Africa can feed itself

Gari for sale at a wholesale market in Ihugh, Benue state, Nigeria. Photo by IITA.
Gari for sale at a wholesale market in Ihugh, Benue state, Nigeria. Photo by IITA.

Even while nearly a quarter of the world’s one North Face UK Sale the more obvious stuff off billion-plus hungry are in Africa, the continent can easily meet its food and income needs with additional investments in agriculture, particularly in research and capacity-building. This was the general sentiment aired by agricultural experts gathered at a World Food Day 2009 forum that we organized in Lusaka, Zambia in October.

By investing in research and training, simple but effective technologies that already exist can be easily made available to African farmers to improve their productivity, which is currently very low compared to global average.

If the gap between potential and actual yields can be reduced using existing science, Africa’s production can increase three-fold. However, farmers must be able to generate wealth from the increased yields. This is not always the case as a lot of produce go to waste before and after harvesting.

In Africa, an increase in production usually results in a drop in prices, which consequently means lesser incomes for farmers. Produce must also be protected from pests and diseases and from losses during transportation and storage. Alternative markets are needed to prevent prices from spiraling down with increased production.

Other lessons floated during the forum included the need to develop mechanisms to help farmers cope with the lingering effects of the global financial and food crises, strengthening the agricultural research backbone of Africa, and creating an enabling environment for farmers.

Experts said research and training institutions must come together to produce a labor force that is knowledgeable and ready to face the challenges of climate change on agriculture, and quickly find and disseminate solutions. This becomes more apparent considering that over 60 percent of the continent’s population depends heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods, with 70 percent of this comprising subsistence agriculture. Most also depend on the rains, which makes agriculture even more uncertain because of climate change.

They were also in agreement that in order to increase agricultural productivity in Africa, farmers should also start increasing their farm inputs. To achieve this, farmers need a lot of motivation through an agriculture-friendly policy environment andportlandhallhotel water-Th i will tepid to rewarding support for improved access to feed, fertilizer, irrigation, and other inputs.

They supported the call for more investment in agricultural research and training to fight food insecurity and poverty in Africa. However, they emphasized that farmers need to actively participate in research to ensure that the technologies produced are appropriate and acceptable to them.

Developing dual-resistance cassava

Cassava root rot caused by CBSD. Photo by IITA.
Cassava root rot caused by CBSD. Photo by IITA.

This year, we moved closer to developing North Face Sale a few too mild properly and so forth!
cassava with dual resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) – the most devastating diseases of the crop in Eastern and Central Africa and the greatest threats to the food security and livelihoods of over 200 million people.

In Uganda, we selected eight clones with resistance to CMD and CBSD and other farmer-preferred traits. These clones, which are the first ones with dual resistance suitable to the mid-altitude areas of the Great Lakes regions, were sent to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services for cleaning and multiplication in preparation for regional distribution to national partners. An additional 41 yellow-fleshed clones, also with dual resistance to CMD and CBSD, are undergoing advanced evaluation.

This is the fourth year of trials for dual-resistance cassava for mid-altitudes in Uganda. The trials are being conducted in Mukono and Namulonge, considered hot spots of CBSD and CMD in the country. The breeding work started with over 5000 true seeds of parents with tolerance to CBSD from Tanzania that were sent to Uganda for crossing with IITA varieties that are resistant to CMD.

Cassava grown from the Tanzanian seeds were repeatedly subjected to high disease pressure along with susceptible varieties for comparison. From each growing season, only 10 percent of the crop was selected for the next stage. After four growing seasons, the field has been narrowed down to eight very promising varieties.

Similar dual-resistance evaluation was carried out in Tanzania. Eight clones that have resistance to both CMD andeducate North Face Jacket Sale yourself on the way th much CBSD were deliberately subjected to the diseases by grafting them with infected plants. Five of these clones are being evaluated on-farm, while 11 clones with dual resistance and high starch content – a preferred trait by farmers – are also being evaluated.

Cassava that survives these tests, thereby producing a true dual-resistant variety, can then be used for further disease-resistance breeding in other countries in the Great Lakes region such as Rwanda, Kenya, and DR Congo. Throughout the selection process, farmers were actively engaged to ensure that the varieties meet their preferences such as cooking taste, texture, and yield.

A novel way to propagate yams

A rooted yam vine cutting, which would soon be ready for transplanting in the field. Photo by O Adebayo, IITA.
A rooted yam vine cutting, which would soon be ready for transplanting in the field. Photo by O Adebayo, IITA.

In the traditional method of growing yam, appearance dryfarmers set aside 25 to 30 percent of the harvested tubers as seeds for the next planting season. This makes the crop expensive to produce. It is also inefficient: the multiplication rate is only about 1:5-10, which pales in comparison, for instance, to cereals that have a propagation ratio of about 1:300.

To address these constraints, we developed an time her helps someone innovative yam propagation technique using vine cuttings. In this method, cuttings, usually one to two nodes with leaves are taken from the lateral branches of immature healthy-looking vines before tuber enlargement, and planted into soil with carbonized rice husks (CRH).

Once the cuttings formed roots and shoots, they are transplanted to nursery beds where they are nurtured for 150 days. During this time they will produce mini tubers, which are then used as the planting material for the next crop.

We are testing this novel technique in a number of farmers’ fields in Nigeria’s north central Niger state. The technology has been extensively featured in a number of broadcast and print media in Nigeria, Japan and the UK, and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.

By reducing the use of ware tubers as seeds, more yams are made available to farmers for food or for sale. The technique also promotes faster multiplication and better and more uniform crop quality by introducing a break in the cycle of nematode infestation often associated with regular use of field-grown tubers as planting material.

Another advantage of this technology is that the rooting medium, CRH, could be obtained by farmers cheaply, even for free.

Previously, we developed another propagation method together with the National Root Crops Research Institute of Nigeria based on mini-setts: yam tubers are cut up into 20-25 g pieces and used to produce planting material for ware tuber production.

Compared to using whole tubers, mini-setts enable faster multiplication and lesser amount of planting material needed. The use of vine cuttings further improves on this pace of multiplication and reduces the amount of need planting material even more. The technology could address the need for faster and wider distribution of disease-free improved varieties to meet rising demand.

The research is funded by the Japanese government, the Sasakawa Africa Association, Tokyo University of Agriculture, and the International Cooperation Center for Agricultural Education, Nagoya University, Japan.

Beauveria bassiana: a golden opportunity for vegetable farmers

Adult of Plutella xylostella, commonly known as Diamondback moth. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Adult of Plutella xylostella, commonly known as Diamondback moth. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

One of the biggest threats to cabbage farming in West Africa is Plutella xylostella, commonly known as the Diamondback Moth (DBM). For years, DBM has been devastating both smallholder and commercial cabbage farms in the region, affecting incomes and market prices of the crop.

To address this, we developed and field tested a biopesticide based on the fungus Beauveria bassiana 5653 against DBM. Aside from effectively controlling DBM, cabbage yield in plots treated with Bba5653 was almost three times higher compared to plots treated with the insecticide bifenthrin or to untreated plots.

Songhai Center—a Private Voluntary Organization for training, production, research and development of sustainable agricultural practices—have been involved in the testing and highly recommends the product.

Bba5653 can control DBM on cabbage and its cousin kale, regarded as high-value cash crops. Compared to other vegetables such as carrot and lettuce, farmers say returns are higher with cabbage cultivation.

Cabbage damaged by DBM. Photo by Ignace Godonou, IITA.
Cabbage damaged by DBM. Photo by Ignace Godonou, IITA.

For the past few years, thousands of farmers in West Africa had to abandon cabbage production because of DBM. Consequently, market prices for African cabbage have jumped because of dwindling supplies.

The high costs of synthetic pesticides do not help either. The most common chemical pesticides—bifenthrin and deltamethrin—require about 19 applications within three months prior to harvest. The expense is prohibitive for most farmers.

Farmers, like Louis Awandjinou who has been cultivating the crop since 1986, have also observed that the chemical pesticides have been less and less effective against DBM over the years.

Alternatively, farmers have been using botanical pesticides, mostly extracts from the seed of the neem tree, against DBM and a wide range of other arthropod pests, but the approach has had limited success.

Used in integrated pest management, B. bassiana­-based biopesticide offers a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution to DBM. The fungus has a narrow range of target pests and persists in the environment with the ability to remain active for several months after initial application, B. bassiana could end the frequent application, high costs, and risks associated with the use of chemical pesticides. It could also preserve beneficial insects, and, by extension, biodiversity.

Advances in the biological control of the cowpea pod borer

Apanteles taragamae
Apanteles taragamae. Photo by Georg Goergen, IITA.

Ecological studies carried out at the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) in Taiwan identified the parasitoid Apanteles taragamae as the most promising for controlling the legume pod borer Maruca vitrata in Africa. To test its effectiveness, our researchers in Benin imported A. taragamae under standard quarantine protocols and carried out experimental releases in Benin, Ghana, and Nigeria in 2007 on patches of wild vegetation including plants known to host the pod borer such as Lonchocarpus sericeus, Pterocarpus santalinoides, Lonchocarpus cyanescens, and Tephrosia spp.

Prior to these releases, we had studied the host searching capacity of A. taragamae using a 4 arm-olfactometer, and flowers of three different host plants: cowpea, Pueraria phaseoloides and the three Lonchocarpus sericeus. These studies revealed that A. taragamae uses kairomone-mediated host recognition at the short to medium range.

From as early as six months after the first releases and up until 2009, we conducted a series of surveys to monitor establishment of the parasitoid. Although we were not able to successfully recover the released parasitoid, we got indirect evidence of its establishment in the environment. We ruled out that interspecific competition with indigenous parasitoids exploiting M. vitrata larvae of the same age and on the same host plant could be the cause for this lack of evidence because we had conducted, just before the releases, elaborate competition studies which did not reveal any problems. Also, in its area of origin in Taiwan, A. taragamae coexists with similar parasitoid species found in Benin e.g. Phanerotoma sp. and Dolichogenidaea sp.

A Maruca vitrata larva. Photo by IITA.
A Maruca vitrata larva. Photo by IITA.

In Taiwan, however, A. taragamae is found prevalently on the cover crop Sesbania cannabina, which is difficult to grow in West Africa because of foliage beetles, particularly Mesoplatys sp. that completely defoliates the plant. We recently intensified our studies on African indigenous species of Sesbania that suffer less beetle damage, but so far there have been no signs of direct establishment. This is despite screenhouse experiments confirming the suitability of Sesbania species as feeding substrate for the pod borers and also as host for foraging parasitoids.

From 2007 onwards, we also started testing the newly-discovered Maruca vitrata Multi-Nucleopolyhedrosis Virus (MaviMNPV) found in Taiwan through collaborative studies with AVRDC. After a series of laboratory tests which confirmed the Taiwan results, we carried out host range studies to ascertain its specificity. Of the seven lepidopteran species tested (four Pyralids, two Noctuids, and one Crambid), none got infected by MaviMNPV applied on artificial diet. We then tested the virus in semi-natural condition using field cages with artificial infestations of M. vitrata larvae. Results showed a very high mortality of pod borer larvae (>95%) using standard concentrations comparable to those found in commercial formulation of entomopathogenic viruses (e.g. against the cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera).

Characteristic symptom of Maruca vitrata attack on cowpea. Photo by IITA.
Characteristic symptom of pod borer attack on cowpea. Photo by IITA.

In the Mono region of Benin, we discovered a few pod borer larvae with apparent signs of MaviMNPV close to the release sites of the parasitoids. This observation was important since we did not carry out open field experiments nor has MaviMNPV been found in West Africa prior to its introduction in 2007. We hypothesized that the parasitoid A. taragamae could have transmitted MaviMNPV to pod borer larvae.

To verify this, we deliberately infected pod borer larvae using three methods: ovipositor only, whole body without ovipositor, and through artificial diet. The parasitoid was able to transmit the virus to the larvae through all of the infection methods.

This finding was significant as the parasitoid could spread the virus without further intervention. This is also indirect evidence that A. taragamae is present in the environment, albeit in low levels, which cannot be detected by current sampling methods, or on yet unknown secondary host plants for M. vitrata. We are currently conducting collaborative studies in our virology lab in Ibadan to identify and ascertain the mechanisms of transmission, and duration of virus retention and transfer.