Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dr Sanginga praises supporter of IITA projects

IITA DG Sanginga praised Prem Warrior, former Senior Program Officer with the Gates Foundation, for his unwavering support to African smallholder farmers.
DG Sanginga introduces Prem Warrior, formerly of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At a dinner attended by key management staff of IITA, Dr Sanginga said Mr Warrior was instrumental to the success of several projects in Africa, including N2Africa—Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa.

Dr Sanginga and Mr Warrior first met in Nairobi. At that time, Dr Sanginga was the director of CIAT-TSBF based in Nairobi, and coincidentally CIAT-TSBF projects were being transferred to Mr Warrior who had just joined the foundation.

“When I got a call that a Mr Warrior would be visiting our team in Nairobi, I was apprehensive, especially looking at his name, and I asked myself and shared with colleagues: Who is this Mr Warrior? I hope he is not coming for war?” Dr Sanginga recalled.

The DG said that his anxieties fizzled out with the arrival of Mr Warrior—a soft spoken but firm officer who is given to details.

“In my interactions with Mr Warrior, I have found him to be a friend who is committed to bringing development to Africa’s poor,” he added.

Earlier, Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships & Capacity Development thanked Mr Warrior for his efforts towards a food secure Africa.

In his response steeped in a deep sense of humility, Mr Warrior said he was simply discharging his duties and responsibilities.

“I saw a huge potential in IITA and other partner organizations, and supporting them was the right thing to do,” he said.

Apart from N2africa, other projects which have received support from Mr Warrior’s portfolio included, COMPRO and the aflatoxin control project that has received global recognition with the World Food Prize Field Award given to Dr Charity Mutegi of IITA-Kenya recently. These projects are impacting on the livelihoods of farmers, improving incomes and providing safer foods.

IITA holds bioinformatics training for researchers

Workshop participants and resource persons, Science Building, IITA-Tanzania.

Bioinformatics is a technology that manages and interprets the massive data generated by genomic research. It is a field where most researchers have the least expertise. To build the capacity of researchers in Tanzania, IITA, Inqaba Biotec, and CLC-Bio organized a two-day bioinformatics training in Dar es Salaam on 17-18 October at the hub.

The workshop aimed to give participants a better understanding, through theory and hands-on practice, on common sequence analysis techniques in basic and advanced DNA sequence analyses.

The training brought together 20 researchers not only from IITA but also different institutions in Tanzania including Ifakara Health Institute-Bagamoyo Research Centre, Muhimbili University of Health and Alliance Sciences (MUHAS), Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Government Chemist Laboratory Agency, Tsetse and Trypanosamiasis Research Institute, Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI).

The training was conducted by Anne Arens, Field Application Scientist with CLC Bio, with technical support from Reinhard Eckloff Resseller, Mentor for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Also present were Oliver Preisig, Executive Director, Inqaba Biotec, South Africa, and Fumbuka Adriany, Inqaba Biotec Sales area Manager for Tanzania and IITA’s virologist James Legg who was also one of the organizers.  

At the end of the training, James Legg, on behalf of the participants and as the acting officer in charge of the hub, thanked Inqaba Biotec and CLC Bio team for offering such a useful training to Tanzanian scientists.

He noted that bioinformatics was an important field and that researchers lacked the capacity to handle the massive data generated by research.

Anne Arens commended the participants for their active participation during the workshop and encouraged them to do more tutorials to be familiar with the software.

Researchers and partners discuss value addition in cassava through cassava-based feeds

Participants in the workshop.

More than 50 experts on cassava, nutrition and livestock, the private sector—represented by producers and feed millers—and representatives from donor groups, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development, and development partners, came together in IITA this week to discuss how cassava residues or by-products such as cassava peels can be used in industry and to add value to the industrial cassava value chain.

The meeting, held at IITA 28-30 October, aimed to come up with a roadmap for developing a cassava-based feed system for livestock, an action plan for Nigeria, and pilot projects that would serve as models in Africa.

The meeting was organized by IITA, GCP21, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the CGIAR Research Programs on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, Livestock and Fish, and Humidtropics, and the private livestock feed sector.

As part of Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Program, the cassava transformation plan seeks to create a new generation of cassava farmers, producers, and processors oriented towards commercial production to generate  cassava for specific value-added chains. The plan aims to turn the cassava sector in Nigeria into a major player in the local and international production and processing arena for flour, starch, sweeteners, ethanol and dried chips markets through private sector-led value-added chains.

Traditionally small farmers discard the peels that are left as waste near processing locations for feeding their animals (poultry, goats and pigs). Few attempts have been made to establish a nutritionally and economically sustainable cassava-based feed system using local products to replace imported products in the feed industry.

Enhanced production under the Cassava Transformation Plan will produce over 2 million tonnes of additional cassava by-products each year, offering a unique opportunity to support a cassava-based feed system at an industrial scale.

The use of cassava-based feeds in Nigeria will bring several benefits including cutting down on maize imports, most of which are used as feeds for livestock, according to the researchers.

“Africa imported maize worth US$4.63 billion in 2011 of which Nigeria’s feed industry alone accounted for 1.2 million tons worth about $350 million,” says Dr Iheanacho Okike, Country Representative for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) based in Ibadan.

“If we use cassava peels for livestock feeds, for instance, we will be able to reduce the amount we spend on maize importation, and more importantly reduce the competition between man and livestock for maize,” he added.

Efforts to transform Nigeria’s agriculture have raised the production of cassava to more than 50 million tons per annum, with several factories now processing cassava to products such as flour, gari, glucose, and ethanol. This growing demand and processing of cassava is also churning out cassava residues including cassava peels to the environment.

Dr Peter Kulakow, IITA Cassava Breeder, said the “use of cassava peels in livestock
is a win-win situation for both agriculture and the environment. It is basically converting waste to wealth,” he added.

Dr Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP 21, said the use of cassava-based feeds would widen the opportunities for cassava farmers and help alleviate poverty.
Dr Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP 21, during the opening program.
According to him, Africa, being the lead producer, needs to take advantage of the crop, by creating/tapping into value addition.

Fauquet also said Nigeria produces 50% of the world’s cassava although poverty levels in the country remained high when compared with Latin America and Asia.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina praised IITA for its continuing work on cassava and for hosting the conference.

He said the government had concluded arrangements to establish additional ethanol and starch processing industries in three cities across the country to create more value addition for cassava.

Represented by Dr Martin Fregene, Senior Technical Advisor, the minister said on completion, the factories would be producing cassava residues which if converted to feeds would create additional jobs and incomes for the country.

According to him, the nation’s agricultural transformation plan aims to create about 3.5 million jobs through the establishment of agro-based industries by 2015.

Friday, November 1, 2013

IITA unveils maize varieties to tackle Striga at farmers’ field day

Farmers at the demonstration plots
A farmers’ field day organised by the Maize Improvement Program of IITA that is being coordinated by Dr. Abebe Menkir (IITA Maize Breeder), at Mokwa research station in Nigeria showcased maize hybrids and varieties that are resistant to Striga hermonthica.
The farmers’ field day which was held on October 12, provided farmers the opportunity to ask researchers questions and also to get answers on how to tackle the weed which has become a menace.

Farmers and other stakeholders attending the field day visited demonstration plots of different Striga-resistant maize hybrids and open pollinated varieties with different maturity rates.
The demonstration plots also included hybrids and varieties that are both susceptible/ not susceptible to Striga, reflecting good comparisons. The demonstration was arranged in two blocks, infested and not infested, representing two distinct (stress and optimum) environments. Plots in the infested block were artificially inoculated with Striga seeds at the time of planting maize to ensure that the maize grew in a Striga endemic environment.

Results from the plots reinforced farmers’ trust in IITA’s research—a critical component that is necessary for technology adoption.
Drs Silvestro Meseka (IITA Maize Breeder) and Abuelgasim Elzein (IITA Striga Biocontrol Specialist) spoke on the problems caused by Striga on maize and its implication to maize yield in farmers’ fields.

They pointed out that Striga and low levels of soil nitrogen were among the major problems to maize production. To mitigate the effect of Striga, the researchers urged farmers to use improved planting materials and to also adopt best practices in maize cultivation.
The field day drew more than 57 farmers, including policy makers, opinion and traditional leaders women, and youths.

Participants at the field day.
Known by some as the “violet vampire” because of its bright purple color, Striga attaches itself to the roots of plants like maize and cowpea and sucks out nutrients, reducing yields and destroying entire harvests.

The weed primarily affects smallholder farmers who can’t afford costly herbicides for fighting the parasitic plant. The most widespread Striga species is estimated to have infested up to 4 million hectares of land under maize production in sub-Saharan Africa, causing yield losses of up to 80 percent. According to researchers at IITA, this represents up to $1.2 billion in losses for farmers and affects approximately 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers commended the field day, pointing out that they had learned new things, and requested IITA to organize more field days that will serve as a learning platform for them and their children. They said the availability of improved maize is a major constraint and requested IITA to help them by putting more efforts in making the seeds of Striga-resistant varieties available and accessible through either community-seed production system or professional seed companies.

Second edition of the 2013 Sportsfest kicks off

DG Sanginga kicks the ball.
IITA has commenced the second edition of the 2013 Sportsfest in Ibadan, with a kickoff ceremony by the Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga.
The sportsfest seeks to build team spirit among staff through different sporting activities including football, tennis, volleyball, and other board and indoor games.
The kickoff ceremony brought the IITA family together with colorful fanfare.
Besides Dr Sanginga, other dignitaries in attendance were Drs Kenton Dashiell, Kwesi Atta-Krah, and other management staff.
In his opening remarks, Dr Atta-Krah called on staff to redouble their efforts and commitment to IITA.
According to him “the IITA family must see themselves as members of an important team which contributes to solving the problems of Africa.”
He thanked the DG for the initiative which he said had helped to boost staff morale to work diligently and better.
“Take the spirit from here and continue in it because we belong to one big family. Individually we cannot solve the big problem IITA is positioned to solve; but together we can transform Africa,” he said.
The opening match of the event was between the Green Team and the White Team. Ninety minutes of play saw the Green Team winning by 3 goals to 1.

Study offers tip into the complexity of begomo viruses in West and Central Africa

Dr Leke in the virology lab
A study by Dr Walter Leke, IITA virologist, has revealed a huge complexity of begomoviruses and DNA satellites previously largely unknown in West and Central Africa.
Begomoviruses are plant-infecting viruses, which are transmitted by the whitefly vector Bemisia tabaci. They have a genome of single-stranded DNA that consists of either a single (monopartite) or two components (bipartite) with a component size of approximately 2.8kb. Many monopartite begomoviruses in the Old World have been found to be associated with betasatellite and alphasatellite molecules, which are about half the size of their helper begomovirus genome. Betasatellites have been shown to be necessary for inducing severe disease symptoms.
During the West Africa Seminar series, Dr Leke spoke on “Molecular characterization of begomoviruses and associated satellites in Cameroon – implications for plant virus research in Africa.”
The study found that in Cameroon, B. tabaci has been associated with suspected begomovirus infections in many crop and weed species. However, in spite of their growing importance, only begomoviruses infecting cassava have been studied in Cameroon in any detail.
Dr Leke said the study was inspired by the need for additional information on diversity and distribution of begomoviruses and satellites in vegetable crops and dicotyledonous weeds, which likely serve as virus reservoirs.
In field studies, a high incidence of okra leaf curl disease was found in Cameroon. Sequencing of viral genomes showed that the okra plants were infected by viruses of two previously known begomovirus species (Cotton leaf curl Gezira virus and Okra yellow crinkle virus) as well as a new recombinant begomovirus species (Okra leaf curl Cameroon virus). In addition, a betasatellite (Cotton leaf curl Gezira betasatellite) and two alphasatellites (Okra leaf curl Mali alphasatellite and Okra yellow crinkle Cameroon alphasatellite) were identified. Also tomato plants with leaf curling were shown to contain isolates of a new begomovirus, Tomato leaf curl Cameroon virus, and an alphasatellite, Tomato leaf curl Cameroon alphasatellite (ToLCCMA).
Sequence analyses of begomovirus complexes infecting the weed, Ageratum conyzoides, showed that they were infected by isolates of a new begomovirus (Ageratum leaf curl Cameroon virus), two new betasatellites (Ageratum leaf curl Cameroon betasatellite and Ageratum leaf curl Buea betasatellite), an alphasatellite (ToLCCMA), and two types of defective recombinants between a begomovirus and ToLCCMA.
Dr Leke concluded that with this high diversity, recombination potential and transmission by B. tabaci, begomoviruses, and their associated DNA satellites pose a serious threat to crop production in the region and the African continent as a whole.

Former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, impressed with IITA’s work

L-R: DDG Akuffo-Akoto with Chief Anyaoku
In his first visit to IITA, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said he was impressed with the research being done at IITA and the maintenance of the campus.
Chief Anyaoku was attending the third International Conference on Africa’s Indigenous Stimulants (ICAIS-31), organized by the Oyo State Ministry of Trade and Investment, in Ibadan, but decided to drop by IITA. He met with the Deputy-Director General, Corporate Services, Kwame Akuffo-Akoto and IITA Director, Western Africa, Dr Robert Asiedu.
DDG Akuffo-Akoto and Dr Asiedu explained the Institute’s vision, highlighting the importance of IITA to global food security.
“The work you are doing is important and I must commend you,” the former secretary-general said.
During the tour of the campus, Chief Anyaoku, accompanied by the High Commissioner, High Commission of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Nyahuma Mentuhotep Obika, and the Commissioner for Agriculture for Kogi state in Nigeria, Dr Olufemi Bolarin, spent some time at the Genetic Resources Center.
Dr Michael Abberton, Head of the GRC, explained the benefit of the genebank to research and food security. He likened the genebank to a financial bank and its importance in the conservation of biodiversity.
The commissioner for agriculture commended IITA for its work on improving the productivity of Africa’s key staple crops. In particular, he recalled that improved varieties from the Institute were improving the productivity of cassava in his state, and that most of those varieties helped farmersto tackle pests and diseases challenging cassava production in his area.
Chief Anyaoku’s contact with IITA was facilitated by the Head of Resource Mobilization and External Relations, Mrs Toyin Oke.

Tap IITA, DDG Ken Dashiell tells Zambian partners

Dr Ken Dashiell during his seminar presentation at UNZA in Lusaka, Zambia.
On 15 October, Dr Ken Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General, Partnerships and Capacity Development, kicked off the Southern Africa Research-for-Development Seminar Series, appealing to Zambian partners to “tap IITA’s expertise to reinforce the capacity of national agricultural research institutions to help Zambia’s agriculture sector reach its full potential”.
Dr Dashiell aired this message during his seminar-presentation titled “The University of Zambia (UNZA), Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), and IITA: A partnership to develop agricultural solutions to hunger and poverty in Zambia”, which was held at the Omnia Lecture Hall 2 of the School of Agriculture of UNZA in Lusaka. More than 60 participants comprising of students, staff, and representatives from UNZA, ZARI, IITA, government, and private seed companies attended the seminar.
During the seminar, the DDG also laid out IITA’s plans to expand its capacity develeopment and partnership efforts in Southern Africa. This includes increasing the number of students being trained by its scientists in the region, developing new agriculture-related training areas geared towards people with little or no formal education, linking with rural and urban schools to help them develop appropriate agriculture curriculum, and conducting training of youths to empower them to be agri-entrepreneurs.
He also emphasized the three essential components for these efforts to create impact. He said, “We need to mainstream gender in research and dissemination, develop appropriate capacities, and upscale technologies.”
“Definitely, IITA cannot do this alone. Therefore, I would like to highlight the importance of the partnership that we have with UNZA, ZARI, the private sector, and the government of Zambia. Together we would be able to achieve our common vision of reducing poverty and improving food security not only for Zambia and the Southern Africa region, but more so for the entire continent,” he added.
“And with the establishment of our Southern Africa Research and Administration Hub (SARAH) facilities a year from now, we would be able to more effectively deliver our R4D mandate in the country and in the region,” Dr Dashiell said. IITA-Zambia broke ground for SARAH on 12 September.
“I would also like to laud this collaborative Southern Africa R4D Seminar Series. This initiative will definitely become a centerpiece platform for UNZA, ZARI, and IITA to exchange and share expertise and information in the field of agricultural research and entice future agricultural researchers and scientists. I am confident that we will have more partners on board as this seminar series rolls on,” Dr Dashiell emphasized.

Dr Mick Mwala, Dean of UNZA’s School of Agriculture, shared the DDG’s views, saying that “on the part of UNZA, we will definitely be calling on IITA for support, not only for our students but also for our faculty and staff. I thank IITA-Zambia for having some of our students under its scientists’ wings, but I am also looking forward to seeing more being trained by IITA in the future.”