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.

Yam vine cuttings from aeroponics develop shoots in 2 weeks!

Yam plantlets at the aeroponics screen house are growing at an exponential rate after being exposed to sunlight! Also, vines pruned from the aeroponics system and planted into soil are producing shoots within 2 weeks.

This is good news for yam growers as it takes 4 to 6 weeks for normal vines from field plants to develop shoots.

Dr Norbert Maroya, the principal scientist on the development of the aeroponics system for seed yam production, said that the YIIFSWA project is planting over 1800 one-node vine cuttings (in soil) from vines produced in the system to produce mini-seed yam tubers. He said he is excited that the shoots at the screen house were developing within 2 weeks of planting.

“To understand why this is significant,” he gushed, “it is important to note that vine cuttings pruned from plants grown on the field take about 1 to 2 months to establish both roots and shoots. But given the vitality of these vines, roots and shoots develop within 2 to 3 weeks after being planted in the soil.”

Vine cutting technology was developed to improve the multiplication rate of yam as well as reduce the impact of pests and diseases on seed tubers. The use of vine cuttings as a planting material gives a higher multiplication rate that is about 30 times more than in the traditional system.”

Both the aeroponics system and vine cutting technology offer a rapid solution for a high-output production of seed yam. Together they can address the need for the quick distribution of planting materials of improved varieties to large numbers of farmers. With
such promising results, YIIFSWA is set to achieve its goal of producing 100,000 clean planting materials by the end of the fourth project
year. These will be distributed to
national agricultural research and extension systems, private seed companies, and farmers involved in producing certified or quality declared seed yam.

Aeroponics screen house transformed into a dense forest of entwining yam vines.
Aeroponics screen house transformed into a dense forest of entwining yam vines.

YIIFSWA exhibits achievements on yam during IITA RTB review

External evaluators from the Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA) came to review and evaluate IITA’s contribution to the achievements of the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) last week.

 

Samson Ogbole, YIIFSWA research supervisor, shows Jillian Lenne mini tubers growing in the aeroponics system.
Samson Ogbole, YIIFSWA research supervisor, shows Jillian Lenne mini tubers growing in the aeroponics system.

Jillian Lenne, team leader of the IEA, stated, “The evaluation of the RTB program is one of 10 evaluations commissioned by CGIAR. The purpose is to provide guidance for developing proposals for the next phase.” The information gained will influence decision making by program management and its funders on issues such as extension, expansion, and structuring of the program.

With the global mandate on yam, IITA has made major strides in the development and advancement of the crop for income generation and food security. YIIFSWA, a flagship project on yam, was selected for an in-depth review of its outcomes, delivery, and impact.

YIIFSWA has made a significant breakthrough in the development of low-cost, effective mass propagation methods. With the establishment of aeroponics and the bioreactor for production of plantlets and mini tubers, the yam multiplication rate has increased a hundredfold. These technologies offer rapid, clean, and cost-effective mass methods of multiplying yam. The establishment of these technologies in the private sector and the NARS will effectively address the need for fast and wide distribution of high-quality improved varieties to meet the increasing demand for the crop.

YIIFSWA has also made significant strides in managing yam pests and diseases. Under the project, a cost-effective Multiplex PCR was developed to detect several viruses from one single test. The advantage is that it requires fewer tests of assay, therefore, it is less costly. The project is also working on developing and establishing a procedure called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) for detecting viruses. Such an intervention will aid field inspectors with the health certification of plants and seed tubers.

YIIFSWA PhD student Yao explaining the effect of nematode infestation in yam.
YIIFSWA PhD student Yao explaining the effect of nematode infestation in yam.

Lenne had visited the aeroponics, bioreactor system, and virology labs. During an intermission she said, “Although yam is considered an orphan crop in the RTB program, one of the main highlights of the evaluation is the strides made from learning from previous work that had been done on other crops. It is a basic sort of wish of the CRPs to see cross-crop collaboration in the development of new technologies. I think that has come out nicely for yam.”

IITA’s RTB programs will be evaluated on their performance with a special focus on relevance, quality of science, effectiveness, impact and sustainability, governance, and management.

New Senior Program Officer of Gates Foundation visits YIIFSWA at IITA

On 30 April, Lauren Good, the new Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  overseeing YIIFSWA, visited with the project implementers at IITA-Headquarters in Ibadan.

DSC_2377 (Copy)Dr Good spent a day with YIIFSWA’s core team to learn about the project and its achievements so far. Good met with the Director for West Africa Dr Robert Asiedu, Project Leader Dr Norbert Maroya and the other team members, including Drs Beatrice Aighewi (seed specialist), Antonio Lopez (yam breeder), Morufat Balogun (tissue culture specialist), Djana Mignouna (regional economist), Katherine Lopez and Oiwoja Odihi, (YIIFSWA Communication). Regina Kapinga, former program officer, Gates Foundation, and now IITA’s new Head of Advocacy and Resource Mobilization, also attended the discussion.

The Senior Program Officer, only 11 days on the job, was shown the aeroponics and bioreactor systems for seed yam production, and the diagnostic tools for virus indexing and the quality management protocol for seed yam certification developed by the project.

Dr Norbert Maroya shows yam plants grown in the screenhouse using the new technologies.
Dr Norbert Maroya shows yam plants grown in the screenhouse using the new technologies.

According to Good, a key take-way from the visit was that through these innovations, the actors within the formal seed systems can rapidly develop and recommend new varieties and also boost the production of consumer-preferred varieties.

Although he was excited about the research novelties Good was also concerned about the impact of using these technologies on smallholder farmers. He was pleased to hear that new NGOs had been enlisted to help work with local communities based on the comment from the external reviewers about having ‘more boots on the ground’ to effectively facilitate the dissemination and adoption of existing technologies among smallholder farmers in Ghana and Nigeria. This would help the project meet its goal of reaching 200,000 smallholder farmers in Ghana and Nigeria.

Lauren Good of the Gates Foundation listen as IITA staff explain the process of producing healthy seed yam.
Lauren Good of the Gates Foundation listen as IITA staff explain the process of producing healthy seed yam.

In the discussion with the project team, Good stated that ‘his role as the Senior Program Officer is to support the Project Leader and the project to ensure its success, because the Foundation is concerned about making sure that farmers are producing better yam with better yield, and less problems with viruses and nematodes.

Yam plays a key role in ensuring food security and sustainable income generation for millions of smallholder farmers and their families in Ghana and Nigeria. However, the unavailability of quality seed tubers and the dominance of pests and diseases limit the smallholders’ productivity. By using quality seed tubers, pest and disease management, and technological packages that would improve farm management, smallholder farmers can increase their current yield.

Researchers successfully grow “seed yams in the air”

 

 

L-R: Dr Maroya, Annang, Asiedu, Aighewi and members of the press at   the unveiling of the new seed yam propagation technique in IITA Ibadan
L-R: Dr Maroya, Annang, Asiedu, Aighewi and members of the press at
the unveiling of the new seed yam propagation technique in IITA Ibadan

Researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have successfully grown seed yams in the air using aeroponics technology, raising hopes and more options for the propagation of virus- and disease-free planting materials.

In preliminary trials, Dr Norbert Maroya, Project Manager for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded “Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project at IITA, together with a team of scientists successfully propagated yam by directly planting vine cuttings in Aeroponics System (AS) boxes to produce mini-tubers in the air.

Aeroponics System is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium. The technology is widely used by commercial potato seed producers in eastern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania etc.), and southern Africa (Mozambique, Malawi etc.) but successfully growing yam on aeroponics is a novelty for rapidly multiplying the much needed clean seed yam tubers in large quantities.

“With this approach we are optimistic that farmers will begin to have clean seed yams for better harvest,” Dr Maroya said on Friday.

Preliminary results showed that vine rooting in Aeroponics System had at least 95% success rate compared to vine rooting in carbonized rice husk with a maximum rate of 70%. Rooting time was much shorter in aeroponics.

Aeroponics is coming at an opportune time for African farmers. Traditionally, seed yam production is expensive and inefficient. Farmers save about 25 to 30% of their harvest for planting the same area in the following season, meaning less money in their pockets.

Moreover, these saved seeds are often infested with pathogens that significantly reduce farmers’ yield year after year.

However with an established Aeroponics System for seed yam propagation at the premises of an interested private investor, seed company or humanitarian nongovernmental organization; yam producers can have access to clean seed yams.

The soilless yam propagation system will increase the productivity of seed and ware yam and effectively reduce diseases and pests incidence and severity (no soilborne or vector-transmitted pests and diseases during the vegetative phase).

Dr Robert Asiedu, IITA Director for Western Africa described the results as “impressive.”

“Yam is an important crop in Africa and addressing the seeds’ constraint will go a long way in improving the livelihoods of farmers who depend on the crop for their livelihood,” he added.

In conducting the aeroponics trial, a special structure was built in an existing screen house with Dixon shelf frames using perforated styrofoam box, as support for plant vines, while the developing roots of the plants in the air were enclosed in conditions of total darkness to simulate the situation of soil to the roots. For the plant and tuber to develop, an automated power house system was established for atomizing periodically nutrient enriched water solution in the form of mist to feed the plants.