legacy’ systems tools for use by the second cycle CRPs.
  2. Better characterization of the use and status of tools:
    • Were they fresh into print for the marketplace event?
    • In validation? (How many cases)
    • Are they mature – widely adopted with significant numbers of users?
  3. Systematically document and incorporate user feedback around these tools – crowd sourced/on line.
  4. Not just “do users want a particular tool?” but:
    • Why?
    • How do we address heterogeneity among users?
    • What more do you want?
    • What features don’t you like as a user?
  5. Identifying repositories for the longer run – including user data.
  6. Decentralized approaches cross-CRP access and co-development systems tools.
Participants in disucssion during the World Cafe workshop. Photo O.Abioye/IITA

Participants in discussion during the World Cafe workshop. Photo O.Abioye/IITA

The third question I asked was “What’s the evidence for the theory of change of innovation and research for development (R4D) platforms and their linked approaches and tools?”

I recognize the challenges that some system CRPs faced in meeting certain criteria for evidence, considering they only had around two to three years of implementation to make a difference. I suggested:

  1. Provide the best achievable evidence at the point along impact pathway you reached.
  1. Be open to share what didn’t work.

This is all essential information to help the second cycle CRPs as future users and change agents of systems tools and approaches to do better. We should also draw lessons from the systems CRPs about how to improve institutional arrangements within CGIAR to make systems research more effective. Conducting systems research has implications for research governance (e.g. staffing, modes of research agenda setting, place-based funding mechanisms, M&E indicators, meta theories of change on the role of research, etc.) and these may require some close scrutiny.

I did hear a few good examples of evidence of theories of change presented in the Marketplace event including:

However, it would be great to have a richer and deeper evidence base going forward.

Lively discussions during the event in Ibadan. Photo O.Abioye/IITA

Lively conversations during the event in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photo by IITA

The fourth question I asked was “What do we need to do next to build on this legacy by supporting ongoing innovation processes and partnerships?”

I proposed the following:

  1. Consistent geographic inventory of work under systems CRPs related to particular AFS-CRPs.
  2. Link this to site integration, processes and priorities (how important are AFS crops in the different sites?)
  3. Identifying entry points of legacy of systems work with AFS-CRPs commodity work.
    • E.g. During the Humidtropics MSP in the Côte d’Ivoire, the program trained women farmers in a largely cocoa producing region to process Attiéké product from cassava, providing market opportunities and enhancing cassava varietal diversification and adoption. This area strongly maps into the RTB cassava processing cluster targeting small and medium enterprises

The Marketplace demonstrated the potential value added from more closely integrating systems approaches into the commodity focus of first phase CRPs. In particular, these approaches and tools can enhance scaling and keep our focus on improving livelihoods and gender equity. These are valuable lesson that RTB will be building on as it evolves into a fully-fledged Agri-Food System CRP. New partnerships have been initiated to effectively build these systems and scaling elements in RTB from January 2017 onwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workshop participants. Photo G.Aster/IITA

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

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

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

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

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

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