Thursday, March 22, 2012

IITA-DR Congo sets up meteorological stations to monitor climate

Stefan Hauser (left) training foresters on the use of meteorological equipment

IITA DR Congo has set up a network of meteorological stations to monitor climate and contribute to research on climate change. As a result, the DR Congo foresters have joined this effort and have purchased a meteorological station in their YOKO forest reserve. IITA Scientist, Stefan Hauser installed the station and trained eight young forestry students in the management of the climate sensors, the programming of the data logger and in handling and analyzing the meteorological data collected by the electronic station.
The Congo basin is the largest contiguous forested area in Africa, and is being threatened by agricultural practices such as logging and slash-and-burn. Climate change as a consequence of deforestation has been documented in African history 3000 years ago. Today the combined effects of greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation may cause stronger and highly undesired effects on agriculture and livelihoods.
The REFORCO project in Kisangani, DR Congo is training foresters to build capacities in protecting forest resources and engendering sustainable forest use. The impact of climate on forests plays a major role in conservation efforts, and IITA's capacity in climate research and monitoring will make a significant contribution in improving the knowledge on forest management under changing climatic conditions.

Stakeholders meet to harmonize protocol on fertilizer analyses

Participants at the workshop on Harmonization of Analytical Methods for Fertilizers in Ibadan

Stakeholders in the agricultural sector converged on the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to harmonize methods for fertilizer analyses. The workshop was organized by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in collaboration with IITA.
The participants, who were drawn from key institutions including universities and research institutes, deliberated over issues involving the evaluation of the quality of organic and inorganic fertilizers. General laboratory practices that affect the quality of analytical results were also discussed.
Declaring the training forum open, Dr. Stefan Hauser, IITA Systems Agronomist underscored the importance of fertilizers to agricultural productivity.
He said the growing world population demanded agricultural intensification to produce more food without compromising forests, water and land resources.
Fertilizers today may contain undesirable additives that may be harmful to crops and the environment. Hauser emphasized that the issue of examining the quality of fertilizers and their impact on environment was imperative to safeguard ecosystems and biodiversity.
According to him, protocols on fertilizer analyses need to be verified and harmonized for efficient and effective quality control.
He commended the Nigerian government for supporting the training forum, adding that recommendations from the meeting would assist the government in her agricultural transformation action plan.
The meeting was facilitated by Mr. Joseph Uponi and Mrs. Lola Idowu. Lead Presenter, Professor G.O. Adeoye of the University of Ibadan said the workshop came at the right time when the issue of food security is hot on the table.
He urged participants to examine current methods of fertilizer analysis and come up with standard methods for use in Nigerian laboratories.

Work smart not hard - Boosting productivity of small-holder farmers through smarter farming practices

A man and his wife who are small-holder farmers, display their harvest of cassava and banana, two important staples in Sub-Sahara Africa. 

They have small farms, big families and few animals. They grow different types of crops to spread their risks and lack resources to invest in inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides to boost their production. They are at the mercy of the weather; when it rains their harvest is abundant, when it fails, their granaries are empty and they sometimes require food aid.

These are the small-holder farmers in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda that Dr. Piet Van Asten, a system's agronomist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is trying to work with to ensure they get the most out of what they have. However, they represent a majority of small-holder farmers in Africa.
He works for the Consortium for improving agriculture based livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) which brings together many partners to improve the livelihoods of small-holder farmers. IITA is one of the founding partners.

Too many challenges, where does one start? According to Van Asten, the starting point to improve the productivity of their farming systems is to understand their constraints and to try and identify the one or two issues that if tackled can have great positive impact. He says using tools such as yield gap analysis which looks at the actual productivity of the small holders farmers against the maximum yield they can get in the same circumstances, they have been able to make some headway.

Poor old soils

Dr Piet Van Asten, IITA systems agronomist. 
Van Asten says, focusing primarily on banana, they have established that poor soils are one of the most important constraints to the crop's production by the small-holder farmers in the three countries. Most soils, he said, were old, from old parent rocks and had very little nutrients left.

It therefore follows logically that supporting the farmers to use inputs such as fertilizer was one of the best-bet technologies to increase their production. However, Van Asten cautions, this must be applied based on the actual soil deficiency and include factors such as distance from the farms to market and banana prices.

"Investing in fertilizer does not always lead to profits for the farmers. They can only get value for their money if they live near markets or infrastructure is good and they are able to fetch good prices for their banana. They must also know which nutrients their soils are lacking and which are important for the crops they are growing. They should not follow blanket recommendations as is always the case," he said.

For example he said, they established that potassium, which plays a big role in banana production, was lacking in most soils in the three countries. Yet, the addition of the mineral led to great gains in banana production. Furthermore, Van Asten said, the banana plants that received adequate potassium fared better in times of drought.

He says the impact of adding nutrients to the soils was visible even at the farm level where bananas growing near the homesteads were healthier than those further down.

"This is because the soil closer to the homestead benefited from kitchen wastes as women tend not to walk far to throw away the rubbish. For example, ashes from the fire add calcium to the soils, "he said. "Food wastes add organic matter."
Banana growing near a homestead where the soil is often more fertile from kitchen waste 

Which crops give the highest returns?

Most African farmers practice mixed farming. The question therefore arises, with the little limited resources at their disposal, which crop would give them the highest return from fertilizer application and how do they make these decisions?

Van Asten says according to a scooping study they carried out in the three countries, they were surprised to discover that farmers would get the highest return from coffee, cassava and banana and not maize and beans which they gave preference.

"Coffee, banana and even cassava in the long run proved to be better value for money invested in fertilizer in terms of replenishing nutrient extracted in the soils and returns per dollar invested. However, farmers only see the immediate gains in maize and beans.

"Farmers still have to make the decision carefully because for example, once they start fertilizing their coffee it would be best if they can continue. If they stop, the coffee can't maintain its canopy and yields and will show some die-back. This fuels farmers' belief that fertilizer is bad and spoils soils," he said.

Coffee and banana - super mix

Coffee and banana intercrop. 
Other practices that were found to increase yield include inter-cropping banana and coffee. Piet says the farmers got more out of their land by growing the two crops together than having either of them alone. These findings he said are slowing leading to a change of hearts among policy makers who have for a long time preached mono-cropping of coffee in Rwanda and Burundi. This is because coffee is an import foreign exchange earner and they did not want anything to affect its production.

He said their research was not inventing anything new. Rather it was based on finding out what the best farmers were doing to get their good yields and helping the others to adopt them.

"Some of the best banana farmers get as much as 40 tons per hectare. We try to understand what they are doing and why, and then promote it to wider farmers in the community and even further," he said.

However, he says they don't always agree with the farmers views. For example, most farmers judge the productivity of their banana by the size of the bunches.

"To us, this is not the best indicator. We instead look at productivity per hectare. A farmer may have smaller bunches but more plants therefore his overall productivity is higher than the one with huge bunches but fewer plants. We therefore have been working with them to plant as many bananas as their land can accommodate based on its soil fertility, rainfall, among others" he said.

Piet says under CIALCA they have mapped most of the soils in the three countries and developed fertilizer usage recommendations that are region specific. They have also developed and are disseminating the rich information gathered on various ways that small-holder farmers can increase banana production. The crop is among their most important food and cash crop in the three countries but its productivity is very low.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pro-vitamin A cassava team receives ministerial award

L-R: Elizabeth Parkes,IITA Cassava Breeder; Richardson Okechukwu, IITA Scientist; Paul Ilona, HarvestPlus Country Manager; Akin Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; and Gbassey Tarawali, IITA Scientist, being honored by the Nigerian government for the development of pro-vitamin A cassava varieties in Nigeria

Scientists who led the development of pro-vitamin A cassava varieties in Nigeria were honored with an annual ministerial award inaugurated by the Nigerian government on Friday.
The development of the pro-vitamin A cassava was led by IITA but funded by HarvestPlus. The National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) was a local partner in the project. The over two-decade research led to the development of the pro-vitamin A cassava varieties that are yellowish in color.
Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister, Dr. Akin Adesina, who conferred the award on the scientists, said the varieties would help in efficiently tackling malnutrition especially vitamin A deficiency in Nigeria.
The minister also threw his weight behind efforts to promote biofortification in the country with plans to put in place an aggressive strategy to take the pro-vitamin A varieties to 1.8 million farm families.
HarvestPlus’ Country Manager, Paul Ilona commended the government’s efforts towards tackling, adding that the best way to tackle malnutrition was through the provision of nutritious foods to the people.
At the moment, approximately 250,000 to 500,000 malnourished children in the developing world go blind each year from the deficiency of vitamin A, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind.
In Nigeria, vitamin A deficiency afflicts almost 20% of pregnant women and about 30% of children under-five in Nigeria.
IITA Director-General, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga commended the Nigerian government for her support to biofortification
Represented by Dr. Gbassey Tarawali, the director general said the institute would support the government to meet her target of reducing vitamin A deficiency.

Monday, March 12, 2012

IFAD president visits IITA-Cameroon

L-R-- IFAD President, Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze speaks to the press while Dr. Rachid Hanna (IITA Cameroon Country Representative) listens on Friday in IITA Cameroon station.

The President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze paid a courtesy visit to IITA-Cameroon on Friday as part of his itinerary visit to Cameroon.
During the visit, the IFAD president commended the efforts of the IITA and its partners in tackling the challenges to food security in that country.
Consequently, he urged the private sector and the government of Cameroon to scale up the innovations being developed by IITA.
“This is the logical thing to do,” Nwanze said.
Receiving the IFAD president who was accompanied by the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Essimi Menye, and other top government officials; Dr. Rachid Hanna, IITA Country Representative commended IFAD for supporting IITA over the years.
He said that the progress being recorded in cassava with yield rising from 10 tons per hectare to between 25 and 30 tons per hectare was a result of the investments received organizations such as the IFAD.
Other areas where gains have been recorded include biocontrol of cassava pests and the control of diseases and capacity building.
The IFAD President used the opportunity to visit the IITA-Cameroon station’s farm, laboratories and also inspected the exhibition by IITA, ICRAF and the PNDRT.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stakeholders fine-tune notes on the commercial products (COMPRO) project

Participants at the Compro-II meeting in Ibadan

Partners working on the Commercial Products (Compro-II) project met in Ibadan to finalize partnership arrangements and draft action plans towards the institutionalization of quality assurance mechanism and the rapid dissemination of top quality commercial products to increase yields and improve the food security of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
With the demand for food taking the center stage, Sub Saharan Africa has been inundated with different types of commercial products that claim to boost agricultural productivity. In the last three years, researchers working on the first phase of the Commercial Product otherwise known as Compro-I sought to verify the authenticity of claims of these products.
“The project team has identified some products that could improve yield and the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers in Africa,” says Dr. Bernard Vanlauwe, who will this month take the role of Director for NRM and Central Africa with IITA.
The Compro-II project aims to raise awareness among over two million smallholder farmers on effective and profitable commercial products by 2017 through public-private partnership. Of these households, 420,000 will have tested at least one effective commercial product and at least 50 per cent of these will adopt the technology and achieve 15-30 per cent yield increase with substantial impacts on food security and income.
At the end of the project, it is envisaged that more farmers will confidently use these products because the safety, efficacy and quality of the products will be ensured through institutionalized regulatory and quality assurance mechanism.
Declaring the meeting open, Dr. Robert Asiedu, who represented the IITA Director General, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, described the meeting as an important occasion for the institute as it sought to reduce the number of hungry people and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
Participants at the meeting were drawn from IITA, CIAT TSBF, CABI, FIPS, AATF, NAFDAC, KNUST and MoFA in Ghana.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cameroon reaps benefits of investments in agricultural research for development

Funding for cassava research for development in Cameroon is having a positive impact with farmers recording increases in yield, fewer pests and disease pressure, improved livelihoods and more money in their pockets.
From 10 tons per hectare, farmers with improved varieties are now harvesting between 25 and 30 tons per hectare of cassava, according to Cameroon’s state project on roots and tuber crops that is popularly known as Programme National de Development des Racines et Tubereules (PNDRT).
“The progress we have today in cassava is a result of the investments we have had from organizations such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development,” says Dr. Rachid Hanna, Country Representative for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture during the visit by the IFAD President, Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze to IITA station in Cameroon today.
In an interview with journalist on the sidelines, the IFAD President called on the government of Cameroon and the private sector to leverage on the gains made and scale up the technologies to farmers.
According to him, ‘Cameroon has the potential to feed itself, if only the country could tap its land and agroecological resources.’
While commending IITA and PNDRT for the results made in cassava improvement and agriculture in general, Nwanze described cassava as a crop for now and the future.
Historically, attempts to increase cassava productivity have been challenged by pests and diseases such as the African root and tuber scale, cassava green mite, cassava mosaic virus disease, cassava anthracnose disease, cassava bacterial blight and root rots.
Hanna said IFAD funding has helped researchers to develop and disseminate cassava varieties with multiple resistance and/or tolerance to pest and disease constraints and to disseminate natural enemies under the IITA-biological control program to tackle some of the pests.
The deployment of these improved varieties by researchers from IITA in partnership with the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), universities, PNDRT, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has raised the country’s cassava production to 3 million tons.
Besides yield increases, the improved cassava varieties provide the farmers with a menu of utilization with some purely for processing into products such as high quality starch and gari; and multipurpose varieties that can be used for high quality flour, baton de manioc, as well as boil and eat. Many of these varieties also address the specific needs of farmers such as good taste, leafiness, ease of peeling, and root peel color.
To tackle postharvest losses in cassava which were partly sparked by the increase in productivity, IITA and PNDRT in 2010 developed and deployed cassava chippers to farmers in 25 pilot villages in the main cassava producing zones of Cameroon. Fabricators in the country were also trained to manufacture the chippers locally. These machines facilitated the processing of cassava, and eased drudgery that is associated with cassava manual chipping.
Hanna explained that the machines helped in reducing the burden faced by farmers especially women who are saddled with the primary responsibility of processing the root crop. In follow-up surveys, users highlighted the ease of use of the chippers and good chips’ quality. Men also expressed considerable interest in the use of the chippers.
Today, several non-governmental organizations, community based organizations and farmer associations are emulating and replicating this technology.
In the future, Hanna said IITA and its partners intend to introduce yellow cassava varieties rich in beta-carotene to farmers to tackle malnourishment caused by deficiency in vitamin A.
According to him, plans are underway to make this happen in the shortest possible time.
He also urged the government of Cameroon to encourage the utilization of cassava in food products such as bread as being done in Nigeria and Tanzania. END

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Rachid Hanna,,