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.
Last 28 April, about 90 representatives from various sectors of society engaged in the area of food and crop safety and health converged at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia, for a consultative workshop on aflatoxin awareness and Aflasafe. The workshop participants were drawn from about 55 institutions and organizations working with IITA on aflatoxin and Aflasafe research in Zambia. The workshop was organized by the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR), IITA, and the United States Department of Agriculture – Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS).
Dr Juliet Akello, a Postdoctoral Fellow and project manager of IITA’s aflatoxin and Aflasafe research in the country, said that the workshop was primarily aimed at creating awareness among the general public on the dangers posed by aflatoxins on humans and livestock.
“We also intended to share practical control methods such as the aflatoxin biocontrol product Aflasafe, developed by IITA and partners, as well as other efforts that the Zambian Government has put in place to manage and mitigate the occurrence and effects of aflatoxin in food crops. Additionally, we also wanted to explore ways to make sure that Zambian farmers get their hands on Aflasafe,” she added.
The guest of honor, Honorable Given Lubinda, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock (MAL), in a speech read on his behalf by Mr Moses Mwale, Director of ZARI, indicated that aflatoxin was a significant challenge to producing safe crops in the field and stores and putting safe foods on the plates of Zambians.
“In Zambia, aflatoxin is not adequately and appropriately controlled or regulated as most foodstuffs are produced and consumed locally with limited or no testing by the relevant regulatory authorities,” he said “As a result, millions of people may be consuming high and unsafe levels of aflatoxin through their diets on a daily basis.” He noted that the presence of aflatoxin levels above acceptable international standards led to the restriction of Zambian groundnut exports to the European Union market; therefore, control was needed to achieve greater agricultural development, food security, and improved health in the country.
“I recognize and commend the critical role being played by IITA and other cooperating partners such as ZARI and NISIR in dealing with the scourge of aflatoxin in Zambia, particularly in the development and deployment of the biocontrol product Aflasafe. My Ministry and I will follow the progress of your work in this area with keen interest,” Minister Lubinda emphasized.
The Minister also cited the support given by the donor community in aflatoxin research, particularly that of the USAID which is funding a project on controlling aflatoxins in maize and groundnut in farmers’ fields under its Zambia Feed-the-Future Research & Development Program. The German donor GIZ is also providing funds to develop a business plan and pathway for the commercialization of Aflasafe.
At the workshop, Dr Akello highlighted the importance of aflatoxin in Zambia. Dr Peter Cotty of USDA-ARS discussed the principles of biocontrol and its status in the United States. Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay of IITA highlighted Aflasafe development in other Africa countries as well as Zambia. The participants also learned about the successful adoption of Aflasafe in Kenya from Dr Raphael Wanjogu of the National Irrigation Board, and in Nigeria from Ms Faridah Ibrahim of Doreo Partners. A lively discussion ensued afterwards.
Based on deliberations by the participants during the workshop, the following were recommended as next steps in managing aflatoxin in Zambia: (1) further capacity development is needed for extension workers on aflatoxin management; (2) more awareness activities should be carried out across the country to educate more people on the harmful effects of aflatoxin in food and crops; (3) Aflasafe should be deployed as widely as possible among farmers, with the Government taking the lead and ownership similar to the way it was done in Kenya; (4) sustainable programs for aflatoxin mitigation must be put in place at the farm level: this would also need policy support from decision-makers; and (5) the official registration of Aflasafe should be expedited so that Zambian farmers would have full access to it, with ZARI leading this effort.
From 4 to 6 May, the IITA Board of Trustees (BoT) as well as members of the Institute’s Management and Directorate were in the picturesque town of Livingstone in southern Zambia for the first of their two annual meetings for 2015. Figuring prominently in their agenda were the current financial and governance crises within CGIAR; these were outlined in the mid-term report submitted by the Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, to the Board and circulated to IITA staff.
“For this meeting, we (the Board) mainly deliberated on strategies to strengthen IITA’s position in the context of the finance and governance crises within CGIAR,” said Dr Bruce Coulman, BoT Chair. “Results of our discussions will be communicated to the general IITA community by DG Sanginga in due time.”
However, Dr Ken Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships & Capacity Development, pointed to communication as a specific area that the BoT highlighted with regard to these strategies. “Time and again, during the course of discussions, the role of communication came out as a common salient point,” Dr Dashiell said.
“The Board agrees that we need to trumpet our R4D successes more actively despite the crises in CGIAR. We
need to enforce our image and credibility as the lead international agricultural research institution in Africa that plods on, despite these challenges. This, then, would make our supporters see that investing in us is well worth it,” he added. Dr Dashiell mentioned IITA Youth Agripreneurs and the Business Incubation Platform as examples of the many successes upon which the Institute must build.
Welcoming the IITA Board to Livingstone, Dr David Chikoye, Regional Director for Southern Africa, said, “It is good to have the Board here (again) in Zambia. This is also a good opportunity to showcase Zambia – Livingstone in particular – as a prime destination, especially in the light of the conference that we will be holding here in 2016.
I am formally inviting the Board members and IITA Management to attend this event.” Dr Chikoye was referring to the Global Cowpea and Legume Conference that IITA will be co-hosting in February-March 2016 in Livingstone. This will be an African signature event to mark 2016 as International Year of Pulses, as declared by the UN.
The consortium of CGIAR Centers implementing the Feed the Future projectMalawi Improved SeedSystems and Technologies received a vote of confidence when a visiting team from the USAID headquarters as well as USAID/Malawi mission expressed their satisfaction after witnessing the work the partners are doing in the field.
The USAID team, which was led by their Chief Scientist, Dr Robert Bertram, visited IITA’s soybean trials and breeder seed production as well as various other trials and demonstration plots at Chitedze Research Station.
The visitors had a chance to listen to presentations and also to appreciate more of the consortium’s work when they visited a pavilion at Chitedze Research Station where members showcased some of their achievements through displays.
Speaking later, the USAID team leader was visibly impressed. He described the work of the CGIAR Consortium in Malawi under the project as ‘exciting’.
“I am really excited to see the consortium taking shape,” said Dr Bertram. “The work the consortium is doing will not only address the critical shortage of improved seeds but will also bring research to the farmers. The presentations I have heard show that the system they are using is sustainable and will help in boosting food production in Malawi.”
Dr Bertram also added that the consortium was filling a gap in a sustainable way that empowered all the national partners and would benefit farmers and communities due to the increased availability of seeds of improved varieties.
He explained, “I am so happy that the USAID mission here in Malawi has reached out and worked with the CGIAR Centers to make a true consortium. You can sense the excitement and feel how much the Centers like being part of the group effort……this is at the heart of what we are looking for in terms of helping smallholder farm families make the transition so that they move out of poverty.”
The project will use public-private partnerships and revolving fund approaches to develop a sustainable soybean seed production, marketing, and distribution system with complementary integrated crop management practices to enhance the farmers’ access to improved technologies and increase their adoption.
Breeder seeds will be produced by the Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) and IITA to support the public, private, and community-based seed producers and will be fed into a network of certified seed producers. These include small-scale seed enterprises and community-based seed outgrower schemes to produce the targeted quantities of certified seeds.
The project has already made some progress, which also impressed Dr Bertram and his team. “I have seen a lot of highly resilient crops during the field visit such as drought tolerant maize that looked really good compared with the non-drought tolerant varieties.”
“This will help to drive diversification because if people are more confident about their maize yield, they will put some of their land to other crops. I was really excited and would love to see this partnership emerging at the grassroots level in the CGIAR system,” he said.
Responding to questions by the visiting team on IITA’s partnership with local organizations, Dr Arega Alene, IITA’s Country Representative, said they were working with the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a reputable organization with vast experience in community-based seed production.
“We have NASFAM as our partner in this project because they have the structures and experience in community-based soybean seed production through well-trained local seed producer groups. They have large and elaborate agricultural extension machinery countrywide and farms that would effectively support the soybean technology dissemination system.”
“So far, the relationship has been good as we have managed to implement the project according to agreed plans,” he explained.
On the demand for soybean on the local market, Dr Arega said, “I wouldn’t say that sufficient demand for seeds has been created yet. Limited effective demand for seeds has always been a major constraint and this is largely why the private sector has little interest in the legume seed business in general. We have taken it upon ourselves to create demand by using different mechanisms such as field demonstrations and related extension campaigns. These are not only intended to create awareness of the availability of different varieties with many different attributes but also to demonstrate to farmers the benefits of improved varieties and complementary agronomic practices.”
In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, governments and communities are adopting innovations that improve the lives of millions through better agricultural production to diversify household diets and enhance nutritional status especially of poor subsistence-based farming households. In Zambia, IITA is helping bring this about by introducing farm families to technologies that give them more crop-based choices to improve their health and nutrition.
With a local partner, Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), IITA is implementing a nutrition-sensitive agriculture-based intervention. This is named SUN – or Scaling-upNutrition: the first 1000 critical days from pregnancy until a child turns 2 years old. The SUN project aims to enhance the nutrition and health status of children under 2 years and pregnant or lactating women through increased production of different crops, dietary diversification, and the consumption of these nutrient-rich crops in poor smallholder farming communities in Luapula, Eastern, and Northern Provinces of Zambia.
The project is being supported by UK Aid, Irish Aid, the Government of Sweden, and the Zambian Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.
In an interview, Mrs Elizabeth Tembo, a project beneficiary and a mother who recently gave birth in Kapara, Chipata, in the Eastern Province of Zambia, said she was grateful to the SUN project from IITA/DAPP. She had learned a lot about improved farming practices that integrate high-yielding varieties of nutritious crops, such as cowpea, soybean, and legumes, as well as fruits and a variety of green, leafy vegetables. She also related how the project taught her how to prepare a variety of tasty dishes that use the crops she grows in her own field.
“My family really likes these dishes, and I know that they are good for them as well as for me and my baby since I am still breastfeeding him,” Mrs Tembo narrated.
Apart from growing and using the nutritious crops, Mrs Tembo also learned traditional pest control methods which she is applying on her field. She said she was teaching other women in her community about the things she has learned from the SUN project to help to reduce the high prevalence of malnutrition and stunting among children.
In Lundazi, Mrs Lyness Zimba says that the she has been regularly attending the weekly training given to women like her in her community by agricultural and health specialists working under the SUN project. “They teach us the basics of nutrition, the importance of feeding our children nutritious foods, and how to cultivate and use various nutrient-rich crops in our homesteads. The project also gave us cookery recipes that make use of the crops.”
“Apart from the obvious health benefits
of the crops being espoused by the
project, the simple act of gaining knowledge about nutrition for my family is empowering,” she added. “I will definitely continue to practice what I have learned even after the project, for my sake and the sake of my children.”
SUN participants in Kasama and Mansa in the Northern Province of the country also aired their appreciation of IITA/DAPP for bringing the project in their communities. They indicated that they had benefited a lot and would adopt the practices they had learned to reduce malnutrition and stunting in their families.
The SUN project continues to provide participating farmers in its project areas with training on improved agronomic practices, seed multiplication, the need for timely planting and weeding, cultivating diverse crops rich in protein and vitamin A, and the utilization and processing of the crops.
IITA and DAPP have also linked the farmers to other organizations that are training
them on improved crop storage and preservation.
The IITA Southern African Hub was established barely three years ago. In this short period of time, the hub has rapidly grown from eight scientists to 15 and more than 60 support staff.
Our goal is to achieve greater food security and availability by intensifying and diversifying the maize-dominated cropping systems without compromising the natural resource base and to increase farmers’ incomes by providing more marketing opportunities through value addition and enterprise development.
We are implementing more than 10 research projects, which represent a continuum from fundamental discoveries to adaptive research that applies findings to actual production, processing, marketing, and natural resource management. Our main research foci are in the areas of soybean and cassava breeding, agronomy, food safety, human nutrition, and socio-economics. We share our results through popular media, field days, workshops, seminars, and peer-reviewed publications.
We serve our main clientele―the small-scale producers and processors―by developing sustainable farming and food systems. Although faced with limited research facilities, we have been able to provide a favorable training environment for students, technicians, and scientists from local partners and national programs. We have also produced and distributed large quantities of breeder and foundation seeds, and developed crop management and processing technologies with the aim of benefitting millions of farmers in the region.