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.

IITA and NASC call for greater involvement of private sector in seed yam production

Top seed production companies from across Nigeria convened at IITA on 6 August to explore novel technologies for high-ratio propagation of seed yam tubers.

IITA scientists working on the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project have developed novel high ratio propagation technologies such as vine cuttings, aeroponics, and bioreactor to address the constraints of quality, rapidity, and multiplication in seed yam production.

According to Robert Asiedu, IITA’s Director for West Africa, “The unavailability and high cost of high quality seed yam is the primary constraint in West Africa with the food security of about 900 million people heavily dependent on the availability and affordability of seed tubers.”

Traditionally, farmers use tubers as seeds, which is inefficient and costly. High production costs are attributed to the use of seed yam tubers, which account for about 30% of the total yield and as much as 63% of the total variable cost incurred per season of cultivation. Moreover,  most of the tubers are of low quality, containing pests (nematodes) and pathogens (virus), which decrease the yield of yam tubers.

Furthermore, using the traditional system, the multiplication rate in the field is also very low. In comparison to cereals which produce about 300 seeds from a single stock, yam produces about 1 to 5 tubers depending on the variety.

Norbert Maroya briefs seed company representatives visiting IITA.
Norbert Maroya briefs seed company representatives visiting IITA.

YIIFSWA Project Manager Norbert Maroya says: “Producing seed yam tubers using aeroponics, bioreactors, and vine cuttings is quick and cost effective, resulting in high-quality planting materials. The use of these novel, high-ratio propagation technologies gives a higher multiplication rate that is about 50-100 times more than the traditional system. It also significantly lowers the risk of nematode infestation and promotes faster multiplication and better and more uniform crop quality.”

“Seed is one of the most crucial elements in the livelihoods of agricultural communities. However, farmers—yam farmers in particular—are yet to benefit from using quality seed tubers because of inefficient seed production, and lack of distribution and quality assurance systems in the country. That is why we are calling for greater involvement of the private sector in the establishment of a formal seed system with the yam value chain,” said Ebenezer Zidafomor, a representative from the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC). Participants came from Greengold Construct Nig. Ltd, Mamora Seeds Ltd, Da Allgreen Seeds Ltd, Bumfash Nigeria Ltd, Biocrops Ltd, NASC, all based in Abuja; Sylva Ejezie Farm Ltd, Asaba, Delta State; Lumiere Seeds Limited, Premier Seeds Nigeria Limited, Zaria, Kaduna; Romarey Ventures Limited, Jos; and Samlak Industries Ltd, Ibadan.

According to Lava Kumar, head of IITA’s germplasm health unit, “The new technologies for the production of virus-free plants and versatile diagnostic tools for virus indexing established in the YIIFSWA project are critically contributing to the development of clean seed yam systems.”

There is a need for government, research institutions, and the private sector to collaborate and develop solutions for the provision of food, poverty relief, and resource equity.

IITA works with various international and national institutions such as NASC through projects such as YIIFSWA. YIIFSWA’s goal is to help stop the decline and double the productivity of yam in the major producing countries, Ghana and Nigeria, that would stimulate a sustainable increase in incomes for smallholder yam producers and contribute to their food security and economic development.

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.

IITA “magic” works on farmers

Dr Beatrice Aighewi of YIIFSWA explains about the pests and diseases affecting yam.
Dr Beatrice Aighewi of YIIFSWA explains about the pests and diseases affecting yam.

Some yam farmers are calling the minisett technology “magic” after they saw its performance in the field. Farmer-representatives from 40 villages in the six local government areas (LGA) of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who attended a Training of Trainers (TOT) workshop on the production of quality seed yam using the minisett technology at Gwagwalada on 23 May, were captivated by the process of preparing the minisetts. They learned about the major pests and diseases affecting yam production and received practical training on the technique. Participants, however, laughed in disbelief when Dr Beatrice Aighewi, YIIFSWA’s Seed Systems Specialist, cut the mother tuber into small setts. They insisted that the minisetts would not grow. However, some lead farmers who had taken part in previous training activities confirmed the good performance of minisetts in the field. In fact, one of them asserted that the technique was  “magic.” Yam farmers in the FCT are now beginning to accept the value and benefits of the minisett technology on seed yam production after the YIIFSWA project had given several training sessions. These were intended to solve the problems of lack of high quality seed tubers and the high prevalence of pests and diseases which had lead to low productivity.

Farmer practices how to cut yam tubers into minisetts.
Farmer practices how to cut yam tubers into minisetts.

Salisu Saraki, a yam farmer who attended the training, was grateful for the opportunity after losing a significant amount of his crop to anthracnose last year. He explained, “Three years ago I lost some of my crop to the disease. Last year the same disease returned and I faced the possibility of losing my entire yam crop. I thought then that it was witchcraft because the plants looked as if they had been burned. I sought the help of shamans (local priest or priestess who can use magic) to ward off the curse on my farm but to no avail. It cost me two goats and some money. In fact, the shamans argued with each other about the intervention they had made on my behalf. The problem got worse by the day and so I went to other yam farmers for help. They directed me to Dr Adamu Shuaibu of MSHR (Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary) who works in the YIIFSWA project. I told him of my plight. When he visited my field, a significant number of my yam plants were already dead. He said he knew what it was but wanted a second opinion. He returned with a lecturer from the University of Abuja who ascertained that the problem was anthracnose. They asked me to buy Z-force (a fungicide with active agent mancozeb 80% WP), mix it with water, and use it to spray my plants. I did that. The remaining plants survived and I was extremely grateful for the advice. “This year my community was chosen to host a demonstration field and I was invited to participate and learn how to produce clean seeds.” With a wide grin on his face he concluded, “The training was very informative. Now I know more about pests and diseases that may affect my yam crop and I can do something about them.” A lead farmer from Gwagwalada recounted how favorable varieties such as Pepa and Ame have almost disappeared because “The ground didn’t accept them (tubers did not germinate) any longer, so we have stopped planting them. Meccakusa (a variety valued for its size and poundability) is no longer productive and we were getting worried, but with this technology there is hope. I learned about the minisett technique last year so this year I planted minisetts on 1500 heaps for seed yam production.” Another lead farmer from Kuje stated, “Yam is a source of energy and strength for my people so we eat it every day to be able to farm well. With this ‘IITA magic’ we can produce more and better tubers.” The word is fast spreading about the benefits of the minisett technique from those communities that have attended YIIFSWA’s demonstrations. Now other communities are reaching out to YIIFSWA’s extension partner in Abuja, MSHR, to ask to be included in project activities. Dr Shuaibu said that the number of new communities had to be pared down to 40 villages this year but those that were chosen are spread out across the FCT to reach a large population of yam farmers. Each farmer received seed yam, fungicide, and pesticide for the demonstration plot. The trained farmers are expected to assist the extension agents assigned to their locality with community training on using minisett for seed yam production and the management of demonstration plots in their localities.

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.

YIIFSWA holds annual progress review and work planning and TAC meetings

The Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project held its fourth annual progress review and planning meeting at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Kumasi, Ghana.

Participants came from various collaborating partner institutions, including IITA, CSIR-CRI, NRI/UK, CSIR-SARI, NRCRI, GLDB, PPRSD, NASC, NACGRAB, MSHR, CRS, JDPM, Sustenance Agro Ventures (SAVE), Arimathea Foundation, Biocrops Nigeria Ltd, and  Biochemical Ghana Ltd. They made presentations on
their achievements, work plans, and budgets for 2015 to synchronize activities for a more collective impact. The project is undergoing a restructuring in terms of governance and project activities.

Participants in the 4th YIIFSWA review and planning meeting.
Participants in the 4th YIIFSWA review and planning meeting.

At the opening ceremony, Claire Kpaka, representative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed her appreciation of the participants’ active participation in the annual review and planning workshop, urging them to take an active part in the planning process.

Dr Robert Asiedu, YIIFSWA Project Director, also welcomed the participants and presented the key milestones that needed to be considered. YIIFSWA is on its last 18 months of project implementation. In his talk, he said that the past year had been very demanding, but the implementing staff needed to revisit the project’s objectives, activities, and targets. He also encouraged participants to address issues regarding communication, documentation of achievements, and the monitoring and evaluation of outputs.

In his presentation, Dr Norbert Maroya, Project Manager, reported on the restructuring changes, with the seven components now stream­lined into two: Governance, Leadership,
and Partnership; and Seed Systems.

The Technical Advisory Committee  (TAC) of the project also met after the review and planning workshop. Present at the meeting were Prof Alexandre Dansi, Dr Hiroko Watanabe, Prof Janice Olawoye, Messrs Tony Sikpa and Cephas Dormediameo, Ms Lydia Susu, Drs Asiedu and Maroya, Drs Beatrice Aighewi, Lava Kumar, Antonio Lopez-Montes, Morufat Balogun, Djana Mignouna, Kingsley Osei, and Ms Oiwoja Odihi.

TAC members and YIIFSWA project scientists.
TAC members and YIIFSWA project scientists.

TAC members reviewed the previous year’s recommendations and the execution of the project activities.
The main discussion point was ensuring that the project meets its goal of increasing yam productivity (yield and net output) by 40% for 200,000 smallholder farmers in Ghana and Nigeria. The TAC members acknowledged that extensive work
had been done with regard to delivering key research products that would contribute to improving yam productivity but more work was needed to provide evidence of the project’s achievements.

TAC members said that a lot of good work was being done in YIIFSWA and that the project needed to tell
the world about this. TAC members will thus be adding project advocacy for regional yam development to
their tasks.

FOSCA/YIIFSWA consultative meeting at IITA Ibadan

FOSCA/YIIFSWA stakeholders meeting in Ibadan
FOSCA/YIIFSWA stakeholders meeting in Ibadan

Component leaders and  partners involved in the implementation of the YIIFSWA program in Nigeria met on 9 December, in IITA Ibadan for a two-day consultative meeting with the Farmer Organization Support Centre (FOSCA ).

The meeting examined options for updating the database and ICT platform that will host YIIFSWA data and assist researchers and partners in the implementation of YIIFSWA.

According to YIIFSWA’s Project Manager, Dr Norbert Maroya, the objective of the meeting was to discuss and develop a system towards ‘’synchronizing in a single database all data and information on YIIFSWA project beneficiaries engaged by the various component objectives’’.

FOSCA’s Lead Coordinator, Mr Fadel Ndiame, who started the session with a presentation, stated that it was important to consider the required format preferences of the various objectives and partners in consolidating the YIIFSWA database. The database consolidation process requires inputs from all Objectives to contribute information towards institutional set up and define parameters for its sustainability and usefulness beyond the life of the project.

Components and Coordinators of Objectives 3,4,5,6, and 7 also gave presentations on the data collated and to be collected on farmers and other beneficiaries. Each highlighted information needs and discussed how to capture and incorporate it into the soon to be developed YIIFSWA database.

Action points were then set up for further interventions. They include the development of a roadmap for a seed system, the submission of datasets to the FOSCA Team for upload by all the Objectives, the development of a knowledge protocol and typology of production systems and farmers, and the production of a concept note on the Yam Development Forum.