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
participants.

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.

Discovery of a second New World hoverfly newly introduced into the Afrotropics

In the framework of collaboration between IITA and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, hoverflies preserved in IITA’s biodiversity center at Cotonou were recently studied using molecular biology techniques in support of morphological identification. Surprisingly some specimens from Benin and Cameroon could not be identified using existing morphological keys for Syrphidae of the Afrotropical region.

A second New World hoverfly, Toxomerus - floralis (Fabricius) (Diptera: Syrphidae), recorded from the Old World, with description of larval pollen-feeding ecology. Zootaxa: 4044 (4): 567–576.
A second New World hoverfly, Toxomerus
– floralis (Fabricius) (Diptera: Syrphidae),
recorded from the Old World, with description of larval pollen-feeding
ecology. Zootaxa: 4044 (4): 567–576.

DNA sequencing and comparison with publicly available barcode data revealed the presence in Africa of a species originating from South America. While subsequent collection efforts showed that the species named Toxomerus floralis (Fabricius) is currently widely spread in Togo, Benin, Nigeria (including the IITA campus at Ibadan), and Cameroon, the full extent of its geographic distribution within the African continent remains to be determined.

This is only the second known established introduction of a non-African hoverfly species in the Afrotropics.

Interestingly, the larvae of this species feed on pollen, which is uncommon within the subfamily Syrphinae. Moreover, it is the only Syrphinae species of which the larvae feed on pollen of at least two plant species from different families (Cyperaceae and Rubiaceae). This example illustrates well the practical application of molecular techniques as a reliable identification tool and underpins the utility of any contribution to such a globally accessible database. (Please contact g.goergen@cgiar.org for full scientific article).

Ghana fetes farmers in a Farmers’ Day

IITA participated in celebrating and acknowledging the contributions of local farmers in Ghana last December.

The National Farmers Day is a day of celebration and appreciation of the good work by the farmers and awarding of gifts to the farmers. This is celebrated every first Friday of December each year and includes fisherfolk and all farmers.

Cassava Breeder Elizabeth Parkes attending to farmers and guests at the IITA stand.
Cassava Breeder Elizabeth Parkes attending to farmers and guests at the IITA stand.

The celebration is coordinated by the Finance and Administration Subcommittee of the Municipal Assembly of the Municipal Director of Food and Agriculture (Charles Atse), which includes the Municipal Budget Officer, Deputy Municipal Coordinating Director, the Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee of the Municipal Assembly, and the Chief Farmer of Suhum.

The farmers’ day took place at Aponoapono, a large village in Suhum town. Both men and women farmers participated in the celebration.

The event was graced by award winners, farmers, a team from IITA led by Elizabeth Parkes, Janet Nkurumah-Sey, Olaniyi Oluwatobi, and Anthony Acquatey-Mensah. There were also traditional rulers from Aponoapono and neighboring villages. The Municipal Chief Executive, the Municipal Coordinating Director, the Municipal Commander of Police, some Heads of Departments, general public, and members of the press also attended.

IITA mounted an exhibition led by the Cassava Breeding unit that showed vitamin A cassava, high quality cassava flour, and IITA publications and posters. The cassava variety had the largest roots on a single stem exhibited during the occasion and attracted a lot of visitors. The farmers, the community chief, and the Commander of Police showed interested in this variety.

Staff proud to work for IITA

A staff satisfaction survey undertaken by the IITA Human Resources Service (HRS) and Management in 2015 has revealed that members of staff are proud to work for the Institute.

They ranked “pride in working for IITA” highest among other parameters. The survey also highlighted other key areas where the Institute is excelling as well as areas needing improvement.

About 618 regular staff members from the Central, East, Southern, and West Africa hubs as well as the directorates participated in the exercise. The survey results were analyzed, and the report considered by the HRS Committee and the Board of Trustees.

In a message to members of staff on 21 January, Kwame Akuffo-Akoto, DDG Corporate Services said:

“It is gratifying to note that on a five-point scale of 1-5 (with 5 representing “Strongly Agree” and 1 “Strongly Disagree”),” Pride in working for IITA” was assessed at 4.8. Also the same rating was recorded regarding “Staff being satisfied that they are making meaningful contributions to the work of the Institute”.

He added that overall, staff affirmed that the Institute is strong (with a rating of 4.1 and above) in the following areas:

  • setting clear goals and objectives
  • management of the Institute
  • consultation; communication
  • positive image to staff’s family and friends
  • encouraging teamwork
  • enhancing staff’s skills and improving performance health and safety
  • promoting respectful relations between men and women in the workplace
  • maintaining an enabling and conducive work environment
  • creating a sense of belongingness among staff.

Areas of concern highlighted by the survey include:

  • work-life balance fair compensation
  • regular review of staff development needs
  • provision of career advancement and learning opportunities
  • increasing staff confidence to report harassment and bullying.

Akuffo-Akoto assured members of staff that Management will continue to address these concerns and take appropriate action to address all aspects that are classified in the report as “Medium Range” (where average rating is equal to 4) and all those areas classified as “Concerns” (where average rating is less than 4). He also enjoined all staff to continue to seek the good of IITA and give the Institute their very best.