Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IITA and Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology cement their partnership on agriculture research

From left: Prof Burton Mwamila and Dr Ylva Hilbur, signing an agreement on banana research at the university campus in Arusha, Tanzania.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the pan-African NelsonMandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST)  have further strengthened their collaboration on agriculture research and capacity building in Tanzania by signing an agreement on banana research.

This agreement,  which spells out how the two institutions will work together to tackle the challenges facing banana production in the country,  was recently signed by the IITA Deputy Director General for Research, Dr Ylva Hilbur, and the NM-AIST Vice Chancellor, Prof Burton Mwamila, at a ceremony at the university campus in Arusha, Tanzania.

  Dr Ylva Hilbur, signing the research agreemen 
According to the agreement, NM-AIST will avail land to IITA land to conduct banana breeding to develop improved varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases and especially Panama disease (Fusarium) which is devastating banana in the region, and office space for use by the institute’s staff.   

It will also give the institute access to its laboratories and screen houses to conduct banana research.

IITA on its part will provide funds to remodel and refurbish the molecular and tissue culture laboratories including purchasing additional equipment. The institute will also construct a seed extractor and a banana ripening chamber at the university. All these facilities will be open to both the staff and students of the university. 

Prof Mwamila perusing agreement before signing it.

The institute further pledged to conduct training for the staff and students at the university in areas of banana breeding, tissue culture, pest and diseases, and molecular biology among others.

Speaking at the agreement signing event, Prof Mwamila said that the university aspired to become a world-class institution dedicated to the pursuit and promotion of excellence in Science Engineering and Technology (SET) and their applications for economic growth and sustainable development in the region by training and developing world class African scientists and engineers.

He therefore noted that the collaboration with an international agriculture research center such as IITA would be very beneficial towards this end. He further said IITA would support the institute to translate research results into tangible products and policy briefs to enable wealth creation and sustainable development.

On her part, Dr Hilbur who is based at the institute’s headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria, noted that there were numerous opportunities for IITA to collaborate with NM-AIST in research and in training agriculture researchers.

Group photo: IITA and NM-AIST teams at the event
‘Building capacity of researchers in Africa is a very important component of our work at  IITA. This agreement strengthens our already good collaboration with the university and we are looking forward  to even more collaboration in the future to support the development of the agriculture sector in the country and the region,’ she said. 

IITA's Drs Ylva and Baijukya touring the TC lab
Currently the two institutes are collaborating on research on banana through a project funded by the Flemish Interuniversity Council, on nitrogen fixation in beans, and on controlling aflatoxin, a deadly chemical produced by fungi found in crops such as maize and groundnut. 

The new agreement supplements a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two institutions last year in which they agreed to conduct joint research projects, share scientific information and materials including genetic material for breeding, organize exchange programs, and jointly supervise postgraduate students.

Prof  Swennen showing the banana field trials.
Hilbur was accompanied by amog others IITA Director for Eastern Africa Dr Victor Manyong based at its Eastern Africa office in Dar es Salaam, Head of IITA Arusha Office, Prof Bekunda Mateete and Prof Rony Swennen who heads IITA’s banana breeding program based at Arusha. The signing was also witnessed by key staff of the university.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

IITA-led Policy Action on Climate Change project launched in Tanzania

Ms Madete, Deputy PS, Vice-President's Office at the launch 
The four-year project, Policy Action for Climate Change Adaptation (PACCA),  led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change,Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)  was recently launched in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 

Dr Yamungu, Agric ministry deputy PS welcomed the initiative 
The project which seeks to enhance the capacity of the Tanzania Government to develop and implement policies on climate change adaptation in relation to food security is being implemented in both Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania the lead partner is the Environmental Management Unit (EMU) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives.

The project was officially launched by the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Vice President’s Office  Ms Angelina E.A. Madete at a stakeholders’ meeting that brought together different actors working in the area of climate change adaptation from the government, NGOs, and international and national research institutes.

Dr Ampaire giving an overview of the PACCA project
Ms Madete noted that the impact and vulnerabilities of climate change were undermining national and local strategies to achieve sustainable development. She observed that the country was particularly vulnerable to climate change due to its dependence on climate sensitive economic sectors such as agriculture and commended the project for tackling this global challenge that demands concrete mitigation and adaptation measures.

“We are all aware of the dangers climate change poses to our country. We have all witnessed heavy rains and floods; prolonged and severe droughts, and landslides. We need to develop and implement integrated strategies expeditiously in the country,” she said.

The project was also welcomed by the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives,  Dr Yamungu Kayandabila, who officiated the closing ceremony of the workshop. He assured all the project partners of the full support of his ministry to tackle climate change and food security issues in the country. 

The project coordinator, Dr Edida Ampaire from IITA Uganda, said the project seeks to strengthen the cooperation between the scientific community and policy actors in formulating policies on climate change.

A cross section of the participants at the event
“The aim of the project is to understand the policy making and implementation processes in the area of climate change and food security in Tanzania and Uganda, identify any gaps, and suggest ways to overcome them. It will also identify appropriate mechanisms to facilitate generation and sharing of knowledge among the different actors working in the area of climate change within and between the two countries,” she said.

During the workshop, the participants identified some of the gaps and areas that the project should address to strengthen climate change policies in Tanzania. Top of the list was the lack of a comprehensive policy on climate change in the country. Currently, issues on climate change are handled under the environmental policy of 2004 under the Vice President’s Office and in the Environmental Management Unit (EMU of the Agriculture Ministry.

Participants at the PACCA-Tanzania chapter launch
Other challenges identified were a general lack of adequate coordination of the different actors working on climate change and food security issues, lack of sharing of knowledge and information, and a general low level of awareness of the importance of climate change across various sectors from the policy makers to the general public. Another gap was linked to inadequate human and financial resources put aside for climate change. The participants also identified the root causes of these problems and made recommendations for further action.

Monday, July 21, 2014

IITA Cassava Weed Management Project hands over assets to Nigerian varsities, NRCRI

The IITA-managed project Sustainable Weed Management Technologies for Cassava Systems in Nigeria on Tuesday 15 July 2014 handed over equipment to the University of Agriculture Makurdi to help tackle the menace of weeds in cassava farms.

Among the equipment that were handed over to the university were a Toyota Hilux vehicle, office equipment, a motorcycle, and 20 sprayers among others.

Dr Moses Egbe of the University of Agriculture Makurdi (right) receiving the car key and other equipment from Prof Friday Ekeleme, Principal Investigator, IITA Cassava Weed Management project on Tuesday… in IITA Ibadan
Prof Friday Ekeleme, Principal Investigator to the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project, described the equipment as necessary tools that would facilitate the research on weeds in cassava and called on the university to carefully use and maintain them.
He said IITA was glad to have the University of Agriculture Makurdi as a partner in the project, and urged the university to redouble efforts towards ensuring that the problem of weeds in cassava is solved.

Responding, Dr Moses Egbe of the University of Agriculture Makurdi pledged the commitment of the university to ensuring judicious use of the equipment with a view to achieving the project objectives.
The University of Agriculture Makurdi is the third beneficiary of assets transfer. The other collaborating institutions that received similar sets of equipment are the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike; and the Federal university of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB).

Launched early this year, the project Sustainable Weed Management Technologies for Cassava Systems in Nigeria aims to find solutions to the labor-intensive weeding that is usually done by women and children in cassava farms with the goal of increasing productivity for at least 125,000 Nigerian farm families.
The project which is headed by Dr Alfred Dixon has the potential to serve as a template for livelihood transformation in cassava-growing areas not just in Nigeria but across Africa.
The 5-year project involves three collaborating institutions— the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike; University of Agriculture Makurdi, and the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta. Other partners include government representatives, Agricultural Development Programs (ADPs) in the states, international cassava scientists, the donor community, and the private sector.


Monday, June 16, 2014

African organizations unite to address the threat of a dangerous form of Fusarium wilt of banana

An  African  consortium of international researchers and growers, backed by policymakers in regional blocs of eastern and southern Africa has declared “war” against Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4), a highly pathogenic form of the banana Fusarium wilt, previously confined to Asia, but recently introduced to a farm in northern Mozambique.

FoC TR4 (also known as Panama disease) is caused by a fungal strain that can survive for decades in the soil, and once introduced to a country has never been previously eradicated. Production of Cavendish types of banana which dominate export markets, and some other local forms of banana, has been devastated across Asia, no thanks to Foc TR4.

Its introduction to Africa, probably by infected planting material by people, has already had a massive impact on the commercial plantation in Mozambique, and efforts are in place to contain the disease on this farm, to avert further spread and to prepare other African countries against similar incursions, says Dr Fen Beed, Plant Pathologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

To manage the disease outbreak and to prepare African countries reliant on banana for food security and income generation, a stakeholder workshop of the African Consortium for Foc TR4 (AC4TR4) was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, 23-24 April 2014, on the theme: Development of a Strategy to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa. Representatives from the following organization took part: Southern African Development Community (SADC), The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO), IITA, Bioversity International, Stellenbosch University, national research organizations, and commercial growers. 

Recommendations from the workshop have now been harmonized. A major output has been “The Stellenbosch Declaration on addressing the threat of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4) to banana production in Africa,” convened by SADC and COMESA, signed by member states and endorsing institutions.

This unique Declaration aims to combine forces to curtail the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 in Africa and in particular to achieve the following:

1. Fully develop and implement a continental strategy under the direction of an African Foc TR4 task force to contain the incursion of Foc TR4 in the Nampula   province of  Mozambique and prevent similar incursions elsewhere.

2. Provide and enhance technical capacity on the continent, and to implement and monitor phytosanitary systems, including wider use of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) and other matters concerning plant health to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa.   

3. Report and map electronically by means of a web portal any new outbreaks of Foc TR4 in African member states and communicate information on new outbreaks, successful containment, and prevention initiatives.

4. Establish recognition that Foc TR4 is a continental issue that requires coordination and collaboration between  NPPOs, RECs, ICPs, research institutions, universities, governments, and other relevant stakeholders throughout Africa by means of regular meetings and consultations.

5. Develop and apply appropriate diagnostic services, provide training, raise awareness, monitor disease spread, and screen banana germplasm for Foc TR4 resistance for deployment by vulnerable banana growers.

6.   Call  upon    African  and  international organizations to recognize and support the activities of AC4TR4 by investing in research, awareness programs, human capacity, and infrastructure development on the continent.

7. Develop a regional Pest Risk Analysis document and a set of phytosanitary measures to be enforced by member states to prevent the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 and other quarantine pests of banana.  

8. Encourage governments in Africa to formulate the necessary legislation and to implement the required activities to protect the crops of vulnerable farm owners against destructive exotic pests.

For more information, please contact: Fen Beed,, or Godwin Atser,

Monday, June 9, 2014

Impact of IITA’s maize germplasm in Africa higher than imagined

Dr Kim giving a lecture in IITA Ibadan
Improved maize germplasm developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and disseminated across Africa is improving livelihoods, and the impact on the continent is greater than earlier imagined, according to the President of the International Corn Foundation, Dr Soon Kwon Kim.
   In a seminar organized by IITA West Africa Hub today entitled: “Promotion of IITA maize streak resistant (SR) varieties and Striga tolerant or resistant (STR) varieties to ten African countries with Korean Government Support,” Dr Kim reviewed the contribution of maize streak resistant varieties and Striga tolerant or resistant varieties across the continent.
   Probably the most devastating disease that attacks maize in Africa, maize streak virus (MSV), leads to stunting, and farmers may lose 100 percent of the crop. Striga (a parasitic weed), on the other hand, attacks cereals and legumes and losses are in the neighborhood of US$8bn, endangering the livelihoods of millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
   Dr Kim who is currently also Chair-Professor, Handong Global University, Pohang, South Korea had worked at IITA at a time when MSV ravaged maize farms in sub Saharan Africa (SSA), and he was part of the team that developed the maize streak resistant varieties. The work earned IITA the first King Baudouin award. The team also made remarkable breakthroughs in developing Striga tolerant / resistant maize varieties.
   Dr Kim noted that after the development of those varieties, IITA with funds from the Korea International Cooperation Agency , and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, promoted them in Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo with the joint efforts of FAO-PASCON (Pan African Striga Control Network) and the Semi-Arid Food Grain Research and Development (SAFGRAD) project. 
But beyond these countries, several other African countries have benefited from this work.
For example, Dr Kim recalled that Kenya’s maize that was ravaged by streak virus two / three years ago, recovered after germplasm from IITA resistant to the disease was introduced.
He called on IITA to do a more in-depth study that would put into perspective the contribution of IITA improved maize varieties across the continent.
   Dr Kim also shared some thoughts on the way forward for Africa’s agriculture, stressing the need for sustainable intensification that would not abuse the natural resource endowment of the continent.
   He lauded IITA’s research approach that integrates more than one trait in the breeding objective and also called on African governments to invest in IITA.
   “If we adopt and use IITA’s approach to breeding, we will solve Africa’s problems… My suggestion has always been that IITA should be given the first consideration when it comes to funding in Africa,” he said.
Dr Kim (middle) with IITA scientists and members of the Maize Association of Nigeria
   Dr Sam Ajala commended Dr Kim for his work in helping the maize program in Africa in particular and global maize research in general, stressing that most of the high yielding maize varieties grown in the continent were built on past efforts/foundation laid by Dr Kim.
Though he left IITA 17 years ago, Dr Kim has kept touch with IITA and the Nigeria’s Maize Association.
   The President of the Maize Association of Nigeria, Pastor O.A. Adenola, praised Dr Kim’s efforts and passion for improved livelihoods of farmers. He said the support to research given to maize by the government was partly because of Dr Kim’s advocacy for more attention to maize especially in Nigeria.
Improved maize at IITA