Beneficiaries commend IITA-AGRA training course

Beneficiaries of IITA-AGRA training with IITA-AGRA team
Beneficiaries of IITA-AGRA training with IITA-AGRA team

Beneficiaries of the AGRA-IITA training course on good laboratory practices and laboratory information management systems have commended the two institutions for building their capacities, saying that the training they received was helping to make them more efficient.
During a visit by AGRA-IITA team to the Nigerian Institute of Science Laboratory Technology (NISLT), Samonda, Ibadan; one of the beneficiaries, Nkem Michael-Uwaje, who is also a staff of NISLT explained how she has been able to put into effective use the knowledge she gathered from the training and how this has positively affected the quality of her work and those of her colleagues especially with the tips on how to generate internal control samples with the aid of certified reference material.
“Before the AGRA-funded training, protocols/laboratory operations in the unit were poor, but this situation has improved,” she said while taking the team comprising Marie Rarieya, AGRA Program Officer, and Joseph Uponi, Manager, IITA Analytical Services Lab, on a tour of her laboratory.
“Also during the training, I met and networked with other professionals from different countries in Africa. Since then, our network has grown. I am now able to keep a close tab on my colleagues and compare my work with what they are doing in other African countries. This way, I have been able to monitor how well my work is going. It was really an exciting time for me,” she added.
Nkem is just one among the several persons trained this year, thanks to funds from AGRA. Also in attendance during the visit were two other beneficiaries of the training from the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IART) Ibadan, namely Ms Tayo-Aruna  Abidemi and Mr Popoola Joseph.
Receiving the team, Dr Ighodalo F. Ijagbone, Director General, NISLT, said the Institute’s  collaboration with IITA and AGRA in training and research had been very productive, especially as laboratory practice was concerned.
As a regulator of lab practice, Dr Ijagbone said, “We will support whatever role you want us to play. One of our core functions is capacity building and we have our members across universities, institutes, and polytechnics.”
Dr Rarieya said the aim of the visit was to strengthen partnerships across the institutions.
“AGRA strongly values partnerships and networking…And for us to create impact, we need to build capacity, from farmers to laboratory technicians. In AGRA we are constantly thinking of how we can work with partners to increase productivity,” she explained.
She pledged to strengthen the partnership already established with the institute especially as NISLT will be hosting the in-country course in soil and plant analysis in January 20–24, 2014. Similar in-country training will also take place in collaboration with Kwame Nkrumah University from January 6–11, 2014 for laboratory technicians in Ghana.
The AGRA-IITA team also made a brief stop-over at the Agronomy Department of the University of Ibadan where they met with Mr Omosuli Sunday, a beneficiary of the on-site training in soil and plant analysis which took place in March 2013 at IITA, Ibadan.

When open means fun!

These past few weeks have been extremely busy but fun and exciting here at IITA.

First of all, we had our Open Day on 16 November. And boy, was that a big shindig! We had almost 5000 thousand guests – mostly families and friends of staff – trooping into our campus in Ibadan.

Exhibition stands at Conference centre
Exhibition stands at Conference center

We started off the day’s celebrations with an open house at the Conference Center where we showcased samples of the work that we do with science and research exhibitions. A lot of the kids (and the kids-at-heart) got a kick out of looking through some microscopes and trying their hands on some gear (with the help of our scientists, of course). We also treated the guests to a movie of what we do, which I think was really cool.

Among the highlights of Open Day, Long Service Awards were conferred on staff who had served the institute for 10, 20, and 30 years. Wow, talk about loyalty and service! I was also excited when the retirees of 2013 were recognized. These are the fellows who have given so much of themselves to IITA, and they deserved all the recognition.

I was also impressed by the scholars who were given their scholarships by the IITA Women’s Group during the day, especially Segun Daramola, the boy they endearingly called “Prof”. Because of his outstanding academic performance my colleague Dr Akuffo-Akoto gave “Prof” a full scholarship out of his own pocket. Kids like these renew my faith and hope in Africa and its potentials.

Oh, I would have to really put my hands up for this group of our young staff – Bode Olaoluwa, Owija Odihi, Opeyemi Oyatomi, and Soji Akinyemi – who put together a modern and hippy song I am IITA. I never thought that a song about an agricultural research institution could be so cool and hip. This song will probably be permanently in my playlist and it might be in yours, too, once you hear it. It was really amazing!

Cultural dancers
Musicians entertain visitors

Of course, no occasion is ever complete without the cultural dancers and musicians. They really spiced up the day, especially for those coming from outside Nigeria. The young ones (and those young once) were also not left out as the tennis courts at the Sports Center were virtually transformed into a kids’ paradise complete with games and jumping castles. Talk about fun!

And do you think our scientists and staff are only good in research? Think again! A dance-off among staff and guests was also held, with winners, chosen by the cheering audience, going home with some really nice prizes.

Then we capped the day’s celebrations by raffling some prizes. The grand prize – a vacation travel package to Accra, Ghana, 3 days and 2 nights complete with return air fare, hotel accommodation, and pocket money – was won by Hakeem Opadeyi, a mechanic working at the Facilities Management Service. I was just glad I had picked out the winning ticket that contained his name.

Through this blog, I would like to thank all those who made this Open Day so successful. I won’t name each one of you, there are just too many. But this also goes to show that here at IITA we are not just an organization, but also a family. And I can’t wait until the next Open Day! I am sure it will be even greater.
By the way, if you want to see in photos what I’ve just been telling you, please grab a copy of the special Open Day pictorial issue of Talking Drums.

Catch you again in my next blog!

PS: I think I am really getting a hang of this blogging thing. What do you think? Let me know.

Working the soil: A case for investing in long-term soil research to feed the future

A group of experts on soil science drawn from all over the world met in Kampala, Uganda recently to push for long-term trials for Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) in Africa where one of the biggest obstacles to agriculture productivity increases are poor old soils whose nutrients have been stripped off following years of mining with little replenishment and where fertilizer use is the lowest in the world.

The meeting held from 11-12 November was funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Water Land and Ecosystem (WLE) and was organized by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

group-photoISFM is defined as ‘the application of soil fertility management practices, and the knowledge to adapt these to local conditions , which maximize fertilizer and organic resource use efficiency and crop productivity. These practices necessarily include fertilizer and organic input management in combination with improved germplasm.’

ISFM is seen as one of the ways to support sustainable intensification of farming systems in Africa which is now seen as one of the ways to address the challenge of how to increase agricultural production to meet the food needs of a growing population and for economic development amidst shrinking of land available for agriculture.

However, while it has shown its potential in the short term, longer term effects on soil fertility and other ecosystem services are still unclear. Hence the need to invest in long-term ISFM trials. Below are short interviews with some of the scientists gathered at the event on why long-term ISFM research is important, what it will entail and possible challenges.

Prof. Daniel Mugendi

Very briefly what is ISFM and why is it important? Basically soils are very important – they support life. They support food production. Furthermore, to us scientists, soils sustain ecosystems and support biodiversity. In ISFM we are looking at how to use all available options to make sure we get the most out of the soils.”

Prof Daniel Mugendi, a soils scientist with Embu university College, Kenya.

Why is ISFM important? ISFM is important because of the declining soil fertility and the need to address this in the interest of the resource poor farmers. Fertility in many places has been declining following years of traditional farming practices that have led to mining of the soils. We therefore need to find cost effective and sustainable practices that will ensure the replenishment of essential growth nutrients.

Prof. Sagary Nokoe
Prof. Sagary Nokoe

Why long-term ISFM trials? Traditionally all ISFM trials have been on a short term basis. So to what extent can we determine the optimal levels of components in ISFM? Is it when crop yields are stable and constant or is it when the soils chemical and physical properties are at optimal levels?

What are some of the anticipated challenges? Challenges are enormous. First there are so many factors involved in long-term trials. So we need to determine the right balance of the factors to study as we cannot study everything. Also the various levels of factors may not be applicable to all the sites. The challenge then is how do we make sure we have the levels of factors and combinations that will be applicable to a majority of the soils? And thirdly, we will have to be very careful as we select research sites to ensure they are as representative of many conditions as possible. This will ensure that the findings of our research have wider inference base which may then enable extension or scaling to other non-study areas. And this poses serious logistical concerns.

Prof Sagary Nokoe, University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani, Ghana

Prof. Jan Diels
Prof. Jan Diels

What will long-term ISFM trials entail? For the first time, we will bring in a longer time scale to see how soils improve over time with ISFM. Long term trials will also enable us to anticipate problems and future challenges such as preparing farmers to cope and adapt to climate change. For example, one of the regions we looked at for setting up long term ISFM trials was Southern Africa. Currently, the region has erratic rainfall and this is expected to get worse with climate change. ISFM which includes all measures to make a system more productive and sustainable will support small holder farmers to cope with the erratic rainfall through adapting their cropping systems, diversifying and paying attention to cropping time.

Challenges? Long term trials need long term commitments not only from the researchers but also from the donors. Funding will be a major challenge.

Prof Jan Diels, KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium

What progress was made in the meeting in operationalizing long-term ISFM? There are already

Saidou Koala
Saidou Koala

some ongoing long-term ISFM trials in different countries under the Africa Network for Soil and Biology Fertility (Afnet) by different partner organizations. However, in this meeting we have identified new opportunities and issues to justify new long-term ISFM trials to complement the on-going trials. New issues, new problems, new technologies and approaches have been identified. For example, when we were setting up the old trials we tended to focus mostly on increasing productivity and we did not pay much attention to sustainability. So we have agreed to maintain old trials but also set up new trials that will address these new problems.

Saidou Koala, Coordinator, Africa Network for Soil and Biological Fertility (Afnet)

Andre Bationo
Andre Bationo

What progress was made in the meeting in operationalizing long-term ISFM? We can say we have all reached a common understanding of ISFM, the principles and concepts. The design components for field experiments for long-terms ISFM approaches have been well understood and agreed upon by everyone. We have also elaborated an action plan on how we will move on from here.

Challenges? Funding of course. We cannot do anything without funds.

Andre Bationo, formerly with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

Why was it important to hold this meeting? Do you think it has achieved its objective?

The main objective of the meeting was to draft strategy for evaluating the sustainability impacts of ISFM. This can only be done by engaging scientist from African institutes and from institutes in the North who have a clear insight in the role long-term trials can play in enhancing our understanding of the role of soils in sustainable intensification of African Agriculture. We have achieved this objective, drafted a compelling conceptual framework underlying the strategy, and identified prototype designs and approaches to address the main research questions within our framework. I, in name of my colleagues, sincerely hope that we’ll be able to engage with WLE and other programs on sustainable intensification to implement our strategy.

Bernard Vanlauwe presenting on ISFM
Bernard Vanlauwe presenting on ISFM

Bernard Vanlauwe, Director for Central Africa and Head of Natural Resource Management, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

Breaking ground in Lusaka

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. Rogers Mwewa, representing VP Guy Scott, unveiling the IITA-SARAH commemorative marker
The Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. Rogers Mwewa, representing VP Guy Scott, unveiling the IITA-SARAH commemorative marker

Welcome to my blog! This is my first official blog post so I hope you will bear with me if I do not get this right the first time.

Almost a month ago, I – along with several members of IITA’s management and the Vice Chair of the IITA Board of Trustees – was at our Southern Africa Regional Hub in Lusaka, Zambia for two things: a management retreat, and for the “birth” of SARAH. In this blog, I want to talk about the latter. SARAH is not a person – SARAH is short for the Southern Africa Research and Administration Hub.

At the moment, our Southern Africa Hub office is a cramped, rented two-storey house from which more than 20 research and support staff operate. Not a very ideal situation, is it? However, with the completion of the first buildings of our permanent SARAH facilities by next year, we would be able to more effectively and efficiently carry out IITA’s mission and vision in Southern Africa.

At SARAH’s groundbreaking ceremony (the “birth” that I was referring to earlier), we invited the Vice President of the Republic of Zambia to grace the event. Unfortunately, he had to attend another official function, so he sent a representative in his stead – Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Hon. Rogers Mwewa.

To mark the occasion, the Hon Mwewa unveiled SARAH’s dedication plaque. I also had the honor of planting a tree with the honorable deputy minister, along with other important partners, to signify our commitment to improving the land and the lives of its people through agricultural research. On the side, we were also treated to some very energetic (read: flipping-through-the-air) cultural dances, displays and exhibitions, and a taste of different food items made from soybean, cassava, and cowpea. Overall, it was a significant and memorable event.

Just to give you an idea of what we’re building here: it will be a 50-hectare research, training, outreach, and business support campus. It will have state-of-the-art laboratories for natural resource management, agronomy and crop physiology, pest management, social sciences, plant breeding, biotechnology, GIS, crop utilization, and nutrition. It will also have facilities for producing high-value cassava-based products, postharvest and tissue culture, modern greenhouses, a fabrication workshop for labor-saving agricultural machinery as well training space for students, producers, processors, and other actors along the priority value chains.

There will also be a 3C (comprehensive, computerized, and connected) Knowledge Center that could accommodate about 50 people. A student hostel, recreation facilities, and secured parking area will complete the ensemble. In addition, our long-term vision is to establish two testing sites in Zambia, representing the more humid zones (northern Zambia) and dry savanna (Zambezi valley) of southern Africa.

We plan to build SARAH in phases – under the first phase, which will be completed by the last quarter of 2014, we will have built the administration building, the greenhouses, and the machinery fabrication facilities. Once completed, this will enable us to transfer our operations from our current temporary office. The rest of SARAH’s facilities will follow within 5 years. I encourage you to follow my blog for updates as SARAH “grows”.
Thank you for finding time to read through my first blog entry. I welcome comments, suggestions, and “constructive criticisms” to help me improve. I’ll get better at this, I promise! Talk to you again soon.

Southern Africa region

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.

Central Africa region

Through a realignment of the IITA strategy, the Central Africa hub of IITA was formally established in 2012 and provides the opportunity to advance the earlier good work in the Central African region to new heights, in terms of both science and impact. Rural households in Central Africa are facing major challenges while the region is under-resourced in terms of research-for-development capacity and presence of the international scientific research community. Notwithstanding, substantial progress is reported for the various research areas of IITA.

Seven improved cassava varieties were released this year, five in Cameroon and two in DR Congo. In Burundi, substantial progress is reported with advancing access to healthy banana planting material through macro-propagation. In Cameroon, the first experimental evidence was gathered of the susceptibility to Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) and aphids among local and hybrid plantain and cooking banana used in West and Central Africa. This will form a basis for selecting Musa genotypes in which BBTD disease develops most slowly. In East DR Congo, the large potential to increase productivity in cassava–legume systems through the application of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) practices was demonstrated. In West DR Congo, the production of micro-chips for transformation into high quality cassava flour is an excellent example of how innovative approaches can be used to add value to farmer’s produce. Central Africa also has some of the last remaining primary forests in the world, often resulting in conflicting interests between the needs of primary households and the interests of the global community. The activities in Cameroon of Reduced Emission from all Land Uses (REALU) have shown that perennial systems exist that provide agricultural outputs while retaining carbon stocks.

Many of above results were obtained through effective partnerships with various stakeholder groups, as illustrated with examples from Burundi, DR Congo, and Cameroon. A total of 17 PhD and 13 MSc students were engaged in scientific programs in 2012 and 36 scientific papers were produced.

While most of our current R4D activities are implemented in DR Congo, Cameroon, Burundi, and Rwanda, initiatives are being taken to get engaged in the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Gabon.

Implementing our mission happens through the CGIAR Research Programs which are multi-institutional programs tackling important global agricultural development issues. Besides the Humidtropics, other important CGIAR Research Programs, including Roots, Tubers, and Bananas, Water, Land, and Ecosystems, Climate Change and Food Security, Policies and Markets, Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Maize, and Grain Legumes have a major role to play in Central Africa.

Eastern Africa region

Operating from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Eastern Africa hub covers eight countries with a population of about 250 million people most of who are engaged in agriculture in one way or another. The sector, therefore, has immense potential for reducing poverty and improving food security.

Our key achievements which would not have been possible without the support of our donors and partners, include:

Researchers based at the Hub produced a total of 74 publications including 53 in peer-reviewed journals.

  • We are currently supporting 19 PhD students and 26 MSc students who are carrying out their research projects. Over 160 participants took part in various group trainings organized by the institute.
  • Four improved varieties of cassava were officially released; these have dual tolerance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and were developed with our national partners in Tanzania.
  • We have developed a market brand for cassava flour which was launched in early 2013 and persuaded a major wheat flour milling plant, Coast Millers, to invest in its distribution.
  • Three new major grants were funded that will bring in nearly US$20 million over the next four years.
  • Internationally recruited staff (IRS) based in the region grew from 16 in 2011 to 20 in 2012 and our nationally recruited staff (NRS) have also increased to 104, with 63 in research and 41 in administration.
  • Science Building: Our state-of-the-art science building was inaugurated in May this year.

West Africa region

West Africa region
Posted on October 7, 2013

The West Africa Hub made significant progress during 2012 in the implementation of research-for-development (R4D) projects with a broad range of partners working towards the achievement of our principal objectives:

  • Sustainable productivity growth and intensified production systems in the humid and sub-humid areas.
  • More resilient agro-ecosystems, improved and less vulnerable livelihoods of rural communities.
  • Enhanced and equitable agricultural innovation systems that link to policy and improve the impact of research and development investments.
  • Enhanced nutrition and food safety.

Ninety-two research projects were implemented wholly or in part in IITA-West Africa during the year. The releases of new varieties of cassava, maize, cowpea, and soybean by our partner institutions during the year demonstrate the benefits of our collaborative efforts in genetic improvement. The released varieties included three drought tolerant and three pro-vitamin A varieties of maize.

The increasing consolidation of our project activities in the central and northern parts of Ghana during the year is in line with, and supports, our focus on achieving very significant impact in this important agricultural zone of the country. Active in this zone during the year were three major projects funded by BMGF Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA), Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work for Smallholder Farmers in Africa (N2Africa), and Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) as well as Africa RISING, the USAID-funded project on the sustainable intensification of cereal-legume systems.