Sunday, November 28, 2010

How can IITA improve on project management?

How can projects deliver their objectives, on time and within the allocated budget? How can we ensure donors get good value for their money? How can project managers proactively identify and arrest problems during project implementation and not spend time reacting to them? These were among the issues tackled during a session on improving project management at IITA on the last day of the planning week.

The scientists and support staff brainstormed on the various tools and processes the institute can put in place to improve the various aspect of project management, including monitoring and evaluation, time management, budget, partnership, quality of projects, among others.

According to Eric Koper, an IITA consultant on project management, the aim of the session was to focus on the solutions and not problems, the future and not the past and most importantly, what to do and not who to blame. He also gave the results of an online assessment on project management.

He said under the on-going CG reforms, the donors wanted impact, accountability, and compliance.

Paula Bramel, IITA’s Deputy Director General R4D, appreciated the suggestions offered and said the management would consider them seriously.

“We are happy with the practical, feasible, and creative ideas to improving project management that have come out of this session. The management is committed to taking them on board. We cannot implement all of them at one go, so we will start an online voting to prioritize them,” she assured them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

IITA’s R4D work changes cassava landscape in Nigeria

IITA’s research led to the rapid growth of the cassava industry as a result of promoting its processing and new value-added products which in turn led to an increase in demand for and adoption of improved varieties according to an evaluation recently carried out in Nigeria in 14 states.

Tahiru Abdoulaye, Outcome/Impact Socio-Economist, speaking on the impact monitoring said clear outputs had been established. These included an array of processing machines such as graters and millers developed to over come processing challenges; value-added products such as odourless fufu, High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) which were promoted and adopted, building the capacity of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) partners and farmers and increasing business knowledge, skills, and processing hygiene.

He said another area that had shown impact was in the adoption of improved varieties. “By 2009, there was a 70% adoption as compared to 20 years when it was only 20%. And all stakeholders have also recognized the role of IITA in the cassava sector in the country,” he said.

Challenges of evaluating impact of IITA’s R4D work

There are many challenges IITA’s socio-economists face when monitoring and evaluating the impact of IITA’s research for development (R4D) work according to Arlene Arega, IITA socio-economist, during the IITA planning week at a session on impact evaluation.

He said the time taken to realise all the benefits of an intervention takes a long time with some taking up to 16 years and many donor organizations do not have the patience to wait that long.

He suggested possible strategies the institute can use to meet donor demands and at the same time have quality assessment on the outcome and impact of its innovations on yields and income as extrapolating the future economic outcomes or setting funds aside for future evaluation.

Secondly, he said, program level evaluation gives a truer picture of the outcomes as opposed to project level. “Projects are at different stages on the R4D continuum and their impact cannot be assessed independently. It is very difficult to isolate the effects of one project when the reality is that many projects contribute to an outcome.”

He added that project evaluation was prone to ‘cherry picking’ highlighting only the successes and ignoring failures but when looking at a program assessment, one looked at both successful and failed projects.

He also said the evaluation methodologies become more complex as the products increased ranging from genetic improvement, which is the easiest to evaluate, to capacity building, post harvest and value addition to genebank. The accompanying indicators also get more complex from yield - the easiest- to income, health, food security, and environment.

He identified information and data gap as another challenge where the interventions and results along the impact pathway are not always well documented. This starts with investments, both human and financial to the outputs – the landraces, planting material, germplasm. For example when it comes to new improved varieties, usually many will have escaped long before the official release therefore keeping track of their movement and adoption impact is difficult.

Saving our forests with fertilizer use

Jim Gockowski presenting the results of a study linking
fertilizer use and deforestation in West Africa

Research carried out among Farmer Field Schools in Ghana has shown that fertilizer use would have averted the clearing of 7 million ha of Guinea forest land in West Africa for crops such as cassava, cocoa and yams in the last 20 years.

This, in turn, would have prevented some 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere valued between US$2.8 billion and US$42 billion. This could have also saved thousands of species in the region from becoming extinct. This was reported by Jim Gockowski, an IITA Agricultural Economist and one of the researchers involved in study, during one of the sessions on Natural Resources Management at R4D Week 2010.

He added that eventhough there was a steady increase in crop production with the use of fertilizers -- with  yields more than doubling when farmers used the recommended amount -- only 4% of the sampled farmers were at that optimal level of fertilizer use.

“Despite the huge loss of forest land, the growth in crop production was insignificant, with cassava increasing only by 0.2%, oil palm by 0.22%, and cocoa by 0.64%,” he said. “We have harmed the environment but we are still way behind our MDG goals because we failed to intensify our agriculture.”

The Guinea forest of West Africa is one of the IUCN's global hotspots covering 1.4% of the earth’s surface and containing 60% of all animal and plant species. It has been heavily deforested by farmer smallholders of cassava, cocoa, and oil palm.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Good progress but countries still lag in agriculture funding goal

Increased investments in agricultural research could help lessen the
drudgery of work especially among women in many African countries

The total expenditure on agriculture -- the most important sector in reducing poverty -- was still under 10% of the GDP of many countries in West Africa. This despite the committment made by the countries under the Maputo Declaration of 2003.

As of 2007, out of the 11 countries in the region with available data, only four countries had met this target: Burkina Faso (15.8%), Mali (11%), Niger (15.4%) and Sénégal (14%).

However, IITA scientists were told, there had been a steady increase in funds set aside for agriculture since then, especially after the 2008 food crisis.

This was highlighted by Mbaye Yade, sub-Coordinator for the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), while presenting the results of the first evaluation of the Comprehensive Africa Development Program (CCADP), a strategic framework to guide the development of the agricultural sector.

He also noted that there were positive changes in indicators such as a reduction in poverty incidence, poverty gap ratio, and undernourished ratio, as well as increases in per capita GDP.

ReSAKSS is a project implemented by the CGIAR centres in close collaboration with the Regional Economic Communities (RECs). It is supporting CAADP to put in place an M&E system and the Africa countries to define their agricultural programs and M& E.

Tapping opportunities and strategizing against agricultural threats

Scientists on day 2 of R4D Week 2010 brainstormed on strategies to mitigate threats to global agricultural productivity.

The Opportunities & Threats meeting, which was moderated by Victor Manyong, IITA Director, specifically sought measures that would cushion farmers from the pains caused by pests and diseases, climate change, and food price changes, among others.

Apart from climate change and pests and diseases, experts also examined the impact of global trade policies and their likely impacts on resource-poor farmers.

The group discussed the application of early warning systems and brainstormed on tools that would help in predicting threats to food production.

They said that with the growing demand for food, spiraling population, and unpredictable weather, it was time to set up machinery that would ensure the steady production of food.
The group hopes to play the role of a think-tank to policymakers, donor agencies, and farmers in the days ahead.

They also brainstormed on resource mobilization especially in line with the ongoing CGIAR reforms.

The group observed that there were many opportunities for IITA to tap by aligning most of its activities with the reforms.

Manyong commended members for their contribution and also solicited their support especially in the area of resource mobilization.

He also emphasized the opportunities in the area of developing tools for impact assessment of projects.

IITA's impact on poverty, hunger, and food security highly rated

Research and development activities of IITA are making a big difference in the fight against hunger and poverty and it was rated as having the highest impact achievement among the 15 international agriculture centres of the Consultative group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Victor Manyong, IITA’s R4D Director for eastern and central Africa, said in 2009 the institute scored the highest among all the CGIAR centres on impact assessment and had the best impact paper that effectively demonstrates a centre’s impact on the poor or food insecure people and to the environment and rated for quality and rigor.

Commending the scientists for the good work during a mini symposium looking at improving monitoring and evaluation at IITA on the third day of the R4D Planning week, Manyong stressed that the institute should continue to strengthen its impact evaluation guided by three principles: accountability, learning, and rigor.

“Monitoring and evaluation should be incorporated in the research activities at the start of all projects and not at the end and should be seen as more than a donor requirement,” he said.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CBSD control strategy in the region

West Africa, Peter Kulakov, IITA head of cassava breeding: “The institute and its partners are working on measures to prepare in the event the disease spreads to the region. Extensive breeding is underway that includes hybridization of local varieties with those from eastern Africa that have been known to have resistance.”

Southern Africa, Pheneas Ntwaruhunga, SARRNET coordinator: “In South African countries, the disease was reported a long time ago in both Mozambique and Malawi. In my visits around Malawi I have seen the disease is increasing and I am particularly concerned as it is now attacking the main variety that the farmers are growing. However, breeding for resistant varieties is underway incorporating germplasm from varieties showing resistance from neighbouring countries to transfer resistance or tolerance to the local varieties.”

“In Mozambique, the NARS had released four varieties which were tolerant to the disease and the pressure was now greatly reduced. In Angola and Zambia so far there have been no confirmed cases of CBSD.”

R4D Planning week: Halting spread of cassava rot disease in Africa

The Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is one of the greatest threats to production of cassava which is an important source of food and income for millions of resource poor farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

IITA scientists working on various aspects of controlling the disease from breeding for varieties with resistance both conventionally and marker-assisted, to tracking the spread and disease vector, met to develop a strategy to intensify, in a coordinated way, their efforts to save the crop on the second day of the IIA planning week.

Dr James Legg, an IITA virologist told the group it was now irrefutably proven that the whitefly was the vector transmitting the cassava brown streak virus. However, he said, various studies were still underway to understand exactly how the transmission takes place.

Giving an update of conventional breeding efforts to develop varieties with resistant to the viral disease, Edward Kanju, IITA cassava breeder said there were over 30 promising genotypes for lowland areas in Tanzania at various stages. Some were under on-farm trials while otehrs showing great tolerance - they show leaf symptoms but no necrosis on the roots – were poised for official release very soon.

He said a breeding program started in 2004 in Uganda has developed three tolerant clones that have shown leaf symptoms but with no damages to the roots. They were the best options for the mid-altitude areas and there was a huge demand for them in the region.

Morag Ferguson, IITA molecular Biotechnologists, said a project started five years ago with the national program in Tanzania had identified suitable markers associated with the CBSD. She said though they had not been validated, which would take another three years, they could still be used to assit breeders especially as the situation was becoming more severe.

Since the CBSD was mostly spread by infected cutting materials, halting the movement of infected planting material should halt the disease spread. However, Lava Kumar, IITA virologist said this was not easy for CBSD as the symptoms on the leaves are not so clear.

He said this calls for extra caution when selecting planting material for multiplication to avoid spreading the disease further. Furthermore he said good diagnostic tools were available which needed to be used carefully and the testing carried out several times.

He added for countries where the disease was not present, there was a great need to create awareness on the disease, symptoms and control measures to arrest the situation in time.

Sustainable seed systems for roots and tuber crops

Sustainable seeds systems in the vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs) such as banana and plantain and root crops including cassava and yam are not well developed as farmers mostly tend to reuse their planting material and the private sector had not been keen to get involved.

This was one of the key issues scientists under the roots and tubers program discussed on day2 of R4D Week in a session led by Robert Asieudu, IITA R4D Director in charge of the program.

Pheneas Ntwaruhunga, coordinator of the Southern Africa Root Crops Research Network (SARRNET) that is hosted and implemented by IITA, started off the discussions by briefing on the outcome of a workshop on seed systems organized under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He said the work defined the starting point of a sustainable seed system as the development of high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties where breeding agencies such as IITA play a critical role. It must be followed by an efficient multiplication and distribution systems to ensure that the beneficiaries get the seeds.

He said other issues included certification of the seeds, affordability, and a good coordination mechanism for all aspects of the seed systems.

Antonio Lopez-Montes, IITA yam breeder, called for caution when establishing seed systems, saying they must be farmer-driven and not imposed. "When there is a market demand for farmers' produce, they will realize the value of investing in increasing production by acquiring among others high-yielding varieties."

He also said the farmers can be trained on how to use part of their field to grow seeds and that they should be made aware that seed production is a profitable business.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

IITA's challenges for Banana and Plantain program

Banana and plantains, important food and income crops for millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, are threatened by a growing list of diseases and pests sweeping across the region that IITA scientist are searching for their immediate and long term sustainable control solutions.
On the second day of IITA’s 2010 planning week, scientists working on the two crops in various aspects updated each other on their current activates and brainstormed towards a focused strategy to coordinate their efforts in a session led by Jim Lorenzen, Banana Breeder and Program lead.

On Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV), one of the top priority disease, Lava Kumar, IITA virologist told the group the institute had good baseline data on the disease including how and where it was spreading. And although there were no known sources of resistance to the disease, he said, in Cameroon trials had began to identify varieties that are tolerant to the disease, still giving acceptable yields even when infected.

He said they had started a campaign in Cameroon where the disease was now present as farmers moved planting material from Gabon where it is entrenched.

Fen Beed, a plant pathologist, said a lot had been done on BXW, good diagnostics for the virus using DNA capture were in place, and there was an ongoing regional survey in seven countries in partnership with national research and regulatory officials: Rwanda, DRC, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zambia.

He said, however, that there was still a lot to do as it was still spreading through the region. For instance in Uganda there has been a resurgence of the disease despite the government having launched one of the most effective control programs.

"It's not clear whether it's because the people have stopped putting in place the appropriate measures or the disease is more complex than we thought," he said.

Irie Bi Vroh stressed the difficulty of breeding plantain which are sterile and unbreedable. He said in West Africa the research focused on boosting their fertility and enlarging the germplasm base with material from colleagues around the world.

Leena Tripathi, IITA Biotechnologist, updated the group on the progress in transforming the two crops to develop varieties resistant to the major diseases. She said there were transgenic lines resistant to BXW under confined field trials in Uganda and there were also plans for testing in other countries such as Kenya.

Danny Coyne, IITA nematologist, emphasized the complexity of controlling nematodes, a major threat to banana and plantain as there were different species involved. The institute is still focusing on an integrated control including ensuring clean planting material by boiling suckers in hot water and breeding for resistant varieties as a long- term solution. "Boiling in water is simple, practical, and fast. We need simple campaigns to create awareness among the farmers."

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 R4D Week: The benefits of the ‘charging services’ model for IITA

The ‘charging for services’ model being used by IITA presents an opportunity to help improve the quality of services and free more funds for research, Lakshmi Menon, IITA DDG (Support) has said.

The model, which is principally a cost recovery framework, is part of the strategy adopted by IITA management to cushion the impact of the reforms in the CGIAR system.

Other measures adopted by IITA included the use of tools to closely monitor expenditures and increased efficiency in service delivery.

Menon said the approach had freed up resources for research, making more funds available for R4D.

Some of the impacts of the institutional reforms include the drop in power consumption in IITA-Ibadan using energy-saving devices and the enhanced Internet connectivity in East/West Africa due to laying of fiber optics.

Menon said, “Prices have dropped from an average $6000 per megabyte to $1000 per megabyte.”

Overall, the internal reforms are gradually putting the support units in a better position with some units now becoming financially sound.

Menon called for scientists’ understanding on the new internal charges placed on services, stressing that savings made are for the overall benefit of the institute with some funds being transferred to R4D and also for maintaining other research stations.

2010 R4D Week: Our financial situation is healthy, says Chief Financial Officer

The institution is in a healthy and stable financial condition even in the face of the looming CGIAR reforms and the funding uncertainties accompanying it, IITA’s Chief Financial Officer, Shalewa Sholola, assured scientists in his presentation on the first day of the Planning week. He said in the 2009 financial year, IITA’s books were well balanced.

He told them that in 2011, which was going to be a transition year as many of the CRPs are not yet approved, the institute’s management was committed to ensuring that there would be minimal undue shocks and disruptions to their research activities and operations even the Institute braced itself to meet the excellent opportunities and challenges posed by the changes.

“However, this calls for us to operate more efficiently, to be more prudent by prioritizing our activities, and exploring ways to accomplish activities at minimal costs. We need to eliminate wastage by implementing best action plans and stringently use the precious unrestricted funds,” he said.

He called upon scientists to use well the available tools and systems on project management and budget monitoring, and regularly suggest ways to improve them. He assured them that the management was going to invest in new and existing tools and systems for better financial management and build the capacity of staff to use them.

He said the management team would also work to attract more restricted funds which will contribute to overhead costs and cost recovery and reduce any funding gaps.

He explained that under the new reforms, the funding would be based on performance contracts and agreements as well as multi-donor and multi-year funding, and unrestricted funding would cease. He said there were three windows of funding opportunities and four sources of funding for IITA.

“There will be funds allocated by the council, by the fund donors to the CRPs, and fund donors as institutional support which will be transitional for 2-3 years or so and lastly, the bilateral fund provided outside the funds framework to finance projects or activities under the CRP.

2010 R4D Week: The good and the not-so-good in the on-going reforms for IITA’s R4D

The ongoing reforms at the CGIAR, though presenting huge challenges, are also offering immense opportunities for our research-for-development (R4D) activities that we should use 2011 to prepare and gear up for, Paula Bramel, IITA’s Deputy Director General R4D told the scientists on the first day of IITA’s R4D Week.

She said that under the reforms, the partnerships will become complex and more formalized. “We will be operating in broad partnerships and multicenter global teams. There will be a lot of competition for funding and conflict resolution will be key to make them work,” she said.

She said the way the projects will be run, and monitored and evaluated will also change.

“In the past the focus was mainly on the science but now the success criteria will be on outcomes, outputs, and impacts. We will therefore need to invest in new tools and processes to manage our projects and new performance indicators to determine our impact,” she said. “We also need to formalize our monitoring and evaluation, both external and internal.”

The institute will also have to manage the different roles it will play under the CRPs, from being a lead role in one CRP and a primary partner in others to playing small roles in areas that are of priority.

On the other hand, there are lots of opportunities up for grabs. She said IITA will now have to operate globally. “We will finally get our research and technologies to other continents. This will lead to greater impact and visibility for our work,” she said. “

“There will be new research areas that we have previously not been involved in and new and diverse partnerships especially with the private sector,” she said. “And though initially there are funding uncertainties, in the long run, there will be more funds for the centers and new research areas.”

She said 2011 would be a transition year as many of the CRPs would still not be funded and the institute will invest in prioritizing areas to focus on, in strengthening its reporting, learning from the past, resource mobilization and new areas such as intellectual property and gender mainstreaming issues to prepare to adapt to the changes.

2010 R4D Week: Hartmann calls for better use of resources

IITA Director General Hartman on Monday called on staff to work smarter, and be more prudent in the use of financial and material resources at their disposal. This is against the background of the global economic crises and the CGIAR reforms which are seeking to dramatically change the funding of centers.

Addressing staff at the 2010 Research-for-Development Week (R4D Week) in Ibadan, Hartmann emphasized the need for discipline in managing inventories and in requisitioning new items.

According to him, one big area to extract savings is by having greater discipline in purchases.

“Please think one, two or three times before you order something,” he said.

He invited scientists to make a commitment to preserve the unrestricted funds in the next six months. The proposal elicited a positive response from the attendees, signifying endorsement from the staff.

Commenting on the CGIAR reforms, Hartmann said it presented excellent opportunities to IITA. He explained that “the future looks positive,” but added, “we must work to come out stronger and leaner by better managing our resources.”

He commended the CGIAR for the creation of the Fund and the consortium’s commitment to fund the genebank, saying that it was a decision in the right direction.

Earlier, Hartmann hinted on the new IITA strategy which would take effect starting January 2011. The 10-year strategy is a product of over three years of work by the Board of Trustees that highlights how the institute will operate in the next 10 years.

Though the goals of the strategies are fixed, Hartmann said the implementation of the strategy would be flexible.

The DG also used the occasion to introduce Dr. Trine Hvoslef-Eide, from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, who joined the IITA board recently.

He also acknowledged the presence of Jennie Quinn from Irish Aid, Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IITA marks 2010 Open Day with tree planting to save biodiversity

Members of staff of IITA marked the 2010 Open Day with the planting of indigenous trees in Ibadan to help mitigate the effects of climate change and losses in biodiversity.

The planting of trees comes at a time when Nigeria’s deforestation rate has reached an alarming rate of 3.5% per year, translating to a loss of 350,000–400,000 hectares of forest per year. In 1976, Nigeria had 23 million ha of forest; today only 9.6 million ha remain—less than 10% of Nigeria’s total land area!!

Dr. John Peacock, who is manager of the IITA - Leventis Foundation Project, says the planting of trees is part of a new initiative to restore rainforests in Nigeria. IITA is also contributing to the important UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiative in Nigeria.

Through the IITA-Leventis Project, the team, particularly Olukunle Olasupo and Deni Bown, have raised over 15,000 seedlings of 33 different species since February 2010 in preparation for planting next year, with at least as many again hoped for during the coming dry season when most tree species produce seeds.

“We would like every family, represented by staff members in IITA, to plant an indigenous tree next year as part of IITA’s activities to increase the forest area,” Peacock added.

Earlier this year, IITA and partners made efforts to raise awareness of the need to preserve biodiversity—a term that describes the variety of living organisms—especially in forests that are increasingly becoming lost or threatened. For example, statistics indicate that Nigeria’s Milicia excelsa (iroko) has become endangered, with about $100 m worth of iroko timber illegally poached from remaining forests last year. “The unfortunate thing is that these very valuable trees are not being replaced,” Peacock noted.

Over the years IITA has championed efforts not only to increase crop productivity but also the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources including water and forest. Today, the 1000 ha at IITA Ibadan campus is taken up by research, administration, and residential buildings, lakes and experimental plots, and a further 350 ha. comprises valuable secondary forest. This forest can be compared to an oasis in the desert and is dominated by a canopy that includes fine specimens of Milicia excelsa (iroko), Ceiba pentandra (silk cotton tree), Celtis zenkeri (ita-gidi), Terminalia (afara), and Antiaris toxicaria var. africana (akiro).
In 1979, an arboretum was established comprising 152 different tree species, 81 of which are indigenous. Peacock says the IITA-Leventis Project plans to increase the forest area and the IITA arboretum with the planting of more indigenous trees.

Another area of importance to the project is education, particularly of school children, says Deni Bown, project coordinator and medicinal plant expert with the IITA-Leventis Project. “In this regard we are educating the young on the importance of afforestation and conservation,” she said.
Peacock and his team are hopeful that through reforestation and education the rate of deforestation in Nigeria will be significantly reduced.

Monday, November 8, 2010

IITA holds 2010 Open Day amid pomp and fanfare

It was a memorable day on 6 November 2010 (Saturday) at the IITA Open Day celebration as members of staff and their family members gathered together for a day of festivities. The attendees were gorgeously dressed; some in their traditional attires, others in formal wears. Flashes of light pervaded the Conference Center as cameras clicked to capture the memorable events and people. The events took off with tree planting which involved selected members of staff at the East bank of the IITA Lake, after which members of staff gradually arrived and made their way to the Conference Center. There were various exhibitions made by the different units such as the IITA Bioscience Center, Genetic Resources Center, Virology Unit, Banana and Plantain Unit, and the Leventis Project. A documentary on IITA programs featured IITA’s impact. Children played and freely ran around while their parents chatted, laughed and took pictures. During this period also, staff members showed their family members around their offices.At the Sports Center, children had their own space at the basketball court where they danced and played. One of the highlights of the event was the raffle draw where lucky staff members were randomly selected and given prizes donated by the management and units of IITA. Some of the prizes won included; umbrellas, wall clocks, 2kg Blackforest cake, tickets to the IITA Pizza Night, lunch at the International House, steam iron, glass stand, DVD player, dinner set, and a refrigerator. The dance competition between the children, staff and dependents elicited more prize-giving and added to the excitement of the day. The best dressed individuals and couple also carted away prizes. The program was rounded off by Deputy Director-General (Support), Dr. Lakshmi Menon who gave the closing remarks and vote of thanks. The star prize of a 26 inches LCD was won by Mr. Paul Sunday Eshi who was on duty but was represented by a colleague, while the presentation was made by Mr. Omosalewa Solola of the Finance unit. Members of staff who were in attendance commended the efforts of the management and planning committee and attested to the fact that this year’s IITA Open Day was well planned and executed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unleashing the power of Cassava to fight hunger and poverty in Malawi

Unleashing the power of the Cassava in Africa, a project funded by USAID and implemented by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in seven countries in East, central and Western Africa, Malawi included is changing the image of the crop and creating a new breed of rural entrepreneurs who are improving their lives and those of surrounding farmers by providing employment and a market for their cassava.

El-Niño sets man on a new cassava path
Meet Augustine Phiri, a farmer from Lilongwe, Malawi, who thanks to an El-Nino warning, changed his attention from maize and tobacco to cassava opening a world of opportunities that would not have been possible with the former crops. In his MbwadiMbwadi gardens in Lilongwe, where he also has a cassava processing plant donated by the Kellogg foundation, the crop takes up the giant share of the land.

Mr Phiri is one of the 22 processors benefiting from the Unleashing the Power of the Cassava in Africa (UPoCA) project of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that is working to promote cassava as a food security and income-earner among vulnerable communities in Africa. It is working to build the capacity of farmers and processors such as Phiri to grow and process the versatile drought resistant crop.

Under UPoCA, Mr Phiri has been trained on production of high quality cassava flour and other products and recipes using the flour such as donuts, cakes, cookies, chin chins, tit bits and gari, a fermented and cooked cassava flour that is very popular in West Africa; on packaging and marketing, and quality and safety management issues.

After attending the quality and safety management training held in August 2010, he has since installed taps for washing hands all over the centre, all his permanent staff wear uniform and have medical certificates to show they are fit to handle human food.

Mr Phiri has been processing and selling high quality fermented cassava flour, Kondowole, for making nsima, and unfermented high quality flour that is among others used for baking as a substitute for wheat either on its own or mixed with the wheat flour. He sells to local shops and supermarkets and neighbours who come to buy at his home. After the trainings, he has added a new product, gari, and he already has an order of 250 kgs per month from a Nigerian restaurant in Lilongwe.

Mr Phiri says he discovered cassava in 1997 when his wife learnt about the looming el-Niño that would result in extreme climactic conditions at a workshop. They were encouraged to grow cassava which would perform relatively well compared to most crops.

“I did not know much about growing cassava. However, I visited the government’s Chitedze research station where I got more information and was given 30 bundles of planting stems,’ he said.

In 2003, the enterprising farmer was selected as a model farmer under Initiative for Development and Equity in Africa (IDEA) of the Rockefeller foundation promoting cassava commercialization. He took part in a 14-day tour to Tanzania to learn from IITA’s cassava processing sites around Dar es Salaam.

UPoCA in addition to the trainings has donated a grater and a presser, and is also supporting him to tackle some of the bottle necks he is experiencing in his cassava processing.

Processing is hampered during rainy season when drying, an important part of the process, is nearly impossible. He also has to travel long distances to mill his dried cassava chips into flour. UPoCA is looking into appropriate drying technologies such as solar or steam dryers. It will also donate a hammer mill to save him the long trips.

Phiri would like the Malawi people to change their mind set towards cassava: “To the Malawian, food is maize. They only reach out for cassava in times of famine when maize is not available. It is a fire extinguisher but is it not better and less costly to prevent the fire in the first place?’ he asked.

First starch factory in Malawi is revived
Another beneficiary of UPoCA is Mr Elimasi Masimbe, 54, owner of the first ever starch fac¬tory in Malawi that was using cassava as a raw material. However, he had closed shop after only three months in operation as he failed to secure markets from the targeted packaging companies. A series of eye-opening trainings and refurbishment of the factory and equipment by the project has put him back in business.

Today, the factory is a hive of activity processing starch and using the leftovers to make high quality flour, fer¬mented and unfermented and even cooking briquettes.
Alex Nthonyiwa, a project officer with UPoCA says Mr Masimbe, owner of Masimbe investments, was trained on production of high quality cassava flour and other products from cassava, packaging, and marketing and on quality and safety management.

“We also helped him to improve the quality of the starch by renovating the factory and the equipment. We changed the sieves and grater blades which were made of mild steel to aluminium coated ones which do not rust,” he said.

The father of five says the training opened his eyes on other products he can process from cassava and gave him the push to revive his factory. "I did not know we could make cassava flour because in my commu¬nity we only boil it and take it for breakfast or as a snack. Now, I make the fermented flour from the leftovers from starch processing and from all the wastes, make briquettes for cooking,” he said

He is selling high quality unfermented and fermented flours to his neighbours and supplies Kapani Enterprises Ltd, a meat processing factory in Lilongwe, 200 kgs of starch in a month. However, his fac¬tory has a much higher capacity and he is actively looking for more markets.

James Chingangi, deputy production manager at Kapani Enterprises Ltd, says the company usually imported its starch from South Africa but a shortage had forced them to explore local options and they had discovered the cassava starch making factory in Lilongwe.

“First we requested for samples which at first were a bit sandy. But when we pointed this out to them, they refined their processing and now it is good. Every time we run out of starch, we run to them and they never fail us,’ he said.

He says the starch from the factory, which is used for making cold meat and sausages, was reasonably priced and readily available unlike the one coming in from South Africa and they were looking at slowly weaning off the imported one.

Mr Masimbe who started growing cassava on his own initiative in 2000 says he caught the attention of Malawi Enterprise Development Institute (MEDI) that had received funds from Kellogg Foundation to promote cassava commercialization. They were trained on how grow cassava and get good yields and were also given high-yielding varie¬ties, Sauti (a bitter variety) and Manyokola (a sweet variety). He was also given the starch factory to run and purchase cassava from surrounding farmers.

“I was given the factory with different processing machines and a borehole to ensure constant water supply. I started making starch in 2008 targeting the Packaging Industry of Malawi (PIM). However, when I took a sample of the starch, they said it had too much iron. And after 3 months, we stopped processing and closed the factory.”

Mr Nthonyiwa says this was the first starch factory in Malawi and has a lot of potential. “PIM currently imports its starch. If we can get to the bottom of the iron issue then they would not import anymore,” he said

The USAID funded project started in 2008 in response to the food crisis in Africa aims to promote cassava as a food security and income earner making it an engine for economic growth, especially in the rural areas says Dr. Braima James, UPoCA project manager.

“It focuses on the cassava because of its ability to create low and steady prices for basic food products. The project aims to empower farmers and their organizations to provide an adequate supply of cassava products at economically affordable prices,” he said. “It also aims at diversifying cassava uses by stimulating the production of value added cassava based food and industrial products

He says the strategy includes developing and availing to farmers improved cassava varieties and equipping them and agro-processors with the knowledge and skills to reduce postharvest losses. A range of user friendly improved post harvest technologies developed by IITA and national partners have been disseminated for the production of starch, dried chips, high quality cassava flour and other products, thereby adding value to the crop. The processed products have a longer shelf-life.

In Malawi, says Ted Nyekanyeka, the country project officer, the project hopes to distribute planting material to 1,500 farmers. So far the project has distributed 329,750 planting stems to over a thousand farmers dur¬ing the last growing season including orphan care homes, AIDS support and women groups. This growing season, the project expects to support even more from its 40 ha of seed farm expected to provide planting material for 500 ha of land.

The project is working in Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Nigeria Mozambique, Democratic of Congo and Sierra Leone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Simple science-based solutions can reduce hunger and poverty

Last Saturday, October 16 was the United Nation’s World Food Day. A day set aside for us all to reflect on the fate of the 950 million women and children worldwide that, according to UN statistics, go to sleep hungry.

The vast majority of the hungry, obviously are the world’s poor. Rarely would anyone with money in their pockets lack food. Unfortunately, majority of the world’s poor and hungry live in Africa.

Why has Africa not able to meet its food needs despite years of investing in the agricultural sector? There are as many reasons as there are answers and solutions. However, there are a few areas I would like to highlight that would make a big difference if they received adequate attention.

Post harvest loss - the big hole that food meant for the hungry falls into - is top of my list. Farm produce rotting in the fields is a very common scenario in Africa. Due to poor infrastructure, small-holder farmers are unable to get them to the market or in times of abundance, they flood the market, prices drop drastically and discouraged farmers let them rot. The good harvest becomes a curse.

Early in the year, we saw farmers in Kenya pouring their milk when the production outweighed the capacity of the industry to absorb it. This must have been a very painful exercise for them – it was literary pouring much-needed money down the drain.

Similarly in Tanzania, we are just coming out of the oranges season. If you travel in the orange-growing areas, the fruits are rotting in the farms and in the markets. On the other hand in the supermarkets, a box of orange juice, most probably imported, fetches a tidy sum.

Why didn’t the Kenyan farmers make cheese and yoghurt? Why aren’t their Tanzanian counterparts making juices and jams? Is it lack of capital, knowledge, processing equipment, confidence by the farmers or even a pioneer to set an example for the farmers? It is a combination of all these and others.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is working with small-holder farmers to promote simple technologies of processing crops into valuable and marketable products to avoid such post-harvest losses and improve their income.

The institute has had immense success in commercializing cassava by promoting the production of high quality cassava flour and starch. The flour has a wide range of uses at home and in the bakery industries to make cakes, bread, biscuits and other products either on its own or mixed with wheat flour. The starch has diverse uses in the brewery, pharmaceutical, textile, paper, plywood and food industries.

The old crop of Africa is hardy and performs relatively well in drought conditions and with little inputs such as fertilizer.

By using the cassava alternatives, many African countries would save millions of US Dollars by reducing importation of wheat and starch and, at the same time create income for many in the value chain: farmers, transporters, machine fabricators and small scale processor. It would also create employment in the rural areas reducing rural to urban migration.

IITA is using the same approach for soybean, banana and cowpea and the same can be extended to many other crops grown by African farmers.

The farmers can also avoid the glut in the market by changing the timing of their harvest to coincide with low season when the demand and prices are high.

A study by IITA in Uganda - the second largest producer and consumer of bananas in the world - showed that with better timing, farmers can harvest their banana ‘off season’ when prices are better avoiding the huge price fluctuations and post-harvest losses experienced during high production season.

According to the research, though the bunches harvested off-season were relatively lighter by 25% compared to those harvested in peak season, their price was up to 50% higher. Thus they were more profitable.

To fight hunger and its evil twin sister, poverty, efforts to increase Africa’s small-holder farmers production sustainably and in ways that also put money in their pockets must be redoubled. The technologies that enable them to do this must be made available to them with all the necessary support to implement them.

Under this year's theme, United Against Hunger, I salute the men and women working tirelessly to end hunger. Let the struggle continue because it is possible!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Group riding high, thanks to an old friend, cassava

“With the money I made from the sale of my cassava roots and stem (as planting material) and the dividends I received from the group, I have now finished constructing a video den, purchased a TV and a DVD player, and installed a solar system to power them. I will be charging the villagers a small fee to watch news and movies,” Peter Mtoi, 61 year old shows us his latest acquisition with pride.

By his side, his wife, Mary Mtoi, 51, adds that they have also purchased a commercial charcoal oven to bake bread and cakes made of mixed cassava and wheat flour to sell to the village and nearby shopping centre.

The Mtois living in Tongwe village in Bagamoyo District, Pwani region are members of a local cassava farmers group, Wambato (Wakulima wa mhogo Bagamoyo Tongwe) which has been processing cassava into flour thereby getting more income as compared to the sale of fresh roots.

Ten years ago, things were very different and they had almost given up growing cassava following its devastation by the cassava brown streak (CBSD) which causes a dry rot in the tubers rendering them useless – they are not edible nor can they be milled into flour. All their local varieties were susceptible to the rot disease and they were desperate.

The Roots and Tuber programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Cooperatives introduced and tested together with the farmers six varieties growing elsewhere that had shown good levels of resistance to the disease.

‘Out of the six varieties they brought us for testing, we found Kiroba to the best. It was high yielding, resistant to the disease and sweet,’ Mtoi said.

They were also trained on good agronomical practices to get maximum yield such as when and how to plant, spacing and selection of good planting material. Soon the group was back to the cassava growing business.

Cassava cassava everywhere

However, following the rapid adoption of Kiroba and better farming practices, there was now more cassava than the markets could absorb, prices plummeted and the farmers were in despair again.

The Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) came to their rescue and constructed a processing centre equipped with simple machines to process cassava into flour which has a longer shelf life and fetches more money than the highly perishable fresh cassava roots which start to rot three days after harvesting. To show its commitment, the group purchased the bricks and provide labour for the construction.

From 2009, the group has been receiving support from the Unleashing the Power of the Cassava in Africa (UPOCA) of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in tackling emerging challenges to take their production to a higher level.

In 2009 the project trained Tabu Maghembe, the government extension officer working with the group and selected representatives on production of high quality cassava flour and new products and recipes using the flour; quality and safety management, and labelling, packaging and marketing.

The group warmly welcomed and implemented all the new ideas received on their own costs. It has since constructed a toilet at the centre, raised the racks for drying the cassava to avoid contamination by dust or domestic animals, and started using plastic bags to spread the cassava chips to dry.

‘As you can see we have notices for everyone to wash their hands before touching anything as per the hygiene quality and standards training, ‘Maghembe said. “We are working towards getting our flour certified by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards.”

A credit scheme

The group has a bank account and pays dividends to its members twice a year from some of the profits made. It also buys their cassava for processing and pays them a daily wage for their labour during processing. The neighbouring community is also benefiting from a ready and better priced market for their cassava.

It also acts as a saving and credit society for both members and surrounding farmers who borrow money for emergencies against the cassava in the field. Once they harvest it, they sell it to the group to repay the loan with a small interest.

One challenge for the group is transporting their dried cassava chips over long distances for milling. The mills are also not exclusive for cassava products and the flour is sometimes contaminated with maize and other grains flour. John Msemo, UPOCA country Mananger says the project will purchase a milling machine for the group and they construct the building to house it.

For the group, this is just but the begining:‘We are ready to continue to grow from strength to strength. We started from the farm and now we are processing and selling to supermarkets in big towns. We are now eyeing markets outside the country,’ said Maghembe.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Return of the cassava: New ways of making popular foods using old crop take village by storm

Cassava, an old neglected crop that is often remembered when all other crops fail, has gained new recognition and prominence among the residence of Tongwe village in Tanga region, Tanzania, who have discovered new ways of utilizing the crop that is adding new and more nutritious twists to their local menu.

The farmers are also earning a higher income from processing the crop into high quality cassava flour (HQCF), a versatile flour developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that can be used for baking and making confectionaries as a substitute for wheat.

They are mixing cassava and wheat flours to make popular foods such as cakes, chapati (round flat fried bread), and mandazi (small squarish donuts) that were previously made with wheat flour only. This has made them more affordable for the villagers.

Christine George, 29, makes chapati which she sells to school children and the local community. She says mixing cassava and wheat flour has increased her profit margin. The married mother of one who is also a cassava famer mixes the two in the ratio of one to three – one cup of wheat flour to three cups of the high quality cassava flour. She also adds eggs and margarine to make them tastier and more nutritious.

Mary Lipande, 59, also sells snacks to school children made from a mixture of cassava and wheat flour. She says with the money she is making she is able to help her husband meet the needs of the family including school fees for their two children in secondary school, clothing, adequate shelter and health care.

“Today, I do not wait for my husband to do everything. He only contributes,’ she says laughing.

They are both members of Wambato farmers group (Wakulima wa Mhogo Bagamoyo Tongwe ‘Cassava Farmers of Bagamoyo Tongwe’) that is involved in growing and processing cassava. The group has been a beneficiary of initiatives by the national roots and tuber research programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Sokoine University of Agriculture and IITA’s Unleashing the Power of the Cassava in Africa (UPOCA), all in Tanzania.

According to Tabu Maghembe, the extension officer from the Ministry of Agriculture who trained Christine, Mary and their fellow group members on production of various products and recipes using the high quality cassava flour, people in the village now prefer the chapati and mandazi made from the composite flour which are tastier and more nutritious.

In 2009, under UPOCA, Maghembe was trained on the production of the high quality cassava flour and on products and recipes for the flour. A follow up training focussed on quality control and safety issues and on packaging and marketing. She faithfully passed on all the new knowledge to the group.

‘We were also trained how to make the cassava products more nutritious by adding soybean flour to provide protein. However, in Tongwa village, since we do not have the soybean, we substitute with eggs, milk and dried fish,” she said.

The group has a well equipped cassava processing centre constructed by Sokoine University of Agriculture in 2007 in response to the groups cry for lack of markets for their cassava. This in turn was a result of the rapid adoption of new high yielding cassava varieties introduced by the roots and tubers programme of the ministry of Agriculture as all the local varieties were under attack by the deadly cassava brown streak disease (CBSD).

According to John Msemo, the country manager for the UPOCA project in Tanzania, they were impressed by the group’s hard work and initiative and decided to continue to build their capacity from where the ministry and the university had left.

He says he is also happy with the way the group members have put into practice everything they have learnt. For instance, the group was now drying the grated cassava on raised racks and spread on polythene bags where as before they were drying them on the ground spread on palm mats risking contamination from dust and domestic animals.

The result today is a group whose members are enjoying a greatly improved standard of living from the good income made from the sale of high quality cassava flour to supermarkets and shops in Morogoro and Dar es Salaam as well as around the village.

Maghembe says before the trainings, the group was processing 500kgs of fresh cassava roots per month. But now as a result of improvement in the flour quality, better packaging, and marketing skills learnt, they are processing five to six tonnes per month and selling at 800 Tshs/kg (0.5USD).

UPoCA project funded by USAID is in response to the 2008 food crisis in Africa and promotes cassava as an engine for rural economic growth and improving livelihoods with spill over benefits to urban populations. It is being implemented in seven countries in Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Voices from 5th World Cowpea Research Conference

The Fifth World Cowpea Research Conference ended last week in Saly, Senegal,
with more than 140 scientists discussing the state of the art in cowpea research.
Below are excerpts of interviews with scientists at the conference, which IITA
organized with the Institut Senegalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), Dry Grain
Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program, and Purdue University.
For more information about the conference, please go to:

Today, we have a lot of scientific tools that give us results that we would never have dreamed of … Pure science is fine but it becomes more important when applied in the field.—Lakshmi Menon, IITA

This conference is important because we are talking about food security in Africa. We are taking stock, addressing challenges facing cowpea, and charting a way forward because we are in research not just for the sake of it but how it can benefit the farmers.—Jacob Mignouna, AATF

The molecular tools being developed in advanced labs should be put into the hands of African scientists and breeders…I would hope that people go home with a lot of optimism on the future of the work that is being discussed.— Edwin Southern, Kirkhouse Trust

A diet has to be diverse. Our bodies don’t make protein, so we need to eat protein and plants (legumes) are the primary sources of protein. In developed countries, meat is preferred but the poor cannot afford it. So a large percentage of the world depends on pulses for their protein. The rich also need pulses because they promote health.
Cowpea is a neglected crop. I don’t know the reason for that. It is an unknown crop and donors do not appreciate the value of cowpea in the diets of millions of people in Africa, Asia, and South America.
We hope that the proceedings from this conference will help change donor perception about cowpea. More importantly, this conference provides the opportunity for people to interact and talk to each other and to prioritize which technology is important for the benefit of our farmers. – Irv Widders, CRSP

There is progress in cowpea research towards improving productivity, resistance to pest and diseases, and post harvest handling… So, cowpea has a big role to play in agricultural development not only in West and Central Africa but also in other parts of the world. Cowpea is a profitable crop, it is good for food security, and has the positive benefit of improving soil quality. —J. Lowenberg-DeBoer, Purdue University

On Bt cowpea: The result of the confined trial of Bt cowpea in northern Nigeria indicated that the gene which was used in transforming IT86D-1010 is very efficient against the insect pest. We discovered that the transgenic material did not sustain any damage on their pods as opposed to serious damage on untransformed material. This means increase in productivity with accompanying increase in the incomes of local farmers in the future when the variety will be adopted. Depending on the level of infestation, this could mean an increase of between 25 and 40% grain yield.
The issue of transgenics should not be viewed in isolation.
Transgenic crops have been consumed in other parts of the world and the people consuming these crops are human beings like us. The gene in question has been used in maize and other crops and has been consumed with no adverse reactions on humans or the environment, so we should not be an exception.—Mohammed Ishiyaku, Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria

Monday, October 4, 2010

Scientists create a banana Wiki

Soon all information on banana in Africa including the banana growing areas, yield, socio-economic status of the farmers and spread of pests and diseases will be available at the click of a mouse thanks to a recently launched website ( that anybody working on the crop can contribute to.
The website, developed by Philippe Rieffel a student of Science in applied Geography at the University of Muenster, Germany under supervision of scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), hopes to make a wide range of reliable spatial information on banana readily available to researchers, policy makers and development workers.
According to Hein Bouwmeester, a GIS specialist with IITA, currently the website is focusing on banana-growing areas in Africa but if successful, will expand to include the whole world.
He said the website was developed entirely with open source software and uses ‘crowdsourcing’ to build onto an existing geo-database.
“The idea behind ‘crowdsourcing’ is that currently no accurate geospatial data on bananas in Africa exist, so the platform will ‘outsource’ these data from the ‘crowd’ of local experts in Africa,” he said. "The core of the website is the editor that enables a user to view and edit banana growing areas and define their characteristics."
To guarantee accuracy and reliability, the site's creators will regularly check and correct the database. The current database and all approved previous versions can be downloaded by anyone, either as a GIS shapefile, a text file or a customized premade map.
According to Bouwmeester, the website is important as it will allow information to be shared across projects and organizations for research and development work.
The platform comes in handy as scientists are grappling with the spread of two deadly diseases that are ravaging the crop and threatening the livelihoods of millions farmers. These are the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) and the viral Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD).
One such scientist, Dr Fen Beed, an IITA plant pathologist lauded the initiative and encouraged researchers and development workers to share information on the platform to make it an information power house on banana.
’The more people with experience of local, national and regional banana production and its constraints contribute to the website, the more robust the data housed in this website will be,’ he said.
The data can be used as a baseline reference to monitor the impact of any interventions or changes in practice such as disease control strategies.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

From poor man's meat to rich man's health supplement?

Research on the antioxidant and health properties of cowpea by scientists are beginning to show promise.

Cowpea and other legumes are a major source of protein, particularly for the poor, hence they are often called the poor man's meat. However, new research indicates that cowpea has the potential to combat diet-related health risks more commonly associated with wealthy populations such as heart disease, diabetes and other “lifestyle” health risks.

A new project led by Texas A&M University and funded by USAID-CRISP with research partners in Zambia, Kenya and South Africa is looking into the potential for cowpea to help prevent cancers and other cardiovascular diseases not only in Africa, but globally. This is the first project of its kind involving cowpeas of which Africa is a key producer.

"The problem is that we do not consume and promote foods that are rich in antioxidants, especially in Africa where diets are typically basic and monotonous, particularly among the poor," said Dr. Joseph Awika, the lead investigator of the project. "Additionally rich people once they get a bit of money graduate to the foods that are typically high in sugars and fat and very low in health-promoting components like antioxidants".

Antioxidants are substances that protect body cells against the effects of free radicals which are molecules produced when the body breaks down food or by environmental exposure to tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells and contribute to heart disease and cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 16.7 million total global deaths - result from the various forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD), many of which are preventable by acting on unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and smoking. WHO says more than 50% of the deaths and disability from heart disease and strokes kill more than 12 million people each year with 80 percent of them in developing countries.

Dr. Awika said the next step for the project would be to use human cell models in a laboratory to get quick, reliable data on biochemical properties of cowpea components. Then the next step would involve animal models fed cowpea-based products to measure specific outcomes which would lead to larger human intervention studies.

"Based on the limited evidence we have cowpea can be an important health food in the future," said Dr. Awika. "We are at the screening phase where we have used simple rapid tests to screen over 70 samples to select specific lines to focus on for a more detailed study."

- Busani Bafana

Purdue Scientists Use Viral Cell Phone Videos to Share Cowpea Storage Techniques With Farmers

Researchers have turned to mobile phone videos to help farmers share information on how to use improved cowpea storage technology to protect their cowpeas in the field.

The Purdue University in collaboration with researchers in Cameroon developed the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) to help farmers in West Africa protect their cowpea in storage.

With farmers in Niger faced by challenges of effectively sealing the PICS bags, Purdue and its partners in World Vision and INRAN developed a small 3-7 minute video that showed the sealing of the bag which was difficult to explain effectively via other formats. With many West African farmers having cell phones, the videos have been a hit. Farmers can share the videos using Bluetooth. Click here to view the video.

"This a low cost technology and we find that it spreads very fast and so in one test in Niger, we gave the cell phone video to several extension workers that we were working with as well as a couple of radio station and few pilot farmers and in a month's time it spread to hundreds of people who saw the cell phone video and were able to benefit from the information," said Prof. Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, Associate Dean and Director of International Programs in Agriculture at Purdue University. "Farmers have liked the videos because they help them understand better how to use the bags instead of only the oral messages on the radio."

Animation has opened new opportunities for helping farmers share information on controlling cowpea insects. Cell phone videos have also been developed in Fufuldé, French, Wolof and English. One of the big advantages of cell phone videos, says Lowenberg-DeBoer, is that they are inexpensive to produce and can be made for specific locations. The videos are made in low resolution so they can be easily viewed on small cell phone screens.

Farmers love to see familiar surroundings and hear their native language. This lets them know that the message is made specifically for them," Lowenberg-DeBoer said.

- Busani Bafana

Got a bug problem with your beans? Just bag it.

More than 25 percent of unprotected cowpea is lost as a result of pest attacks during postharvest. However, these losses are being substantially stemmed, thanks to the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS).

PICS aims to put half of all farm stored cowpea harvest in West and Central Africa in non-chemical, hermetic storage. Here's how: PICS works by sealing cowpeas in an airtight container. The airtight container within a couple of days kills all the adult insects and most of the larvae. The technology also keeps the remaining larvae dormant and unable to cause further damage. PICS was developed through collaboration between Purdue University's Faculty, students and researchers in North Cameroon in response to farmers, who had problems storing cowpeas and needed an effective storage method.

A PICS bag is composed of three layers: two inner layers of high density polyethylene and an outer layer of ordinary woven polypropylene. The inner bags protect the grain from insects. The bag was tested in the laboratory and in over 20 000 village tests in West and Central Africa. It has drawings illustrating sealing procedures to help illiterate farmers.

Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, a Professor of Agricultural Economics and Director of the International Programs in Agriculture at Purdue University, said hermetic storage works effectively only when containers are completely filled. PICS bags have a 100kg capacity but if a farmer has 50 kg of cowpea to store, the bag can be tied lower down and this works just as well. Can it be reopened continuously?
"Yes it can, but the problem is that it introduces oxygen again," Lowen-DeBoer said. "We have found that once farmers re-open the bags, particularly if they are using cowpea for household use, it means the insects that are not killed will wake up and start trying to eat the cowpea. So it is better once sealed, to leave it sealed until the cowpea is taken out for sale."

Smaller containers, like plastic bags can be used to store cowpea for household use.

The PICS bags are available in 10 countries in West and Central Africa and are currently being manufactured in Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Nigeria. On average, the bags cost between $1.70 and $3 depending on local manufacturing costs.

"The bag makes a difference. For example, if a bag of cowpea is worth the equivalent of $50 at harvest and $150 six months later and you spend $3 on the bag, there is still a tremendous possibility for gaining."

Purdue University is working with IITA in Nigeria to promote the adoption of the cowpea storage technology.

- Busani Bafana

Media focuses on cowpea as a contribution to food security

Black-eyed peas are a 'crop of the future' that 'has the potential to feed millions' according to the Associated Press in a report earlier this week. News of the World Cowpea Conference has reached far and wide.

In particular, stories by Associated Press and Agence France Press were picked up widely by media outlets around the world. The AP story alone was featured on over 150 news web sites and publications this week, most notably by Business Week, CBS News, Forbes, Los Angeles Times, and The Independent (UK). The conference was also covered quite extensively by the local press in Senegal.

Overall, the media coverage has been very positive in highlighting the important contribution cowpea can make in improving Africa’s food security.

Click the links below to view media coverage.


Sud Quotidien