Breaking ground in Lusaka

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. Rogers Mwewa, representing VP Guy Scott, unveiling the IITA-SARAH commemorative marker
The Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. Rogers Mwewa, representing VP Guy Scott, unveiling the IITA-SARAH commemorative marker

Welcome to my blog! This is my first official blog post so I hope you will bear with me if I do not get this right the first time.

Almost a month ago, I – along with several members of IITA’s management and the Vice Chair of the IITA Board of Trustees – was at our Southern Africa Regional Hub in Lusaka, Zambia for two things: a management retreat, and for the “birth” of SARAH. In this blog, I want to talk about the latter. SARAH is not a person – SARAH is short for the Southern Africa Research and Administration Hub.

At the moment, our Southern Africa Hub office is a cramped, rented two-storey house from which more than 20 research and support staff operate. Not a very ideal situation, is it? However, with the completion of the first buildings of our permanent SARAH facilities by next year, we would be able to more effectively and efficiently carry out IITA’s mission and vision in Southern Africa.

At SARAH’s groundbreaking ceremony (the “birth” that I was referring to earlier), we invited the Vice President of the Republic of Zambia to grace the event. Unfortunately, he had to attend another official function, so he sent a representative in his stead – Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Hon. Rogers Mwewa.

To mark the occasion, the Hon Mwewa unveiled SARAH’s dedication plaque. I also had the honor of planting a tree with the honorable deputy minister, along with other important partners, to signify our commitment to improving the land and the lives of its people through agricultural research. On the side, we were also treated to some very energetic (read: flipping-through-the-air) cultural dances, displays and exhibitions, and a taste of different food items made from soybean, cassava, and cowpea. Overall, it was a significant and memorable event.

Just to give you an idea of what we’re building here: it will be a 50-hectare research, training, outreach, and business support campus. It will have state-of-the-art laboratories for natural resource management, agronomy and crop physiology, pest management, social sciences, plant breeding, biotechnology, GIS, crop utilization, and nutrition. It will also have facilities for producing high-value cassava-based products, postharvest and tissue culture, modern greenhouses, a fabrication workshop for labor-saving agricultural machinery as well training space for students, producers, processors, and other actors along the priority value chains.

There will also be a 3C (comprehensive, computerized, and connected) Knowledge Center that could accommodate about 50 people. A student hostel, recreation facilities, and secured parking area will complete the ensemble. In addition, our long-term vision is to establish two testing sites in Zambia, representing the more humid zones (northern Zambia) and dry savanna (Zambezi valley) of southern Africa.

We plan to build SARAH in phases – under the first phase, which will be completed by the last quarter of 2014, we will have built the administration building, the greenhouses, and the machinery fabrication facilities. Once completed, this will enable us to transfer our operations from our current temporary office. The rest of SARAH’s facilities will follow within 5 years. I encourage you to follow my blog for updates as SARAH “grows”.
Thank you for finding time to read through my first blog entry. I welcome comments, suggestions, and “constructive criticisms” to help me improve. I’ll get better at this, I promise! Talk to you again soon.

Southern Africa region

The IITA Southern African Hub was established barely three years ago. In this short period of time, the hub has rapidly grown from eight scientists to 15 and more than 60 support staff.

Our goal is to achieve greater food security and availability by intensifying and diversifying the maize-dominated cropping systems without compromising the natural resource base and to increase farmers’ incomes by providing more marketing opportunities through value addition and enterprise development.

We are implementing more than 10 research projects, which represent a continuum from fundamental discoveries to adaptive research that applies findings to actual production, processing, marketing, and natural resource management. Our main research foci are in the areas of soybean and cassava breeding, agronomy, food safety, human nutrition, and socio-economics. We share our results through popular media, field days, workshops, seminars, and peer-reviewed publications.

We serve our main clientele―the small-scale producers and processors―by developing sustainable farming and food systems. Although faced with limited research facilities, we have been able to provide a favorable training environment for students, technicians, and scientists from local partners and national programs. We have also produced and distributed large quantities of breeder and foundation seeds, and developed crop management and processing technologies with the aim of benefitting millions of farmers in the region.

Central Africa region

Through a realignment of the IITA strategy, the Central Africa hub of IITA was formally established in 2012 and provides the opportunity to advance the earlier good work in the Central African region to new heights, in terms of both science and impact. Rural households in Central Africa are facing major challenges while the region is under-resourced in terms of research-for-development capacity and presence of the international scientific research community. Notwithstanding, substantial progress is reported for the various research areas of IITA.

Seven improved cassava varieties were released this year, five in Cameroon and two in DR Congo. In Burundi, substantial progress is reported with advancing access to healthy banana planting material through macro-propagation. In Cameroon, the first experimental evidence was gathered of the susceptibility to Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) and aphids among local and hybrid plantain and cooking banana used in West and Central Africa. This will form a basis for selecting Musa genotypes in which BBTD disease develops most slowly. In East DR Congo, the large potential to increase productivity in cassava–legume systems through the application of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) practices was demonstrated. In West DR Congo, the production of micro-chips for transformation into high quality cassava flour is an excellent example of how innovative approaches can be used to add value to farmer’s produce. Central Africa also has some of the last remaining primary forests in the world, often resulting in conflicting interests between the needs of primary households and the interests of the global community. The activities in Cameroon of Reduced Emission from all Land Uses (REALU) have shown that perennial systems exist that provide agricultural outputs while retaining carbon stocks.

Many of above results were obtained through effective partnerships with various stakeholder groups, as illustrated with examples from Burundi, DR Congo, and Cameroon. A total of 17 PhD and 13 MSc students were engaged in scientific programs in 2012 and 36 scientific papers were produced.

While most of our current R4D activities are implemented in DR Congo, Cameroon, Burundi, and Rwanda, initiatives are being taken to get engaged in the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Gabon.

Implementing our mission happens through the CGIAR Research Programs which are multi-institutional programs tackling important global agricultural development issues. Besides the Humidtropics, other important CGIAR Research Programs, including Roots, Tubers, and Bananas, Water, Land, and Ecosystems, Climate Change and Food Security, Policies and Markets, Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Maize, and Grain Legumes have a major role to play in Central Africa.

Eastern Africa region

Operating from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Eastern Africa hub covers eight countries with a population of about 250 million people most of who are engaged in agriculture in one way or another. The sector, therefore, has immense potential for reducing poverty and improving food security.

Our key achievements which would not have been possible without the support of our donors and partners, include:

Researchers based at the Hub produced a total of 74 publications including 53 in peer-reviewed journals.

  • We are currently supporting 19 PhD students and 26 MSc students who are carrying out their research projects. Over 160 participants took part in various group trainings organized by the institute.
  • Four improved varieties of cassava were officially released; these have dual tolerance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and were developed with our national partners in Tanzania.
  • We have developed a market brand for cassava flour which was launched in early 2013 and persuaded a major wheat flour milling plant, Coast Millers, to invest in its distribution.
  • Three new major grants were funded that will bring in nearly US$20 million over the next four years.
  • Internationally recruited staff (IRS) based in the region grew from 16 in 2011 to 20 in 2012 and our nationally recruited staff (NRS) have also increased to 104, with 63 in research and 41 in administration.
  • Science Building: Our state-of-the-art science building was inaugurated in May this year.

West Africa region

West Africa region
Posted on October 7, 2013

The West Africa Hub made significant progress during 2012 in the implementation of research-for-development (R4D) projects with a broad range of partners working towards the achievement of our principal objectives:

  • Sustainable productivity growth and intensified production systems in the humid and sub-humid areas.
  • More resilient agro-ecosystems, improved and less vulnerable livelihoods of rural communities.
  • Enhanced and equitable agricultural innovation systems that link to policy and improve the impact of research and development investments.
  • Enhanced nutrition and food safety.

Ninety-two research projects were implemented wholly or in part in IITA-West Africa during the year. The releases of new varieties of cassava, maize, cowpea, and soybean by our partner institutions during the year demonstrate the benefits of our collaborative efforts in genetic improvement. The released varieties included three drought tolerant and three pro-vitamin A varieties of maize.

The increasing consolidation of our project activities in the central and northern parts of Ghana during the year is in line with, and supports, our focus on achieving very significant impact in this important agricultural zone of the country. Active in this zone during the year were three major projects funded by BMGF Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA), Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work for Smallholder Farmers in Africa (N2Africa), and Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) as well as Africa RISING, the USAID-funded project on the sustainable intensification of cereal-legume systems.