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, k.lopez@cgiar.org

Interview with Sounkoura Adetonah, Gender Specialist, IITA-Benin on female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (International Women’s Day 2018)

1. Today is International Women’s Day. How would you assess the role and progress of female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa?

Nowadays, the integration of gender and especially the consideration of women is a very important, and sometimes key aspect, in inclusive agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 78% of women in sub-Saharan Africa are economically active in agriculture, compared to only 64% of men. According to the FAO (1995), women are responsible for more than 50% of agricultural food production in the world and sub-Saharan is no exception. Moreover, women now constitute the majority of smallholder farmers, providing most of the labor and managing most farming activities on a daily basis. Nevertheless, a complex set of rights, obligations, and considerations reflect the social norms, which identify the prescriptions and the division of labor between men and women in agriculture value chains.

2. What has changed despite the strides research institutes have made in introducing various farming techniques and easy to use technologies?

In spite of the strides of research institutes at national and international levels, women often have very limited access to resources, innovations, and to profitable channels. They also have difficulty engaging in more lucrative activities. With limited financial resources, improved technologies are very expensive and not available for them. Since men have more access to information and inputs compared to women, they are more likely to adopt a technology than women.

3. What can be done to improve the lot of the rural farmers?

All social groups must have access to the same opportunities, access to markets for inputs and products. With the introduction of an inclusive funding model, women can have greater access to technology and credit through their organizations. Direct and indirect jobs will be created including those related to services (agricultural advice, use of agricultural machinery, management of cooperatives, brokerage service, information system and insurance) and the empowerment of women will be strengthened.

4. What is your perception of African women farmers?

African women farmers are key contributors to economic growth and global food security, but they still face many challenges. There are significant gender disparities in the way that key resources essential for success in agriculture are distributed across Africa. Access to land, inputs, assets, markets, information and knowledge, time, decision-making authority, and income still present a challenge for women in the sector. The limited access to agricultural extension services prevents many women from adopting the technologies that would help them increase their yields. For example, an estimated yield gap between men and women of 20 to 30% has been observed, and this hinders the growth of the agricultural sector in many developing countries. Also, female farmers receive only 5% of all agricultural extension services, and only 15% of the world’s extension agents are women. In addition, only 10% of total aid received by the agricultural and fisheries sectors goes to women. Women generally use lower levels of technology because of difficulties in access, cultural restrictions on use, or regard for women’s crops and livestock as low research priorities. In terms of the training and education, African women are less educated and trained.

5. What does International Women’s Day (8 March) mean to you and an average woman?

International Women’s Day (IWD) (8 March) is a great day for all women. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The campaign theme for this year is #PressforProgress, International Women’s Day is not country, group, or organization specific. It belongs to all groups collectively, everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity.

Happy Women’s Day to all women!

Sparing a thought for rural female farmers (International Women’s Day 2018)

by Adebola Adewole

Today is International Women’s Day. March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. In agriculture, what does gender parity look like? Has there been a significant improvement in the income and lives of rural female farmers? Are they at par with their male counterparts? These questions are germane because the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 78% of women in sub-Saharan Africa are economically active in agriculture against 64% of men. According to the FAO, women are responsible for more than 50% of agricultural food production in the world and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet they still occupy the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and are considered the poorest of the poor.

These women are the bedrock of food and nutritional security as farmers, producers, processors, harvesters, weeders, and retailers in many African countries. They produce the bulk of the food eaten in urban centers through subsistence farming. Then what has changed? Maria Ayodele, IITA Pathologist retorted: “Nothing has changed. There has not been any material and financial improvement in the lives of the rural women farmers as they still wallow in abject poverty because of lack of empowerment and capacity building and failure of government and local leadership authority. We simply do not care.”

She explained further: “Go to any community in Oyo State, women still fry gari in huts, with firewood. There may be only one hydraulic press in a community, which the women will queue up to use. Government or the rich people should provide more of such for the people to use. Yet we say we are celebrating women when we have failed to empower them in these communities.”

Due to the global economic recession, African countries now have a renewed interest in making agriculture a substantial source of revenue. They are partnering with various science and development agencies that include research institutions to develop agriculture. They may have contributed marginally to rural women farmers’ improved livelihoods. “Research institutes have never been geared towards infrastructural development of communities but to provide plant materials of improved varieties like cassava, maize, and other crops,” says Ayodele.

In spite of the strides of research institutes at national and international levels, Sounkoura Adetonah, Gender Specialist, IITA Benin says, “Women often have very limited access to resources, innovations, and profitable channels. They also have difficulty engaging in more lucrative activities. With limited financial resources, new technologies are very expensive and not available for them. Men have more access to information and inputs in relation to women. They are more likely to adopt a new technology than women.

Traditions and culture seemingly conspire to undermine the socioeconomic life of the women. In this age and time, women cannot own land in many communities, neither can they rent. They have nothing to increase the acreage of their farm land. Chief among these factors impinging on their material upliftment and improved livelihood according to Ayodele are “Patriarchal society, insensitivity of government, and politicization of agriculture.”

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day with speeches, music, and poetry, some women believe the day is not worth celebrating. This is because a higher percentage of women are suffering and live in poverty, discriminated against, with a lack of gender parity with men. Bussie Maziya-Dixon quips: “What are we celebrating? Rural women farmers are not worth celebrating because of their dire situation. Nothing has changed”.  Ayodele adds, “International Women’s Day celebrates the progress women have made in all fields of endeavor. But as we celebrate this day, we should think about how to empower the rural women, change our attitude and perception of them as they are the bedrock of African agriculture.” This is a day of reflection and self-evaluation for all women in the world and above all women researchers at IITA.

Inqaba-IITA trains staff on phylogenetics

Inqaba biotec West Africa in collaboration with IITA organized an Introductory Phylogenetics Workshop on 24-29January, at IITA, Ibadan.

Training facilitator, Dr Jane Wright, talking to participants.
Training facilitator, Dr Jane Wright, talking to

The workshop was attended by 15 laboratory scientists from various laboratories in Nigeria. It aimed to present the basic principles and techniques for understanding the evolution of genes and genomes. The steps required from checking a sequence to constructing a phylogenetic tree were also covered.

The workshop was facilitated by Jane Wright, an expert in Phylogenetics from Inqaba Biotec with a PhD in Biology from the University of York, and a teacher of Phylogenetics for over 15 years.

During the workshop, the participants learned about Base calling, Distance analysis using PHYLIP and MEGA 6, Sequence Alignment and Primer design. They also toured the IITA Bioscience Center where Yemi Fasanmade, Lab Manager, enlightened them on the various activities and research carried out in the labs.

At the end of the workshop, the participants said they were impressed with the course content and the organization of the workshop in general. They showed interest in having an advanced workshop as a follow-up in the future.

Inqaba biotec West Africa is a subsidiary of Inqaba Biotec, a genomics company with headquarters in South Africa. Its West African office is located at the Bioscience Center, IITA- Ibadan.

Abuja station attracts Polish investors

Agricultural investors from Poland have indicated interest in partnering with IITA to help in improving Nigeria’s agricultural development. This was announced during the visit of a three-person team of Polish investors led by Ewa Olszewska, the International Project Manager, Poland-Africa Partnership and Cooperation, to IITA Abuja station on 3 February.

The visitors expressed satisfaction with the structures at the IITA Station, and requested to use the facilities for the demonstration of their farm machinery. In addition, they invited IITA to pay a learning visit to Poland and offered to help the Institute in deploying world-class technologies on mechanization and commercial agriculture. They also invited IITA scientists to the ground-breaking opening ceremony of their manufacturing plant for agricultural implements, machines, tractors, and vocational center in Kaduna State later in the year.

Gbassey Tarawali, Head of the Abuja station, who received the visitors, assured them of IITA’s readiness and willingness to collaborate in efforts to complement the Nigerian Government’s initiatives at promoting food security and employment generation in the country.

Enhancing soybean production in Nigeria through the SARD-SC maize system

The IITA/SARD-SC maize system soybean production enhancement planning workshop was held 1-4 February in Abuja to promote soybean cultivation and utilization in Nigeria. The workshop became imperative because of the huge deficit in the annual demand for the crop. Demand is currently estimated at 2.2 million tons; the annual production of 600,000 tons is grossly inadequate to meet this demand hence the need for a concerted effort to bridge the gap.

Chrys Akem reiterates the importance of promoting soybean at the workshop.
Chrys Akem reiterates the importance of
promoting soybean at the workshop.

The project is expected to mobilize the strength and expertise of stakeholders in the maize–soybean value chain to support production of soybean, a complementary crop to the maize commodity value chain in the SARD-SC project.

In his opening remarks, Chrys Akem, SARD-SC Project Coordinator, reiterated the importance of soybean and bemoaned the current low cultivation of the legume in the country.

“This workshop is an opportunity for us to walk our way back to the days when we had a surplus and strengthen soybean cultivation as a companion crop to maize.” Akem enumerated the many advantages of soybean as a food and nutritional security crop in Africa and the many existing high yielding varieties with good resistance to rust. He mentioned the opportunity for market linkages through the innovation platforms while challenging the soybean growers and poultry feed millers to maintain the sustainability of the soybean industry.

Sam Ajala, Maize Commodity Specialist, emphasized how the workshop participants could help map out a focused and clear goal for the crop in the next five years, and introduce business-led models to market soybean.

In his paper, titled Enhancing Soybean Production within the SARD-SC Maize Project in Nigeria, Kolawole Ojo, SARD-SC Soybean Scientist, stated the economic importance of the crop and the complementarity of maize-soybean production. “Soybean improves soil fertility through atmospheric nitrogen fixation. Processed soybeans are the world’s largest source of animal feed and the second largest source of vegetable oil,” he said.

Ojo said that the SARD-SC project will help generate improved maize and soybean production/utilization technologies; ensure dissemination/promotion of improved technologies; enhance food and nutrition security; and contribute to poverty reduction in Africa. Ojo emphasized the importance of partnership with national and international scientists, seed companies, processors, farmers, NGOs, and extension workers as part of the operational strategy to achieve these projections. Some of the steps to enhance soybean production include capacity building of the value chain actors, and generation and promotion of preferred maize/soybean varieties that could be adapted to various agroecologies and that are tolerant to major biotic and abiotic stresses.

Soybean scientists from research institutes, soybean farmers, poultry farmers, representatives of seed companies, and other interested stakeholders attended the workshop and brainstormed on the strategies to enhance soybean cultivation. They also deliberated on the way forward for soybean production enhancement.

Study details measures for conserving rainforests in Africa

Reporting on the strategies employed in rehabilitating and conserving four rainforests in Benin and southwestern Nigeria, Deni Bown, Head, IITA Forest Unit; Peter Neuenschwander, IITA Benin; and partners from CREDI-ONG demonstrated that a combination of closed-off reserves, clear and secure land ownership, donor support, education for and engaging with locals as well as strong government involvement and legislation are key to preserving rainforests and reversing biodiversity loss even in highly populated areas.

IITA Forest Reserve.
IITA Forest Reserve.

The report titled “Long-term conservation and rehabilitation of threatened rainforest patches under different human population pressures in West Africa”, and published in Nature Conservation covers a time span of 10−30 years of conservation efforts in the 380-ha IITA Forest Reserve, Ibadan, Nigeria, and the 14-ha Sanctuaire des Singes, Drabo Gbo, Benin, as well as the CREDI-
ONG-affiliated 1.4 ha Forêt de la Panthère, Zinvié, and the privately owned 50-ha Forêt de Bahazoun, Lanzron in Benin.

Other scientists involved in the study are Georges Hèdégbètan, Centre Régional de Recherche et d’Education Centre Régional de Recherche et d’Education pour un Développement Intégré, Abomey-Calavi, Benin and Aristide Adomou, University of Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou, Benin.

In southwestern Nigeria, rainforests are threatened by a dependent population oblivious to the necessity of preserving these natural resources. While in the Republic of Benin—part of the so-called Dahomey Gap—a meager 1% of the country is covered by rainforests which hold within them 64% of critically endangered plant species.

Conservation efforts on all four forests included decades of planting and nurturing thousands of trees and plantlets of different species, propagating native and non-native wildlife forms as well as guarding and restricting access to the reserves.

These measures have brought about an impressive resurgence in levels of biodiversity as well as enhanced protection for endemic and endangered plant and animal species—a very important development given that there are no national parks in southern Benin and southwestern Nigeria.

Hundreds of plant and animal species now flourish in all four forests. The reserve in Ibadan is recognized as a last refuge for endangered species such as the revered Iroko tree (Milicia excelsa), the majestic Pararistolochia goldieana, and the rare Ibadan malimbe (Malimbus ibadanensis); it was designated a globally Important Bird Area (IBA) by Bird Life International in 2002.

The Sanctuaire des Singes (The Monkey Sanctuary) of Drabo Gbo holds 50 out of the 100 species on the Benin Red List of endangered plant species. It also serves as a fertile breeding ground for the aesthetically pleasing, endemic, and critically endangered red-bellied monkey (Cercopithecus erythrogaster erythrogaster).

The Zinvié forest has fostered economic benefits for the village and boasts a
mini zoo which attracts tourists while
the Lanzron forest offers some measure of protection for the endangered Sitatunga.

Ensuring that the forests remain safe from wanton exploitation by locals who are largely poor, welded to traditional beliefs, and have a sense of entitlement to the forest resources is a very challenging and expensive task, said the report.

A combination of perimeter fence (Ibadan), community empowerment schemes (Zinvié), and deals with local religious cults (Drabo Gbo and Lanzron) serves to offer a measure of protection for the forests. But long-term protection will only be assured through education by stakeholders at all levels to foster a change in attitudes, promote appreciation for the benefits of conservation, and make clear the obligations of local populations and religious groups.

IITA-Benin hosts training workshop for the sustainable conservation of endangered primates of Benin and Togo

A workshop was organized at IITA-Benin on 7-14 January to strengthen the research capacities of 14 young researchers already active in nature conservation from universities and NGOs in Benin and Togo. The workshop also aimed to demonstrate the standardized procedures for observing monkeys and empower the participants to launch new projects in national and international cooperation.

A big male red-belly holds court and protects his female and young, who sit in the trees above the well and look back at the trainees.
A big male red-belly holds court and protects his female and young, who sit in the trees above the well and look back at the trainees.

Benin and Togo constitute the refuge for three threatened monkeys, namely the critically endangered red-bellied monkey (Cercopithecus erythrogaster erythrogaster), the vulnerable Geoffroy’s Black-and-white Colobus (Colobus vellerosus), and the olive colobus (Procolobus verus).

After two days of theoretical training at IITA-Benin, the participants spent a day at the “Sanctuaire des Singes de Drabo Gbo” in the IITA forests of Drabo. The trainers stressed that this was the only place in the world where red-bellied monkeys are used to people and can be observed at ease. In the other sites in Benin and along the border to Nigeria or Togo, where this monkey has been recorded, the animals are hunted and therefore extremely shy. This visit allowed the participants to observe this species close up and develop their skills in recording its behavior. The next day they departed for a prolonged visit to the Lama Forest, where they learned how to estimate monkey populations along fixed observation lines in the forest. The last day was spent again at IITA wrapping up the workshop findings.

The workshop was coordinated by the local NGO “Organisation pour le Développement Durable et la Biodiversité” (ODDB) with internationally recognized primatologists Reiko Goodwin (Fordham University, New York, USA) and Célestin Kouakou, Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte dÍvoire (CSRS). It was supported by scientists from the Université d’Abomey-Calavi, CENAGREF of the Benin Ministry of Environment, ODDB, and IITA.

Participants in front of the gate to the ‘Sanctuaire des singes de Drabo Gbo’.
Participants in front of the gate to the ‘Sanctuaire des singes de Drabo Gbo’.

The IITA forests of Drabo were officially handed over to IITA last year, and are managed by Peter Neuenschwander. The forests are reserved for research in nature conservation focusing on plant and insect biodiversity, but also involving all sorts of wildlife, including endangered monkeys. This is in view of the continuous effort by IITA and the IITA-Benin station in particular to study the links between biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. The full texts of the workshop proceedings are available here.

CRI-Ghana scientists visit YIIFSWA yam aeroponics facility at NRCRI Umudike

Scientists from the Crops Research Institute (CSIR-CRI), Ghana, visited the newly established Aeroponics Facility at the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike last December to view some of the progress being made by their Nigerian counterparts on pre-basic and basic seed production.

The scientists, Emmanuel Otoo, Deputy Director, CRI; Braima Haruna, YIIFSWA Country Manager, Ghana; Marian Ouain, Head of Biotechnology Lab; and Joseph Ayamdo, YIIFSWA Seed Officer in Ghana, were accompanied by John Ikeorgu, YIIFSWA country manager, Nigeria.

Scientists from CRI Ghana viewing yam plantlets growing at the aeroponics facility at Umudike.
Scientists from CRI Ghana viewing yam plantlets growing at the aeroponics facility at Umudike.

At Umudike, the team met with NRCRI’s Yam Program Coordinator Eke Okoro and his staff who are involved in YIIFSWA healthy seed yam multiplication activities. The Ghanaian team first visited the 1-hectare pre-basic seed multiplication field and was later taken to the aeroponics screenhouse. According to Ikeorgu, “They were amazed at the level of success achieved in mini tuber and vine production from aeroponics, less than 3 months after the commissioning of the facility.” The team at NRCRI has successfully generated and harvested mini tubers from the aeroponics system and is generating vines to populate unplanted boxes within the system.

Over the years, the quality of pre-basic and basic seeds within the yam production systems in Ghana and Nigeria was a concern that needed intervention. National agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) were at risk of losing pre-basic and basic seed stocks of improved varieties because they were heavily infested with pathogens. As part of its interventions, the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA), generated disease-free seed stocks of popular local and improved varieties and has developed novel technologies for rapid multiplication of these seed tubers. These achievements will aid with bulking of healthy seed stocks for distribution along the seed value chain.

Both NARES (NRCRI and CRI) have been tasked with multiplying and distributing high quality clean pre-basic seed tubers within the yam production system.

African Cassava Agronomy Initiative to change the fortunes of cassava farmers

The African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) project kicked off on 27 January, with plans to improve the livelihoods and incomes of cassava farmers in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and DR Congo through research and tapping into and implementing best-bet agronomic practices.

The project, which is led by IITA with funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will specifically improve cassava yields, root quality, supply to the processing sector, and fertilizer sales, thereby engaging over 100,000 households in Nigeria and Tanzania, and facilitating the engagement of at least 30% women farmers.

“The value of benefits from this project in Nigeria and Tanzania is projected to be over US$27 million. Furthermore, through engagement of households in Ghana, Uganda, and DRC and through interest generated in the products developed by the project, these figures are expected to increase for at least 150,000 households and a value of at least $40 million created within the 5-year time frame of the project,” explained Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA R4D Director for Central Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, cassava productivity has marginally increased to around 10–11 tons per hectare, well below attainable yields of over 30 tons per hectare. With the need for intensifying cassava production in areas where population densities have reduced access to fallow land and with cassava roots becoming important raw material for the processing sector, this yield gap needs to be reduced.

Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe, said the current yield of less than 15 tons per hectare makes Nigerian farmers uncompetitive in the cassava sector.

“This initiative should find a solution to the issue of low productivity,” said Ogbe who was represented by Comfort Awe.

The ACAI initiative is placed within the context of intensification of cassava-based systems with a focus on the development of cassava agronomy recommendations to improve the productivity and quality of cassava roots in Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, and Uganda, major cassava-producing countries in West and East Africa, and some spillover into East DR Congo. The project will be in phases, starting in Nigeria and Tanzania in years 1 and 2, and will expand to the other countries from year 3 onwards.

Nteranya Sanginga, IITA DG, said agronomy would provide the key to unlocking the potential of cassava in Africa.

“If we want to increase the productivity of cassava, we must breed new varieties, and improve the agronomy and value addition. We have done a lot in the area of breeding; what we need to do now is to capitalize on the agronomy,” DG Sanginga said.

The ACAI project will harness African and international expertise, and follows a demand-driven approach whereby its interventions respond to specific agronomy-related needs by partners already actively engaged in cassava dissemination and value chain activities in the target countries.

ACAI aims to deliver the necessary knowledge base and tools for making this knowledge accessible to cassava scaling partners and ultimately farmers in the target countries while ensuring
the build-up of necessary capacity and skills for national system scientists to engage in “transformative” cassava agronomy.

“The ultimate goal is to improve the productivity per unit area,” Abdulai Jalloh, Project Coordinator for ACAI, said.

L-R: Jacob Mignouna, Program Officer, Gates Foundation; Comfort Awe, representative of Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; Abdulai Jalloh, Coordinator, ACAI; and Bernard Vanlauwe, Director, Central Africa, IITA at the first ACAI Meeting in Ibadan.
L-R: Jacob Mignouna, Program Officer, Gates Foundation; Comfort Awe, representative of
Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; Abdulai Jalloh, Coordinator, ACAI;
and Bernard Vanlauwe, Director, Central Africa, IITA at the first ACAI Meeting in Ibadan.

The initiative is expected to build the capacity of national partners to sustain the technology development pipeline, deliver continuous improvements in cassava agronomy technologies, as well as address new constraints.