Researchers develop a new way to describe plantain diversity in DRC

Researchers studying the morphological (structure and form) diversity of plantain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have developed an innovative way to describe plantain diversity using descriptors based on performance, grouping them into main, secondary, and rare descriptors.

The morphological identification of plantain cultivars is important since molecular tools appear to have little value in supporting research in plantain taxonomy to differentiate plantain cultivars.

Three new descriptors

In the new system, three sets of descriptors are used: the first are the main descriptors such as bunch size and orientation, plant size and height, which allow a quick and easy separation of plantain cultivars.

Bunch type was a major striking difference and quickly separated plantain cultivars into three main types. Other striking differences were the size of the pseudostem or trunk (giant, medium-sized, and small-sized) and the bunch orientation (which was generally pendulous or subhorizontal, and rarely horizontal and erect).

The secondary descriptors allow the differentiation of one cultivar from another within the same main group of bunch type, pseudostem size, or bunch orientation. Multiple secondary descriptors include pseudostem color, immature fruit peel color, fruit shape, fruit apex, fruit position, number of hands, fruit size, number of fingers per hand, and flower relicts at the fruit apex.

The third set are the rare descriptors, which allow the differentiation of one cultivar from all the others in the subgroup.

According to the researchers, this approach proved useful in differentiating the nearly 100 plantain accessions in the collection of the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS) in DRC. This approach makes cultivar description logical and faster because it moves from general to particular characteristics.

The study, titled The morphological diversity of plantain in the Democratic Republic of Congo by J.G. Adheka, D.B. Dhed’a, D. Karamura, G. Blomme, R. Swennen, and E. De Langhe, focused on the morphological characterization of plantain cultivars collected in the period 2005–2014 in 280 villages across nine provinces of DRC. These cultivars were established in two field collections at UNIKIS.

Picture of A False Horn plantain variety called Tala Lola from Central DR Congo
A False Horn plantain variety called ‘Tala Lola’ from Central DR Congo

Most of the collected cultivars were French plantains (64 out of 98), followed by False Horn (23) and Horn (10) plantains.

Banana cultivars are usually described using Descriptors for bananas (Musa spp.) developed by IPGRI-INIBAP/CIRAD in 1996. The researchers had adapted these existing descriptors to better differentiate the variation and improve future research on plantains. This new work, published in Scientia Horticulturae, however, showed that this descriptor list is not appropriate for describing variation within the plantain subgroup, with 77 out of a total of 117 descriptors not considered useful.

The researchers believe that this existing descriptor list for banana will also not be appropriate in describing variation within other subgroups of banana, like the East African Highland banana, Pacific plantain, etc.

The observed variation was reproduced in the collection during succeeding cycles and confirmed the stability of the cultivars, as well as the value of the new descriptors. The classification of the plantain cultivars at the UNIKIS collection can be used as a standard for investigating plantain diversity for the entire African continent.

Large plantain diversity in DRC

The study results showed that the humid zone of DRC contains an exceptionally large diversity of plantains among the edible Musa subgroups. This means that DRC also has the largest diversity of plantains in Africa. The 100 different cultivars covered in the study represent just a part of the entire plantain variability zone in DRC. More cultivars are expected to be found in regions of the country that still need to be explored. The researchers believe that the diversity of plantain in DRC could be substantially larger than 120 cultivars.

Picture of A Horn plantain variety called Ikpolo Noir found in DR Congo
A Horn plantain variety called ‘Ikpolo Noir’ found in DR Congo

Plantain characterization data from DRC offer a platform for reflections on the pan-African scale of plantain diversity. Assessing and characterizing the complete plantain diversity in Africa is possible by compiling characterization results of all Central and West African countries whereby UNIKIS in DRC will play a key role given its expertise and access to the largest plantain variability.

Since the planting of all accessions in one location is not feasible due to financial constraints, the researchers encouraged plantain curators to continue intensive contact, with regular exchange visits and discussions, to progressively reach an agreement on classification, synonymy, and uniqueness of all plantain cultivars.

In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 30 million people depend on banana as the principal source of dietary carbohydrate, with small-scale farmers making up the vast majority of banana and plantain producers. They grow the crop mainly for home consumption or for local markets. In West and Central Africa, about two-thirds of the banana cultivated and produced are plantain, which need to be processed and/or cooked for consumption.

The other third consists of dessert and other cooking bananas. In Africa, the major producing countries are Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire. According to the FAO, production of plantain in these countries ranks high (12.3 million tons in 2014) among the starchy staples.

The study was conducted as part of a collaboration of researchers from University of Kisangani (UNIKIS), IITA, Bioversity International, and the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, Division of Crop Biotechnics, Katholieke Universiteit, Belgium.

Media contact: Katherine Lopez,

IITA and partners conduct first proteomic investigation in plantain and banana

Scientists from IITA and partner institutions have carried out the first known proteomic investigation into plantain. The results of the study are featured in a paper, titled “The plantain proteome, a focus on allele specific proteins obtained from plantain fruits” by N.A. Campos, R. Swennen, and S.C. Carpentier. Proteomics entails the study of the expression of proteins in a cell or organism. This is important because proteins are responsible for both the structure and the functions of all living things.

Picture of Plantain fruit. Nádia Campos, KU Leuven.
Plantain fruit. Nádia Campos, KU Leuven.

IITA banana breeder Rony Swennen said the identification and public release of the plantain fruit proteome is an important step for plantain varietal selection and breeding. He said the research is important because little attention has been given to postharvest research in plantain, a staple especially in Central and West Africa and Latin America, which grows most of the world’s plantains.

Fruit development and maturation in plantain is hardly studied unlike in the more popular dessert banana. As a result, he said plantain suffers from many pests and diseases, although it is currently bred for higher yield. The acceptance of new plantain hybrids by farmers needs to be accelerated, hence the importance of better understanding the fruit physiology of plantain to develop hybrids that are more acceptable to consumers and have a better shelf life.

The proteomic research into plantain used an easy and reproducible procedure for protein extraction and identification, resulting in the first proteome (set of proteins) of plantain fruits. The results were compared with the proteome from the dessert banana Cavendish.

The scientists found that both the plantain and Cavendish cultivars were relatively close genetically but showed contrasting phenotypic or physical differences such as size, texture, color of fruit, and flavor. These characteristics, the scientists said, comes from a different physiology and maturation process.

The plantain fruit preserves more starch for longer periods than sweet banana. The type of starch also differs. According to the scientists, there are two types of starch in banana: resistant starch (RS) and non-resistant starch. This classification is linked to the capacity to be digested by the human body. Plantain degrades RS faster, but at maturation, is richer in resistant starch.

The paper concluded that an improved understanding of the fruit maturation process may yield benefits for public health, farming, and agricultural business.

The study was conducted as part of a collaboration of researchers from IITA, the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, Division of Crop Biotechnics, Katholieke Universiteit, Belgium, and SYBIOMA: Facility for SYstems BIOlogy based MAss spectrometry, KU Leuven.

Media contact: Katherine Lopez,

The resilient women of DRC

by Renee Bullock and Bonaventure Munzunghirwa

The Democratic Republic of Congo is often preceded by its reputation of being unsafe, violent, and unstable. Having lived in Bukavu, the capital South Kivu, for over two years, I have seen women and men’s tenacity, resilience, and tremendous warmth, a side of DRC that often does not reach the press. Bukavu is a bustling town of over 1 million. Upon leaving town, one soon sees verdant, rolling green hills stretching for miles (Photo 1).

Picture of Walungu territory
Figure 1. Walungu territory (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Rural women have witnessed war and loss, yet persevere in the face of hardship. When men went to fight in the Congo War that ended in 2003, many women remained on the farm and took up roles previously reserved for men. After the war, women engaged in collective action and economic activities. Despite women’s vibrant economic activity, their access to productive resources is limited, and even when women earn their own income, they may not independently decide how to use it because of prohibitive gender norms that sanction women and girls’ ownership and control of resources.

The project “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” is a pilot intervention that began in 2017 with the aim of enhancing women’s financial capabilities, which refers to the “attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life”. The main objective of the project is to support women’s empowerment through improvements in financial capability using a combination of approaches in which entrepreneurial knowledge, skills, and attitude are addressed to support positive behavioral changes in household financial decisions. Although women often engage in business and savings, household relations with spouses may constrain women’s opportunity to decide how to spend their money. Such practices can undermine development objectives to improve gender parity.

Twenty-six women from two villages participate in the project; their ages range from 28 to 65 and 67% of the women project beneficiaries are illiterate. Fourteen of the women are married, and seven are widows. The other women manage households while their husbands migrate in search of work, often in mines. Husbands may not return for years at a time.

The women face many challenges, but they are not insurmountable. To build women’s financial capabilities so that they may empower themselves and press for progress in their lives, the project was designed to build women and men’s capacity and change behavior so women gain greater support in their enterprise and savings activities. Men participated in training and gender dialogue groups (GDGs) were used to discuss decision-making and planning of a household budget, for example. In the 4 months since the project started women formed two groups, started businesses of selling rice, beans, flour, and banana, among others, and are saving in a formal account. For half of the women, this is their first experience of owning a savings account; only 27% of the beneficiaries’ households received credit in the last 2 years. One group named themselves Rhugwasanye, which in the local language Mashi, means “Let’s help each other”. The 14 members saved US$275. In addition, women support each other in social, economic, and health issues (Fig. 2).

Picture of Gulimwentuga Women's group
Figure 2. Gulimwentuga Women’s group (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Widows generally share their resources and make decisions with influential men in their household, including their sons, or brothers-in-law. But, as Mapendo* said, “I am a widow but I always asked for my children’s advice. Since the training, I put into practice the lessons from the training and I can decide on my own and inform my children.”

Picture of Martha sells banana seedlings
Figure 3. Martha sells banana seedlings (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Martha[1] is a widow who worked as a banana seed provider until her husband died 5 years ago (Fig. 3). Through the project and the startup capital provided she was able to restart her business. She purchased 1‒2 month-old seedlings from a local banana plantation one day per week and sells to women coming from town. This is her first experience of saving through a formal savings scheme and she has saved a modest $20, which she will use to purchase iron sheets.

Judith* is a widow who also works in the banana value chain (Fig. 4). She buys unripe bananas and ripens them to sell to those who brew beer. This is also her first experience in a savings group. She said, “Before the intervention, I didn’t know the importance of saving.” Both women aspire to increase their sales and the scale of their business.

Picture of Judith sells bananas to brew beer
Figure 4. Judith sells bananas to brew beer (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Eve* is a married woman who is among the top savers in her group, selling rice and beans. Of her husband who participated in the project’s joint training, she said “There has been improvement because today I bring my share, he brings his share, and we decide jointly. Before, he decided by himself.” Her husband supports her. She explained, “If I save, then his income will be used for other household needs.”

Although the project is relatively new, many lessons have been learnt and there is reason to celebrate the successes of women who are pressing for change. Women are making positive changes in their relationships in their household, within their community, and with their fellow group members. These relations are important to women’s ability to improve their financial capabilities. Relationships affect a woman’s capacity to manage her income, whether for business or for savings. Projects must incorporate holistic approaches to tackle poverty’s most pressing issues, across geographies. Through such interventions and women’s and men’s collective efforts, we can #PressforProgress and attain gender parity.

Note: The project “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

*Not real name

Women’s group in DRC press for economic change

by Renee Bullock, Rosalie Biaba, and Kanigula Mubagwa

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. Women in DRC are now able to press for economic change in their lives and the lives of their families, to transition from poverty to better, healthier livelihoods through a jointly led project that focuses on health and agriculture. This will be the first in a series of blogs that will feature highlights from the project.

The International Center for Advanced Research and Training (ICART) and IITA have partnered in a project titled “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The 2-year pilot program began in 2017 and engages 450 women in three peri-urban locations surrounding Kinshasa, DR Congo. The primary aim of the project is to economically empower women who work in the sex trade by enhancing their access to financial, agricultural, and health services.

Logo of International Center for Advanced Research and Training

Financial hardship is a major driver for women’s entry into sex work. This project addresses economic, health, and gender issues through a unique, holistic livelihood approach to better support women’s transition from sex work to alternative income-generating opportunities.

In the project, female sex workers are aged from 20 to 38, and 84% of them are single. Most independently control the income earned (78%). Their average weekly income ranges from US$12 to 200. Most (99%) of the women want to transition out of this work; they want change.

This project supports women and girls’ efforts by improving their access and participation in savings schemes, establishing new social networks, especially collective action through the creation of women’s groups (10‒15 women each); and through the provision of knowledge and skills’ development. To date, the project has provided training sessions on improved agricultural skills and food processing. Peri-urban agriculture and food processing feature as important, alternative income-generating activities in the project. Currently, 1.5 hectares have been planted with cassava that will be processed into flour to prepare baked goods to sell. A group leader in Kimvula (photo below) learned improved techniques to cultivate cassava and vegetables. She depends on agriculture to support her livelihood and plans to one day own her own plot of land to cultivate. In addition, vegetables have been planted on 0.5 ha to improve the nutritional status of women and their families.

Group 4 President in the cassava field, Kimvula
Group 4 President in the cassava field, Kimvula (Photo: Rosalie Biaba Apasa)

IITA Youth Agripreneurs-Kinshasa (IYAKIN) conducted three training sessions that focused on the production of donuts, bread, bread that incorporates high quality cassava flour (HQCF), and soybean milk. Anna*, 28 and mother of one, attended a training on how to prepare donuts. She then began to sell and noted that the income enabled her to pay rent, school fees for her daughter as well as save. She aspires to expand her business and to sell in a better location to increase her profits.

Picture of Anna sells donuts in front of her house
Anna sells donuts in front of her house. (Photo: Rosalie Biaba Apasa)

Savings is a critical aspect of the project and women have been encouraged to save for at least one year. To date women have collectively saved over $1808.

Fifty young women are receiving vocational training in dress making, hair styling, and literacy. Kungwa, aged 19, is an orphan and is raising two children on her own. She has learned to sew through her engagement in the program and is now earning and managing an income that is sufficient to support her and her family. She would like to open a tailoring business.

Picture of Kungwa sews for a living
Kungwa sews for a living (Photo: Rosalie Biaba)

Through this project, women are empowered to press for change, to transition from vulnerable conditions to better livelihoods. More projects that holistically address economic, health, and social aspects are needed to prepare these women for lasting, sustainable change.

Note: The project “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Celebrating IITA50 in Rwanda: How collaboration between CGIAR and scaling partners can make science work for farmers

Authors: Mariette McCampbell, Marc Schut and Emmanuel Njukwe

IITA Rwanda took the International Scientific Conference organized by University of Rwanda between 14-16 June 2017 as an opportunity to showcase its research for development in the country and to mark IITA’s 50th anniversary. Conference participants from all over the world got to see and hear about IITA’s work. Dr. Emmanuel Njukwe gave an oral presentation titled ‘Variation of banana yields in banana-bean production systems in Rwanda’, and chaired the session on Sustainable Crop Production and Soil Fertility Management. Another oral presentation with the title ‘Nutrient use efficiency in maize response to fertilizers in smallholder farms of Rwanda’ was given by Leon Nabuhungu from the IITA Bukavu station. In collaboration with different partners such as Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), a poster with results of the integrated systems research in North-West Rwanda was presented. On top of that, IITA took a prominent place in the conference’s exhibition, showing materials from projects such as N2Africa, CIALCA and RTB in collaboration with its partners. The NGO Gardens for Health International was present to inform visitors about their work on household nutrition in Rwanda. Private sector partner Africa Food Supply Ltd. joined to share their experience with the cost-effective banana macropropagation technology that was developed by IITA and Bioversity International under CIALCA. The live banana materials in the exhibition booth, including a full demonstration of a propagation unit, attracted attention from conference participants.

Photo/ McCampbell Mariette: Snapshot of IITA’s booth on the conference exhibition where, among other things, banana macropropagation technology was demonstrated to participants at the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Centre, Kigali, Rwanda.

On Thursday, June 15, IITA hosted a field visit to the Kamonyi Agricultural Resource and Training Centre in the Southern region. Four buses with national and international conference participants left Kigali for an afternoon in the field. As a first stop the banana macropropagation and nurseries were visited.  Visitors were welcomed by Mr. Udahemuka Aimable, who is the mayor of Kamonyi District. In his short speech, the mayor highlighted the achievements for production of clean banana seeds, thanks to the support of IITA. With the opening of the resource and training centre up to 300.000 banana suckers can be produced each year.

Dr. Marc Schut then talked about IITA’s presence in Africa, some of the activities and achievements in Rwanda so far, and the celebration of IITA’s golden jubilee in 2017. Marc emphasized the importance of close collaboration between research and public and private sector scaling partners, so that science-based innovations – such as the production of clean planting materials through macropropagation – can make a difference for farmers. He also mentioned that the Rwanda station is looking ahead, developing future plans for innovative research in the region on topics such as nutrition and ICT for agriculture.

Photo/McCampbell Mariette: Visitors examining macropropagation units at the Kamonyi Agricultural Resource and Training Centre, Kamonyi, Rwanda

The final talk was reserved for IITA Rwanda’s country representative Dr. Emmanuel Njukwe, who highlighted the strong relationships in Kamonyi with partners such as Africa Foods Ltd. and Union des Jeunes pour le Développement Rurale (UJDR). IITA has been working on improving banana production in this area since 2012. Emphasis has been on tackling key challenges in the banana system, such as diseases, availability of planting material, and access to varieties. Asked about the role of women by one of the visitors, he noted that both male and female farmers are targeted with the interventions. With the presence of the resource and training centre today the site offers opportunities for youth too.

Photo/McCampbell Mariette: Women from UJDR managing banana seedlings at the Kamonyi Agricultural Resource and Training Center in Kamonyi, Rwanda.

Visitors were given the opportunity to walk around the field site and ask all kinds of questions about macropropagation technology and operation of the resource centre. After a short drive a second stop was made at the banana plantation in Kamonyi. Here visitors saw the result of the macropropagation: healthy banana plants of different varieties, including plantain.

Photo/McCampbell Mariette: Visitors observing and discussing various banana varieties on the plantation in Kamonyi, Rwanda

For IITA Rwanda this was an important and successful event that provided a platform for sharing our experiences, outputs, and impact in the region to an interested and enthusiastic audience. IITA Rwanda showcased the Institute’s many interesting projects and certainly made IITA’s presence felt, and emphasized that we are ready for another 50 years of exciting research and development work together with our partners.


Photo/McCapmpbell Mariette: Dr. Emmanuel Njukwe and Dr. Marc Schut posing together with Mr. Edward Habinshuti, a farmer in Kamonyi district who gave a testimony on how his family’s livelihood improved since he planted 1500 banana seedlings on his farm.

IITA and Partners Launch Project to Control CSBD/CMD for Rwanda and Burundi

By Nsimire Mireille

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in partnership with Institute of Agricultural Science of Burundi (ISABU) and Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) have launched a new project titled ‘Fighting Cassava Brown Streak Disease and Cassava Mosaic Disease through the deployment of new resistant germplasm and clean seed in Rwanda and Burundi’.

The Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) are a major threat to cassava production in both Burundi and the eastern part of the neighbouring DRC.  Of concern is the CBSD which was reported in the region in 2009 and is spreading rapidly.

The four-year project seeks to increase cassava productivity in Rwanda and Burundi through the development and deployment of CBSD/CMD resistant cassava varieties, as well as establishing a system to produce and disseminate high quality and virus-tested planting materials to farmers. The project is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and led by IITA with the national cassava research programs at ISABU and RAB, from Burundi and Rwanda respectively as the major partners.

The launch workshop brought together stakeholders from the two countries to get to know each other, and to understand the project better and was held at IITA-Kalambo station in Bukavu from 15 – 18 May 2017. It was officiated by the regional hub director, Dr. Bernard Vanlauwe who was represented by the officer in charge of IITA- Kalambo station, Dr. Chris Okafor.

Speaking at the workshop, Silver Tumwegamire, the project leader, said the expected outcomes of the project in the two countries included a 50% increase in cassava productivity for 20,000 cassava farmers through the introduction of high yielding and disease-resistant varieties, and establishing a sustainable system for dissemination of certified early generation seed (pre-basic and basic) of the best varieties.

The project builds on the experiences and lessons from the just concluded New Cassava Varieties and Clean Seeds to combat CMD and CBSD project (5CP in short) implemented in five countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. It will make use of the new improved cassava varieties selected under the 5CP project that showed high levels of tolerance to the two viral diseases.

The meeting also brought participants from other IITA led projects including the 5CP and Action to Control Cassava Brown Streak Disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (CBSD-DRC)] to share their experiences and lessons to allow the new project team to learn from them and incorporate the lessons in their project as well to identify areas of synergies. The CBSD-DRC is led by Dr. Nzola Mahungu who is also the country coordinator for DRC.

James Legg, IITA virologist shared experiences and lessons on the development of a pilot clean seeds’ system for cassava in Tanzania under 5CP.  He outlined the requirements and approaches of developing clean seed systems to produce virus-tested cassava pre-basic’ seed.

Regina Kapinga, Head of Advocacy and Resource Mobilization at IITA gave a presentation on the importance of ensuring the project was aligned and mainstreamed to the priorities of the two countries for greater efficiency, effectiveness and impact!

“We need to ensure our activities are relevant to the countries we work in. we also need to systematically track the progress we are making in contributing towards the countries’ economic growth through agriculture,” Kapinga said.

Mahungu, CBSD-RDC project leader shared the objectives of the nearly similar project he was leading in DRC.  This was to maintain sustainable cassava productivity through the development and promotion of appropriate cassava varieties, resistant to CBSD and other biotic constraints, and disseminate approaches for the integrated management of cassava diseases and pests to contribute to increased food availability, income generation and sustainable livelihoods. In addition, presented the one year work plan activities.

The workshop concluded with a visit to the virology Laboratory at IITA-Bukavu where  Clerisse Casinga, a researcher at IITA – Kalambo shared with the participants a CBSD study conducted in D.R. Congo with supervision of IITA’s James Legg and Rudolph Shirima, in 2016.

SILT Partners Draw New Roadmap

The SILT workshop participants from left; Monica Kansiime (CABI); Irene Mvena (CABI); Abigael Mchana (CABI); Renee Bullock (IITA); Paul Dontsop (IITA); Dannie Romney (CABI); Godlove Nderingo (FRI); Silvia Silvestri (CABI-GALA); Freddy Baijukya (IITA); Karen Hampson (FRI);

The Scaling-up Improved Legumes Technology (SILT) project partners held a workshop to conceive manuscripts in the content of SILT, to develop guidelines for selection of effective dissemination approaches of SILT and to design the SILT outcome evaluation.

The Seminar was held at the IITA Central African Hub offices at ICIPE campus Nairobi with the participation of Fredrick Baijukya, Paul Dontsop, Renee Bullock and Irene Mvena from IITA; James Watiti, Monica Kansiime, Silvia Silvestri from CABI; and Karen Hampson and Godlove Nderingo from Farm Radio International (FRI).

Speaking at the end of the seminar, IITA’s Fredrick Baijukya said the workshop was successful and they had achieved all the objectives on the agenda.

“We now have the outlines for the 4 manuscripts on how we want to write them and the same for the guidelines for selecting extension communication methods” says Baijukya.

The group developed the outcome evaluation questionnaire, the activity which is planned to take place in August this year. The team also came up with titles for the manuscripts and the guidelines for the selection of effective dissemination approaches that are slated to be submitted by March 2018.

SILT is a three-year project funded by IDRC to produce geographically-specific information campaigns, targeting small-scale farming families, delivered just ahead of the legume planting seasons. It is jointly implemented by CABI, AFAP, IITA, FRI and a number International and National organization for scaling agricultural technologies

Read more about SILT

Accelerating scaling in the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI)


Scaling readiness workshop group photo from left, Veronica Uzokwe, Guillaume Ezui, Murat Sartas, Marc Schut, Christine Kreye, Abdulai Jalloh, Rebeca Enesi, Pieter Pypers and Stefan Hauser.

The African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) team met in Ibadan, Nigeria on 24 and 25 April 2017 to discuss approaches, tools and strategies that can support scaling in ACAI. The workshop brought together two teams, that together seek to support scaling in IITA.

The ACAI team aims to promote cassava agronomy at scale, while the Scaling Readiness team supporting research for development(R4D) projects in achieving their scaling objectives.

The workshop provided a forum for the Scaling Readiness team to improve the validity and applicability of their tools to better support R4D projects like ACAI in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of their scaling strategy. ACAI has been selected as one of the four projects that the Scaling Readiness team will collaborate with developing and calibrating the tools.

“Developing Scaling Readiness tools with ACAI is crucial for ensuring that the data and analysis have high validity in terms of informing scaling strategies. ACAI is committed to making their products and approaches work for farmers, governments and private sector, and their leadership is very supportive in developing and testing the tools” says Dr. Marc Schut who is co-leading the Scaling Readiness work. Mr. Murat Sartas, who has introduced the Scaling Readiness concept in the agricultural research for development domain, goes even further in mentioning that he expects that “eventually Scaling Readiness will be used to monitor and evaluate impact of research for development interventions at project, research program and institute level.”

According to Dr. Pieter Pypers, Senior Agronomist ACAI, the Scaling Readiness work will help ACAI to identify and overcome scaling challenges that had not been anticipated otherwise as well as expand the thinking about ACAI innovations and their use. Dr. Abdulai Jalloh, project leader, extols Scaling Readiness for agricultural innovation as a necessary and timely approach for ACAI that will offer insight in better ways of scaling ACAI innovations and drive the project towards impact.

Murat Sartas gives a presentation during the Scaling Readiness workshop

The Scaling Readiness concept has been spearheaded by Dr. Marc Schut, Prof. Cees Leeuwis and Murat Sartas who fulfill (joint) positions with IITA and Wageningen University. The Scaling Readiness work is supported through the CGIAR Research Program on Roots Tubers and Bananas (RTB), which seeks to accelerate the scaling of RTB innovations – such as those developed under the ACAI project – to improve livelihoods across the world.

More information about Scaling Readiness can be accessed:

Twitter: @ScalingReady

ResearchGate:  Enhancing Scaling Readiness of Root, Tubers and Banana (RTB) Innovations

Biostatistics and SAS refresher courses organized at IITA-Kinshasa

Two statistics courses were organized for IITA staff and partners in DR Congo on 25 January to 5 February. The first―a refresher course on Statistical Analysis System (SAS), was organized for IITA-Kinshasa researchers. The training provided detailed hands-on exposure to the basic procedures for appropriate data analysis as well as the provision of SAS software for participants. The second course on Biostatistics was intended for grantees of the Projet de Recherche pour l’Innovation Agricole (PRIA). PRIA seeks to revitalize development-oriented agricultural research in the country.

Participants of the biostatistics course and IITA staff in Kinshasa after the opening ceremony with the DR Congo Minister of Agriculture Representative.
Participants of the biostatistics course and IITA staff in Kinshasa after the opening ceremony
with the DR Congo Minister of Agriculture Representative.

About 18 grantees from the universities, Institut National pour l’Etude et la Recherche Agronomiques (INERA), and NGOs participated in the training courses which facilitated by IITA’s Biometricians Sam Ofodile and Sam Korie. In addition to the statistical courses, Ovegho Okome, IITA Project Administrative Officer, discussed the Institute’s financial reporting and accounting procedures.

The PRIA project is entirely funded by the DR Congo Government and managed by IITA, and covered by a memo of understanding signed in Kinshasa in June 2013. Since it started in December 2013, PRIA continues to provide competitive research grants to Congolese researchers
working with INERA, local universities, NGOs, and private organizations to
carry out innovative agricultural research in the food, livestock, and fish farming sectors. To date, about 44 of such research grants have been attributed to DR Congo researchers. These small grants were selected out of 300 applications.

IITA improved cassava varieties reduce food insecurity in Eastern DR Congo

A recent assessment on IITA improved cassava varieties released in the Moba region of DR Congo has shown that the crop contributes significantly to food security for households in the region. The varieties were introduced in 2010 during the first phase of the USAID-funded Development Food Assistance Program (DFAP) implemented by IITA and Food for the Hungry International (FH).

Prior to the introduction of the improved varieties, Moba residents had battled food insecurity for more than four months every year. In addition to ensuring constant food on the table of Moba households, the new cassava varieties have also increased average root yield from a paltry 2 tons/hectare to about 20 tons/hectare since 2010.

A happy cassava farmer shows off his field planted to IITA improved varieties.
A happy cassava farmer shows off his field planted to IITA improved varieties.

Kande Matungulu, IITA scientist based in DR Congo, said the breakthrough was a result of novel agro-technologies developed by IITA. He also added that “IITA and FH efforts succeeded in reducing food insecurity in the former Moba region, now known as Tanganyika Province.”

Paul Dontsop, IITA Impact Economist based in DRC, said “During the first phase of DFAP, IITA and FH did a very good job both in North Katanga (Kalemie and Moba) and South Kivu (Walungu). More than 30,000 households were directly involved in project implementation. If we consider the fact that the average household size in those areas is about six, we are talking about 180, 000 people helped directly by the project.”

To further spread the gains from this breakthrough, proposal development for a second DFAP phase, built on the good results and the lessons learned from phase one is ongoing.