Monday, June 16, 2014

African organizations unite to address the threat of a dangerous form of Fusarium wilt of banana

An  African  consortium of international researchers and growers, backed by policymakers in regional blocs of eastern and southern Africa has declared “war” against Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4), a highly pathogenic form of the banana Fusarium wilt, previously confined to Asia, but recently introduced to a farm in northern Mozambique.

FoC TR4 (also known as Panama disease) is caused by a fungal strain that can survive for decades in the soil, and once introduced to a country has never been previously eradicated. Production of Cavendish types of banana which dominate export markets, and some other local forms of banana, has been devastated across Asia, no thanks to Foc TR4.

Its introduction to Africa, probably by infected planting material by people, has already had a massive impact on the commercial plantation in Mozambique, and efforts are in place to contain the disease on this farm, to avert further spread and to prepare other African countries against similar incursions, says Dr Fen Beed, Plant Pathologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

To manage the disease outbreak and to prepare African countries reliant on banana for food security and income generation, a stakeholder workshop of the African Consortium for Foc TR4 (AC4TR4) was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, 23-24 April 2014, on the theme: Development of a Strategy to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa. Representatives from the following organization took part: Southern African Development Community (SADC), The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO), IITA, Bioversity International, Stellenbosch University, national research organizations, and commercial growers. 

Recommendations from the workshop have now been harmonized. A major output has been “The Stellenbosch Declaration on addressing the threat of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4) to banana production in Africa,” convened by SADC and COMESA, signed by member states and endorsing institutions.

This unique Declaration aims to combine forces to curtail the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 in Africa and in particular to achieve the following:

1. Fully develop and implement a continental strategy under the direction of an African Foc TR4 task force to contain the incursion of Foc TR4 in the Nampula   province of  Mozambique and prevent similar incursions elsewhere.

2. Provide and enhance technical capacity on the continent, and to implement and monitor phytosanitary systems, including wider use of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) and other matters concerning plant health to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa.   

3. Report and map electronically by means of a web portal any new outbreaks of Foc TR4 in African member states and communicate information on new outbreaks, successful containment, and prevention initiatives.

4. Establish recognition that Foc TR4 is a continental issue that requires coordination and collaboration between  NPPOs, RECs, ICPs, research institutions, universities, governments, and other relevant stakeholders throughout Africa by means of regular meetings and consultations.

5. Develop and apply appropriate diagnostic services, provide training, raise awareness, monitor disease spread, and screen banana germplasm for Foc TR4 resistance for deployment by vulnerable banana growers.

6.   Call  upon    African  and  international organizations to recognize and support the activities of AC4TR4 by investing in research, awareness programs, human capacity, and infrastructure development on the continent.

7. Develop a regional Pest Risk Analysis document and a set of phytosanitary measures to be enforced by member states to prevent the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 and other quarantine pests of banana.  

8. Encourage governments in Africa to formulate the necessary legislation and to implement the required activities to protect the crops of vulnerable farm owners against destructive exotic pests.

For more information, please contact: Fen Beed,, or Godwin Atser,

Monday, June 9, 2014

Impact of IITA’s maize germplasm in Africa higher than imagined

Dr Kim giving a lecture in IITA Ibadan
Improved maize germplasm developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and disseminated across Africa is improving livelihoods, and the impact on the continent is greater than earlier imagined, according to the President of the International Corn Foundation, Dr Soon Kwon Kim.
   In a seminar organized by IITA West Africa Hub today entitled: “Promotion of IITA maize streak resistant (SR) varieties and Striga tolerant or resistant (STR) varieties to ten African countries with Korean Government Support,” Dr Kim reviewed the contribution of maize streak resistant varieties and Striga tolerant or resistant varieties across the continent.
   Probably the most devastating disease that attacks maize in Africa, maize streak virus (MSV), leads to stunting, and farmers may lose 100 percent of the crop. Striga (a parasitic weed), on the other hand, attacks cereals and legumes and losses are in the neighborhood of US$8bn, endangering the livelihoods of millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
   Dr Kim who is currently also Chair-Professor, Handong Global University, Pohang, South Korea had worked at IITA at a time when MSV ravaged maize farms in sub Saharan Africa (SSA), and he was part of the team that developed the maize streak resistant varieties. The work earned IITA the first King Baudouin award. The team also made remarkable breakthroughs in developing Striga tolerant / resistant maize varieties.
   Dr Kim noted that after the development of those varieties, IITA with funds from the Korea International Cooperation Agency , and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, promoted them in Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo with the joint efforts of FAO-PASCON (Pan African Striga Control Network) and the Semi-Arid Food Grain Research and Development (SAFGRAD) project. 
But beyond these countries, several other African countries have benefited from this work.
For example, Dr Kim recalled that Kenya’s maize that was ravaged by streak virus two / three years ago, recovered after germplasm from IITA resistant to the disease was introduced.
He called on IITA to do a more in-depth study that would put into perspective the contribution of IITA improved maize varieties across the continent.
   Dr Kim also shared some thoughts on the way forward for Africa’s agriculture, stressing the need for sustainable intensification that would not abuse the natural resource endowment of the continent.
   He lauded IITA’s research approach that integrates more than one trait in the breeding objective and also called on African governments to invest in IITA.
   “If we adopt and use IITA’s approach to breeding, we will solve Africa’s problems… My suggestion has always been that IITA should be given the first consideration when it comes to funding in Africa,” he said.
Dr Kim (middle) with IITA scientists and members of the Maize Association of Nigeria
   Dr Sam Ajala commended Dr Kim for his work in helping the maize program in Africa in particular and global maize research in general, stressing that most of the high yielding maize varieties grown in the continent were built on past efforts/foundation laid by Dr Kim.
Though he left IITA 17 years ago, Dr Kim has kept touch with IITA and the Nigeria’s Maize Association.
   The President of the Maize Association of Nigeria, Pastor O.A. Adenola, praised Dr Kim’s efforts and passion for improved livelihoods of farmers. He said the support to research given to maize by the government was partly because of Dr Kim’s advocacy for more attention to maize especially in Nigeria.
Improved maize at IITA

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Central Africa gets a new research facility to deal with emerging challenges in the agricultural sector

IITA Science Building in Kalambo inaugurated today 5 June 2014
...Climate change, increasing population, and declining soil fertility are the  key challenges in the region.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), an international agriculture research center, has created a research center in Kalambo, south Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to support agricultural development in the Central African region. IITA has been working in DRC for the last 40 years.
The center will be launched today, 5 June  2014, in an event that has attracted key policymakers, representatives of the donor community, development practitioners, researchers, and farmers from DRC and neighboring countries.
The center includes laboratories with state-of-the art  equipment to conduct research and  facilities for  training on the processing of the region’s staple crops, such as cassava and soybean..
While speaking at a press briefing yesterday evening, South Kivu Governor Marcellin Cishambo  noted that although the Central African region, including the DRC with its good climate and abundant natural resources, had high agricultural potential, the sector was still riddled with many challenges.
"Agriculture is the most important sector in DRC. It provides 42% of our GDP and employs over half of our people. However, out of our 80 million hectares of potential agricultural land, only approximately 10% is being used. The Government is therefore very keen to develop this sector to diversify and catalyze the economic development of the country,” he said.
The Director General of IITA, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, noted that the Central African region will become an important bread basket for the continent  as the population of Africa continues to increase and land becomes scarce.
 “With this new center, together with our partners in the region, we are now better equipped to handle the existing and the newly emerging challenges and opportunities in agriculture through research,” Dr Sanginga said. “Research alongside education is one of the most important investments in any country seeking socioeconomic transformation.”
He said that one of the areas where the institute was very keen on working was that of youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa by attracting them to agriculture. The institute had initiated the Youth Agripreneurs (agricultural entrepreneurs) program in Nigeria, DRC, and Tanzania. It  had over 120 young members who had received training and were carrying out or initiating  various agribusiness enterprises to earn a living.
Also speaking at the event, Dr Bernard Vanlauwe,  IITA’s Director for Central Africa, said the region was home to one of the few remaining natural forests in Africa, the Congo forest. However, it is rapidly shrinking as the local communities fell the trees to expand their agricultural land to grow food and cash crops and to provide construction material.
“We are working with farmers to increase their agriculture production on land of the same size to reduce the destruction of forests. This is through introducing smart farming practices— the use of high-yielding improved varieties and better farming practices including soil fertility management. For many years our farmers have cropped the same fields, extracting nutrients from the soil without replenishing them because of the low use of organic and inorganic fertilizers.”
“In Eastern DRC, farmers using these smart farming practices in the cassava-legume systems have increased cassava yields by between 30 and 160%. In Western DRC, cassava yields doubled from 12 to 25 t/ha with moderate rates of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) fertilizer, and reached over 40 t/ha with higher rates of fertilizer application,” he said.
Last year, IITA launched a similar facility in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for its Eastern Africa Hub and laid the foundation stone in Lusaka, Zambia, for its facility in Southern Africa..
The construction of science and training centers in the Hubs is in line with the institute’s new refreshed strategy and its vision of becoming a leading research partner, facilitating solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty in Africa.
South Kivu Governor Marcellin Cishambo speaking at the inauguration of the facility

For more information, please contact:

IITA: Andrea Gros,

Nigeria joins forces with IITA to fight youth unemployment

Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina (in bow tie) with IITA Youth Agripreneurs in IITA Ibadan.
Nigeria is supporting the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Youth Agripreneur program with a commitment of US$500,000 as part of efforts to tackle unemployment through the engagement of youth in agriculture.
The funds will go into training and capacity building of youth and will create the next generation of young farmers in the country.
   The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, declared Nigeria’s commitment at the just concluded workshop on Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa held recently at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
   Initiated two years ago, the IITA Youth Agripreneur program builds the capacity of youth and exposes them to the numerous untapped opportunities in agriculture and, more importantly, changes the negative perception that young men and women hold when it comes to agriculture. The program has currently engaged 31 Nigerian youths from different backgrounds with the possibility of expanding in the years ahead.
   Dr Adesina gave kudos to IITA for developing the program, and the milestones recorded by the youth so far in cultivation and dissemination of improved planting materials. He noted that the program was in line with the Nigerian Government’s transformation agenda which is also creating job opportunities for youths.
   IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga commended Nigeria for supporting the initiative and described youth unemployment in Africa as “a time bomb” if authorities failed to act quickly to harness their potential.
   Like many other countries, Nigeria is facing serious unemployment challenges as a result of the increase in population; and the growing number of students/ candidates into tertiary institutions over the years that results in more graduates than available jobs further complicates the situation. The state of affairs is a serious challenge for every successive government that has ruled the nation since 1990 with unemployment rising to 24 percent in 2011.
   Nigeria’s government alone cannot provide the needed jobs. However, agriculture is seen as a key sector that could help absorb the increasing number of youths in the labor market.
Researchers say to get the youths involved in agriculture, agriculture itself must be attractive.
   Dr Bashir Jama, Director of Soil Health Program with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said to make agriculture attractive would involve narrowing yield gaps and adoption of improved technologies to increase agricultural productivity.
   “Equally important is the need to diversify production systems that minimize risks and generate attractive incomes, enhancement and integration of livestock and nutrients recycling, and reduction of postharvest losses,” he explained.
   The Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa workshop which was organized by IITA was supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the Support for Agricultural Research and Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-SC) project, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and AGRA.
L-R: Dr Adesina and IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga in IITA Ibadan during the youth workshop.

African countries back IITA Youth Agripreneur initiative to end unemployment

Policymakers, donors and youths at the Youth Workshop in IITA Ibadan
About 20 African countries have thrown their weight behind the IITA Youth Agripreneur (IYA) initiative—a pilot scheme that is engaging youths in agriculture with clear signals of ending youth unemployment in the continent. The initiative has also been endorsed by the IITA Board of Trustees, according to Dr Namanga Ngongi, IITA Board member.
   IYA changes the mindset of young people towards agriculture and equips them with various opportunities in the production and marketing of agricultural products, cutting across value chains such as cassava, banana/plantain, soybean, maize, vegetables, livestock, and fish production.
   The countries supported the IYA initiative in a communiqué at the end of a conceptualization workshop on Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa that was held at IITA in Ibadan, Nigeria, from 28 to 30 May 2014.
   About 200 participants reviewed the current unemployment situation in the continent, and noted that youth unemployment and underemployment are high, with over 70% of the population between 15 and 24 years in many countries under-/unemployed, if not outright unemployed.
   The countries noted that the present situation threatens not only food security but also the national security of all African countries, and may compromise the attainment of the targets set under the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
  • Recognizing that agriculture can drive development and has the potential to create millions of decent jobs for Africa’s male and female youth in the provision of products and services such as seed and input supply, crop aggregation and marketing, postharvest handling, processing and storage, and other value-addition activities.
  • Recognizing that the youth population in Africa could play a pivotal role in the dissemination of improved technologies and innovations to farmers which have the capacity of closing yield gaps and enhancing productivity in the continent.
  • Recognizing that the youth can advance agribusiness development in Africa with adequate support services, the countries with development partners proposed a multinational youth-in-agriculture/agribusiness program drawing on the IITA Youth Agripreneur model and other proven models that would focus on youth empowerment in agribusinesses and related enterprises across Africa.
The proposal has, in principle, been endorsed by donors, led by the African Development Bank.
The countries commended the African Development Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa for supporting agricultural development initiatives in Africa, and IITA for hosting the conception workshop.

Involving youths in agriculture offers sure path to sustainable development

In a keynote address, Dr Namanga Ngongi, IITA Board member said tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit of Africa’s young men and women was a sure way to move the development agenda of Africa forward in a sustainable manner.
L-R: Drs Ngongi, Ojukwu, Akinwumi Adesina(Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture), and Dr Nteranya Sanginga at the Youth Workshop in IITA Ibadan
Dr Ngongi spoke at the just concluded workshop on Engagement of Youth Entrepreneurship for Agricultural Transformation in Africa held from 28 to30 May at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
 Painting a picture of the current situation in Africa, Dr Ngongi noted that in spite of the natural resources that favor agricultural production, the continent’s 25 percent population still goes to bed hungry and that malnutrition was still widespread despite continental efforts to change Africa’s agricultural narrative.
He proposed the adoption of a transformative agenda, one that would convert African agriculture into a vibrant and economically viable and sustainable business sector that is attractive to the youth.
 For this to happen, Dr Ngongi said appropriate tools and machines that would ease the tedium of agricultural work and make the sector attractive to youths and less exacting on women were desperately needed.
According to him, it is not enough to make pious declarations that accord priority to agriculture.
“The declarations should be backed by concrete policies and programs that will lead to transformation of the sector at scale,” he said.
The IITA BoT member said African agriculture needed a new group of actors, persons who see opportunities and take action including risks, to turn opportunities into profitable ventures.

   “These are the entrepreneurs and in the agriculture sector, agro-entrepreneurs. This group of actors, young for the most part, will be needed to provide services to the agriculture sector throughout the value chain, from the provision of improved seeds and other planting materials to land preparation; from planting to harvesting; from storage to processing and transformation of raw agricultural commodities to finished food and industrial products,” he explained.
He noted that though the agro-entrepreneurs do have the interest and the will to take risks, most often they lack the business skills to manage an enterprise profitably.
 “They do not normally have the opportunity to test a business idea before taking it to the market place as few countries have any functioning start-up or risk sharing programs. Young people in particular are disadvantaged as they do not have access to even a minimum of capital,” he stressed.
 Dr Chiji Ojukwu, Director, Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department, African Development Bank reechoed that exploiting opportunities to enlist and hold the interest of the African youth and women in agriculture was crucial if African countries were to meet the growth and poverty reduction targets under the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
  He said the Bank was pleased with the successful multiplication and dissemination of improved crop varieties by the IITA Agripreneurs under the SARD-SC project.
  Dr Ojukwu shared the Bank’s experience which showed that youths were willing to go for modern agriculture and agribusiness that are supported with the necessary services including science and technology, finance, and real time market information among others.
Finally, he reiterated the Bank’s commitment to supporting agriculture with the view to achieving inclusive growth in the continent.