IITA maize breeder selected as a Fellow of the prestigious CSSA

Striga IMG_3987The Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) has selected Dr Abebe Menkir, IITA Maize Breeder, as the recipient of the 2015 CSSA Fellow Award. Dr Menkir has received this prestigious recognition for his efforts spanning 19 years at IITA in breeding maize with high yield potential, resistance to diseases and Striga, tolerance to drought, and low levels of aflatoxin production. Many of these varieties have been registered and released by the national agricultural research systems (NARS) and the private sector, and have contributed to significant improvements in the productivity, income, and well-being of people in West and Central Africa.

In addition to his laudable scientific achievements that have contributed to agricultural development, he was considered for this award because of his collaboration with the NARS, the private sector, and advanced research institutes in the US, UK, and Australia.

“For me this is a recognition of the output of the Maize Unit and IITA’s contributions to science and development in Africa. I will continue to mentor the younger generations of scientists and generate more varieties and innovations that will have greater impact on the livelihoods of farmers,” said Dr Menkir.

Dr Menkir will be formally recognized with this award during the 2015
Annual Meeting in the Hilton Minneapolis at the CSSA Breakfast, Awards, and Plenary (Klepper Lecture) on 17 November. He will also be acknowledged in CSA News and other avenues, including a poster display at the Annual Meeting.

Nestlé VP: IITA is a lighthouse for Africa and many other emerging economies

An elated Anne Roulin, Nestlé Vice President: Nutrition, Health & Wellness & Sustainability, has commended Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of IITA, for his outstanding presentation during the conference Planting Seeds for the Future of Food
in Switzerland on 1-4 June. Dr Sanginga’s presentation to more than 150 participants from NGOs, the business world, and academia described IITA’s work, success stories, and model for eradicating youth unemployment in Africa.

Anne’s congratulatory message to Dr Sanginga read as follows: “After listening to so many ‘gloom and doom’ messages at other conferences, I was really encouraged to see that there is a whole series of potential technological solutions that can produce sustainable and nutritious foods in the future, even though the political and social issues are immense. The work you are doing at IITA is truly a lighthouse, not only for Africa but also for many other emerging economies. Hearing about the successes of your Agripreneurs brought tears of joy to my eyes and real hope for the future. Keep up the great work!”

Also, last month Dr Sanginga was a panelist at the 50th Annual Meeting organized by the African Development Bank, 26-29 May in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to discuss agribusiness potentials. He spoke extensively about how IITA continues to link and help young people to earn a decent living from the agricultural value chains. More information about the events are available here:  article and video.

YIIFSWA exhibits achievements on yam during IITA RTB review

External evaluators from the Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA) came to review and evaluate IITA’s contribution to the achievements of the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) last week.


Samson Ogbole, YIIFSWA research supervisor, shows Jillian Lenne mini tubers growing in the aeroponics system.
Samson Ogbole, YIIFSWA research supervisor, shows Jillian Lenne mini tubers growing in the aeroponics system.

Jillian Lenne, team leader of the IEA, stated, “The evaluation of the RTB program is one of 10 evaluations commissioned by CGIAR. The purpose is to provide guidance for developing proposals for the next phase.” The information gained will influence decision making by program management and its funders on issues such as extension, expansion, and structuring of the program.

With the global mandate on yam, IITA has made major strides in the development and advancement of the crop for income generation and food security. YIIFSWA, a flagship project on yam, was selected for an in-depth review of its outcomes, delivery, and impact.

YIIFSWA has made a significant breakthrough in the development of low-cost, effective mass propagation methods. With the establishment of aeroponics and the bioreactor for production of plantlets and mini tubers, the yam multiplication rate has increased a hundredfold. These technologies offer rapid, clean, and cost-effective mass methods of multiplying yam. The establishment of these technologies in the private sector and the NARS will effectively address the need for fast and wide distribution of high-quality improved varieties to meet the increasing demand for the crop.

YIIFSWA has also made significant strides in managing yam pests and diseases. Under the project, a cost-effective Multiplex PCR was developed to detect several viruses from one single test. The advantage is that it requires fewer tests of assay, therefore, it is less costly. The project is also working on developing and establishing a procedure called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) for detecting viruses. Such an intervention will aid field inspectors with the health certification of plants and seed tubers.

YIIFSWA PhD student Yao explaining the effect of nematode infestation in yam.
YIIFSWA PhD student Yao explaining the effect of nematode infestation in yam.

Lenne had visited the aeroponics, bioreactor system, and virology labs. During an intermission she said, “Although yam is considered an orphan crop in the RTB program, one of the main highlights of the evaluation is the strides made from learning from previous work that had been done on other crops. It is a basic sort of wish of the CRPs to see cross-crop collaboration in the development of new technologies. I think that has come out nicely for yam.”

IITA’s RTB programs will be evaluated on their performance with a special focus on relevance, quality of science, effectiveness, impact and sustainability, governance, and management.

AGCO to partner with IITA on agricultural mechanization

The labor-intensive activities undertaken by African farmers in the production and postharvest processing of cassava justify mechanization. Impressed by IITA’s work on cassava, senior managers from AGCO International GmbH visited IITA-Zambia on 29 May to propose a partnership to ease the labor stress by developing mechanized options for production, postharvest handling, processing, and storage. AGCO is a global leader in the design, manufacture, and distribution of agricultural equipment. It recently opened a farm in Lusaka, Zambia, with state-of-the-art facilities to train smallholder and commercial farmers, dealers, and distributors on new technologies for sustainable agricultural production.

The AGCO team included Rob Smith, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East; Steve Clarke, Vice President, Strategic Marketing and Brand Governance; Mark More, Manager, Business Process and Agricultural Development; and Jason Burbidge, General Manager of the Future Farm.

Dr David Chikoye, Director, IITA-Southern Africa, and Dr Oladeji Alamu welcomed the visitors. Dr Chikoye highlighted IITA’s value chain activities on the six mandate crops, capacity development, and youth in agriculture and made a presentation on the plans for developing the permanent site for IITA-Southern Africa Research and Administration Hub.

“Cassava is a second staple crop in southern Africa, and has high potential for industrial use in bakeries, livestock feed mills, starch and ethanol production,” Dr Alamu said when receiving the visitors. He added, “IITA has successfully demonstrated
that high quality cassava flour can replace up to 40% of wheat flour in bread.” The initial contact with AGCO was made by IITA board member Hans Joehr.

AGCO visitors at the IITA-Zambia facilities.
AGCO visitors at the IITA-Zambia facilities.

Healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy planet

IITA organized a talk on 29 May at its Eastern Africa hub in Dar es Salaam on healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy planet, for grade 6 and 7 students from nearby schools to mark two important events, the  International Fascination of Plants Day and International Year of Soils (IYS2015).

An IITA staff explains about IITA’s work with African food crops.
An IITA staff explains about IITA’s work with African food crops.

Fascination of Plants Day was celebrated 18 May but events were held throughout the month. The goal is to get as many people as possible around the world to be fascinated by plants and enthusiastic about the importance of plant science for agriculture, in sustainably producing food, as well as for horticulture, forestry, and all of the non-food products such as paper, timber, chemicals, energy, and pharmaceuticals. The IITA-Eastern Africa hub celebrated the event in 2013 by inviting students from nearby schools to tour the facility and learn about IITA’s research on plants/crops.

Meanwhile, the 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS2015) to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of the soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

The talk, given by Dr Frederick Baijukya, IITA agronomist and National Coordinator for the N2Africa project in Tanzania, focused on the links among good soils, healthy plants, and a healthy planet. The students later toured the facility and interacted with various IITA researchers and got a better understanding of some of the ongoing research work at IITA.

The event not only created awareness among the students on the importance of soils and issues around soils, plants, and food security but inspired and encouraged them to pursue courses in science.

WASHC-IITA educates country-level soil health consortia members on ISFM data management and analyses

The West Africa Soil Health Consortia (WASHC) project successfully conducted a training workshop in Ibadan 25-29 May for the five Country-level Soil Health Consortia (CSHC) established in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. Stakeholders included representatives from other IITA projects, Africa RISING, University of Ibadan, Federal University of  Agriculture Abeokuta, and Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Ibadan. There were 28 participants from 16 organizations across West Africa, with some of the resource persons coming from USA and Kenya. The objective of the workshop was to contribute to better recommendations on integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) for smallholder farmers through capacity building in ISFM data synthesis and information management.

Dr Jeroen Huising addressing the participants.
Dr Jeroen Huising addressing the participants.

In his welcome address, the project Leader, Dr Jeroen Huising, pointed out that the training workshop was very important and of urgent necessity for the CSHC to fulfill their function of being a repository of ISFM data and information. It was also needed to broaden agronomic data and information management across IITA and to improve data sharing across different projects both within and outside IITA. “We need to discuss opportunities to share data and knowledge better: we spend a lot of time collecting data but make little or no effort to ensure its use for the longer term. We need to improve this,” Dr Huising emphasized.

A group picture of the workshop participants.
A group picture of the workshop participants.

The 5-day training workshop focused on data management, presentation and review of legacy data collected in each CSHC; understanding of the conceptual framework for ISFM data analyses and recommendations; use of metadata data standards for ISFM trials and legacy data; presentation of different agronomic protocols and the review of different data collection templates; ISFM trials data analyses using R studio; use of aWhere for effective management, analyses,
and visualization of ISFM trials data;
and the use of Dev aWhere platform. Also discussed were best practices in data management and data quality; capacity development in MS Excel – Excel spreadsheet requirements for use on aWhere platform; challenges to data harmonization; and how to leverage weather data for ISFM data analysis.

Jeroen Huising, Martin Mueller, Samuel Mesele, Martin Macharia (CABI, OFRA data manager), Dries Roobroeck, Hannah Reed, and Courtney Cohen facilitated the sessions. At the end of the training, Dr Huising presented certificates of attendance to the participants.

Soil scientists harmonize positions on sustainable soil management

To mark 2015 as the International Year of Soils declared by the United Nations, a consultative meeting of the African Soil Partnership (AfSP) was held at Elmina, Ghana, 20–22 May. Scientists and representatives from 35 countries across sub-Saharan Africa set out and fine-tuned their positions on a five-year regional strategy for achieving food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation through sustainable soil management initiatives. The secretariat for the AfSP is held within the FAO Africa regional office in Ghana.

AfSP is part of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) instituted by FAO in 2011 to coordinate and create a unified and recognizable voice for soils and to avoid the fragmentation of efforts and waste of resources. This partnership ensures that healthy soils are maintained as required for feeding the increasing world population and meeting the needs for biomass (energy), fiber, fodder, and other products. It focuses on these five action pillars.

1. Promote sustainable management of soil resources for soil protection, conservation, and sustainable productivity

2. Encourage investment, technical cooperation, policy, education awareness, and extension in soil

3. Promote targeted soil research and development focusing on identified gaps and priorities and synergies with related productive, environmental, and social development actions

4. Enhance the quantity and quality of soil data and information: data collection (generation), analysis, validation, reporting, monitoring, and integration with other disciplines

5. Harmonize methods, measurements, and indicators for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources 

During the consultative meeting, discussions centered upon options for improving the performance of African soils for food and nutrition security in the region. The process will help to develop an implementation plan for each of the five action pillars of the GSP and, based on these implementation plans, a consolidated effort will be made to raise funds to enable these plans to be executed.

Following these discussions, implementation strategies compatible with the peculiar needs of the sub- Saharan African region were drafted, drawing experiences from the ideas developed by the GSP forum.

Dr Jeroen Huising, IITA’s soil scientist, together with other participants, resolved during the meeting to advocate the protection and conservation of good soils, restoration and rehabilitation of degraded soils, promotion of sustainable resource management at all levels and in all land-use types with a focus on nutrient balance, soil conservation measures, and increases in organic matter and carbon stocks. They also developed action plans to achieve these resolutions and consolidated the AfSP by establishing a Steering Committee, in which IITA is represented. These positions are contained in the Elmina communiqué.

The identified challenges in the key sectors will receive urgent attention through this new collaboration. For IITA this is a good partnership to shape its collaboration with national institutions in Africa as far as the sustainable management of soil resources is concerned.

It is expected that this will directly contribute to achieving food and nutrition security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, provision of various ecosystem services, and sustainable economic development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Soil scientists and representatives from 35 countries attended the workshop.
Soil scientists and representatives from 35 countries attended the workshop.

AfricaYam project can achieve more impact on farmers in sub-region, DG of CRI tells partners

During the inauguration of the new AfricaYam project, Dr Victor Agyeman, Director General of Crops Research Institute (CRI), Ghana, affirmed that the project could achieve more impact on farmers in the subregion.

Participants at the inaugural workshop in Ghana.
Participants at the inaugural workshop in Ghana.

“AfricaYam is sure to succeed,” he said, “because it involves a community of people from Anglophone and Francophone countries and uses agroforestry to tackle the effects of environmental degradation faced by farmers as a result of climate change.” He assured participants of his support in implementing recommendations on the community of practice when developed by the project.

Dr Robert Asiedu, IITA Director, Research for Development  (West Africa), led a team of IITA representatives to the inauguration at Mensvic Hotel, Accra, Ghana, 26–29 May. The meeting’s objectives were to establish and strengthen links among the project team, review the work done so far, and discuss the project targets and activities in detail especially for the first year. The meeting also featured a training for accountants from partner NARS on financial management and IITA’s reporting procedures.

The AfricaYam project aims at enhancing the breeding of species of white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and water yam (D. alata) for increased productivity in West Africa, specifically in Nigeria, Ghana, Bénin, and Côte d’Ivoire. It also aims to reduce production costs and adverse environmental impacts by developing and deploying end-user preferred varieties with high yield, greater resistance to pests and diseases, as well as improved quality. This will benefit diverse stakeholders primarily yam farmers, consumers, processors, and transporters.

AfricaYam is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over a five-year period and led by Dr David De Koeyer of IITA. The project is also collaborating with various research institutes in France, Japan, United Kingdom, and USA to increase results.

(L-R): Drs Jim Lorenzen (Gates Foundation), Glenn Bryan (JHI), David De Koeyer, Lava Kumar, and Robert Asiedu (IITA).
(L-R): Drs Jim Lorenzen (Gates Foundation), Glenn Bryan (JHI), David De Koeyer, Lava Kumar, and Robert Asiedu (IITA).

The project activities are grouped into four main components:

Strengthening capacity for yam breeding

Tools and methods to raise efficiency of yam breeding

Data management

Breeding and regional testing of promising breeder lines

Over the next five years of implementation, the following outcomes are expected from the project: active yam breeding programs in the target countries; improved efficiency of yam breeding programs through the use of faster and more precise tools and methods; and breeding methods used in national and international yam breeding programs in West Africa for sustainable development of new varieties that combine high and stable yield with good tuber qualities.

IITA scientists participate in a workshop organized by Gates Foundation

Four IITA scientists, Drs Norbert Maroya, Djana Mignouna, Victor Manyong, and Thomas Wobill, joined 64 other partners from different research institutions, NGOs, universities,  USAID, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the Swissôtel Nai Lert Park, Bangkok, Thailand, 26–28 May for a learning workshop. The workshop was organized by the Monitoring, Learning & Evaluation (MLE) team on Agricultural Development of the Gates Foundation.

L-R: IITA Scientists Drs Norbert Maroya, Djana Mignouna, Victor Manyong, and Thomas Wobill during the meeting in Thailand.
L-R: IITA Scientists Drs Norbert Maroya, Djana Mignouna, Victor Manyong, and Thomas Wobill during the meeting in Thailand.

The experts converged to build a shared learning agenda on technology adoption, discuss the dearth of credible data around the adoption of technologies and practices, and reach a consensus for improving measurement techniques to deliver credible data to the agricultural sector. All are aimed at reducing poverty and increasing the agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The discussions were focused on establishing what works, as well as on identifying the gaps that remain in the knowledge base on technology adoption. Other objectives of the workshop were as follows:

Arrive at a common understanding of issues related to adoption, specifically ideas in planning, promoting, and measuring adoption

Identify best practices in adoption planning, promotion, and measurement

Co-create a list of open questions, existing gaps and constraints, and known opportunities to measure the adoption of agricultural developments

As a result of IITA’s participation in the meeting there are shared lessons which are expected to facilitate learning among collaborating partners. The main achievement was the development of a list of significant questions pertinent to adoption which helped to build a strong knowledge base for both the Gates Foundation AgDev Program and partners.

The challenges identified were that many pockets of credible evidence existed but shared learning was infrequent. Different adoption studies tried to answer questions of the same type and often in the same locations, without collaboration. This duplication of efforts leads to a waste of resources. To prevent these, some common tools for adoption will be developed by participants.

Training of trainers on mechanical weeders held at IITA

Twenty-three participants from partner organizations benefited from a three-day Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop on the use and maintenance of mechanical weeders in cassava farms.

The ToT, held on 25–27 May, was coordinated by the IITA-led Cassava Weeds Management Project.  The ToT came after Nigerian engineers came together and modified some imported motorized tillers from the United States. Other items of equipment used for the training were manual weeders acquired from AfricaRice.

The ToT will pave the way for extensive testing of the machines on farmers’ fields billed to take place later this year across four States in Nigeria.

Engr Thierno Diallo of IITA handled both theoretical and practical sessions assisted by Godwin Atser,  Communication & Knowledge Exchange Expert for the Project. Dr Alfred Dixon, Project Leader, Cassava Weeds Management Project, commended the progress made in the modification and adaption of the mechanical weeders, noting that the equipment would alleviate the pain associated with manual weeding using hoes and cutlasses.

Participants were drawn from the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, and National Root Crops Research Institute. All are partner institutions of the Project.

A trainee demonstates the use of the mechanical weeder on the field as other trainees looks on.
A trainee demonstates the use of the mechanical weeder on the field as other trainees looks on.

In the field, participants were given plots to measure and then asked to identify the weeds before the weeding exercise began. The participants expressed enthusiasm and said that they would put to use knowledge gained from the training.

Prof Friday Ekeleme, Principal Investigator of the Project, addressed participants at the closing ceremony and urged them to use the knowledge gained.

The ToT workshop was funded by the IITA Cassava Breeding Unit, IFAD-High Quality Cassava Flour Project, HarvestPlus, Postharvest Utilization Unit, Cassava Transformation Agenda project, and Cassava Weeds Management Project.