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.


Nontraditional partnership: IITA-Kalambo partners with Catholic Archdiocese for agricultural development in South Kivu, DRC

The Archbishop, Monsignor Francois - Xavier Maroy Rusengo with Dr B. Vanluawe and other IITA scientists, IITA-Kalambo.
The Archbishop, Monsignor Francois – Xavier Maroy Rusengo with Dr B. Vanluawe and other
IITA scientists, IITA-Kalambo.

IITA has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Catholic Archdiocese of Bukavu in the South Kivu Province of the DR Congo. The MoU defines the framework for the cooperation between the Catholic Church and IITA.

The agreement, which is a marked departure from the usual partnership with nongovernment organizations and government agencies, enables the two parties to pursue agricultural research for development to improve livelihoods of the populace while sustaining the integrity of the natural resource base. The specific areas of cooperation identified include: food crops research and production; livestock and fishery research and production; vegetable production; agro-processing and marketing; training of farmers; youth leadership and entrepreneurship in agriculture; and collaboration in sponsoring business incubation programs.

Under the agreement, the Church has released over 3 hectares of farmland to IITA that will be used as a research farm as well as several hectares for the IITA-Kalambo Youth Agripreneuer (IKYA) for crop and vegetable production at its Agricultural Center in Murhesa. The Center has been renovated to create rooms for offices and guest rooms for IKYA members who will be engaged in agro-processing activities using underutilized machines and equipment that are at the Center.

The Catholic Church following in South Kivu represents about 51% of the population. Through this initiative, IITA hopes to reach thousands of farmers in South Kivu Province.

Commenting on this development, the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese, Monsignor Francois-Xavier Maroy Rusengo, lauded DG Nteranya Sanginga for reaching out to the Church. He said that he would ensure that Catholic faithfuls in the province take advantage of this unique opportunity.

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.