Thursday, February 25, 2010


Bananas infected with BXW.
A new battle in the war against deadly banana diseases begins next month, with seven African countries uniting to launch a Spatial Surveillance Programme.

IITA is to take the lead and focus on limiting the spread of Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) and Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW). Under the programme, researchers will use Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to develop a visual record of the diseases distribution in an effort to curb their spread.

IITA began the two-year study into banana diseases last October, to examine, among other things, why BBTD has spread so rapidly in the past two decades.

The first meeting of policymakers and researchers from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia took place in January, when the staff were trained in disease surveillance and control methods. A second workshop in June will hone these surveillance skills.

The work is expected to provide a momentary reprieve for banana producers before creating sustainable long term solutions to tackle disease.

No banana varieties are resistant to BBTD or BXW and there is a danger that all familiar banana types will be wiped out if urgent action is not taken.

Monday, February 22, 2010


IITA and private multinationals in weed control, Syngenta and Dizengoff, are working together to tackle weeds in Africa. Thanks to US AID’s MARKETS project, which is seeking to expand and sustain the on-farm productivity and profitability of cassava, in selected Nigerian states.

Analysis by the FAO on the negative effects of weeds in agriculture indicated that weeds do more damage to crops than pathogens such as fungi or insect pests. By training farmers on efficient weed control practices in cassava cultivation it is hoped that higher yields will be achieved giving those in rural communities more income and food security.

The public/private sector collaboration seeks to link these resource-poor farmers with the weed control giants, thus guaranteeing the quality of herbicides supplied to farms. The two companies have agreed to ensure a steady supply of products at a discounted rate and provide training on the safe use of weed controls which will be facilitated by IITA.

Dr. Gbassey Tarawali, Project Manager for the IITA-MARKETS Cassava Value Chain Project, said: “This initiative will not only control weeds but will also create jobs in the rural communities and boost yields.”

Nigeria is the largest cassava producer
in the world, producing 46 million tonnes
of the crop on average each year.
Syngenta and Dizengoff welcomed the initiative and pledged their support to the scheme.

Mr. Goodluck Ogu, Syngenta’s National Sales Manager, said: “We are going to work with you and give you the necessary support.” He added: “Our involvement will guarantee quality supply of herbicides and check profiteering by middlemen.”

Dizengoff described the initiative as a revolution in agriculture. Patrick Ohaji, Manager of Crop Protection and Public Health at Dizengoff, said: “It is a dream come true and we will give you all the necessary support.”

Monday, February 15, 2010


The release of improved maize varieties by the Nigerian National Variety Release Committee has given a much needed boost to farmers in West and Central Africa. 

The varieties were developed by IITA in partnership with the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T) of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife, Nigeria.

Researchers at these institutes have created types of maize that can withstand drought, low soil fertility, pests, diseases and parasitic weeds, through tapping the naturally available traits during conventional plant breeding.

The release of these improved varieties has sparked renewed optimism for maize farming in the region. It is hoped that they will improve maize production by increasing yields thus raising farmer’s incomes and improving food security overall.

Maize and other grains for sale
at a Farmer's market in Nigeria.
Abebe Menkir, an IITA maize breeder, said: “These varieties have the potential to provide farmers with opportunities to overcome the challenges to maize production in West and Central Africa.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Applying the correct amounts of fertilizer to East African highland bananas can double the fruit production a study has found.

Carried out in nearly 200 fields in Uganda, the study by IITA and funded by US AID has found that fertilizer can increase annual banana yields by 50% from 10 to 20 tonnes per hectare.

However, the study also found that less than 5% of farmers actually apply fertilizer to their bananas.

The farmers said high costs, erratic supply, inconvenient packaging, limited access to credit facilities, partial knowledge on fertilizer use and the perceived negative effect of fertilizers on soil quality and on the taste of the bananas stopped them from using it.

To combat the belief that fertilizer ruins the taste of bananas, a related farmer sensory evaluation was conducted by IITA and Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). It showed that fertilizer use actually improved the quality of the fruit in the production of matooke.

Matooke is a meal of steamed green bananas and is one of the national dishes of Uganda.
To guide farmers, IITA and its partners have developed several site-specific recommendations for the application of fertilizer. The institute is also encouraging private, public, and non-government sectors to address fertilizer packaging to suit the specific needs of farmers.

Uganda is the second largest
 producer and consumer of bananas in the world.
Over 70 million people in the East African
highlands depend on bananas as their
primary source of food and income.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Yams are plant tubers eaten as vegetables.
They are an important commodity in Africa.
A research project to improve and promote yams in West and Central Africa has received a €750,000 grant from the European Union’s African, Caribbean and Pacific Science and Technology Programme (EU-ACP).

“Strengthening Capacity for Yam Research for Development in Central and Western Africa” (SCYREC) aims to improve the capacity of yam research in an area which includes Cameroon, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. The support comes amidst renewed global interest in yams as a vital income and food security crop in Africa.

SCYREC will help find sustainable solutions, through science and technology, to the challenges facing the crop and exploit its tremendous potential with regards to poverty alleviation. IITA will manage and implement the project in collaboration with a team of partners in 13 research institutions in the six countries. The EU-ACP-funded project hopes to provide a platform for increased documentation and dissemination of information about yam research and development and tackle other challenges relating to yam production, marketing and cultivation.

David Annang, IITA-SCYReC Project Coordinator said: “This is something good for the region where yam plays an important role in nutrition and economic well-being of the people.” He added: “We are hopeful that the project will tackle the many challenges facing increased yam production.”