From potato breeders in Bolivia to plantain pathologists in East Africa, experts on the principal Root, Tuber and Banana crops have filled out surveys on production constraints and the research needs for addressing them. In doing so, they’ve contributed to an ambitious global assessment of research priorities that will help the management of RTB, a CGIAR Research Program, to set goals and allocate resources for improving the food security, diet and incomes of some of the world’s poorest people.
Crop surveys for bananas and plantains, cassava, potatoes, sweetpotatoes and yams can be complete online at the RTB website until February 28. They are part of a dynamic, six-stage process that aims to involve the greatest number of stakeholders possible in a strategic assessment of research priorities. That assessment includes a comprehensive literature review and the creation of an online RTB Atlas, in conjunction with the CGIAR Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI). The surveys, however, are especially important, because they allow RTB to get input from an array of stakeholders with diverse backgrounds, such as crop experts at advanced research centers or representatives of government institutions and NGOs.
Guy Hareau, an agricultural economist at the International Potato Center (CIP) who is coordinating the assessment with colleagues from the four CGIAR research centers participating in RTB, said he hopes that more than 1,000 people will complete crop surveys. Hareau and his colleagues in the priority assessment team have compiled lists of experts in the different RTB crops and regions and have contacted them by email requesting that they complete the survey for their crop.
Expert surveys can be completed online in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese or Chinese. They should take no longer than 25 minutes to complete, and the process can be interrupted and resumed at any time.
Hareau and colleagues have also attended various international conferences on RTB crops, where they’ve gotten more than 400 researchers to complete surveys on the spot.
“We introduced the assessment at the Conference of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (held in Kampala, Uganda in June of 2012) and got 200 people to fill out the survey in half an hour. It was our most efficient day yet,” Hareau said.
After the survey process is closed at the end of February, Hareau and colleagues will analyze the results and compile a short list of 6-8 research options for each RTB crop. In addition to global results, they will identify research priorities for specific regions and agroecologies. They will then do impact modeling and economic and other analyses of the shortlisted options, and share their findings online.
“It is important that the stakeholders not only have an opportunity to provide their input, but also that we share the results with them,” Hareau said, adding that RTB will solicit feedback on the assessment’s results, though he isn’t sure exactly how they will go about it.
That process will get a test run in April of 2013 with banana and plantain experts participating in a Global Musa Expert Workshop organized by Biodiversity International in Kampala, Uganda. Those participants who haven’t completed the crop survey will be asked to do so on the first day. The results will then be computed and presented to participants, who will join work groups to discuss them and provide recommendations.
Ulrich Kleinwechter, who is working on the assessment at CIP, noted that in addition to providing quality information for RTB decision makers, it is contributing to a process of cooperation and knowledge sharing that will be key to the research program’s success, since it involves a transparent process of stakeholder consultation.
Kleinwechter observed that the assessment builds on a tradition of priority setting at the four centers, but involves a much larger pool of crops and participants. It is the first time such a study has been conducted simultaneously by four CGIAR Research Centers for so many crops.
In addition to Hareau and Kleinwechter, the assessment team’s members are Tahirou Abdoulaye, Joseph Rusike and Holger Kirscht, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Bernardo Creamer and Glenn Hyman, at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and Diemuth Pemsl and Charles Staver, at Biodiversity International.