New project to boost yam production in West Africa

A new project that will develop new varieties of yam and enhance its breeding capabilities and partnerships in the West Africa region will soon be launched. Smallholder farmers in the main yam-growing areas of West Africa will benefit from this new project.

The 5-year project, called “AfricaYam: Enhancing Yam Breeding for Increased Productivity and Improved Quality in West Africa”, will be led by IITA with key partners in the four main producer countries in West Africa: Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria, and international research organizations and universities.

This crucial staple crop plays a very important role in food security, income generation, and the sociocultural lives of at least 60 million people in West Africa.

“Yam breeding can make major contributions to addressing this situation. The new project will raise the capacity for yam breeding in West Africa by developing high-yielding and robust varieties of white and water yams preferred by farmers and suited to market demands,” said Robert Asiedu, IITA Research for Development Director, Western Africa. He said that important traits for breeding include tuber yield, tuber quality, and resistance to yam mosaic virus (YMV) in white yam and Yam Anthracnose Disease (YAD) in water yam.

IITA scientists inspect yam plants in the field.
IITA scientists inspect yam plants in the field.

The project partners will work towards increasing yam productivity while reducing production costs and impact on the environmental by developing and deploying farmer-preferred varieties with higher yield, greater resistance to pests and diseases, and improved quality.

The project will be supported with a US$13.5-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-financing from participating institutions.

The key project partners in West Africa are the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the Ebonyi State University (EBSU) in Nigeria; two research institutes under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana (the Crops Research Institute and the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute); the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), Côte d’Ivoire; and the Université d’Abomey-Calavi (UAC), Dassa Center, Benin. Research partners outside the subregion are the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), and the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center (IBRC) in Japan; the James Hutton Institute (JHI), UK; the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), France; and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI), Cornell University, USA.

Good progress noted as N2Africa Phase two reviews its year one progress


Farmers threshing beans in Babati, Tanzania
Farmers threshing beans in Babati, Tanzania

The partners and project team of the Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers (N2Africa in short) project, met in Arusha, Tanzania from 28 – 31 October 2014, to review  the progress made  and challenges encountered in the first year of its second phase.

The project‘s goal is to boost the production of legumes among small holder farmers to improve  their  income and nutrition while at the same time enhancing soil fertility through promoting the use of these improved technologies.

During the first phase, different technologies for boosting legumes production were tested together with farmers in eight countries across sub-Saharan Africa and the most promising ones identified. The technologies include improved high-yielding varieties of four legumes: cowpea, groundnut, soybean and common bean, as well as inputs such as appropriate fertilizer mix and inoculants  (bacteria that strengthen ability of legumes to fix nitrogen).

The aim of the second phase of the project, which started in March 2014 is to find ways to sustainably disseminate these technologies even further, and to reach twice as many farmers in 11 countries. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project, is led by a consortium  comprising of: Wageningen University,  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)  and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and is implemented through a wide range of partners.

“One of challenges of legume production is lack of well-developed seed systems. Farmers usually do not buy legume seeds, and therefore, private seed companies are not motivated to produce legumes seeds,” said Professor Ken Giller, the project leader from Wageningen University. “The project  is therefore looking into ways to create effective seed supply systems through Private-Public Sector partnerships.”

Another major challenge is the unavailability of rhizobium inoculants and lack of policy and regulations to control their quality:  “While in all the project countries, we were able to demonstrate that using the right inoculants combined with fertilizers can double legume yield, very few of the countries have private or public companies producing and marketing these inoculants in sufficient quantities and quality. Furthermore, the countries also lack polices on quality standards  of inoculants and therefore cannot control the quality of products coming into the market,” said Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA Director for Central Africa.

“We have made a lot of progress in our first year in addressing constraints to production of legumes in the 11 countries we are working in. The Phase I countries such as DR Congo, Ghana, Nigeria Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe are now focusing on commercialization of these technologies and institutionalization of the project. While the new project countries such as Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda are pre-testing the identified promising technologies to identify  the most effective and appropriate one .” Dr Kanampiu the IITA N2Africa coordinator said. “There has been a lot of sharing of information and lessons learned across all the countries and the over a 164 project partners.”

Peter Ebyanat, the N2Africa Uganda coordinated noted in their first year the project’s efforts focused on identifying and bringing onboard partners to work with and the technologies to roll out. “One of the areas  we will now focus on is to improve the quality of the local inoculant which is being produced by Makere University to ensure its available to meet demand and quality requirements. We will also focus on developing community seed systems in addition to engaging private seed companies to ensure farmers have access to the new improved varieties.

In Tanzania, the project made proress in putting in place policies and regulations on inoculants. “We have developed guidelines for registration of bio fertilizers which include  rhizobium inoculants  including procedures for quality control. Therefore the authorities can be able to test any products coming into the market. Next step will be to identify private sector companies interested in distribution on inoculants to farmers,” said Freddy Bijukya, the national coordinator.

More partners

The project also explored  ways to strengthen partnerships with on-going similar initiatives for  sustainability through their representatives present at the meeting. These include:

Overall phase two of the project seeks to reach more than 550,000 small-holder farmers with these improved technologies and to ensure they triple their investment by getting three dollars back for each dollar invested.


IITA Kalambo moves from paper to electronic survey

A participant with farmer taking the GPS coordinate during the practical session.
A participant with farmer taking the GPS coordinate
during the practical session.

The socioeconomic unit of IITA-Kalambo, in collaboration with colleagues from Nairobi-Kenya, Uganda, and HQ-Ibadan, organized an 8-day training on 1-11 September on the use of e.survey tools (tablets) to conduct household surveys. The training was conducted in the context of the baseline study of the CGIAR Research Program on Humidtropics and the key performance indicators of IITA on poverty and sustainable land use (SLU).

These tools will help save time and reduce errors in undertaking household surveys as well as shortening the time of reporting according to the organizers. Also through the training, IITA-Kalambo built capacity among NARS representatives and university students who attended the training.

“I appreciate this new technology; previously we used only printed paper with the associated risks of damage from rain, errors, problems, and waste of time,” Zalugurha Igega Thithy said.

Another participant, Sebba, a social economist and agronomist, said “I have been involved in several surveys but this training was very useful to me. It gave me more knowledge about conducting a better survey. Before this training, our knowledge was limited, ” said.

Visiting USAID and AGRA teams praise IITA initiatives and facilities in DRC

Dr.Joseph DeVries, AGRA (2nd from left); with IITA scientists in the greenhouse.
Dr.Joseph DeVries, AGRA (2nd from left); with IITA scientists in the greenhouse.

I the week of 7 September,a two-person team from USAID and AGRA visited IITA–Kalambo station to learn more about the agricultural development activities going on there and to explore areas of collaboration.

The USAID team consisted of Dr Peter Ewell (a consultant) and Mr Augustin Kidima Ngeleka of USAID Kinshasa. The visitors were taken around the station and interacted with key staff and members of the IITA Kalambo Youth Agripreneurs (IKYA). The team visited the processing unit, fabrication unit, exhibition center, greenhouses, and laboratories. They expressed amazement at what they saw of the facilities and ongoing work at the site. In the laboratories, the team asked many questions on rhizobia strain tests, the supply of inoculants, crop responses to inoculants especially by common beans and soybean, market issues and prices, etc. The visitors were happy with the responses that in his closing remarks, Dr Ewell said, “It has been very inspiring to see such a well-designed and well-managed program. The site is spectacular.”

A few days later, another team from the African Green Revolution for Agriculture (AGRA) visited the Station. The team was composed of Dr Joseph DeVries, AGRA’s Director for Africa’s Seed Systems Program, and Dr Chris Assanzi, AGRA’s Program Officer based in Goma, DRC. Dr DeVries presented on AGRA’s activities in DRC. These included organizing training on crop breeding, funding projects on breeding new crop varieties, developing and strengthening private sector capacity on seed systems, and developing strong partnership networks to improve on the quality and quantity of improved seed accessibility. After visiting the processing unit, AGRA representatives expressed amazement at the diversity of soybean-derived products and the explanations provided by the IKYA members. They said they would advocate and lobby with their financial backers so that soybean could also be included as part of their mandate crops as well. After the visit, the team said they were overwhelmed by the investments made, congratulated those with the vision to build the site, and expressed their willingness to partner with IITA-Kalambo. To share in the IITA-Kalambo vision, the team discussed important areas of collaboration, such as soil sample analysis, demonstration of new technologies to farmers, training of agronomists, and tests of laboratory experiments.