“DNA Barcoding”: new initiative in determining the diversity and checking the spread of pathogens

Diagnostic tools is vital to disease surveillance, development of host plant resistance, quarantine monitoring, and supporting safe conservation and exchange of germplasm. Good knowledge on pathogen population structure and genetic diversity is a pre-requisite to developing unambiguous diagnostic tools and is critical in establishing disease management tactics. Increasingly, modern diagnostic tools are being based on the DNA characteristics of the pathogen.

Clustering of 25 yam isolates based on rDNA sequences. Image by Lava Kumar, IITA.
Clustering of 25 yam isolates based on rDNA sequences. Image by Lava Kumar, IITA.

We undertook a new initiative to genetically characterize pathogen populations and recognize unique stretches of sequences. Called ‘DNA Barcodes’, they can be used as markers for diagnosing pathogens and pests affecting African food crops.

For instance, we conducted molecular characterization of fungal pathogen(s) causing anthracnose – the most destructive disease of yam and cassava in West Africa. In yams, anthracnose appears as leaf spot that spreads rapidly, killing the leaves, shoots, and entire plant. In cassava, it appears as cankers on stems at the base of leaf petioles, and also kills the leaves, shoots, and whole plant. The disease causes severe yield losses in both crops.

The causal fungus, Colletotrichum gloeosporioides Penz., is widespread in West Africa. We identified various isolates of this fungi differing in morphology, growth characters, and pathogenicity, and investigated their genetic relatedness and diversity through molecular analysis using a set of 25 reference isolates (17 from yam and 8 from cassava). Based on the symptoms they induce, they were grouped into spot (S) and blight (B) isolates. Both isolates infect yam, but only B isolates infect cassava. We assessed the genetic diversity in these isolates by nucleotide sequencing and cluster analysis of the ~540 base pair (bp) nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer region (ITS1, ITS2 and the 5.8S gene) and partial gene sequences of actin (~240 bp) and histone (~370 bp).

Phylogenetic cluster analysis grouped the 25 isolates into two major clades and two sub-clades within the major clades. Both the S and B isolates were distributed between the two clades (see figure). All the isolates in clade 1 were unique to yam. Seven of these isolates (YA08-1, YA08-2, YA08-3, YA08-4, YA08-7, Y-83, Y-84) formed a genetically-distinct lineage indicating that they could be new strains unique to yam. Isolates in clade 2 infect both cassava and yam suggesting their capability to infect wide range of plants. Clade 2 isolates could be the most frequently occurring on yam and cassava because of their ability to survive on weeds and other crops. We recognized unique sequence motifs and designed diagnostic PCR primers for specific amplification of C. gloeosporioides infecting yam and cassava directly from infected plant tissues.

Using a similar approach, we characterized the fungal agent associated with grey leaf spot (GLS), the most destructive disease of maize. We found that GLS in Nigeria is caused by a distinct species of Cercospora, but not C. zeae-maydis. This work, in addition to confirming the GLS etiology, allowed us to establish a unique set of primers for specific identification of GLS pathogen prevalent in Nigeria.

Through comparative genomics, we identified common genome regions in cassava mosaic begomoviruses occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. We developed a simple multiplex PCR assay that can detect all the major viruses in cassava mosaic disease etiology. This test has been institutionalized for virus indexing of cassava propagated in vitro.

To aid in diagnostics research, we developed a simple and cost-effective procedure suitable for extraction of DNA from seeds, leaves, stems, tubers, and even roots. The resultant DNA is suitable for PCR-based diagnoses of fungi, bacteria, and viruses in the infected tissues in a wide range of plant species, and is handy for quarantine monitoring of germplasm. We are establishing a repository of diagnostic protocols in an approach we call “Diagnostic Basket” and make it available to users.

Fighting a two-pronged attack on African bananas

Flesh of banana fruit infected by BXW. Photo by Piet van Asten.
Flesh of banana fruit infected by BXW. Photo by Piet van Asten.

Among the many diseases that affect bananas and p exciting new major f use of Ralph Lauren Outlet Australia product ion lantains in Africa, the two greatest threats are Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) and Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD). Combined, these diseases have the potential to wipe out these economically- and food security-vital crops from the continent. Their rapid spread in recent years has alarm bells ringing in banana-producing countries across Africa Hüpfburgen. BXW, which in the past had only been prevalent in Ethiopia, has been highly active in East Africa this past decade. On the other hand, BBTD, which was first reported in the 1920s and then the 1960s in Egypt and DR Congo, respectively, has been spreading rapidly in the East African highlands and in Central and Southern Africa. In the face of this two-pronged threat, we have been actively engaged in a number of complementary disease-management research. These include developing specific diagnostic assays, initiating regional surveillance to map current disease distribution and future spread, developing management tools to minimize establishment, spread, and impact, and working on host-plant resistance through germplasm screening and biotechnology approaches.

Banana plants showing classic symptoms of BBTD. Photo by Fen Beed.
Banana plants showing classic symptoms of BBTD. Photo by Fen Beed.

As the BXW pathogen is closely related to other Xanthomonas pathogens that affect maize, sorghum, and sugarcane, we, together with advanced laboratories in the USA, developed a highly specific assay to identify the banana variant using genomic tools. We also developed a sensitive assay for the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV), the causal agent of BBTD. These two assays are now being used for verification of suspected BXW and BBTD cases in East and southern Africa in cooperation with national and private sector partners. The development of sensitive diagnostics for BXW and BBTD permits epidemiological studies in plants that do not show symptoms during the latent period, rapid deployment of control measures, and effective detection of the pathogens by quarantine officers along borders. We also conducted surveys with national partners in southern and Central Africa to map the extent of spread of BBTV, and to determine the abundance and distribution of the banana aphid, the only known insect vector of BBTV.

Map showing distribution of BBTD and BXW in Africa. Image provided by Fen Beed, IITA.
Map showing distribution of BBTD and BXW in Africa. Image provided by Fen Beed, IITA.

We recognize that insects play an important role in the spread of banana diseases, so we initiated studies on host-plant resistance to the banana aphid that spreads BBTV. We also plan to explore for natural enemies of the banana aphid in its putative area of origin in 2010. In Malawi, we established a field trial of various banana cultivars to study host reaction to BBTV and assess virus concentration. Many insects have been implicated in the medium-distance, farm-to-farm spread of BXW. To help us develop management guidelines, we have been conducting studies in  th Ralph Lauren Mens Polo Shirts Australia do you an isolated and controlled site in a forest reserve to further understand how insects spread the BXW pathogen. Together with the Southern Africa Development Community,  the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, FAO, Bioversity International, and other partners, we co-organized an international workshop in Arusha, Tanzania in August to integrate recent information on these diseases and develop control strategies. The workshop recommended measures to slow the spread of these diseases into new regions and offset their impact in already-affected areas. These included large-scale awareness and surveillance campaigns, community-level cooperative actions, establishment of reporting, communication, and monitoring systems, improved “seed” systems, development of national contingency plans, and long-term programs for eradication and/or management of BXW and BBTD. A follow-up meeting in 2010 is being planned to establish the framework of a region-wide disease-management and production strategy.

Looking into the dynamics of Musa production in Africa

A banana valley near Ruhengeri, Rwanda. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.
A banana valley near Ruhengeri, Rwanda. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.

This year, we undertook research to further und Ralph Lauren Mens Polo Shirts Australia off started with  erstand the dynamics of the relationships among factors affecting banana and plantain production in Africa such as pest and diseases, biotic and abiotic stresses, and farmers’ preferences. This is to establish some of the underlying causes why bananas and plantains in Africa are as they are. More importantly, this would help us plot a more effective course for our Musa research-for-development efforts.

In East Africa, we conducted large-scale diagnostic surveys with our partners particularly in the major production areas of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern DRC, and central Kenya. We mapped yield levels, crop management practices, pest and disease pressure, nutrient deficiencies, and ecological parameters such as rainfall and altitude.

Our surveys came up with some surprising facts:

  • Yield levels (t/ha), taken from measurements of hundreds of farmers fields, were more than double the figures reported by national statistics and cited by FAO;
  • Uganda, which has been traditionally regarded as the regional champion of banana production, actually had lower average yields (around 15 t/ha) than neighboring Rwanda, Burundi, and East DR Congo (more than 20 t/ha);
  • Sigatoka disease pressure, which had been the primary focus of breeders, was generally low, especially in the higher altitudes;
  • Nematode and weevil pressure was still important in the lower parts of the highlands (less than 1200m above sea level), but were not a primary yield constraint in most production areas;
  • Nutrient deficiencies were widespread. With the exception of young and volcanic soils near the Albertine rift, the dominant Acricols and Ferralsols were low in nutrient stocks.; and
  • Soil organic matter management is a key factor, and often explained the large production differences observed when moving 50 meters away from the relatively fertile soil adjacent to houses to banana plots farther away and less likely to receive discarded kitchen waste.
Banana being transported via truck in Uganda. The farther the farms are from markets, the lesser the incomes farmers get. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.
Banana being transported via truck in Uganda. The farther the farms are from markets, the lesser the incomes farmers get. Photo by Piet van Asten, IITA.

Our on-farm fertilizer trials across Uganda showed that modest fertilizer doses (average 71N, 8P, 32K kg ha-1 yr-1) doubled yields from 10 to 20 t/ha per year in areas such as Central Uganda. Fertilizer use proved highly profitable near large urban centers such as Kampala, but at farther distances (>150km) from the market, the increased transport cost reduced farm gate prices to levels that would make fertilizer investments too risky (marginal rates of return <100%).

Besides soil fertility, regional production gradients seemed also strongly correlated to rainfall gradients. To prove this, we explored data from past field trials, relating inter-annual yield variations to rainfall variations. Drought proved to be one of the biggest yield constraints, with an estimated 50% yield loss in large production areas in the highlands that received ”only” 1000 mm of rainfall per year. Pot trials confirmed that even moderate drought stress (pF 2.8) resulted in strongly reduced growth (>63%) compared to pla stole helene de shopbust baugigny  nts that remained well watered (pF 1.8). Drought stress does not result in obvious visual stress symptoms, explaining why farmers and researchers in the East African highlands had not given it much attention.

We are planning to conduct similar diagnostic surveys for the plantain systems in West and Central Africa, as well as setting up irrigation trials in West and East Africa, in 2010.

Our plant health researchers are also conducting studies to probe deeper into the complex relationships between pest and disease resistance and abiotic and biotic stresses, and develop appropriate solutions to optimize Musa production in Africa.

New aflatoxin-resistant maize

A local partner holding a cob of aflatoxin-contaminated maize. Photo by Godwin Atser, IITA.
A local partner holding a cob of aflatoxin-contaminated maize. Photo by Godwin Atser, IITA.

Aflatoxins, poisons produced by th Ralph Lauren Mens Polo Shirts Australia wide portions  e fungus Aspergillus flavus, infect agricultural commodities such as groundnuts, cassava, yam, and maize. They pose serious potential health hazards to both humans and animals, and have far-reaching negative implications on the global trade contaminated crops (see related article “Towards safer African food crops” under Agriculture and Health).

Various solutions have been proposed to minimize aflatoxin contamination in food crops. Host resistance remains as the most widely explored strategy as A. flavus infects susceptible crops before harvest.

Our researchers in partnership with colleagues from the US Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS-SRRC) have developed and released six new maize inbred lines with resistance to aflatoxin contamination and adapted to the lowlands. These lines, named TZAR101 through TZAR106, have also been registered in the United States. The research was co-funded by FAS-USDA-ARS, USAID, and IITA.

Collaborating for almost a decade, USDA-ARS plant pathologist Robert Brown and IITA maize breeder Abebe Menkir developed the new maize lines through conventional breeding by crossing the best aflatoxin-resistant lines found in the US (GT-MAS:gk, MI82 and Mp420) with tropical elite lines found in Central and West Africa (1368, 4001 and KU1414-SR).

Aside from demonstrating good resistance against aflatoxin accumulation under laboratory and field tests, most of these new maize lines also possess other commercially-desirable traits and resistance to diseases such as leaf blight and southern corn rust.

As these inbred lines involve parents of both tropical and temperate origin, they are likely to contain new combinations of complimentary alleles imparting resistance to aflatoxin accumulation. These can be exploited by maize breeders as new  may shopbust be b lace which  sources of resistance for developing maize cultivars with higher levels of resistance to A. flavus infection/aflatoxin contamination.

They can also serve as sources of resistance to foliar diseases as well as desirable agronomic traits to expand the genetic base of adapted US and tropical maize germplasm to accelerate the development of productive new cultivars. The resistant lines with good agronomic traits could be used as parents to accelerate breeding efforts against aflatoxin contamination of national programs in West and Central Africa.

Better livelihoods from improved dual-purpose cowpea

Women farmers in a cowpea field. Photo by Sato Muranaka.
Women farmers in a cowpea field. Photo by Sato Muranaka.

Resource-poor cowpea farmers in northern Nigeria have seen their profits jump an average of 55 percent due to impro
Cheap Ralph Lauren Companies  ved dual-purpose cowpea varieties that we and our partners developed and introduced.

Farmers who use traditional varieties earn about US$251 per hectare, while those who are growing the improved cowpea are getting matters, which is shopbust because   US$390, or US$139 more, per hectare with proper crop management.

The improved varieties: IT89KD-288, IT89KD-391, IT97K-499-35, and IT93K-452-1 produce high-quality grains that are used by farmers for food and fodder. They are also resistant to Striga, a parasitic weed that reduces yields of susceptible local cowpeas by as much as 80 percent.

Over 100,000 farmers in Borno and Kano states in northern Nigeria and in the Niger Republic are currently using the improved varieties, where their adoption rate is conservatively estimated at 65 percent.

Farmers in the savannah region view cowpea as both food and cash crop. When the varieties were introduced, farmers took to them readily since they serve both ends well. Those who cultivate the dual-purpose cowpeas are basically better off than those who do not.

The improved cowpea varieties were developed and deployed in partnership with the Borno State Agricultural Development Project, Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Project, the Institute of Agricultural Research – Zaria and the University of Maiduguri.

Other local development partners are promoting the improved varieties by organizing farmers’ field days, exchange visits, training and farmer-to-farmer diffusion.

Cowpea is a grain legume grown mainly in the savanna regions of the tropics and subtropics in Africa, Asia, and South America. Its grain contains about 25 percent protein, making it extremely valuable to those who cannot afford more expensive animal-derived protein sources such as meat and fish. It is tolerant to drought, fixes atmospheric nitrogen, and improves poor soils.

The FAO, about 7.56 million tons of cowpeas are produced worldwide annually, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 70%, or about 5.3 million tons, of global production.

New soybean offers respite from deadly Asian rust

Asian rust-resistant TGx 1835-10E, at right, compared to a susceptible variety. Photo by IITA.
Asian rust-resistant TGx 1835-10E, at right, compared to a susceptible variety. Photo by IITA.

The Asian soybean rust is a fungal disease that is capable of laying waste as much as 80 percent of infested crops. This year, a soybean variety resistant to the disease that we developed was approved for release by the Nigerian National Variety Release Committee (NNVRC). The rust-resistant soybean is the first of its kind to be made available for cultivation not only in Nigeria but also in West and Central Africa.

Tagged TGx 1835-10E, our scientists bred the variety and further developed it in collaboration with the National Cereal Research Institute. Its release for general cultivation was approved in December 2008 and notified in June 2009 by the NNVRC.

Field trials in Nigeria showed that aside from being resistant to the Asian rust, the variety is also high-yielding, averaging 1655 kg/ha grain and 2210 kg/ha fodder. It is also early-maturing, has good promiscuous nodulation character, and resists pod shattering and other prevalent diseases.

The variety can be used for direct cultivation in tropical Africa or as a source of resistance genes in soybean breeding programs. It was previously released in Uganda through the initiative of Makerere University, a local partner, and has already shown excellent performance in trials carried out in Southern Africa, suggesting that it is well-adapted.

Its resistance is effective against all currently known types of the rust fungus in Nigeria. We have bred several other lines with rust resistance genes from various sources, which can be deployed quickly if this variety succumbs to newer forms of the rust fungus.

It was in 1996 that the Asian soybean rust first arrived in Africa, rapidly spreading through Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The disease was first noted in Nigeria in 1999.

The causal fungus of the Asian soybean rust, Phakopsora pachyrhizi, is very aggressive and can produce billions of spores capable of turning lush green crops with healthy foliage into brown fields with bare stalks in 2-3 weeks.

For most African farmers, using resistant varieties is the most viable method to control the disease as applying fungicides proves very costly.

Opportunities from crises

Growing vegetables is hard work - from preparing the land to watering the plants twice a day. Photo by Arnstein Staverlokk, Bioforsk.
Growing vegetables is hard work - from preparing the land to watering the plants twice a day. We are continuously finding ways to make life easier and better for African farmers. Photo by Arnstein Staverlokk, Bioforsk.

In 2009, most of the world was still on unstable footing due to the lingering effects of the double-whammy–the global financial breakdown and the food price crisis–that hit the previous year. For millions of African farmers and their families, the negative impacts of these crises were still strongly felt. As if these were not enough, the third threat of climate change resulting in shifting weather patterns is making agricultural production much more unpredictable and volatile, making the lives of growers even harder.

However, these crises presented us with terrific opportunities to demonstrate the effectiveness of our research-for-development (R4D) strategy. Working closely with partners and with the support of our investors, we developed viable options to help African farmers mitigate and cope with the effects of these threats.

Below is a summary of our R4D highlights and achievements in sub-Saharan Africa for 2009. Details of these highlights and achievements are presented in the “Research Highlights” section of this annual report:

To address vitamin A deficiency especially among women and children in Africa, we gave tropical maize a boost of the nutrient by combining it with maize from the temperate zones containing high levels of beta-carotene and pro-vitamin A. The result was maize that is not only more nutritious but is also well-adapted to the tropical conditions of sub-Saharan Africa.

We were also able to produce a fungus-based biocontrol product against aflatoxin contamination in major African food crops. Called aflasafe, the product has been proven to significantly reduce aflatoxin contamination in maize in our field trials in Nigeria. The product has been granted a provisional registration by the Nigerian government, allowing us to further test it in more areas. We are also trying to develop a similar product for application in Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Mid-year, we sent our second shipment of seeds of African crops to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This comprised of about 5000 seed samples of soybean, maize, bambara nut, cowpea, and African yam bean. Through our Genetic Resources Unit, we are continuing efforts to expand our germplasm collection to help ensure the security and future of Africa’s agrobiodiversity.

We developed new diagnostic tools to help check the spread of crop disease-causing pathogens. Called ‘DNA Barcoding’, this new initiative could genetically characterize pathogen populations and recognize unique stretches of sequences. The DNA ‘barcodes’ could then be used as markers to diagnose pathogens and pests affecting African food crops.

In the face of the rapid onslaught of two deadly diseases of bananas and plantains in Africa – Banana Xanthomonas Wilt and Banana Bunchy Top Disease – that is threatening to wipe-out the crops from the continent, we engaged in a number of complementary disease-management research. These include conducting diagnostic assays, regional disease surveillance, developing management tools, and studying host-plant resistance.

We also undertook studies to delve deeper into the dynamics of Musa production in Africa. This included research that looked at relationships between and among pests and diseases, biotic and abiotic stresses, and farmers’ preferences. All of these to establish the underlying causes of the present state of Musa production in Africa, and enable us to plot a more effective course for our R4D work on bananas and plantains in the continent.

Further to our work on developing a biocontrol product against aflatoxin contamination in food crops, we also developed six new aflatoxin-resistant maize inbred lines with our US-based partners. These maize lines, which have been released to farmers, are also well-adapted to the lowlands.

Our work on improved double-purpose cowpea has resulted in significant increases in the incomes of farmers in northern Nigeria. Cowpea growers in that part of the country have seen their farm profits jump by as much as 55 percent from using the improved varieties compared to local ones.

On soybeans, we developed a new variety that is resistant to the deadly Asian rust – a disease that causes as much as 80 percent crop loss in infested fields. Tagged TGx 1835-10E, the new rust-resistant variety is also high-yielding, bringing an average of 1655 kg/ha of grain and 2210 kg/ha of fodder. It also possesses other traits sought after by soybean farmers.

Our project on “Promoting Sustainable Agriculture in Borno State” (PROSAB), which ended it five-year run this year, showcased the effectiveness of our R4D approach. Our post-project socioeconomic analysis have shown that the poverty levels of about 17,000 households, or more than 100,000 participating farmers, have dropped by an average of 14 percent, while food security improved by about 17 percent – due mainly to PROSAB’s R4D interventions.

Our Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) was tapped as one of five technical partners of a global, multi-sector consortium to implement the US$40 million, 5-year Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP). The program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 14 chocolate industry companies. STCP will lead the CLP’s site selection, develop and validate training approaches for cocoa farm rehabilitation, produce appropriate training materials, establish a community-level distribution system for improved planting materials, conduct market opportunity and product diversification studies, and manage the program’s Performance Coordination Unit.

A study on the impact of agricultural research on productivity and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa that we completed this year has shown that agricultural research has a direct positive impact on poverty, reducing the number of poor people in the region by as much as 2.3 million annually. In view of the long-term research investments and demonstrated successes in the region, our own R4D work is helping uplift the lives of about 500,000 to one million poor people in sub-Saharan Africa annually.

This year, we moved even closer to developing cassava that has dual resistance to two of the crop’s deadliest diseases – Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease. We are currently conducting further disease-stress tests and breeding on candidate cultivars that have shown promise. We are also ensuring that traits sought after by farmers – such as cooking taste, texture, and yield – are addressed.

Yam farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have been traditionally beset by high production costs. We developed a novel way of propagating yam that does away with using tubers as seeds, saving farmers as much as 25 to 30 percent in production expenses. The innovative technique involves using vine cuttings grown in inexpensive carbonized rice husks to produce mini-tubers, which are then used as the planting material in the fields. Aside from reducing costs, this new yam propagation technique could also address the need for faster and wider distribution of disease-free and improved varieties to farmers.

For years, cabbage farms in West Africa have been suffering from the damage inflicted by the Diamondback Moth (DBM), affecting farmers’ incomes and market prices of the high-value crop. This year, we developed a biopesticide based on a fungus– Beauveria bassiana – that effectively controls DBM. Used in integrated pest management, the biopesticide offers a cost-effective and ecologically-friendly alternative to inorganic pesticides, which are not only expensive but also poses health risks to humans and the environment. The B. bassiana-based biopesticide has been tested and proven effective in a number of field tests in the Benin Republic.

We carried out advanced studies in the biological control of the cowpea pod borer, Maruca vitrata. We further evaluated the effectiveness of a previously identified natural enemy of the pod borer, the parasitoid Apanteles taragamae. We also continued host-range studies of the Multi-Nucleopolyhedrosis Virus, another promising biocontrol against Maruca vitrata, which was found through collaborative studies with the World Vegetable Center.

To service more African farmers, we established our Southern Africa Administrative Hub in Zambia to backstop our R4D efforts in that part of the continent. The hub will cater to the agricultural research support needs of Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and, as needed, the DR Congo. With the establishment of our Southern Africa hub, our administrative support system now have three focal points: West Africa (covered by IITA-Nigeria), East Africa (serviced by IITA-Tanzania), and Southern Africa (covered by IITA-Zambia).

Our 2009 audited financial statements reflect the institute’s sustained financial health and stability, and the prudent management of resources. Our liquidity and reserve levels are above those recommended by the CGIAR, indicating our continued ability to meet short- and long-term obligations. Please see the “Financial Information” section of this report for details.

PROSAB: demonstrating the effectiveness of our R4D approach

Some members of a women farmers' group organized under PROSAB are all smiles, proud of what they have achieved under the project. Photo by Amare Tegbaru, IITA.
Some members of a women farmers' group organized under PROSAB are all smiles, proud of what they have achieved under the project. Photo by Amare Tegbaru, IITA.

The successes recorded by the five-year run of the “Promoting Sustainable Agriculture in Borno State” (PROSAB) project that we coordinated proved the effectiveness of our research-for-development (R4D) approach in tackling not only livelihoods and food security but also social empowerment and gender equality. PROSAB started in 2004 and ended this year.

Farmers in the project area who adopted the technologies and management practices espoused by the project experienced increased food availability and incomes. Considerable progress was also made in addressing the problems of declining soil fertility and Striga infestation.

Our socioeconomic analysis involving about 17,000 households, or more than 100,000 farmers, that participated in the project showed that poverty levels dropped by an average of 14 percent, while food security improved by 17 percent.

Farmers who participated in the project increased their average incomes by an average of 81 percent compared to what they were earning before PROSAB started. They attributed this mainly to the project’s interventions.

More importantly, the knock-on effect on other non-participating farmers in the region has been tremendous.

PROSAB seed producer Marcus Dawi Mbaye. He was able to put his four children through university from the income he earned from the various agro-projects under PROSAB. Photo by Amare Tegbaru, IITA.
PROSAB seed producer Marcus Dawi Mbaye. He was able to put his four children through university from the income he earned from the various agro-projects under PROSAB. Photo by Amare Tegbaru, IITA.

PROSAB introduced improved crop varieties, trained farmers on improved agronomic practices and promoted gender equality in agricultural development.

Apart from reducing poverty in households from 63 percent to 49 percent, the project also made significant inroads in enhancing women’s roles in agricultural activities.

Ruth Dasika Mshelia, a mother of five and a participant of the project, attested, “PROSAB has helped us freely interact with our male counterparts in development projects. We are not ashamed anymore,”

Borno state, where the project was centered, is predominantly Islamic, with social interaction between men and women largely restricted by religious norms.

Farmers, policy makers, nongovernment organizations, and other local partners hailed it as a major success story in northern Nigeria where climatic and cultural factors are major challenges to development.

Some local governments have signified interest in out-scaling PROSAB’s approach to other states. It has also been touted as a model that could be adopted in agriculture-based communities in other African countries.

The CA$ 7 million (about US$6.33 million) project was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. Our implementing partners included the International Livestock Research Institute, Borno State Agricultural Development Program, Community Research for Empowerment and Development, the Institute of Agricultural Research – Zaria, and the University of Maiduguri.

STCP in the Cocoa Livelihoods Program

Cocoa seedlings ready for distribution to growers in a community nursery established by IITA/STCP. Photo by Richard Asare, IITA.
Cocoa seedlings ready for distribution to growers in a community nursery established by IITA/STCP. Photo by Richard Asare, IITA.

This year, our Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) was tapped to be part of a multi-sector consortium to implement the US$40 million, 5-year Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP). The CLP, managed by the World Cocoa Foundation, aims to improve the livelihoods of approximately 200,000 cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia by addressing marketing and production inefficiencies, income diversification, and farming technology/innovations.

The program was first announced in February 2009. Activities began following intensive site selection that we led in consultation with public and private sector partners in the project countries. We would also be training cocoa farmers in production practices and quality management through innovative approaches such as Farmer Field School, Farmer-to-Farmer training, and Video Viewing Clubs.

We would develop and validates a new training approach that would help rehabilitate existing cocoa farms through the proper establishment of productive systems of high yielding, fertilizer-responsive varieties. We will also develop distribution systems for improved planting material in the five countries by facilitating the establishment of commercial and on-farm nurseries, and clonal budwood gardens for rehabilitation through grafting. These nurseries will serve as sources of high-yielding planting material for cocoa and other crops and trees.

To ensure that the nurseries are supplied with the best available cocoa, timber, plantain, and cassava planting materials, we would develop a community-level brokerage service that would link communities and commercial nurseries to various suppliers. We will also explore the Farmer Organization and the Business Service Center approaches to ensure the availability and accessibility of input supply for farmers.

We are currently conducting a market opportunity study in the five countries to analyze diversification opportunities in local, regional, and international markets using a common economic and financial analytical framework. The study covers cocoa, cassava, and plantain and their associated inputs, with other key country-specific commodities also to be considered. It would provide vital market information to reduce the risk of an income shock on the economies of these countries and its spillover impact on cocoa-growing communities.

We are also responsible for managing the Performance Monitoring Coordination Unit (PMCU) of the CLP. The PMCU coordinates the monitoring activities of the five technical partners to ensure consistency and accuracy of data collected. The PMCU will maintain a centralized information database, and provide data to partners as needed to promote informed decision-making within the program.

The CLP is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 14 chocolate industry companies. Aside from IITA/STCP, the other four implementing partners include Agribusiness Services International – an ACDI/VOCA affiliate, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH, Société de coopération pour le développement international (SOCODEVI), and TechnoServe. The program has been launched in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, and is expected to be launched in Cameroon and Liberia soon.

Guiding farmers toward profitable, eco-friendly and sustainable cocoa production

Cocoa farmers breaking pods. Photo by Cynthia Prah, IITA.
Cocoa farmers breaking pods. Photo by Cynthia Prah, IITA.

Cocoa production North Face UK Outlet f   in West and Central Africa is generally low. Average yields are about 200-700kg per hectare. Surveys conducted by STCP show that as much as 40 percent of farmers in the region are at the losing  end of growing cocoa.

To enhance productivity, old and nonportlandhallhotel -productive farms need to be rehabilitated, or new cocoa farms established using best agronomic practices. In 2007, we conceived the idea of developing a comprehensive and compact manual on ecologically-friendly, profitable, and sustainable cocoa production practices that could be used to build the capacity of farmers.

In consultation with growers and cocoa experts from national and regional partner institutions across West Africa, we developed the Planting, Replanting and Diversification (PRD) Manual – a cocoa production training document that is based on mutual participatory learning between farmers and experts.

Cover page of the IITA/STCP PRD Manual. Image provided by Cynthia Prah, IITA.
Cover page of the IITA/STCP PRD Manual. Image provided by Cynthia Prah, IITA.

The PRD Manual is designed to help sharpen the skills and knowledge of farmers in carrying out best practices to rehabilitate old farms and/or start new ones. The manual uses the Farmer Learning Group approach, which is a structured, group-based learning methodology that that focuses on practical demonstrations, hands-on field exercises, and discussions to hone farmers’ skills.

To help farmers use the manual, we also developed an accompanying guidebook entitled Implementing Guide for Planting, Replanting and Tree Diversification in Cocoa Systems.

These resources are already being extensively used in farming communities in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Liberia. Hundreds of farmers in these countries have benefited from their use and the initial outcomes have been encouraging.

The manual and guide are expected to contribute towards the regeneration of cocoa farms across West Africa, and consequently improve the plight of farmers in the region. They are available online as downloadable PDFs from the STCP Web site.