Friday, December 14, 2012

IAEA, NAEC and IITA explore areas of collaboration

L-R: Drs. Ylva (IITA), Imoh (NAEC) and Amha 
Officials of the nuclear energy watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) paid a courtesy visit to IITA in Ibadan on Tuesday to explore areas of possible collaboration.
During the visit, Dr Mulugeta Amha, Section Head, Division for Africa, Department of Technical Cooperation for IAEA; and Dr Imoh Obioh, Commissioner International Cooperation & Liaison Directorate for NAEC, held discussions with Dr Ylva Hillbur, IITA Deputy Director General (Research).
Areas of interest to the team included plant breeding, micronutrients analysis, soil-water nutrient studies, extension of shelf life of crops using nuclear technologies, postharvest technologies and also capacity development. More areas of collaboration may come up when interactions with the organizations advance. Crops of interest to IAEA and NAEC include cassava and yam.
Dr Amha who was impressed with the visit said his organization had been working on yam and cassava with the Nigerian government, stressing that research could help tackle most of the challenges to global food production.
Dr Obioh on the other hand noted that the spiraling population and climate change were a wakeup call for Nigeria to pay greater attention to agriculture. He promised to strike collaborative efforts with IITA with a view to applying nuclear science in food security.
The two institutions – IITA and NAEC— agreed to move further by considering the signing of an MoU that will define mutual activities for the future.
Dr Hillbur expressed IITA’s willingness to work with IAEA and NAEC to improve the fortunes of farmers and consumers. END
For more information, contact: Godwin Atser;

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Great progress by a CFC-funded project pushing for cassava processing in Tanzania

Cassava is also a source of industrial raw material.

 Huge strides have been realized in transforming cassava from a food crop grown and eaten mostly by the poor to a commercial crop that can make money and improve the livelihoods of small-holder farmers in Tanzania. This is thanks to, among others, the activities of a two-phased project funded by the Common Funds for Commodity (CFC), led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and working with a wide range of partners in the country.

Cassava, a versatile crop that grows well under drought and in poor soils, is also a source of industrial raw material. However, this potential has not been well tapped in Tanzania where it is the second most important staple after maize. 

A CFC supported centre grating cassava to make HQCF  
 According to Nicholas Cromme, CFC project manager who was in the country recently, after years of talking about cassava’s potential they were in the last mile of making cassava a commercial crop.

The first four-year phase of the project tested different technologies to process cassava. Farmers were organized into groups and supported to set up small-scale processing centers to produce high quality cassava flour (HQCF), starch, and dried chips. 

HQCF was, in the end, identified as the most profitable product from cassava in the country.

The second phase, from 2009 to 2013, focused on promoting the medium- and large-scale processing of HQCF. It also engaged a marketing specialist to carry out a market study to identify people’s perceptions on HQCF and the best way to market it. This led to the development of a brand for the flour which will be launched next year as a pilot phase.
“We first started by testing what farmers can do with cassava. But now for the first time, we have a product to market that has been developed as a result of a sophisticated market research. We have piqued the interest of a big flour milling company to process and sell it,” Cromme said.
  Two-step processing
A manager at Ukaya farm shows the processed HQCF
According to Dr Adebayo Abass, IITA’s Food Technologist and the regional coordinator of the project, a two-step cassava processing technique was introduced by the project to tackle the bottlenecks identified in Phase one.

“We have introduced two types of processors—intermediate and final processors. The intermediate processors purchase fresh cassava from farmers. They peel, wash, grate, and extract water using a pressing machine. The semi-dried grits which have a longer shelf life are then transported and sold to the final processor who dry, mill, package, and sell to the final consumers or industry.”

The project is also installing a mechanical drier which can process 8 tons of cassava per day with one of the final processors, Ukaya farm in Mkuranga district which is 40kms from Dar es Salaam, to enable the drying of semi-dry grits even during the rainy season. This will therefore ensure that the final processor is able to deliver HQCF with consistent quality and quantity to markets and industrial users.

Ukaya farm currently has nearly 80 acres of cassava and also has entered into contract farming agreement with 280 surrounding farmers to supply fresh cassava roots to it.
Sefu Mlaki, the director of the farm, says after hearing about cassava processing, they approached the project staff for more information and received a lot of support.
Employees at the farm spreading cassava grits to dry
First, the project team developed a business plan for the farm which showed that it was possible to even recover all their investment in one year.

This convinced Mlaki and his partners to invest in cassava processing. They put up a processing plant following the designs provided by the project. They also dug up a borehole to ensure they had an adequate supply of water. After these, the project leased processing machines to the farm and provided training on cassava processing.

The farm has also entered into an agreement with the project to receive a flash drier on loan to enable it to process all year round. It will therefore receive and sell semi-dried grits from intermediate processors.

One such intermediate processor is Juma Mteta, 35, who set up his processing center in Bungu village, Rufiji, and sells dried chips to a Dar es Salaam-based company for milling into flour. He buys cassava for processing from over 350 farmers in his village.

One of his challenges is the lack of adequate water. He also needs a grating and pressing machine. The project will therefore help him to get a loan to construct a borehole and purchase large machines to process large quantities of cassava into semi-dried grits for sale to the final processor.
Juma Mteta and his wife show the cassava chips spread to dry
“The banking sector is still scared of giving credit to the farming sector. The project is therefore trying to link up with local banks to give credit to the processors in market terms. However, to make it affordable to the farmers and processors the project is considering providing credit guarantee to the bank and full technical assistance to the credit beneficiaries. This two-pronged approach will significantly decrease the risk margin for the banks, which in turn will lead to reduced interest rates,” said Cromme.

Significant increases in cassava processing
Dr Elifatio Towo, a scientist from the Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) and the project’s national coordinator, says there had been a remarkable increase in cassava processing in the country due to the project’s activities. 
“HQCF production has increased from 28 tons in 2010 to 112 tons in 2012. The acreage of cassava grown for HQCF production has also increased from 28 acres in 2010 to 154 in 2012,” he said. “The number of farmers supplying the processors with cassava has increased by nearly four times from 549 in 2010 to over 2,000 farmers in 2012.”

The project is also being implemented in Zambia and Madagascar.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Simple technology supporting farmers to revive banana production in Burundi

Beatrice Bukuru, a member of the 'Tugurukire Kitoki' farmers group
in the group's communal land during a field day 
Beatrice Bukuru, 50, from Kassa village in Muyinga commune, Burundi, is a happy woman. She wasn't so happy three years ago. A deadly strange disease was ravaging her banana, threatening her ability to earn a living and feed her family.  Today, she is even the proud owner of two goats, bought through sales from the crop. 

So what has changed in three years?  Well, she joined a farmers group called 'Tugurukire kitoki' (rehabilitate banana) that has transformed the farming of this important food and staple crop in the region. 

She says the group started when the president of the group came back from training with a few banana plantlets of this new variety that is very high yielding. He also introduced a new technology of rapidly multiplying planting materials which are disease free so the new varieties could be quickly distributed to the other farmers. 

Usually, Beatrice and other small-holder banana farmers plant suckers, - the little banana plantlets growing at the side of the mother plant either from their own existing banana plants or borrowed from a neighbor. This is not only slow, as a plant can only produce about four to five suckers in a year, it also transfers pests and diseases from one farm to another.

However, with the new way of multiplying planting material, known as macro-propagation, a healthy sucker is cut into small pieces which are carefully planted in a nursery and when they are big enough, are transferred to the farms. One sucker if well prepared can produce up to 50 plantlets in three months.

The training on macro-propagation and on improved methods of growing banana were conducted by  a team from the  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) working under an umbrella initiative that brings together many development partners to support the agricultural sector by the name Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA).  

They are a part of on-going efforts to control the spread of diseases and pest and in particular, the banana wilt and banana bunchy top disease which are spreading rapidly and destroying banana in the great Lakes region. All banana varieties are susceptible to the two diseases hence the need for concerted efforts by all.

According to Emmanuel Njukwe, the partnership associate scientist with IITA, banana is a key staple in Burundi for food and income the diseases were therefore a big threat to the already food insecure country which has a high population density. The diseases are spread by infected planting material, use of infected farming equipment, browsing animals and insects.

One way of getting disease free planting material is the use of tissue culture. However, according to Emmanuel, the farmers did not like the tissue culture bananas much which are small, delicate and require a lot of care. So they turned to macro-propagation and also developed the concept of ‘mother gardens’.

Demonstrating the banana macropropagation technology
during a field day
"We trained the farmers how to treat the suckers by placing them in boiling water for 30 seconds to get rid of pests such as nematodes and weevils. They then remove the sheath to expose the buds and meristem, the growing part of the plantlet, which they cut into small pieces. these are then grown in a nursery whose substrate has also been sterilized to get rid of pests," he said.  "We also help them with testing the mother plant to ensure they are virus free so they do not unknowingly spread the viruses."

The project has also been screening different banana varieties to identify those that can perform well under the local conditions and also meet farmers' preferences.  One such variety is the FHIA variety from and named after the Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation which is Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola (FHIA) in Spanish.

Tugurukire kitoki group has a collective farm where they are growing the new varieties FHIA and other local varieties with macro-propagation, they are able to plant all the banana at the same time and when they are ready for harvesting, call the buyers who come with lorries to collect.  Before the banana were planted with suckers of varying age and size at different times and got ready at interval.

They have opened a collective bank account to save the money from the sale of banana from their collective farm. They use it to pay school feeds for children, buy medicine and cater for other emergencies. The group has also been buying goats for the members to diversify their income and recently Beatrice got two.

Hubert Chauvet, the Country Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) one of the institutions working in Burundi to tackle the banana disease says the macro-propagation technology is cheap and simple enough for farmers to do it themselves. 

He said FAO had supported CIALCA and national partners in the first phase of coping with the banana wilt disease which involved creating awareness to farmers about the disease and control measures which included uprooting and destroying affected banana plants to halt the spread.

 "Now with macro-propagation, farmers are getting planting material fast and the disease situation is now slowly getting under control," he said.

Felix talks to journalists
The Tugurukire kitoki group is supporting other farmers in other parts of the country to embrace this new technology. One such group is Collectif des associations de development dans la commune Kibage (CADRE),  which is an association of 29 farmers. According to their vice president, Kanyakiro Felix, they have also started banana macro-propagation and so far they have four nurseries, multiplying 120 banana suckers of the FHIA variety. The group wants to increase to 6000 suckers and each group in the association to establish their own nursery.

Kanyakiro says with this technology and the training received on how to properly grow banana such as mulching and spacing, their banana production is starting to recover. "We did not have banana. They were destroyed by the disease. We are slowly recovering. And we now even want to go into juice processing."

Njukwe says the project has been very successful due to support from many farmers and the government as well and can be easily replicated to many parts of Africa where the two diseases are spreading rapidly. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Barren soils threaten future of farming in the Great Lakes region

Bananas growing near a homestead. The crop's yields in Eastern Africa are low due to poor soils and low fertilizer - organic or inorganic-application by small-holder farmers.

Most of the soils in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa are poor with very little fertility left in them. This is one of the main reasons behind the low yields in the area, which has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer use in the world and a rapidly increasing population to feed, according to a recent study.

The barren soils are a result of years of mining and insufficient replacement of nutrients by small-holder farmers mostly practicing low-input agriculture. They  remain a threat to the future of small-holder farming and the food and income of millions of people in the region if appropriate action is not taken.

The study, which sought to identify and rank the constraints faced by small-holder banana growers in the region, also measured the actual nutrient content left in the soilsin both the organic and mineral partacross different agroecoregions in Rwanda and Uganda.

This was after establishing that poor soil fertility was one of the main causes of the current low banana yield of 5-30 tons/year against a potential yield of over 70 tons/year. It accounted for up to 50% of the yield gap.

The study found that there was little fertility left in most soils and what was there was mostly due to the organic matter in the topsoil. Furthermore, while banana is a very important crop for the region, providing food and income for over 85% of the population, the use of external inputs such as fertilizers was virtually nonexistent and soil fertility was mostly managed by recycling local organic residues.

The study was conducted from 2007 to 2011 in four agroecological regions in Rwanda (Butare, Kibungo, and Ruhengeri) and South-West Uganda (Ntungamo) and looked at the banana plants, various crop management practices, pests and diseases, and the chemical properties of soils.

It was undertaken by Séverine Delstanche as a PhD student of the University of Louvain in Belgium and formed part of the Belgium (DGD)-funded project titled 'Sustainable and profitable banana-based systems for the African Great Lakes Region' led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). It was also part of the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) project.

The study further established that soil fertility and banana productivity varied not only between the regions but also within regions, villages, and at the farm level. The regional differences were due to differences in soils and their parental material whereas at the farm level, they were often the result of differential management practices. The soils close to the homestead were more fertile due to kitchen wastes of ashes and organic residues.

Delstanche says that despite the acknowledgment by farmers and researchers of the importance of soil fertility in agricultural production, little research has been carried out to understand the current state of soils and the impact of past and present farming practices.

Therefore, she says, farmers are unaware of the nutritional status of their soil and how best to make use of the little resources available to them to increase production and productivity.

Dr Piet van Asten, IITA systems agronomist, says the findings of this research are very significant. "We knew that our soils were poor but we did not know just how poor. But now, we've calculated the nutrient stocks and have learned that very little nutrients are left. Moreover, the soil fertility almost entirely depends on the organic matter in the soil."

"The study therefore stresses the importance of recycling crop residues to improve soil fertility. Over 80% of the nutrients in the soil comes from the organic matter and not from the clay or sand itself."

A related study by Van Asten and his team estimated that the over 100 trucks of banana bunches that reach Kampala everyday deplete the soils in the rural areas annually of 1.5 million kg of potassium (K) and 0.5 million kg of magnesium (Mg).

The study supports the Africa Union's Abuja declaration on fertilizers for an African Green Revolution which has stated that efforts to reduce hunger on the continent must begin by addressing its severely depleted soils and recommends countries to increase fertilizer use from the current 8 tons/ha to at least 50 tons/ha by 2015 to boost agricultural production.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

IITA trains on banana production techniques and pest management in Burundi

Workshop participants posing with their certificates at the end of the five-day training on banana production techniques and Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
IITA conducted a training on banana production techniques and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Burundi as part of its on-going efforts to boost production of this key staple crop through technology transfer and technical backstopping to the Programme Post conflit de Development Rural (PPCDR)  project that is funded by the European Union (EU).  

The training, held from the 11th to 15th June 2012  in Ruyigi, Burundi, attracted 39 participants drawn from the zonal animators of PPCDR, farmers' associations, the Agriculture ministry MINAGRIE (Ministere de l'Agriculture et de l'Elevage), seed production centers and extension officers from Cankuzo, Kirundo, Rutana, Ruyigi and Muyinga provinces.

The training had six modules: banana morphology, the economic importance of banana, banana production systems, banana management practices and IPM, rapid and healthy banana planting material production methods and banana field data collection.

During the training, the participants were grouped in their respective provinces and they developed proposals on sustainable approaches to control banana xanthomonas wilt (BXW) and banana bunchy top disease (BBTD).

The training ended with a field visit to identify banana pests, diseases and nutrients deficiency symptoms in surrounding farmer's fields. It was facilitated by Sylvestre Hakizimana of IITA with technical support from Emmanuel Njukwe, the IITA project manager.

Emmanuel Njukwe, the IITA project manager said the participants now had the technical know-how to manage banana mother gardens established in their respective provinces and macro-propagation units which will be installed in each site to rapidly produce clean banana planting material for farmers to stop the spread of the two deadly diseases, BXW and BBTD.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Uganda, coffee and banana go better together

A field with coffee and banana inter-cropped  in Uganda
By Caity Peterson
You're hungry for pizza. Walking around the neighborhood, you find two pizzerias not far from each other. They're both selling pretty much the same thing - crust with cheese and tomatoes on top - and at the same price. But one offers you a free delicious ice-cold 2-liter soda to go with your hawaiian. That makes your choice easy, no?

Believe it or not, something similar is happening in Uganda. Only we're not talking about pizza, and the choice is a bit more complicated.

The comestibles in question here are two of the country's most important agricultural commodities. One, coffee, makes up 20-30% of Uganda's foreign exchange earnings and creates a cash boom for smallholders once or twice a year. The other, banana, is the country's principle staple crop, providing a small, steady food harvest all year long. In fact, Uganda was the 2nd largest banana producer in the world in 2008, and the 11th largest coffee producer.

By happy coincidence, both of these crops tend to grow at around the same altitude: from 800 to 2300 meters. Thus, considering growing human populations and farmers increasingly squeezed for space, it makes sense to grow them together, especially since coffee tends to produce more consistently when grown with a little bit of shade. Many farmers in Uganda are doing just that, intercropping banana and coffee to make good use of space in densely populated areas. Others are sticking with the old system or growing the two crops in separate plots, as used to be promoted by colonial extension services solely concerned with profits from the coffee cash crop and is often still promoted today, for apparent lack of a better option.

But which of these systems is actually the most beneficial for farmers? Until now, not much research has existed specifically targeting the relative advantages and disadvantages of different types of coffee growing systems. The result is that government agencies and other advisory bodies have trouble knowing what to promote, and farmers are even more in the dark.

Ongoing research by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Kampala, Uganda, in collaboration with other CGIAR centers (CIAT, ICRAF, and CIFOR), has attempted to evaluate the benefits of different types of systems, including co-benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation and implications for pest and disease incidence.
 They have found that banana-coffee intercrop systems have the potential to be the most beneficial for farmers because they leave the yield of the coffee crop virtually untouched, while providing a little something extra in the form of more food for their personal use. Essentially, by combining the two crops farmers are greatly increasing the total yield value of a single plot of land, even if the yield for individual crops doesn’t change much. Bananas are to coffee crops what our free soda is to pizzerias – it doesn’t change the pizza, but it’s a nice bonus nonetheless.

Furthermore, including bananas in the coffee system spreads the farmers’ risk. If one crop fails or is decimated by a disease, they can still get a harvest from the other. Ugandan farmers have reported that the shade from the bananas also decreases their coffee’s susceptibility to drought and extreme weather events due to climate change. The residues from the trees provide in-situ mulch which would otherwise cost them much capital and labor to bring in. They say bananas also motivate them to better manage their coffee crops during the first 3-5 unproductive years, because the bananas are producing even when the coffee is not. This is especially true for the female half of the community, which often doesn’t see the money from a coffee sale come back to the household but can use the banana harvest for home consumption.

There are trade-offs, of course. The intercrop system removes larger quantities of nutrients from the soil, and, in the long-term, coffee can eventually out-compete banana. The system can also require larger inputs of labor and capital at the outset. Accordingly, the success of intercrop systems will require identification of major production constraints – principally soil fertility – and the development of site-specific recommendations to address them.

Recently, the IITA team has been taking a more climate-centric focus to their crop system analyses, collaborating on the development of suitability maps for East African coffee crops, pests, and diseases and investigating the mitigation potential of the coffee-banana intercrop system. For more info on past and current IITA work in Uganda – and parallel projects on cocoa systems in Cameroon and Nigeria – check out the following resources:

See original story on CCAFs blog:

Monday, July 2, 2012

IITA and NARO to strengthen partnership on agricultural research for the benefit of the region

Dr Emily Twinamasiko, NARO DG

IITA and the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) have agreed to strengthen their collaboration to boost agriculture in the country and beyond following a meeting between the Directors Generals of the two institutes, IITA’s Dr Nteranya Sanginga and NARO’s Dr. Emily Twinamasiko at NARO’s headquarters in Entebbe.

Dr Sanginga noted that NARO was widely recognized for having one of the strongest banana and cassava research programs in Africa. IITA has not only been supporting these programs but has also benefitted tremendously from them to achieve its mission of fighting hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sanginga said IITA was very keen to work more strategically with NARO, tapping into its rich knowledge base and experienced staff, not only through joint research projects, but also on the CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) such as the one on Roots, Tubers and Banana (RTB – CRP3.4) and the IITA-led Humidtropics program (CRP1.2).

He identified capacity building as one areas that NARO can play a significant role in the region for the benefit of countries such as South Sudan.

“We need to work better together, carry out joint planning and share credits for successful outputs. We need to share resources, frustrations and successes,” he said.

He observed the two institutions were working very well in a joint program to develop genetically transformed bananas for resistance against Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW). He informed his NARO counterpart that he had earlier met with the NARO banana program leader Dr. Wilberforce Tushemereirwe who had briefed him on the progress made in the search for a sustainable solution to the bacterial disease that had greatly affected the production of this important food staple in the region since 2003.

He further invited both Drs. Twinamasiko and Tushemereirwe to visit IITA-Ibadan later this year to further shape the collaboration. The two accepted the invitation and welcomed the proposal to strengthen collaborations with NARO. Twinamasiko said that indeed the two institutions can benefit immensely from working better together and that there were many opportunities to do so.

IITA established office in Uganda in 1992 and has mostly been working on banana and cassava although some of its maize, yam, cowpea, and soybean germplasm have also reached the country. In recent years, the two have collaborated on coffee-based farming systems and climate change.

Beyond joint biotech work on banana and cassava, NARO and IITA have taken pride in having developed highland banana hybrids and resistant cassava varieties that have found their way to farmers’ fields. The institutes’ phytopathologists exported the Ugandan expertise to the larger region such as DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Tushemereirwe, NARO banana program leader gives
Sanginga, IITA DG,  a tour of joint NARO/IITA field trials
at Kawanda, Uganda,  where work on banana
transformation  is going on.
During his five-day visit to Uganda, in addition to participating at the Global Cassava Partnership for 21st Century conference, Sanginga also met with ambassadors and senior officers in the donor community including a visit to the USAID Mission, Belgian Embassy, Dutch Embassy, European Union Head of Delegation, and aBi-Trust to strengthen collaboration with IITA.

He also visited the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central (ASARECA), another key partner for IITA and held meeting with both national staffs and IITA scientists with R4D activities in Uganda. He toured NARO and IITA’s research facilities and fields to see the various on-going research activities.

Sanginga was accompanied by Victor Manyong, IITA Director for Eastern Africa, Piet Van Asten, the Uganda Country Representative and some of the regional scientists - Jim Lorenzen, the banana breeder, Danny Coyne, a Nematologist  and Fen Beed, a Plant Pathologist, in many of the visits.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

IITA DG calls for a “Brown Revolution” for a “Green Revolution” in Africa

The push for a “Green Revolution” in Africa to increase agricultural production for food and economic development will not bear much fruit if adequate attention is not paid to managing soil fertility in the continent.  
Dr Sanginga making a presentation on Brown Revolution at the
 Global Cassava Partnership conference in Kampala, Uganda.
According to Dr Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General, Africa cannot achieve a “Green Revolution” without first having a “Brown Revolution”. He noted that the current application of 8 kg/ha of soil nutrients, whether organic or inorganic fertilizers, was very low and was a major setback to the continent’s vision of adequately feeding itself.

Dr Sanginga spoke at the Global Cassava Partnership meeting currently taking place this week in Kampala, Uganda, that brought together over 400 international scientists from all over the world to strategize on how cassava can play a bigger role in economic development by exploiting the diverse uses of this hardy crop. Cassava performs well under harsh conditions, such as poor soils and drought.

The conference was launched by the Honourble Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Hon Tress Bucyanayandi who noted that frequent droughts and floods as a result of climate change were one of the leading causes of food insecurity in the world today with millions of USD going into emergency food aid.

The Guest of honour Hon Tess Bucyanayandi makes
opening remarks. 
He noted that cassava was a crop that performs well in drought conditions and is becoming an important food security crop. He therefore urged the researchers gathered at the conference to develop solutions to some of the challenges facing the production of the crop in the region such as Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), the two diseases wreaking havoc on the crop’s production. 

Participants following workshop proceedings
Dr Eugene Terry from Transfarm Africa noted that a number of efforts to transform cassava were already underway in the region starting with the development and deployment of improved better yielding varieties by IITA. He noted that over 80% of the new varieties released by national programs in Africa had incorporated these varieties released in the 1970’s and dubbed TMS series.

He said there were many challenges facing the transformation of the crop that needed to be tackled through research including control of pests and diseases and the need for early maturing and drought tolerant varieties. On marketing issues, he said there was need to research on better organization of value chains, better infrastructure support and how to reduce transaction costs.

Dr Sanginga on his part told the conference participants that while much investment had gone into developing high-yielding cassava varieties that were resistant to some of the major pests and diseases, the gains achieved cannot be realized if these varieties are grown in poor soils.

He said it was unfortunate that cassava had been tagged for many years as a poor man’s crop that does not require much input such as fertilizers. He argued that the crop harvested as much nutrients from the soil as other crops and that these nutrients needed to be replenished. It also requires nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium similar to other crops.

“Nutrient use in cassava has been very minimal as it is considered a poor man’s crop. However, if we are talking about cassava transformation, about increasing cassava production not only for food but also for commercial use, we must change these wrong perceptions. If we think of growing cassava in soils that are too poor for other crops such as maize,” he said, “then, we are missing the other half of the equation.”

The African Union has recommended for the countries in the continent to increase application of soil nutrients to 50 kg/ha of nutrients combining both organic and inorganic fertilizers.

The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) conference is taking place on 18–22 June 2012 in Kampala, Uganda. GCP21 consists of 45 member institutions working on research and development of cassava, a staple crop relied on by more than 700 million people worldwide. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to improve cassava productivity through scientific research and development. 
Group photo of participants
The conference participants include representatives from NARS, international agricultural research centers, advanced laboratories and universities from developed and developing countries, United Nations’ agencies, governmental and non-governmental organizations, donor and development organizations, businesses in the ag-biotechnology and food processing industries.

Sanginga drums up support for IITA’s Southern Africa hub

 The IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, was last week, from 11 – 15 June 2012, in Zambia, to meet different partners of the institute to explore ways to strengthen relationships and support each other in efforts to find solutions to hunger and poverty in the country and beyond.

IITA DG (extreme left) talks to Dr Mick Mwala, Dean of School of Agricultural
Sciences. At the centre is Dr Chikoye, IITA Director for Southern Africa 

The partners welcomed the move by IITA to invest in first class research facilities and increase the number and diversity of scientists working in Lusaka, Zambia, its regional hub for Southern Africa and serving 13 countries in the region

Meeting with AfDB team
The hub is one of four that the institute is working through as it decentralizes its activities to have more impact as part of its ambitious plan to get 20 million people out of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa in the next ten years as spelt out in its refreshed strategy. 

The hubs are in Nigeria for the West, Tanzania for Eastern, Zambia for Southern and Democratic Republic of Congo for Central Africa.

Tackling succession crisis in agricultural research
Sanginga said the institute was going to especially focus on building capacity of researchers from national research institutes and institutions of higher learning.

He noted that many countries in Africa were heading towards a crisis as the current experienced civil servants in the agricultural sector who were retiring did not have qualified predecessors to take over. 

At a media briefing
“In Zambia, in Congo, in Kenya and in many other African countries, the situation is the same. We have scientists at the prime of their career being forced to retire because they have attained retirement age of 50 – 55 years. On the other hand, there are very few experienced staff to take over from them. So at IITA we are exploring how to make use of the knowledge and skills of these retirees and how to build the capacity of young researchers and attract the young people to agriculture,” he said.

This was welcomed by the Acting Director of ZARI Dr Moses Mwale and the Dean of the School of Faculty of Agriculture Sciences, University of Zambia, Dr Mick Mwala and their colleagues.

Crop diversification
Visiting a tissue culture lab at Zambian Agricultural Research Institute
Dr Sanginga also noted that there was need for African countries to diversify their staple crops particularly to avoid over reliance on maize. This was supported by country representatives of FAO, Mr Adrianus Spijker and Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Freddie Kwesiga who noted that over-reliance on maize as a food staple and income crop in Zambia was not sustainable particularly in the face of climate change and dependency on rain-fed agriculture.

They identified cassava as one crop they were keen on promoting as it was a hardy crop with uses that went beyond just being a food crop.

Dr Sanginga assured them that IITA had many years of working along the cassava value chain and would lend its expertise to support the country in its diversification efforts.

He gave an example of Nigeria where the policy of including 20% cassava flour was saving the country millions of US dollars from reduced wheat importation and was creating jobs for thousands of young people.

Sanginga giving a talk at the University of Zambia, School of
Agricultural Sciences
FAO country representative, Mr Spijker noted that IITA and FAO had achieved significant success in dealing with Cassava Mosaic Diseases (CMD) in DRC. He said IITA’s new disease-resistant varieties distributed all over the country, with support from FAO and other partners, had averted a major disaster. He was therefore more than happy to collaborate with IITA to make a difference in Zambia.

A group photo with students and faculty members
Sanginga said the institute was also focusing on strengthening its research on Natural Resource Management, and partnership with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) for better impact.   

Sanginga was accompanied by the IITA director for Southern Africa, David Chikoye and Steve Boahen, and Alene Arega, the Country representatives for Mozambique and Malawi respectively.

In his short busy program in Zambia, Sanginga also made brief presentations at the University of Zambia, at the FAO offices, had a media briefing in addition to holding a meeting with all IITA staff in Zambia.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Project to save farmers from bogus agricultural commercial products launched

Most small holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to make ends meet and are always on the lookout for ways to boost their production. And they are even more desperate now in the face of unpredictable weather due to climate change.

Unfortunately, they sometimes fall prey and loose huge sums of their hard earned money to unscrupulous companies selling them ‘miraculous’ products that promise to increase their yields but which turn out to be fake or sub-standard and do  not live up to their claims.  

Moreover, the regulatory bodies established to control these products and safeguard farmers’ investments are often poorly funded, poorly equipped and the regulations are not up to date to include some of these new innovative products coming into the market such as bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides.

To address this, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) recently launched the second phase of the Commercial Products (COMPRO-II) project that aims to benefit two million smallholder farmers in East and West Africa by providing information on which agricultural products are genuinely effective to boost their production among the myriad currently available in the market.
IITA's Director General Dr Sanginga speaking during the project launch. 

 “We have all these products in the market which, like the witchdoctors’ potions, promise to solve all the farmers’ problems. Our concern therefore is that our poor small-scale farmers are using their little hard earned money to pay for products that do not produce results. So we first set out to understand the problem then see how to help them,’ said Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, Director General for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) during the launch that was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 16 May 2012.  

‘Under phase I of the project, with a grant from the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, we screened over 100 such products in the market to see which ones are useful. And out of these only three were found to be really effective,” he said.

The three were Rhizobium inoculants for legumes, mycorrhizal inoculants for tissue-culture banana, and fertilizer seed coating of for maize.

Rhizobium and mycorrhizal are bio-fertilizers that make use of useful micro-organisms that are naturally found in the soils. Rhizobium is a bacterium that converts the free nitrogen in the air into a form that plants can absorb from the soil. Mycorrhizal fungus assists plants to absorb nutrients from the soil and strengthen their resistance to soil-borne pests such as nematodes.

Fertilizer seed coating for maize on the other hand, avails essential nutrient to the crop on germination making it grow better, have better root development and become better established.

Participants drawn from the six project countries at the its launch.

The second phase will primarily focus on creating awareness and disseminating to farmers these tried and tested quality products to increase their production and building the capacity of national systems to continuing screening such products coming into the market.

“The project will engage with and support national institutions to put in place systems to continue screening these products to check their quality. This will ensure farmers are not wasting money on fake products that do not work,” said Dr Prem Warrior, a Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At the end of the project, more farmers are expected to confidently use these products because their safety, efficacy, and quality will be ensured through institutionalized regulatory and quality assurance mechanisms.

“We want to make farmers’ life better. Using some of these productions that we have checked and ascertained their quality together with other good farming practices such as use of fertilizers and improved varieties, they can get better yields of maize, soybean and banana and improve their lives,” said Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA Director for Central Africa and the project team leader.

The project is targeting small-holder farmers in six African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Making food safe: Two projects to combat mycotoxin contamination in Tanzania launched

Project partners pose for a group photo at a meeting to
launch and plan for the implementation of two projects to
control mycotoxin contamination in Tanzania 

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and its partners recently launched two new research projects in Tanzania aimed at understanding the extent of mycotoxin contamination and developing a comprehensive and lasting solution for reducing contamination to improve the health and livelihoods of millions of families in the country and reduce loss of income. 

Mycotoxins are poisonous chemicals secreted by naturally occurring fungi which colonize key staple crops while in the fields and during storage. In high concentrations, they make them unfit for human and livestock consumption and for trade. The most common are aflatoxins and fumonisins which have been shown to cause cancer and stunt growth of children.

They are a great constraint to improving the health and wellbeing of people in Africa where testing contamination of agricultural crops is generally not routinely carried out unless it is intended for export. As a result, millions of people living in Africa are chronically exposed to aflatoxins and fumonisins through their diets. 

Preliminary studies by the Tanzania Food and Drugs Administration (TFDA) have documented levels of aflatoxins and fumonisins in maize – the country’s number one staple food- that are way above the recommended maximum limits.

The first project, a six-month research funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Food the Future (FtF) initiative, will establish the extent and spread of mycotoxin contamination of maize and cassava at the homestead and in the markets in Dodoma and Manyara.

The second initiative seeks to introduce a safe and natural technology developed by the United States Department for Agriculture – Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS) and IITA that can effectively reduce aflatoxin contamination of maize and groundnuts in the field and during storage.

Aflatoxin is produced by a fungus, Aspergillus flavus. Luckily, not all strains produce the toxin. The innovative biocontrol solution being proposed in the project therefore works by identifying and introducing the naturally occurring non-toxic strains ‘the good fungus’ that can out-compete, displace and drastically reduce the population of their poisonous cousins ‘the bad fungus’. 

It has been successfully piloted in Nigeria under the name Aflasafe where it has been shown to reduce contamination by 99%. Country specific biocontrol products are also being developed for Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya and Zambia.

This project therefore aims at extending the technology to Tanzania. Four non-toxic strains of the fungus that are most effective in displacing the toxic strains in the country will be identified and formulated into a biocontrol product. Its effectiveness in reducing aflatoxin contamination will then be evaluated under farmers’ field conditions.  If it is found to be effective, it will then be submitted to the Tropical Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI) for registration as a biopesticide for aflatoxin reduction.

The development of the biocontrol technology for Tanzania is funded by Meridian Institute on behalf of the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) which was created at the recommendations of the 7th Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) partnership platform where the urgent need to control mycotoxin contamination was emphasized. 

The two projects were launched at a two-day meeting from 18 – 19 April in Dar es Salaam organized by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that brought together all the partners to plan for their implementation. 

Project partners: MAFC, IITA, Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Tanzania Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) and Tropical Pests Research Institute (TPRI).