N2Africa project launched in Tanzania

The Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work in Africa (N2Africa) project which aims at encouraging smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to grow legumes due to their ability to fix nitrogen from the air into the soils thus improving soil fertility, and for their nutritional and commercial value, has launched its activities in Tanzania.  

N2Africa was officially launched by the Director for Research and Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Fildelis Myaka on behalf of the Permanent Secretary Ms Sophia Kaduna at the start of a two-day project planning workshop, from 19 – 20 February, hosted by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) ―one of the project’s partners, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

High value but low yield

Speaking at the event, Dr Myaka lauded the project for singling out legumes. He said despite their obvious benefit to the country’s food security, employment, and even contribution to GDP, their productivity was low and yields were far below their potential.

He attributed the low yield to inadequate application of scientific knowledge by both farmers and development practitioners and other factors. He was therefore pleased to note that N2Africa was working to expand the area and enhance yields of grain legumes through the application of scientific knowledge including the use of improved varieties and rhizobium inoculants to maximize the yield potential of grain legumes.

“The application of scientific knowledge, especially by smallholder farmers, has always been constrained by poor targeting of the technologies to the diversity of farmers and farming conditions, poor packaging of technologies, and issues relating to input supply and output market. I am aware that N2Africa’s approach puts into consideration all these factors through farming systems analysis to target technologies to the farming conditions of smallholder farmers and through a value chain approach,” he added.

Development for  Research model

Other speakers at the forum included the Director of the Project, Dr Ken Giller from Wagenigen University who gave an overview of the project. Dr Giller said the aim of the project entitled ”Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work in Africa” aims at increasing the land area cropped with legumes.

He said the project was following a Development-for-Research model and was disseminating the already available technologies for legume production such as improved varieties, and use of rhizobium. The research would now focus on the challenges farmers were facing in adopting and adapting these technologies in their farming systems.

Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA’s Director for Central Africa, also at the event, conveyed greetings from IITA’s Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga. Dr Vanlauwe noted the initiative was important to IITA as part of its Natural Resource Management activities.

According to Dr Fredrick Baijukya, the project’s team leader in Tanzania, said N2Africa will be implemented in the Southern, Eastern and Northern parts in Iringa, Ruvuma, Njombe, Lindi, Mtwara, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Shinyanga and Dodoma regions. It will focus on cowpea, common bean and ground nuts which are amongst the most important legumes in the country.

The project launch brought together a wide diversity of stakeholders from those in legume production, input development, and supplies including seeds and fertilizers, processing, marketing, and regulatory bodies to policy makers.

The project which is now in its second phase is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Wagenigen University. Phase one of the project initiated in 2009 was implemented in DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. The second phase started in January 2014 and will focus on five core countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda but will maintain activities in the other countries under Phase 1.

Implementing partners are IITA, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). They will collaborate with the National Agriculture Research Systems and local and international NGOs.

COMPRO-II project team meets to plot for year 3


Farmer in a cowpea field
Farmer in a cowpea field

The Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) of COMPRO-II, an IITA-led project that assesses the quality and effectiveness of commercial products in the marketplace that claim to increase crop yields, held its  Planning Meeting on 21–23 January at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Kumasi, Ghana. It was hosted by one of the project partners, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

 The purpose of the meeting was to discuss progress made so far and the challenges faced and come up with strategies to address these in the third year of implementation. The meeting brought together 35 participants from the project team and key partners from the six participating countries including objective leaders, country representatives, and representatives from regulatory agencies. Also at the meeting, was Dr Vasey Mwaja, the new Program Officer in charge of the project from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr Mwaja expressed his appreciation for the commitment shown by the project team. He further urged the team to ensure that by the end of the meeting they would have developed a clear action plan which would steer the project over the next 3 years.

During the meeting, PhD students supported by the project presented their proposals for feedback from the SAC members The SAC members also committed to be actively involved in supervising the PhD students as well as providing scientific advice and support to the team.

On the last day of the meeting, the participants visited KNUST facilities after which they were graciously hosted to a dinner by the Vice Chancellor of KNUST, Professor William Otoo Ellis.

During the meeting the team shares the lessons learned and came up with clear strategies to steer the project forward including the necessary adjustment to selected milestones.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Mwaja noted that progress made by the project was evident and the key to this was the active involvement of partners from regulatory agencies. “Always ask yourselves how you will have contributed to the success of this initiative which is making a difference in the lives of the smallholder farmers”, he concluded.

COMPRO-II, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is being implemented in six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Agricultural transformation in Africa now in sight


Ghanaian Consul General with IITA officials
Ghanaian Consul General with IITA officials

Ghanaian Consul-General Alhaji Abdulai Abukari, who paid a courtesy visit to IITA, says research outputs and innovations at the Institute are signs that agricultural transformation in Africa is no longer a distant reality.

Since 1967, IITA has been working with national and international partners to develop agricultural innovations including high-yielding crop varieties that are addressing the issue of yield gaps on the continent and putting money into farmers’ pockets.

“I am impressed and Africa is lucky to have an institution like IITA. I also see that your research is relevant and is addressing the challenges facing farmers. I see Africa feeding itself in the near future,” Mr Abukari said.

The Ghanaian envoy who was received by IITA Management—Acting Director General Kenton Dashiell; Deputy Director General (Corporate Services) Kwame Akuffo-Akoto; Humidtropics Director Kwesi Atta-Krah; and Director for Western Africa, Robert Asiedu—visited the Genetic Resources Center, Crop Utilization Unit, Postharvest Unit, Business Incubation Platform, yam aeroponics facility, the IITA Youth Agripreneurs office, and also made a tour of the 1,000-hectare campus.

Easy-to-make machines that reduce drudgery in cassava processing by women and children, food-safety strategies to tackle aflatoxins, conservation of Africa’s key staples, and the aggressive focus on capacity development and youth were areas that struck a chord with Mr Abukari.

While thanking IITA staff for their dedication to their work, Mr Abukari urged IITA to partner more with his government and pay closer attention to the issues around policies, markets, and institutions.

He commended IITA for its focus on smallholder farmers, stressing that more than 70 percent of those involved in agriculture in Africa operate on a small scale and that interventions targeting them would have positive benefits.

Dr Robert Asiedu gave an overview of IITA activities in West Africa, highlighting that the Institute has had good relationships with partners and institutions in Ghana.

Mr Abukari also had discussions with DDG Akuffo-Akoto on areas that would facilitate an increased presence of IITA in Ghana.

Africa’s biggest maker of ethanol from cassava cites IITA


L-R: Godwin Atser, Kenton Dashiell, Rajasekar Rajavelu, Director (Agro), AADL and an AADL official during the commissioning.
L-R: Godwin Atser, Kenton Dashiell, Rajasekar Rajavelu, Director (Agro), AADL and an AADL official during the commissioning.

Allied Atlantic Distilleries Limited (AADL), Africa’s biggest maker of ethanol from cassava, says improved varieties and best-bet agronomic practices in the production of cassava, which it obtained from IITA and passed on to farmers have doubled the yield of the root crop, making it possible for farmers to supply more of this raw material to the industry than earlier expected.

Commissioned on 30 January in Lasada, Igbese community in Ogun State, the ethanol factory will produce 9 million liters per annum of extra neutral alcohol, requiring approximately 250 tons of cassava per day.

Already over 8,000 farmers located within 70-km radius of Igbesa covering Ogun and Oyo states, southwest Nigeria, have been engaged and the factory is providing more than 40,000 indirect jobs to people in the area, Mr Ola Rosiji, Chairman of AADL said.

“With the support of IITA, our farmers have doubled their yields from an average 12 t/ha to 22 t/ha; our farmers now earn double what they would have earned,” he added.

Commending the board and management of the company, Dr Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General, Partnerships & Capacity Development, representing Director General Nteranya Sanginga, said the inauguration of the factory was indeed a good opportunity for Africa, and especially cassava growers, who now have more markets for their produce.

He said that the factory would create jobs, attract foreign investment, and create wealth for the people, adding that IITA is willing to partner with the private sector to lift 11 million people out of poverty and also reclaim and put into sustainable use 7.5 million hectares of degraded land.

Collaboration between IITA and AADL, a subsidiary of the Lexcel Group began in the early 2000s when the project was conceived and IITA provided inputs to the feasibility study of the investment. Also under the Cassava Transformation Agenda, which is being coordinated by Dr Richardson Okechukwu, IITA is again linking farmers to the factory. In addition, the Institute is also providing training and improved planting materials and technical advisory support to the firm.

HarvestPlus Country Manager Paul Ilona said the factory would change the outlook of cassava from the global perspective of “a poor man’s crop” to an industrial crop.

The Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun commended IITA for the good work it has been doing to improve the lives of people in Africa.

New project on Cassava Weeds Management launched this week

Workshop participants during the kick-off program
Workshop participants during the kick-off program


L-R: IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Senior Program Officers Vasey Mwaja and Lawrence Kent; and Project Leader, Sustainable Weed Management Technologies for Cassava Systems in Nigeria, Alfred Dixon, during the kick-off workshop in Ibadan 28-31 January.
L-R: IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Senior Program Officers
Vasey Mwaja and Lawrence Kent; and Project Leader, Sustainable Weed Management Technologies for
Cassava Systems in Nigeria, Alfred Dixon, during the kick-off workshop in Ibadan 28-31 January.

IITA and partners this week launched a new multi-year project assessing sustainable weed management technologies for cassava-based farming systems in Nigeria in Ibadan.

The project is seeking to find solutions to the labor-intensive weeding usually performed by women and children and to increase cassava productivity for 125,000 Nigerian farm families. The project has the potential to serve as a livelihood transformation model for all cassava-producing states in Nigeria.

Cassava is generally grown by smallholder farmers, who appreciate its tolerance of drought and poor soils. However, its prospects in Nigeria—the world’s largest producer—is being threatened by insufficiently developed weed management practices. Hand and hoe weeding are the predominant weed control practices on smallholder cassava farms and takes 50-80 percent of the total labor budget of cassava growers with women contributing more than 90 percent of the labor and 69 percent of farm children between the ages of 5 and 14 forced to leave school to perform weeding.

“Weeding requires up to 500 hours of labor per hectare to prevent economic losses in cassava roots in Nigeria,” says Project Manager Dr Alfred Dixon. “This burden compromises the women’s responsibilities and the children’s education, and Nigerian farmers will continue to record low yields until weed control in cassava is improved. Farm families cannot plant a larger area than they can weed,” he says. According to him, “Addressing the complex issues of hunger and poverty is no easy task, and so we see the value in engaging in new research and deploying our best resources to ensure that smallholder farmers have access to the best innovations to increase their agricultural productivity and improve the nutrition of their families.”

The ultimate aim of this research is to develop state-of the art weed management practices, by combining improved cassava varieties with proper planting dates, plant populations, and plant nutrition options. These particular practices may include the use of herbicides—all of which currently meet globally-accepted conventions and safety thresholds appropriate for smallholder farmers—to make weed control in cassava more efficient. Any herbicide activity will be part of a comprehensive strategy of effective agronomic practices that are collectively striving to make weed management more effective and sustainable.

The IITA-managed project is supported by a US$7.7million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and involves the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike; University of Agriculture, Makurdi; Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; government representatives, international cassava scientists, the donor community, and the private sector. “The project will also offer policymakers better information on modern, relevant, and appropriate weed management technologies. This information could be used to expand the project to 5 million farm families in Nigeria,” says Dr Friday Ekeleme, the project’s Principal Investigator.

The sustainable cassava weed manage­­ment project aligns with Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda and will help to meet the Government’s goals to increase domestic food production, reduce dependence on food imports, and expand value addition to locally produced agricultural products.

The project will be handed over to one of the key national institutions in the development and exten­sion of improved cassava technologies, NRCRI, for scaling up the project’s outcomes on a national level.