Monday, October 21, 2013

IITA and the Zambian government strategize to fight cassava diseases threats in the country

Participants at the meeting
The “Mitigating Cassava Diseases Threats for Improved Cassava production in Zambia, with a Special focus on Eastern Province” is a four-year project under the “Feed the Future Program,” research-for- development (R4D) component sponsored by USAID-Zambia mission.
   The project, implemented by IITA in collaboration with the government’s  research wings, i.e., Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and Seeds Control and Certification Institute (SCCI) has reached half of its lifespan. The strategizing was done during the project’s second annual review/planning meeting held in Chipata from 4 to 6 September 2013. The meeting attracted the participation of implementing partners (ZARI, SCCI, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL), farmers and NGOs such as ADRA) and other stakeholders with interests in Zambia’s cassava sector.
   The meeting was officially opened by Mr Kennedy Kanenga in his capacity as acting Provincial Agriculture Coordinator (PACO). Mr Kanenga reiterated the importance of Zambia’s crop diversification policy. He mentioned that cassava has been recognized by the Zambian government as a strategic crop for food security hence the need for continued research to mitigate any adverse effects which might hamper its production potential. In conclusion, Mr Kanenga informed participants that the meeting received the blessings of both the donor (USAID) and the government through his office.
   Implementing partners shared reports on the activities carried out during the period under review and presented planned activities for the fiscal year 2013/2014.
   For the two consecutive years, no folia cassava brown streak diseases symptoms have been observed. However the 2013 survey showed higher incidences of white fly population compared to the 2012 survey. The white fly is the major vector for CBSD virus and other viro-diseases. The diagnostic survey team was concerned over the recent reports of CBSD occurrences near Zambian’s northern border. This was compounded by the fact that earlier this year (2013), superabundant whiteflies with sooty mold symptoms were observed in Mambwe district of Eastern province during routine data collection in the participatory variety selection (PVS) cassava trials.
   During the field visit, participants exchanged views with farmers that host the PVS on how to increase cassava acreage and suggested ways on how to minimize the effect of animals’ damage during dry season when other crops have been harvested and only cassava remains in the fields. The forum was used to come up with strategies to contain the worrisome situation of disease threats.

NAFDAC and IITA step up campaign on aflatoxin contamination

L-R: Drs Dashiell, Bandyopadhyay, and Mrs Denloye during the sensitization
workshop in Ibadan
IITA and Nigeria’s food and drug regulator, the National Agency for Food  and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), are jointly raising awareness on the prevalence of aflatoxins in food and feeds.
   At sensitization workshops organized in Ibadan and Abuja, the Director General of NAFDAC, Dr Paul Orhii, said awareness became necessary in view of the dangers inherent in the consumption of contaminated food and feeds.
   Represented by  Mrs Stella Denloye, the agency’s Director of  Laboratory Services, Orhii  noted  that the consumption of contaminated foods   could cause liver cancer and even death.
   According to him, awareness creation is a preventive strategy to reduce the risks associated with aflatoxin contamination.
   Welcoming participants during the sensitization workshop in Ibadan, the Director General of IITA, Dr Nteranya Sanginga observed that aflatoxins have become one of the  major sources of food poisoning across Nigeria.
   He said the meeting in Ibadan was to sensitize the public on the dangers of aflatoxins and also introduce stakeholders to IITA biocontrol product—aflasafeTM  — that is helping farmers in tackling the problem.
   Represented by Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director-General, Partnerships and Capacity Development, Dr Sanginga said that the use of aflasafe had proved effective in controlling aflatoxins in Africa.
   In attendance at the stakeholder meeting were policymakers, food and drug regulators, farmers’ associations, students, researchers and the private sector.
   AgResult Pilot Manager, Debo Akande described the meeting as a milestone in awareness creation efforts.
   Drs Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, team leader for the aflatoxin control work in IITA; and Joseph Atehnkeng, coordinator for aflatoxin control in West Africa were among the key stakeholders that made presentations during the meeting, highlighting the dangers of aflatoxins and the benefits of aflasafeTM .

Researchers from Ghana and Nigeria get training

Participants with Dr Dashiell (middle) in a group photo
Fourteen senior laboratory technicians from Ghana and Nigeria have been trained on Good Laboratory Practices and Laboratory Information Management Systems (GLP-LIMS) for soil and plant analytical laboratories.
   The training which took place at IITA-Ibadan from September 1 to 13, 2013 was organized by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in collaboration  with IITA. In attendance were laboratory technicians (5 from Ghana and 9 from Nigeria) who are either supervising or managing analytical laboratories in their respective countries.
   Addressing participants at the end of the training, Dr Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General, Partnerships and Capacity Development called on participants to utilize the skills learnt to tackle the constraints to agricultural productivity.
   Linking agriculture to social stability in Africa, Dr Dashiell said, “Africa is passing through an exciting time as governments in the region are waking up to support agriculture... And when we get the agricultural sector right, we won’t be running after our youths.”
   The GLP training is a train-the-trainers program. Some of the course participants will be used in  organizing in-country training in Soil and Plant analysis upon their return to their countries. Areas of emphasis in the training included the preparation and  use of control samples, sample exchange program, use of standard operating procedures, networking for trouble shooting of analytical problems, laboratory safety, and the interpretation of analytical results for fertilizer recommendations to farmers. Participants were also trained on the use of computer software for Laboratory Information Management (LIM), and running the laboratory as a business. Each participant was given a set of certified reference samples to assist them in monitoring the quality of their laboratory analysis.
   “We believe that the improved credibility of the laboratory results will encourage small-scale farmers and others (e.g.,food scientists and environmentalists) to patronize the laboratories thus enabling the farmers to better benefit from fertilizer use,” says Mr Joseph Uponi, Manager, IITA Analytical Services Laboratory.
   The training is the second in the series. In March 2013, IITA conducted a similar training for technicians in soil and plant analysis, thanks to the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa for providing funds.

Dr Therese Gondwe wins top poster prize

Dr Gondwe (right) wins "Best Poster" award
Dr Therese Gondwe, Technology Dissemination Specialist under the MIRACLE Project based at IITA-Zambia, is the recipient of the first prize for the “Best Poster” category of the 11th African Crop Science Society Conference held in Entebbe, Uganda on 14–17 October.
   The poster entitled “Scaling up soybean production for sustainable soil fertility management, income, and nutrition of smallholder farmers in Zambia: The case of the MIRACLE project” was adjudged the best among more than 50 posters displayed at the conference. The prize also came with a US$500 cash award.
   The announcement was made by Prof Rubaihayo, Chair of the Organizing Committee, during the closing ceremony of the conference, which was attended by more than 300 participants. Prof Rubaihayo said that the poster “showed excellent balance and connection between scientific research and on-the-ground development efforts related to improving the lives of people affected by HIV and AIDS.”
   Dr. Gondwe’s poster best suited the conference theme of “Sowing for innovations for sustainable food and nutrition security in Africa.” It featured the importance of soybean in the continuous maize cropping system in Zambia especially among households affected by HIV and AIDS, MIRACLE’s target beneficiaries.
   The poster presented the results of trials conducted during the 2011/2012 planting season in which different soybean varieties treated with phosphorus fertilizers and rhizobia inoculants were compared to those that were not. The results showed much better yields for the former than the latter. The poster also showed the soybean traits that farmers preferred, with big grain size as top priority and high yield as second.
   The research results have far-reaching implications on the cultural management of soybeans as well as on the breeding considerations when developing new varieties in Zambia. Additionally, the poster also highlighted the importance of training on the scaling up of soybeans in the country and the empowerment of rural women.

   Dr. Gondwe credited the award to SIDA for funding the MIRACLE project, her co-authors Laston Milambo of the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute and Jim Ellis-Jones of UK-based consultancy firm — Agriculture for Development. She also thanked Jeffrey Oliver, IITA Communications Specialist for Southern Africa, for the help in developing the winning poster, and her supervisors Dr David Chikoye, Dr Steve Boahen, and Melba Mussagy for the support during the field research work.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

IITA receives USD 5 million to support policy action for agricultural intensification in Uganda

One of the current challenges facing many African countries is how to increase agriculture production to meet the needs of the rapidly increasing population and for economic development as the sector is one of the major contributors to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Intensifying agriculture production through the use of modern farming methods and technologies is one of the ways to overcome this challenge. However, in addition to having the relevant technologies, a conducive policy environment is very important.

From left: IITA's Piet Van Asten and H.E Alphons exchange signed contract of the USD 5 million policy action project 
IITA has received a $5million grant from the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands (EKN) in Uganda to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF) policy formulation and actions for intensification of farming systems.  

This is through a project entitled: “Policy Action for Sustainable Intensification of Ugandan Cropping Systems (PASIC)”.

During the signing of the contract, the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Uganda, His Excellency Alphons Hennekes noted “The inevitable solution lies in the intensification of cropping systems by using fertilizers, improved seeds, good agronomic practices and attracting investors for buying farmers’ produce”,

Honorable Tress Bucyanayandi, the MAAIF Minster welcomed the initiative and noted it was well in line with the countries priorities and strategic development plans.

“Sustainable intensification of cropping systems, PASIC directly contributes to increased rural incomes and household food security, the two objectives of our Development Strategy and Investment Plan (DSIP)” he said.

Honourable Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and fisheries (MAAIF) welcomed the initiative.
Victor Manyong, the IITA Director for Eastern African, noted the project was very important to tackle the bottlenecks to sustainable intensification of agriculture through research on policy and policy action.

Victor Manyong, IITA's Director for Eastern Africa thanks the Dutch Government on behalf of the project team
The project will carry out research in in two zones targeting two important cropping systems- south western Highlands for Irish potatoes and the Lake Kioga plains in Eastern Uganda for rice. 

Piet Van Asten, IITA Country Representative and project leader said PASIC will generate vital knowledge and evidence for decision makers to plan public investments and attract responsible private entities to the agriculture sector”.

Piet Van Asten, IITA's Country in Uganda representative gives an over viewof the project during the ceremony
The project starts in October 2013 and will run to September 2017. The findings and lessons learnt will support MAAIF staff to formulate credible policies and programs to intensify cropping systems. Other project partners are the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), the leading policy think-tank in Uganda, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lifting Africans out of poverty with IITA’s holistic approach

A farmer cultivating improved Soy bean
An insight into a redefined strategy by IITA to address the immense issues of poverty, under nutrition and untenable agricultural practices and use of natural resources in Africa was provided by its Deputy Director for Research and Development, Dr Ylva Hillbur, during her visit to UWA Institute of Agriculture in August.
   Dr Hillbur’s public lecture showcased how strengthening the presence of IITA, the leading institute of agriculture in Africa, across the African continent and building stronger scientific research and development networks at national levels is already creating new opportunities for improved livelihoods in sustainable environments.
   IITA operates from 18 research stations across four regional hubs in West, Central, East and Southern Africa managed from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia, respectively. Here, an international group of more than 120 scientists works on IITA’s‘research-for-development’ programs with an annual budget of 80 million US dollars, of which about 20 percent comes from the CGIAR Consortium. IITA, with its headquarters in Nigeria, is one of CGIAR’s research institutes, and the scientific focus of IITA’s strategy for Africa overlaps with priorities across many of CGIAR’s research programs (CRPs).
   IITA works on a whole-society approach to achieve its goal of lifting 11 million Africans out of poverty and developing 7.5 million hectares of land into sustainable use by 2020. Its success comes from quality research, translation of research, and commercialization of research outputs, but collaboration with national and local partners and serious efforts towards capacity development and gender equality are as important for long-term progress to be made.
   “From an agronomical perspective, we are challenged with low and further decreasing soil fertility, a high incidence of pests and pathogens, and undiversified cropping systems, leaving the systems vulnerable and leading to undiversified diets,” Dr Hillbur explained.
   IITA aims to generate impact by intensifying, diversifying, and improving cropping systems of many essential staple crops and grain legumes. Encouraging outcomes have already been achieved with the development of pro-vitamin A enriched ‘orange maize’, Striga resistant and drought-tolerant maize varieties, the cassava transformation program in Nigeria and the banana transformation project in Uganda, to name a few.
   Further attention to improve systems management, education and youth employment completes the holistic plan to combat the underlying issues of poverty in Africa.
   Dr Hillbur met Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and a member of the CGIAR Grain Legumes Independent Advisory Committee, at the launch of the Grain Legumes CRP in India early this year. During her visit Dr Hillbur discussed potential future areas of collaboration between IITA and UWA.

IITA and ITC train bakers on baking yam bread

Samiran Mazumdar trains bakers on the use of yam flour in confectioneries.
Yam took center stage this past week in Ghana with the convening of global experts and processors on yam, and the launching of the Ghana Yam Sector Development Strategy. A precursor to the launching of the Ghana yam strategy training was held at La Palm Royal Beach hotel.
   On Saturday IITA and ITC organized a training on the use of yam flour in baking with the support of IITA hotelier Sami Mazumdar and Baker Greg. The composition was made up of 1 kg white water yam flour and 4 kg wheat flour. The bread dough was kneaded into molds and baked. Alex, the pastry chef of La Palm Royal Beach hotel said that he was initially sceptical about the yam bread. However after baking, he indicated it tasted good.
   Mr Kwamina Laast, an exporter looking to invest in yam flour stated that yam bread is a promising technology, given that the commercial value of water yam is on the low side.
“No one ever thought of substituting wheat flour with yam flour. The time for Africa to use its products is now,” he said.
   Water yam is loosely regarded in West Africa because it is not suitable for the preparation of ‘fufu’. However processing water yam into flour and fries, as well as a range of other products such as liquor, pasta, and ice cream can promote its usage.

National yam strategy: IITA urged other African countries to emulate Ghana

Dr. Asiedu speaks at the global yam strategy launch.
IITA Director for Western Africa, Dr Robert Asiedu has commended Ghana for taking the lead in developing a strategy for the tuber crop.
   According to him, “We also encourage other countries to emulate Ghana, by developing similar strategies that give clear direction on how to make the crop work for the poor and improve their economies.”
   Indigenous to Africa, yam is a major staple contributing to food security and incomes, and also plays a significant role in the culture of the people.
   The strategy has been designed and developed to provide a holistic approach to sector development by considering both the economic and social value of yam in Ghana. “The methodology used combines IITA’s experience in agriculture research-and-development with ITC’s practice of participatory mechanisms and market-led planning for policy, enterprise, and sector development,” said Hernan Manson, ITC Adviser for Value Chain Development, and Antonio Lopez-Montes, IITA Yam Breeder.
   Perlin Gunesoglu, Chairperson for the Turkish-Ghanaian Business Council for DeIk (the Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Board), observed that the strategy provided a platform for transforming the yam sector into a vibrant industry beyond but not excluding food security.
   According to her, “The work being done in Ghana for yam is very valuable and can serve as an example for other countries trying to develop their sector looking at commercial as well as social objectives.”
   Perlin pointed out that apart from yam as food, the crop can also be used in many different industries including food, paper, textiles, and adhesives, through value addition.
But to achieve a high level of value addition, she emphasized the need for support from the government on each step of the strategy, starting with farming and collection of yam genetic resources.

Ghana becomes the first country to launch national yam strategy

Participants at the Ghana yam strategy launch
Ghana has taken a major step ahead of other yam-producing nations with the launch of a strategy for the development of the yam industry from farm to market. This follows the global conference on yams held in Accra on 3-6 October and ongoing strategic development for the sector.
   “The strategy envisions making Ghana the leading source of premium quality yam products with global penetration and contributing to an improved Ghanaian economy and livelihoods,” says the Deputy Minister for Food and Agriculture, Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan.
   “One of the objectives of the strategy is to develop commercially-driven research and development as well as capacity building in yam value chain,” he added at the inauguration of the strategy in Accra on 8 October.
   The economic value of the yam industry in Ghana has grown quite rapidly in recent years, with its foreign exchange earnings shooting up to the third position among the nontraditional export commodities in the period 2010 to 2012. Demand for yam in both fresh and processed forms is increasing in new markets abroad and domestically. The industry faces tremendous opportunities as well as challenges and requires support policies, and private sector investment to be organized as a whole value chain.
   The Ghana Yam Strategy is a private sector-led road map that started in 2012. It is championed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture with the support of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection.
   The International Trade Centre (ITC) and IITA provided technical support and process facilitation.
   “Despite the contribution of yam, the crop has not been given the right attention. This is what this strategy aims to correct,” says Mr Anthony Sikpa, Chairman of the Ghana Yam Strategy Committee.
   “With this strategy not only will yam be given attention, but it will also provide opportunities for all stakeholders in the yam sector,” he added.

FARA wants more attention on yam research

Participants at the global yam conference in Accra.
The Executive Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr Yemi Akinbamijo has said that in spite of the contribution to food security and incomes, African crops such as yam have not commanded the attention they deserved, and have as a result remained underutilized.
   “Yams are unexploited in several aspects: actual yields are lower than potential, utilization is low for instance in animal feeds, and potential for diversification of yam products among others is unexploited,” he said.
   Commending IITA for its contribution to yam research and development, Dr Akinbamijo said that the key to unlocking the potential of yam lies in science and technology and empowerment of the producers, marketers, and consumers to take advantage of what research offers.
   According to him, “the challenge is to mobilize the investment required to conduct research and develop the yam value chain into a profitable enterprise for small and large-scale operators alike.”
   The Global Conference on Yams held in Accra, 3-6 October, provides a forum for stakeholders to explore recent innovations in yam improvement, share lessons learned, identify research and development needs, and develop global alliances.
   Dr Robert Asiedu, IITA Director for Western Africa, and the Convener of the Conference said that the event provided a platform for consultation and development of a global strategy for improving the yam sector based on genetic enhancement; crop protection and mitigation of risks due to pests, diseases and climate change; conservation of genetic resources; prevention of postharvest losses; improved seed systems; crop diversification; and enhancing industrial potential of yam and improved market access.
   The ultimate goals of the event are to establish: (i) a global alliance for yam improvement; (ii) gain more investments to advance and expand yam R4D agenda globally, and (iii) contribute to the strengthening of R&D capacity and human resource development for sustainable yam improvement.

Global yam conference calls for more investments on yam R4D

Dr. Sanginga addressing participants at yam conference.
Increasing funding for research and development on yam will help unleash the potential of the crop, improve livelihoods, create jobs, and enhance food security in Africa.
   Researchers, policymakers, and representatives from the private sector at the first ever global yam conference in Accra, Ghana, say that recent investments in yam research are paying off, and demonstrating the crop’s greater potential than what is being realized.
“Sustaining and enhancing funding support for yam research and development backed by political will are needed to unlock the crop’s full potential,” said Director General Nteranya Sanginga.
   He praised the government of Japan, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) for supporting IITA on yam research and called on researchers to develop a vision for the crop.
   Known as the ‘king of crops’ because of its contribution to incomes and food security, yam also has high cultural value especially in traditional marriages in Africa. However, the crop is under-researched due to low funding, limiting its potential for alleviating poverty.
   “If we attract more investments to advance and expand yam research globally, the anticipated benefits and impacts will be quite enormous,” said the Ghanaian Minister for Food and Agriculture, Clement Kofi Humado.
   Represented by the Deputy Minister for Food and Agriculture, Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, the minister said that there was a need to “soberly rethink through research-and-development, and invest our limited resources judiciously to ensure best results.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ghana hosts researchers working on roots and tubers

The city of Accra in Ghana is agog as researchers, farmers and development partners are strategizing ways to improve the competitiveness of root and tuber crops.
The conference is coming at a time when food security is at the front burner, and African countries are reforming their agricultural strategies with a view to feeding itself.
This year’s root and tuber symposium, organized by the International Society for Tropical Root Crops-Africa Branch (ISTRC- AB), attracted international partners, students, farmers and policy makers. Godwin Atser sought stakeholders’ opinions about the conference. Excerpts:
Mohammed Alfa, Ghana Deputy Minister, Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology Innovation, addressing participants during the symposium in Ghana 

This conference provides a platform for younger scientists to express themselves, and that is already happening, says Prof Keith Tomlins (NRI).
Prof Tomlins

The conference is a success. We have seen the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) taking ownership of ISTRC, and this is a good development. It has been super…I also find the theme of the conference appropriate because we need to find ways of making the root and tuber crops competitive to benefit local farmers -- Elizabeth Parkes (IITA Cassava Breeder).
Dr Parkes


This year’s theme highlights what is badly needed in Africa. What is needed is not just increasing production but also effective and efficient processing technologies. We also have to link farmers to the market -- Dr Alfred Dixon, Director General, Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute.
Dr Dixon

The ISTRC-AB provides a very important space for the CGIAR to link to research in Africa. The conference theme is appropriate and it gives us a good opportunity for learning. In the future, we need to involve more of the private sector --
Thiele Graham (Program Leader, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas).
Dr Graham

For the first time, we are having a theme that is addressing the competitiveness of the root and tuber crops. This makes me happy. Also we are having a lot of young champions making presentations. What this means is that we are beginning to build sustainability which is great -- Prof Lateef Sanni (FUNAAB)
Prof Sanni

The conference provides an opportunity for African scientists to tell the world what they think is important to them, highlight areas for future development and open up areas for engagement -- Loretta Byrnes (BMGF)

I like to thank all the donors that have supported us. Today, most researchers in agriculture are getting old. But coming here, I can see young researchers and the conference is now serving as a grooming ground. So there is future for research in Africa— Dr Richardson Okechukwu (IITA)

We have seen a lot of presentations in this conference, and high number of students which is good. I can also see networking going on among researchers—Peter Kulakow