Prof Felix Nweke: Staying true to the course

Prof Felix Nweke about himself: I was born in Eastern Nigeria as an Igbo man but I consider myself an African right now. My training background is agricultural economics. I am a professor by occupation, retired some years back. Just call me “Prof.”

How did you get into root and tuber crops research & development?
I like that question because yam and cassava are the rhythm of my life from the beginning; I was born growing and eating them. When I was born where I was born we woke up in the morning, ate cassava fufu, then went to the field. Later in the afternoon we ate yam and continued to work in the field until dusk. We went home and ate cassava again for dinner; we did this day in, day out and it was good at that time.

As I grew up and went to school I was attracted to agriculture by the then Government of Eastern Nigeria which offered scholarships. My interest was in mathematics but my parents could not pay my university education costs from growing yam and cassava. At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which is in the yam belt of the world, what was taught was not called yam and cassava but those crops were still part of everyday life.

When I completed the undergraduate program and after my Biafran experience, I went to Michigan State University (MSU) for postgraduate studies. There, I was spared working on and eating cassava and yam but on return to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as a teacher I got immersed in the influence of those crops once again. The first research program I conducted was a project titled “Yam-Based Cropping System of Eastern Nigeria”; it was as if I had no choice but work on yam.

Can you explain the benefit and value of yam to you.
I envy my parent’s generation and rhythm of life for its routine and stable life pattern. That is the positive side. But there is a negative side to the life of that generation; I told you we ate cassava in the morning, yam in the afternoon, and cassava again at night. That story is true but yam was not always available, especially during the hungry season (after planting yam). During the hungry season we ate cassava morning, afternoon, and night. At the time, it meant nothing to me; but today if I have to worry about what my grandchildren would eat the next day, I would probably go what some people of the Caribbean describe as “separat”, i.e., mind and body going separate ways.

My parents worried about what we would eat the next day. Today, not everybody can afford even to eat cassava three times a day. I know families that live under leaking roofs, if you can call it a roof at all; I know families that cannot afford painkillers when a member is sick. When I walk in the streets I see beggars all the time. I do not give to them because private charity does not solve the social inequality problem. I pursue social justice by doing my work with honesty, courage, and commitment; in that way everybody can benefit from my work. If successful, my work on yam and cassava research will benefit everybody. That is what I got from my childhood experience of poverty and deprivation, which are still the experience of many people today.

What make yam and cassava so interesting?
Cassava and yam are interesting to me because they are rooted in my blood; if you cut me, I shall bleed cassava and yam. I could have migrated to the US and worked on wheat or corn but that will be a betrayal; by working on yam and cassava I am staying true to the course; I am giving back to what made me what I am and I feel good doing that.

Those crops are important to people of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. There is a lot of value in these crops; we know that about cassava in Africa because that is a crop that is now well studied. It is clear that cassava has a lot of food and monetary values while its value as feed and industrial raw material remains potentials as far as Africa is concerned.

On the other hand, yam is not studied and people do not understand the crop. The monetary value to farmers who produce yam is quite high; when farmers grow yam they can sell all of it because they cannot afford their own yam. The money they get from it is more valuable to them than the yam; they use that money to buy cheaper foods like cassava.

It is often said that yam has cultural values, but people have a superficial understanding of that value. When a farmer distinguishes himself in yam production, he becomes a reference point in his community; when he speaks, people listen. He plays a key role in community mobilization and leadership. Rites of thanksgiving, passage, appeasement, and petition that are performed with yam as a ritual object among several yam-producing people of West Africa sustain the traditional social values in which the existence of the people, individually and communally, is rooted.

What does the future of yam look like to you?
The future of yam looks bright to me. Today, yam is costly to produce because of Stone Age technologies that dominate the yam crop sector. Yam production, harvesting, and storage technologies are primitive. Why? The answer is that there has not been significant investment in yam research and development. Yam is produced and consumed in West Africa, mostly, that is. West African governments do not care and in that case the Western world does not bother.

But the situation is beginning to change with the funding of YIIFSWA by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In a regional agricultural research on a crop produced and consumed with rudimentary technology, US$12 million over five years is seed money. But it is an important seed money because it is the first of its kind and it will grow to help break the low technology bottleneck in the yam crop sector.

People have talked about the extinction of yam because of its primitive production and handling technologies. Such people should understand that as long as there are yam eaters, yam would be produced. Yam has a bright future because in spite of high costs, West Africans have continued to produce and eat yam. More importantly, with the US$12 million funding for YIIFSWA, the international donor community is beginning to appreciate the various values of yam.

What is yam’s added value?
It is not easy to think clearly of those added values with the present high cost of yam production. Converting yam to starch, liquor, ethanol, etc., will be irrational behavior because there are cheaper sources of those products. If yam is discovered to possess some high medicinal value, which no other plant has, such as a substance that can cure common diseases that have so far defied cure such as diabetes, various cancers, HIV/AIDS, etc., then the crop can be rationally diverted to such use.

How would you then describe the yam of the future?
This is a good question but the answer is not direct because of the different purposes that yam serves which may be conflicting in terms of the nature of yam that serves each purpose. Long ago, I think it was in 1980, the future of yam was the subject of a panel discussion at the Triennial Conference of the ISTRB-African Branch at IITA. The answer to the question ought to consider the different requirements for the various uses for yam. But there is a bottom line and that is cost; the yam of the future must be delivered for the various uses at reduced cost. Yam has no rival as a ritual object in cultural rites in producing communities, but that use alone cannot sustain yam in the future. Yam as food has a wide range of competitors some of which are produced at very low costs following high levels of investments in research and development in the Western countries. As those alternative foods become cheaper, people will switch to them.

You have been associated with IITA for so many years. What do you see as its strengths and what areas need more focus?
I have been associated with IITA since 1977. When I returned to Nigeria from graduate school at Michigan State University, the first place I had a job was the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as a teacher. A university teacher in agriculture has responsibility for teaching, research, and extension. But the university did not have money for research and I did not want my research responsibility to suffer.

I had a senior colleague in graduate school who was a scientist at IITA, his name was Fred Winch. Fred passed away a few years ago; I do want to remember him. I used Fred’s facilities to carry out the study of “Yam-Based Cropping Systems of Eastern Nigeria” which I referred to earlier. Kun Tekail, who was Director of the Farming Systems Program at IITA, asked me to come to IITA as a full Scientist. I declined because I was enjoying what I was doing in Eastern Nigeria. He then appointed me as a Honoris Causa Scientist at IITA. I continued to work with IITA resources as an honorary scientist until 1987 when I caved in to pressure from Larry Stiffel to join IITA as a full scientist.

I was employed at IITA as a yam economist to work with yam agronomists. Dunstan Spencer was the director of the Resource and Crops Management Program in which I was based. A few months after I came to IITA Dunstan assigned the COSCA project leadership to me and I moved from working on yam to working on cassava. I left IITA in 1997 but I have continued to work on cassava.

There is an agricultural problem that IITA needs to address. That problem is neglected perhaps because of the assumption that Africa’s agricultural development will necessarily follow the path of other regions’ agriculture. For example, in Africa R and D effort is focused on achieving a Green Revolution because of the success of Green Revolution in Asia and South America. But are Africa’s needs and circumstances the same as those of Asia and South America? In Africa, a different kind of revolution is needed to pave the way for a Green Revolution; that is Mechanical Revolution. In the 21st century African agriculture based on the hand hoe cannot compete with the rest-of-the-world agriculture. I am not talking of tractor mechanization but improved farm tools that are designed by engineers working in Africa and maintainable by local artisans.

How do you perceive the impact of IITA’s work on roots and tubers for farmers in Africa?
Whoa! Tremendous! In Nigeria, scientifically determined yield of cassava was 15 tons per hectare in the 1990s following wide adoption of IITA’s high-yielding mosaic resistant TMS varieties. There was an estimate that in Nigeria alone, the additional value in terms of gari from these high-yielding mosaic resistant TMS varieties was enough to feed 29 million people annually. We have information which shows that the price of cassava products relative to the price of other commodities dropped in the 1990s, which meant increased income to consumers who paid less for cassava food products such as gari. At the same time, because of reduced cost, farmers are making more money. IITA’s effort on cassava including the biological control, mosaic disease control, and the high-yielding varieties produced tremendous value in terms of income to millions of cassava producers and consumers.

How do you picture Africa in the next 50 years?
Income will improve in Africa and people will be better off materially. The meaningfulness of that in terms of improved welfare depends on how much the measures that create the wealth interfere with the fundamental values of the African people. I wish to see a significant decline in the present high levels of poverty, deprivation, and inequality in Africa. Retaining African social values while improving the economic conditions of the masses of the people will be the better of two worlds.

How will agriculture play a role in doing that?
Improved agricultural productivity will mean improved income for farmers through reduced production costs and for consumers through reduced food prices. Improved productivity in agriculture will generate feed and industrial raw materials and help expand employment opportunities in the industrial sector. Large farms could be depended on to improve agricultural productivity but they can convert small farmers into farm laborers. Measures to improve agricultural productivity should protect small farms to allow even distribution of increased farm income from improved productivity.

In the ISTRB symposium 2 years ago, you were given the Lifetime Achievement award. What does that award mean to you?
The Award for Lifetime Achievement in research on roots and tuber crops was given to me by peers in the ISTRC and that makes it satisfying. One of the reasons I was given the award is the pan-African cassava research project in which I served as Project Leader while I was a scientist at IITA, i.e., the Collaborative Study of Cassava in Africa or COSCA study. I do not claim the award for myself alone even though it was given in my name.

The COSCA study involved 63 scientists from all over the world not just Africa. The study was the idea of Dunstan Spencer, John Lynam, and others whom I do not even know. Soon after I came to IITA in 1987 as a Yam-Based Systems Economist, the new COSCA study was assigned to me to execute. CIAT, NRI, International Child Health Institute, and MSU are among collaborating institutions from outside Africa. National agricultural research centers of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda played critical roles.

What is the value of a medal like this award? Igbo wisdom says that “if you say thank you to somebody, the person will do more.” Saying thank you is inexpensive but it is an inspirer. Besides, awards such as this one can open doors; Prof Felix Nweke, winner of Lifetime Achievement Award, is at the door, please let him in. I am going to make effective use of this effect to do more work on cassava and yam in Africa. That is what the award means to me.

What would you say is the highlight of your career?
This question can hardly be answered with dispassion; self-assessment is more often than not underrated or overrated depending on one’s level of humility. Nevertheless, I consider that the highlight of my career is demonstrated in the accomplishments of the people with whom I have grown up professionally. These are not only students whom I taught in the classrooms or those whose higher degree dissertations I supervised; there are several of those. But having worked closely with Prof Carl Eicher of Michigan State University for the past 50 years beginning in 1963 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I assimilated what I consider his finest professional value. Carl Eicher is like a magnet that draws young professionals to him and he grows with them, in some cases for life. Many of the people I have grown with that way are highly accomplished professionally and they are all over the world, not just in Africa. That is the highlight of my career and it could not have been better.

Tony Sikpa: Commercializing yam in Ghana

Anthony Sikpa is the president of the Federation of the Associations of Ghanaian Exporters (FAGE). His group includes producers, exporters, and farmers. The federation currently has 13 associations with up to a couple of hundred members each. He also works with people in the horticulture sector producing vegetables, papaya, pineapple, and yam. He has been involved in organizing the group and doing advocacy work as president. He is an exporter of commodities such as cotton seed, cashew, coffee—both processed and raw materials, and other products.

How did you get involved in yam development?

Yam has been of interest to us and Ghana has been exporting yam for many years. So when the government approached IITA and ITC to help them develop a sector strategy for yam, it was interesting. Initially I was not involved because I did not handle yam but the association members asked me to lead them from the private sector angle. So I worked together with Dr Antonio Lopez (IITA) and Nelson (ITC), and we designed a participatory approach in crafting the strategy and in implementing and evaluating the whole process. This meant getting everybody in on one house: farmers, researchers, policy makers, exporters, traders, and financiers, under one roof. We talked, addressed issues, and came out with six broad objectives; how to improve the planting material, how the research and private sector will support the crop, how to help yam farmers in producing products using improved technologies, and how to market yam? Because we can’t just take anything into the market, we introduced ‘quality certification’ along the way to test the product.

The exercise was very useful. For the first time the misconceptions along the value chain were addressed. A farmer had the opportunity to ask scientists “why don’t you produce this type of material for me?” The approach really addressed the need of each person in the room.

For me, it helped to tell the public sector to create an environment for the private sector to lead and work with them.

Where are we going with the strategy?
This strategy is very important. The document provides a future road map, priorities and areas for investment/resource allocation, including milestones to assess the progress. The beauty of the strategy which makes me happy is that it is not dependent on one person to make it work. The farmers can go to the researchers to get the varieties. Fortunately we have IITA also to approach for new varieties. The exporter now clearly knows that he has work from the market; what the market requires and its standard. So he should prepare himself for the market.

We have used the strategy to position yam as an input for the industry. We should not just see yam as a food for the table. Yam can be used for different types of products including wine, in pharmaceuticals, etc. These are the ways we want to project yam so that we create a bigger demand for yam, and researchers would have to produce different varieties to suit the different needs of people. We will then be making yam as an industrial crop and create a bigger demand for it.

How are you involved with YIIFSWA?

I took advantage of the YIIFSWA meeting in Kumasi to go and tell them what we are doing in the yam sector and to also get their support for what we are doing. Maybe some of the products such as the new seeds and technology that would come out of the project could be made available to us in executing our strategy. I also told them about the gap that I saw: the emphasis on seed production was too much. We need to go beyond that into processes, coming out with new varieties for different uses. That is where they thought I could be useful and they invited me to join the technical advisory for the first time.

What are the lessons for other countries in Ghana’s experience of developing a yam sector strategy?

Others can learn from us. You cannot go into export without knowing which market you want. The export market has different strings; you need to look at the size of the market and use that to determine your production methods and even the varieties you want to produce. The variety that is in big demand is Pona. It has a very short shelf life and is delicate. You have to put all this into consideration when transporting it. You must package it well. The researchers need to take their time to study this. This project would help us to collaborate with, for example, our Nigerian brothers for us to be able to show them a few things we are doing that they can do. We know the way we use yam is different from the way they use yam. If they want to export yam, they need to go for smaller sizes for easy packaging because we measure in weight and not in hip or sizes.

What are the challenges in commercialization of yam?

The major challenge is in numbers and regularity. If you look at the trend in marketing now, in supermarkets they don’t want to buy small quantities because the supermarket has a chain, so you need to produce the volume required. If you can do this, you won’t have problem.

Aggregation. For instance you have so many farmers producing yam, you need someone to aggregate and make sure the quality is the same. The supermarket would not buy from you again if you get it wrong because they have a responsibility to their consumers to assure their safety. I will keep on saying certification. You cannot put any product in the European market without certification. They would look for international certification like the rainforest alliance as this would give them access to the international market. Another thing is transportation. You need to transport your product directly because if you don’t it will get cooked.

What is your vision for yam in Africa?

My vision for yam is to put it where potato is. Potato is everywhere. When people bring yam to town and package it into yam flour, then we’ll have done what this project is set out to do.

Would you have any advice to young farmers?

The young farmers should be happy and should grasp this opportunity of coming into agriculture now. It is a new learning. They should not be afraid of scientists; they should go to them with trust and patience.

Joyce MulilaMitti: Better coordination required from agriculture organizations

Dr Joyce MililaMitti is a plant breeder by training; she obtained her PhD from the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in the USA. She has more than 20 years of experience working initially as a food legume breeder/team leader for the Food Legume Research Team for the Zambia National Agricultural Research System (NARES) and later also as a freelance consultant for several development agencies with a focus on agricultural development and particularly establishing community-based seed systems for smallholder farmers. Before joining FAO in 2007 she worked at senior management level in international NGOs. She is the Crops Officer for FAO at the Regional Office for Africa in Accra, Ghana.

Please describe your job.
My responsibilities are to provide technical support to countries in the region for increased crop production and enhanced food security. The primary objective is to contribute to the capacity development of the national systems to provide adequate technical support towards the sustainable intensification of crop production.

What are your major tasks and thrusts for the African Region (RAF)?
The major tasks cover aspects of crop production and protection and broadly encompass capacity development, technical backstopping support, coordination of regional policy development, and the harmonization of crop-related interventions. These are the key thrusts.

• Strengthening capacities for scaling up the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for improved crop production and diversification. The GAPs include conservation agriculture, integrated pest and production management, integrated weed management, integrated plant nutrient system, and innovative farmer-led extension approaches.
• Improving the capacities of the National Plant Protection Organizations to implement the International Plant Protection Convention and manage transboundary pests and diseases for increased food security and safe trade in crops and crop products.
• Providing technical support for the reduction of risks associated with pesticide use as a way of minimizing damage to the environment and harm to human health while sustaining reasonable crop productivity by reducing losses due to pests.
• Supporting enhanced knowledge and information exchange for the use and management of Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture and improved seed system delivery.

What are the major challenges in agricultural development in Africa?
They include the low levels of productivity that most smallholder farmers realize from their farming practices. The factors causing this situation are degraded soils and the general poor soil fertility, unreliable and erratic rainfall characterized by droughts and floods, the high prevalence of pests and diseases, and so on.

Challenges also include those related to poor cropping practices and in particular to the suboptimal use of inputs, such as the use of seeds of low quality (mostly on-farm saved grain as opposed to purchased certified seeds) and the significantly low rates of fertilizer use.

Other challenges are related to an unfavorable policy environment and a generally low investment in agriculture by the national governments, manifested by inadequate support for research, poor infrastructure, poor input and output markets, and inadequate capacities for extension service delivery at the farm level.

The problem of low investment continues to be a challenge even though the countries agreed to contribute 10% of national budgets to Agriculture under the Maputo Declaration. These challenges need concerted efforts and an improved information exchange to achieve better coordination and synergies from the various interventions implemented by the development agencies that support the agricultural sector by addressing these issues. However, the most important factor for the efforts to yield results is adequate political will from the governments to make things happen and especially to encourage public-private partnerships to adequately exploit the potential opportunities that a well developed agriculture sector can provide towards economic development.

What efforts are required to address biotic and abiotic threats in African agriculture?
What is required is more collaboration and better coordination among the different organizations that are involved in working on addressing the challenges so that there is more effective and efficient delivery of interventions and results to the national systems. For instance, the work of CGIAR through the CGIAR Research Programs should involve national partners more closely to achieve impact. This also requires that CGIAR works very closely with the regional economic communities to improve regional coordination and effective information exchange among the national programs.

How can countries overcome the challenges resulting from weak capacities?
This is a major challenge as adequate capacities are necessary for implementing the various programs that are meant to address the challenges highlighted. The ideal solution is for governments to increase their investment in the agricultural sector to address the capacity gaps. However, given that most countries are not able to provide adequately for the sector, the best strategy is to develop the capacities of farmers’ groups, and producers’ associations to provide support for fellow farmers so that there is enough social capacity at the farm level for the transfer of knowledge and skills. A conducive environment for the active participation of the private sector to contribute to providing more innovative extension support and improving access to markets is also the key to addressing weak capacities.

Who are FAO-RAF’s partners?
The key partners for RAF are the African Union and the relevant technical units and RECs (ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, COMESA, IGAD), the Regional Research Organizations (CORAF, ASARECA, CCARDESA), CGIAR centers, NGOs, and most of the various development agencies actively supporting agriculture. These include the relevant ministries that support agriculture programs in the countries (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health).

How do farmers and producers benefit from your office?
FAO’s support to farmers and producers largely involves normative work that is provided through policymakers and national structures. However, there is also direct involvement with producers and farmers through facilitating the implementation of projects/programs (e.g., convening training events, workshops, facilitating field days etc.).

How could IITA and FAO work together?
Stronger collaboration is required between IITA and FAO. Both organizations can add value to the common areas of each other’s work as they have different comparative advantages. FAO can benefit from the immense knowledge generated by R&D programs of IITA for enriching the technical quality of the support that FAO provides to the countries. IITA can also benefit from the increased visibility of their work provided to the wider and varying levels of actors that FAO has access to; particularly at the policy making level of governments.

What is your advice for IITA?
My advice is that IITA should continue to build on the good efforts already started of building alliances. The approach is effective, enhances linkages and collaboration, contributes to capacity development, and is a sure way of achieving lasting results.

Carlos Pérez del Castillo: Business unusual for CGIAR

Carlos Perez del Castillo
Carlos Perez del Castillo

Carlos Pérez del Castillo is from Uruguay. He is the Chair of the Consortium Board, which governs the CGIAR, the global partnership of research and development centers that work together for poverty alleviation, of which IITA is only one of 15 centers.

He is also an independent international consultant involved in various assignments with governments, private sector, and international organizations.

In July, he visited IITA accompanied by CGIAR Consortium Chief Executive Officer, Frank Rijsberman; the new IITA Board Chair, Dr Bruce Coulman; and the Directors General of Africa Rice, Dr Papa Seck, and the International Livestock Research Institute, Dr Jimmy Smith.

In this interview, he talks about the new partnerships that is the CGIAR, its one-strategy approach, and IITA’s role in the scheme of things.

How far has this visit to IITA met your expectations?
I am leaving with a feeling of enrichment, with a much better knowledge of the work you are doing here. I am also leaving with a sense of reassurance with regard to the support that IITA is willing to give to the reform. It has very much to do with identifying priorities that need to be met in the short run. I think it was a very useful visit.
We were able to talk to the scientists to see the good quality science they are doing in various fields, the degree of engagement, commitment, and passion they have for their work. We were quite happy with the visit.

How prepared is the new CGIAR to tackle food insecurity as we approach 2050?
Let me put it the other way round: if we were stuck with the former way of doing research with 15 centers acting independently with different mandates, we would have never been able to tackle the challenges effectively. At the moment, we have several new challenges, which required a new approach and which also required institutional and governance changes and those are exactly what we are doing.

The new approach is one strategy for all the centers, collective action among them so that people who are working on crop improvement will do research that is integrated with those who are working on natural resource management, public policies, and institutions. And we are also giving a higher degree than in the past to partnerships because we are convinced that research will produce international public goods but unless they are picked up by the national research institutions, universities, and farmer organizations, etc., we will not have impact on the ground.

Therefore, I think that research will certainly be part of the solution to the challenges on poverty, world food insecurity, resource management… probably not the whole solution but I am sure that agricultural research is very much needed to meet these challenges whether it is climate change, food price volatility, energy—food crops being diverted to biofuels— and feeding the growing population. We are going to have 9 billion people by 2050 and we have less water and degraded lands, fish stock depletion, so we need to find ways and means of doing business differently, and we are doing that in the CRPs.

What role do you see for IITA in achieving these goals?
IITA has embarked on and will be leading one program on production systems that should be given much greater attention than in the past. In the past, most of the research was centered around commodities or natural resource managemen, but I think that this production systems approach—bringing together all the resources from different centers—is likely to make an impact on the livelihood of the poor in different ecosystems and obviously, this is a new thing.

I think that IITA, by having this program approved and leading it, will certainly bring the number of solutions that couldn’t be achieved on an individual mandate. So, IITA has a very important role to play. IITA is also playing a role in other CRPs, not only on production systems. I believe that this is the most important one.

Infrastructure is important to research. Is there any plan to upgrade the current infrastructure that will tackle tomorrow’s challenges?
The question of infrastructure is very much in our agenda. Part of these demands can be met through the overheads in the CRPs; part will require additional attention. This is why at the moment we have a working group looking at the needs, the situation, and the cost of the infrastructure in the different centers. Once we have these and we know exactly what the needs and the costs are, then we also need to think of the cost of these needs in the future.

In the past, we were replicating the same type of things in different centers. There may be economies of scale in doing these in one ore two centers rather than having them in all… so we are looking into this; we are presenting a proposal to donors. We have to do it in an intelligent manner and think of the needs of the future to be successful.

What message do you have for IITA staff?
The message to staff is one of reassurance that we in the Consortium are working for their interest. I think in the last few years, there has been a lot of misconception as to our role, our contribution, and our complementarities. Having spoken to the scientists and staff at IITA and seeing the way they work, I can reassure you that what we are striving for—on the one hand, obtaining more finance for the work they do, and on the other hand, cutting down on reporting requirements, which absorb a high percentage of their time instead of emphasizing and putting all their efforts in quality research—would be met.

I think the reform will be much in the interest of all the centers. I don’t think that finance at the end of the day will be a major constraint if we produce value for money. And this is exactly what I would recommend them to work for—very clear outcomes that can be measured, and I reassure them that we will be supporting them in this task.

Valerie Bemo: Breakthroughs in African agric require collaboration

valerie-bemo-half-body Valerie Bemo (MD, MPH) is a native of Cameroon. She is a senior program officer in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Special Initiatives. Before joining the Foundation, she held various roles at the International Rescue Committee, most recently serving as senior technical advisor for health in the Democratic Republic of Congo and West Africa. She also worked with various NGOs and had extensive involvement in Aceh, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Kenya, and Chad. Dr Bemo received her medical degree from the University of Côte d’Ivoire, her epidemiology diploma from the University of Paris, and her MPH from Madrid Autonome University.

Tell us about yourself.
Born in Cameroon and educated in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, France, and Spain, I have spent the last 15 years working on community development at the district and national level in Africa, Asia, and Europe. My professional and personal time is devoted to various organizations that impact health and development on a global scale.

Please describe your work at the Foundation. What are your goals?
My role as a Senior Regional Adviser (SRA) for West Africa is to help the Foundation’s Agricultural Development team to establish and maintain relationships with key stakeholders that would lead to a greater impact of the Foundation’s investments in the region. Our initial countries are Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria. The work involves:
• Ground-truthing country context and developing country strategy
• Providing a voice from the region to the foundation’s Seattle headquarters
• Building partnership and understanding donor/partner context and landscape
• Providing social and cultural context
• Enhancing impact by influencing and shaping investments in coordination with foundation stakeholders.

What new agricultural initiatives is the Foundation undertaking in West Africa & Central Africa?
The Agricultural Development team at the Foundation has restructured their strategy. Our priority is for small-scale farmers and rural economies to thrive. We are now using a value chain approach, focusing on productivity improvements and the reduction of postharvest losses in specific staple crops and livestock, working closely with the governments of these countries and engaging stakeholders to get a complete sense of their agricultural work and plans. We are especially keen to work in areas that overlap with our strategy to achieve maximum leverage and address any major gaps that are impeding sustainable productivity growth in these value chains.

What are some of your challenges at work? What are the exciting highlights?
One of the key challenges to our involvement in the region is security. Violence and civil unrest, and unpredictability surrounding policies/politics in the region slow our momentum and disrupt plans.

The major highlight we have seen so far is that governments and existing players in the region are very welcoming. They are very willing to work with us and in most cases they see us not just as donors, but as thought partners.

Dr Valerie Bemo on a mission in Makindu. Photo from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr Valerie Bemo on a mission in Makindu. Photo from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What are some successful initiatives in agriculture and development in the region and their impacts?
It will take time to dramatically improve the productivity of small-scale farmers in the region, and it is too early for us to claim success in our own investments. This will require initiatives and collaboration from stakeholders. For instance, we believe that strong market incentives and a vibrant private sector involvement in agriculture are two very important factors for agriculture to thrive. The ultimate impact is to lift as many people out of poverty as possible, so focusing on the needs of the poorest farm families is also necessary.

As a partner, how would you describe the collaboration with IITA?
The partnership with IITA has been very good. With IITA’s work in some of the same priority crops and value chains, this collaboration may become even stronger. We are optimistic that our collaboration in the context of our new strategy will bring good results in Nigeria, and in the region as a whole.

What are some of the areas that IITA should focus more?
IITA priorities have been set out in the context of the reform of the international agricultural research centers, and we support that reform and those priorities.

How important is partnership in the African context? How could the collaboration among the various stakeholders be more effective?
Collaboration among all stakeholders in Africa will be very crucial for Africa to be able to tap into the incredible potential and increased agricultural productivity.

Any major breakthroughs in agriculture in the region will require collaboration from upstream research and development, to downstream adoption and scaling. It will require governments working with farmers, research institutions, private sector players and NGOs. Every group has the potential for making an important contribution, and a great variety of skills and resources are needed. We are optimistic that these critical players will achieve a new level of collaboration and sharing, leading to more efficiency and effectiveness.

What is your dream for African agriculture and development?
My dream for Africa is to see Africans leading the strategies and efforts to reduce poverty and to see the population, especially women and children, have access to basic health, education, clean drinking water and to be able to feed themselves. These will ultimately lead the people of Africa to having healthy and productive lives.

I fully share the Foundation’s “impatient optimist” vision for African agriculture development, that is to see productivity for 30 million farming households increase by 170% by 2030, with the ultimate goal of a 40% reduction in the $1/day poverty rate in the region. It is a big goal that will require not just our effort but that of all the major stakeholders, including IITA.

Akin Adesina: Making agriculture work for farmers

Minister Akin Adesina. Photo by IITA.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Akin Adesina. Photo by IITA.

Sir, you have a tall order for yourself and for the Ministry in particular. Could you tell us your program priorities?
The tall order is not one that I actually set. The tall order was set by the people of Nigeria in terms of expectations from the political class. When President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was endorsed by the people in a huge way, he told Nigerians, “I will never, never let Nigerians down” That is the order.

So my task as Minister of Agriculture is derived from the President’s commitment to Nigerians. I have to make sure that Nigeria’s agriculture delivers in such a way that we can feed Nigerians; that we put a lot of the youth to work; that we can reduce our import dependency; that we can get a new generation of young farmers back into agriculture; that we can diversify the economy from relying just on petroleum; that we can get our crops—cocoa, oil palm, and cotton—competitive and back into the market. My task is to make sure that Nigeria can feed itself with pride and to make sure that Nigeria does not become a dumping ground for food; we should be a net exporter of food.

In practical terms, how will you achieve this?
If you want to rebuild a house, you first figure out what’s wrong with the house before you start putting your structures in place. Nigeria used to be the largest player in palm oil. We were producing 60% of the global production; today, zero. We used to account for 30% of cotton production, just like groundnut; today, we are almost near zero… And so my task is, first and foremost, to bring a new sense of order to the disorder in the agricultural sector.

Today, we must rapidly raise productivity; make improved seeds, hybrids, and fertilizers available to farmers; make sure they have access to finance; and improve their access, so they can actually begin to produce a lot of food for the domestic markets.

The second thing that we have done is to launch the Cassava Green Revolution. As you know, Nigeria produces 45 million t of cassava; we are the largest producer in the world, but we account for 0% in terms of global value addition. For our Cassava Green Revolution, we want our farmers to make money, and they’ll be getting better markets when their cassava is actually processed, for example, as starch, ethanol, glucose, chips for livestock feed and, of course, gari.

We have also launched a Green Revolution for sorghum and a Green Revolution for sweetpotato, because sweetpotato, especially the orange-fleshed kind, allows us to add beta-carotene for kids. In terms of cash crops, we are looking at cocoa and oil palm.

What has been the response of the private sector? How do you intend to bring them into your strategy?
The private sector is the engine of growth. Every time you unlock the power of the private sector, you will create a lot of jobs and have significant amounts of growth. Agriculture is a business, so we need the private sector in the seed set-up. For example, in this country we have about 11 seed companies that are functional. Those seed companies need access to financing to be able to expand their production from the current level of about 5000 t to a million t. That means that they must have access to land and financing—for processing and seed-processing equipment—long-term investment, not just working capital. And so, the Ministry is putting together a venture capital fund that will enable our seed companies to get access to the financing that they need.

What role could partners such as IITA and NGOs play in your strategy?
First and foremost, I cut my teeth in research, actually working for the CGIAR. I also worked in IITA in the 1990s. I am enormously proud of IITA, of what it IITA does, and its impact on Nigeria and all of Africa. Why are the international agricultural research centers (IARCs) such an important system? There’s a history to that. When the Green Revolution started in Asia, it happened because the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines worked on new varieties of wheat and rice that rapidly increased farmers’ yields by three or four times.

Launching a Green Revolution in cassava in Nigeria. Photo by IITA.
Launching a Green Revolution in cassava in Nigeria. Photo by IITA.

That particular situation lifted a billion people out of poverty in Asia. The basis of that was the IARCs. In Africa, the prime center of the system is IITA. IITA has done well. There was a time when we had a problem with the cassava mealybug that was destroying cassava all over Africa. IITA helped to develop a biocontrol program that dealt with it and with a billion dollars worth of benefits. In fact, it is probably the best research ever in the world in terms of biocontrol for any given thing when it comes to rate of return.

IITA was behind the Maize Revolution in the northern Guinea savanna of Nigeria in the 1980s. IITA released new varieties of maize that turned the entire northern Guinea savanna from relying on sorghum to producing maize as a cash crop.

Let’s look at IITA and soybean. Nigeria never used to grow soybean; we were importing it. The Nigerian Government supported IITA then; some people said we shouldn’t. In fact, some foreign Governments said, “If you support IITA, we would not fund IITA any longer.” The Nigerians said, “No, we will support IITA” and they did. IITA then released the TGx varieties in the northern Guinea savanna. Today, Nigeria is the largest producer of soybean in Africa. IITA also continues to work on developing better, high-yielding varieties of maize and soybean. In addition, IITA is working on aflasafeTM which is dealing with the huge problem of aflatoxin contamination in the north.

This shows that one cannot get far without research. It’s not just IITA; we have other IARCs here, such as AfricaRice, CIMMYT, International Center for Research in the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), all working in Nigeria and all in their own way having significant impact. I believe that for us to achieve the Green Revolution, IITA and other organizations have to put more effort in pushing out appropriate technologies to farmers. There has to be better coordination and synergy between the IARCs and our national institutes. When India achieved its Green Revolution, most of the people who did the work were from the Indian Agricultural Research Council. For Nigeria, we want our national agricultural research centers strengthened so as to be level partners with IITA.

At the end of the day, we have to make sure that there is R4D, research for development, not research for research. IITA and other centers are pioneering this area, making sure that agricultural research is relevant to the needs of the end user.

If you look at investment in agricultural research, it has the highest rate of return of anything—higher than that from health and education. If you can just increase the productivity of agriculture in Nigeria by 10%, you can lift 70 million people out of poverty. Obviously, that requires investment in research. My own desire is that the donors that are supporting IITA continue to support IITA and other IARCs still more because we need them for our Green Revolution.

But in addition, our Government also needs to look at the amount of money we are spending on agriculture compared to what was agreed at the NEPAD—countries were to put 10% of their budget into agriculture. If we are at 3% and less, we need to change that and be able to come back to 10%. Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Kenya, and Ethiopia are all at 10% and more, and we have more mouths to feed than they have. So, we can’t just simply say we are relying on external institutions; we must have sufficient resources to drive the agriculture change process. Also, domestically, research pays off enormously.

As a former member of staff in IITA, what are the areas you think need to be strengthened?
IITA must ensure that its available technologies such as cassava varieties that give 40—50 t/ha reach farmers. Secondly, IITA needs to get back into what it used to do before: training national scientists, providing them with opportunities to come in and spend sabbaticals at IITA. At the end of the day, it is the national institutions that will have to deliver the change, but you need strong national partners to work with.

The other thing that I think is crucial is for IITA is to work more on markets. It needs to make sure that the value-chains for commodities such as maize or cassava really work. I really admire what DG Hartmann has done in that area. He’s putting the focus on markets. This is very important and I hope IITA will continue to do more of that.

Agriculture is not just about food, says Minister Adesina. Photo by IITA.
Agriculture is not just about food, says Minister Adesina. Photo by IITA.

Finally IITA needs to look at policy. When the Green Revolution happened in Asia, there were policies that drove the changes. The CG centers did not just leave the varieties there; they pushed and drove the necessary changes. So, there needs to be strong policy advocacy from IITA and other centers to help farmers have access to seeds, fertilizers, markets, and infrastructure. In the case of technology, don’t just produce technology and assume that, somehow, the technology will find its way to the farmer’s field. Stick with it, work with the Ministry of Agriculture; work with Government to make sure that the technology actually is in the farmer’s field and that it works.

Who is your role model?
I have two role models. My first role model is my father, who was a farmer. In those days, he used to work on people’s farms as a laborer with my grandfather. After days of hard work and at the age of 14, my father couldn’t read and write. He said agriculture wasn’t paying for him to go to school. Fortunately a Good Samaritan came around and saw him on the farm and took him to Lagos. That’s how my father was educated and eventually became a Government Auditor. That’s the only reason why you are interviewing me now; it’s because somebody sent my father to school.

My father told me that there are so many people who had missed opportunities in life just because agriculture was not working for them. So he taught me very early in life that if I ever found myself in a position to make a difference, especially for farmers, I should make sure agriculture work would for them. He said agriculture was not just about food; it’s about creating wealth for farmers, providing an income to send their kids to school and have a better life. And that has always been the guiding light in my profession: making sure that agriculture works for millions of poor farmers.

My second role model is Dr Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution in Asia, who inspired me so much. I believe in all that I do. I am driven by the fact that one day, I’ll give an account to God for the responsibilities and opportunities given me to change the lives of people. So it’s not just academic work; it’s a life mission for me, to make sure that agriculture works to transform the lives of our people. So in between my father teaching me the right values and Dr Borlaug showing me that it can be done, I have a very tall order to fill indeed.

IAPSC: Protecting Africa’s plant health

Jean-Gerard Mezui M'ella, IAPSC
Jean-Gerard Mezui M'ella, IAPSC

Jean-Gerard Mezui M’ella is the Director of the Inter-African Phytosanitary Council (IAPSC), the African Plant Protection Organization with headquarters in Nlongkak, Yaounde, Cameroon. IAPSC is an intergovernmental organization with 53 members under the umbrella of the African Union. It coordinates plant protection procedures in Africa.

The IAPSC Director coordinates the activities of its four sections (Phytopathology; Entomology; Documentation, Information and Communication; Administration and Finance). He represents the African region in the Commission for Phytosanitary Measures of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC/FAO), promotes compliance with International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs), and represents the African Union Commission on diplomatic matters in Central Africa. In this interview, he talks about the important work of IAPSC.

Why is IAPSC important?
IAPSC is a technical office of the African Union/Directorate of Rural Economy and Agriculture. It is one of the 10 Regional Plant Protection Organizations of the IPPC. As the regional organization for Africa, it works in collaboration with the national plant protection organizations of the 53 countries of the AU.

IAPSC mostly implements its activities through the eight African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and sub-RECs. It addresses phytosanitary issues in Africa including the following:
– The vulnerability of African crop production systems to the impact of diseases, insect pests, and noxious weeds;
– Economic losses incurred through spoilage;
– Noncompliance with ISPMs, trade regulations, and equivalents;
– Dearth of phytosanitary data (Pests Risk Analysis, diagnostics, surveillance, etc.)

AU-IAPSC safeguards agriculture and natural resources from the risks associated with the entry and establishment or spread of pests of plants and plant products to ensure food safety and quality supply to intra-African and international markets.

How would you assess the state of plant protection in Africa?
Africa still has a lot of problems with plant protection. In fact, most African countries inherited an administration put in place before independence, which to a certain extent, has safeguarded the plant health of the different countries. There were departments of Agriculture and Divisions such as plant pathology, entomology, agricultural chemistry, and also plant quarantine. After independence, with the coming into force of the IPPC, adopted by the FAO Conference of 1951, the global approach and harmonization of phytosanitary measures started to take shape. For example, a common format for phytosanitary certificates was set up, common action was secured to prevent the spread of pests of plants and plant products, guidelines were provided regarding phytosanitary matters and the relevant actions to be taken by national governments in the implementation of plant quarantine.

IAPSC promotes cooperation among countries to prevent the movement of serious pests. It provides a forum for African countries to promote their views on plant health. In addition, quarantine structures in Africa differ from one region to another. In fact, some countries have operational quarantine stations but others do not. We at IAPSC encourage the creation of regional and subregional quarantine stations, although even those in existence find it difficult to comply with IPPC standards. It is our hope to have quarantine stations in each country.

Quarantine inspector reading about banana bunchy top. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.
Quarantine inspector reading about banana bunchy top. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.

Harmonizing phytosanitary regulations and policies in Africa must be quite challenging. How are you doing this?
Nontariff barriers such as SPS measures are often used as a disguised way to restrict trade. It is becoming essential, following the World Trade Organization‘s agreement on SPSMs for member countries of the WTO to ensure that the SPS measures they apply are in line with this agreement. To do so, the technical and organizational capacity of the various organizations at national, regional, or international levels have to be given the necessary tools to deal with the new challenges.

The 1995 WTO agreement was set up to remove unnecessary, unjustified, and arbitrary pressure on international trade in plants and plant products. This was a new situation for the various stakeholders, e.g., new themes such as transparency, scientific justification, notifications, inquiry points, risk analysis, and standards are now the guiding principles.

It is thus of the utmost importance for African countries, where phytosanitary capacity deficits are most severe, to begin a process of developing a strategy for capacity building to meet their obligations under the WTO rules.

In 2003, the RECs became the implementation arm of IAPSC whose technical programs are assessed by the RECs during the annual meetings of the Steering Committee and General Assembly.

IAPSC, much like AU, encourages regional common markets.

What are your major challenges?
Besides funding, the major challenges IAPSC faces on a daily basis include the entry of new pests on the African continent that annihilate the efforts of member countries; the proliferation of invasive pests; climate change that brings about new plant heath challenges; and a lack of scientists specialized in plant protection.

How do you ensure that regulations or policies are strictly implemented?
We endeavor to strengthen the capacities of countries so that they can prevent and control the introduction of plant pests in Africa. We encourage the setting up of Centers of Phytosanitary Excellence, the creation of phytosanitary networks, and the regular updating of pest lists in Africa.

IITA researchers conduct plant health tests in lab. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.
IITA researchers conduct plant health tests in lab. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.

What are you doing to improve the links and working relationships among NPPOs and networks in Africa?
We organize workshops and seminars on plant matters; we publish a quarterly phytosanitary news bulletin; and we enrich on a regular basis the phytosanitary information in the International Plant Protection Portal of FAO.

IAPSC provides information on quarantine pests on plants as well as for the protection of plant products for the AU member countries through both the paper and electronic media. Paper-based information systems include a scientific analysis, a phytosanitary situation in Africa, reports of service activities, and a collection of phytosanitary regulations and standards. Electronic information on compact discs covers a database of the meetings and phytosanitary regulations of member States. The Phytosanitary News bulletin of IAPSC is issued four times a year. It welcomes contributions and articles from National Plant Protection Organizations.

There is a web site for the worldwide dissemination of information (http://www.au-iapsc.org), and a library that hosts scientific books.

Our workshops and seminars aim at sharing information on the phytosanitary situation and on the findings in crop protection research.

We frequently conduct monitoring and evaluation exercises (country visits, exchange and information sharing among countries). All these activities help in networking among the partners in Africa.

What support do you need from the member countries? From partners? From clients?
To improve the prevailing situation concerning quarantine standards, regional cooperation and compliance with international regulations, the following priorities have been identified:
1. Ensuring that all African countries are parties to the IPPC;
2. Ensuring the harmonization of plant protection policies across RECs through capacity building;
3. Regularly updating pest lists and quarantine pests;
4. Harmonizing phytosanitary inspection systems; surveillance, emergency responses, risk analysis: procedures to analyze and reduce the risk of new pests entering a country;
5. Setting up a harmonized pesticide management system.

Describe your collaboration with IITA.
IAPSC-IITA cooperation is in the following key areas: Cassava pests’ diagnostics and control technique methods, Cassava germplasm and planting material exchange, Banana pests’ diagnostics and control technique methods, Banana germplasm and planting material exchange, and Harmonization of African countries’ phytosanitary systems.

What could international bodies such as IITA do to ensure that Africa’s agriculture is safeguarded?
IITA, like other bodies, should work with country structures through IAPSC, and collaborate with recognized subregional and regional structures of the public and private sectors in plant protection.

NAQS: IITA contributes to our effectiveness

Olufunke Awosusi is a Senior Plant Quarantine Officer with the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. NAQS is charged with the responsibility of protecting the Nigerian agricultural economy from the attacks of pests, especially “foreign” pests, and also enhancing agricultural trade through export inspection and certification. Below are excerpts from an interview with Godwin Atser on the role of the NAQS and the collaboration with IITA.

Olufunke Awosusi, NAQS
Olufunke Awosusi, NAQS

What is the role of NAQS?
The NAQS evolved from the former Plant Quarantine Service. It was established in recognition of the fact that agricultural quarantine is the control of the introduction and spread of pests and diseases by means of legislation and as a result of the country’s problems within a decade before independence with the introduction of cocoa and maize pests. The cocoa industry almost collapsed; plantations were destroyed; and disease-resistant cocoa varieties were handed to farmers for replanting. This cost the Government a colossal amount. For maize, it took the concerted efforts of several West African nations coming together to revive production in the region.

NAQS was created to harmonize the quarantine of plant, veterinary, and aquatic (fisheries) resources in Nigeria to promote and regulate sanitary (animal and fisheries health) and phytosanitary (plant health) measures in connection with the import and export of agricultural products with a view to minimizing the risk to the agricultural economy, food safety, and the environment.

The main objective of NAQS is to prevent the introduction, establishment, and spread of animal and zoonotic diseases and pests of plants and fisheries including their products. NAQS also undertakes emergency protocol to control or manage new pest incursion or diseases outbreak in collaboration with key stakeholders.

What is the situation with NAQS today?
The standards have improved drastically. Today NAQS has improved personnel who are more skillful and trained in pest diagnosis stationed in the entry and exit points in the country. We have had improvements in diagnostic facilities and this is perhaps one of the reasons why some of the exotic pests have been kept outside our borders.

What is your assessment of quarantine in Africa?
Africa has witnessed improvement in the quarantine system. The Inter-Africa Phytosanitary Council (IAPSC) has been playing a tremendous role in harmonizing phytosanitary regulations within the continent, training phytosanitary inspectors, and coming up with pest lists to guide nations, revision of phytosanitary legislation and regulation, and implementation of phytosanitary standards, among others.

Any challenges in carrying out your task?
The problem faced by NAQS is the lack of political will concerning the quarantine system itself. Again, the role of the quarantine service is not very much appreciated, especially in food security. A lot of attention has been focused on how to improve production. The attention placed on plant protection is not as much as that given to plant improvement. But, however successful the improvement program, once you allow pests to come in, they would destroy the crops/gains. This understanding hasn’t been appreciated and it is partly why the sector is given low funding.
Also, the public is not properly being informed about what plant quarantine stands for. Therefore, having voluntary compliance with the regulations is a bit difficult. Another problem is the lack of emergency funds and preparedness to contain the immediate outbreak of pests.

Keeping pests out of borders is a key function of NAQS. Photo by S. Muranaka, IITA.
Keeping pests out of borders is a key function of NAQS. Photo by S. Muranaka, IITA.

In recent times, what are some of the pests you find challenging?
Recently, we have noticed the introduction of fruitflies that are fast devastating fruits in our country. But we need a regional approach to tackle this problem, because the insect involved is a strong flier. We are also faced with the threats of more pests. On cassava, we have Cassava mosaic virus (Ugandan strain) which is ravaging crops in East Africa. Another is the Cassava brown streak virus, which affects cassava leaves and roots. We also have threats of banana bunchy top and banana bacterial wilt. We need to inform people so that they don’t bring planting materials into the country from East Africa. There is the need to put preemptive action in place so that new diseases don’t get to Nigeria and West Africa.

What measures are being put in place to contain the spread of these pests?
For fruitflies, we held a sensitization workshop in 2009 where different stakeholders participated. The FAO is coming up with a regional control measure for the West African bloc to harmonize and adopt. Again, scientists are looking for ways to control these pests. For cassava brown streak disease or CBSD, we have stepped up quarantine efforts aimed at curtailing/scrutinizing the entrance of planting materials from those endemic regions. In the future, we are thinking of training our officers on new tools that aid the inspection of imported planting materials.

Why is the response to crop pests especially slow when compared with the response to animal pests?
When new crop pests come in, the impact for the first few years is not so obvious. This is not the case with the invasion of animal pests when you see the deaths of animals. Perhaps this is the reason why crop pests don’t catch the attention of the Government immediately. We could be talking about fruitflies but people are saying, “Mangoes and oranges are still on the streets.” When the devastation arising from pest establishment, spread, and destruction becomes much serious and farmers start crying, that is the time we get an official response, especially in terms of funding for control measures.

What kind of support would you ask for specifically?
Capacity building to enhance pest interception and diagnosis is very important for us. If you don’t have knowledge about the biology of the pests, you may have problems. The quarantine inspectors/officers need to be trained and the training needs to be continuous. Secondly, a country like Nigeria has a very diverse culture and the climatic conditions to grow crops all year round, so there is a need for us to conduct pest surveillance so that we know the pest status in the country.

There is an ongoing pest survey and this is being done on a crop by crop basis. Scientists from universities, national agricultural research institutes, and international organizations are involved and we hope it will be on a continuous basis with support from the government and stakeholders.

How good an option is biocontrol?
Biocontrol is a good strategy. Everybody wants to deemphasize the use of pesticides because of the effect of chemical residues and there is a lot of emphasis now on food safety. Also there is concern about preserving biodiversity. Now the emphasis is on integrated pest management. The more often you can eliminate the use of pesticides, the better.

How is the collaboration with IITA?
We have a very good and strong relationship with IITA. IITA is our major stakeholder when it comes to germplasm exchange.

IITA has been assisting us in the training of our officers—upgrading their skills—especially in the area of pest diagnosis.

Sometimes when we are handicapped by inadequate facilities IITA steps in. Also IITA is good in the area of information dissemination which had been beneficial to us.
The collaboration with IITA is quite strong and mutually beneficial. Sometimes IITA assists us to attend international workshops and seminars that are relevant for job improvement.

The institute has contributed to our effectiveness in the country.

COMESA: Ensuring sanitary and phytosanitary standards in the region

Martha Byanyima, COMESA
Martha Byanyima, COMESA

Martha Byanyima is a food science and trade expert from Uganda. She has worked in the region on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and agricultural trade programs, supporting countries to carry out the necessary policy and legal reforms and strengthening private sector/industry systems.

Currently, she is the Regional Process and Partnerships Facilitator of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) at the COMESA Secretariat. CAADP is the Africa Union Commission and the NEPAD Coordinating Agency (AUC/NPCA) continental program aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in Africa.

She supports development of the regional CAADP process and establishes partnerships for regional investments in key areas prioritized to address the challenges of food security and poverty in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) region. She also leads COMESA’s SPS work program.

What is COMESA all about?
COMESA is a regional economic community (REC) of 19 countries. Our mandate is to create a vibrant and dynamic common market in which business will thrive and expand regionally. We improve the competitiveness of the farmers, entrepreneurs, and traders. In this regard, compliance with international standards, particularly SPS measures, which are a prerequisite for agriculture and agro-industry competitiveness and access to regional and global markets, becomes very important to us.

Why are SPS measures important?
SPS measures are mandatory requirements instituted by governments to protect human, animal, and plant health. These commonly take the form of legislation, inspection, and testing requirements and border controls. Measures similar to SPS had been in place for several decades; however, they became more important under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement in 1995, which recognized the right to protect the agricultural sector and biodiversity. These measures ensure that products produced domestically or imported conform with the regulations and standards of the territory.

The SPS agreement of WTO encourages countries to use common standards, guidelines, and recommendations as developed by the International Plant Protection Convention for plant protection, the Codex Alimentarius Commission for food safety, and the World Organization for Animal Health for pests and animal diseases and zoonoses.

How can compliance with SPS standards facilitate trading and marketing of agricultural goods?
Compliance with SPS standards promotes economic development and trade. SPS is a very important area as we deepen regional integration to reduce barriers to transacting business and to free the movement of agricultural and food products among member countries. COMESA has slowly progressed from a Preferential Trade Area with lower duties charged on goods originating from member countries to a Free Trade Area (FTA) in 2000 where no duty is charged on goods from member countries as long as they comply with the rules of origin and to a full Customs Union in 2009 where a common external tariff is applied to goods imported from outside the region.

How do you promote these standards?
While such a progression is based on tariff reduction and/or elimination to reduce the cost of transacting business, SPS barriers constitute an added cost to business that is not easily quantified, requiring scientific and technical capacity that is often lacking. In this regard, strengthening SPS infrastructure, such as laboratories, and the harmonization of SPS laws, regulations, procedures, and standards are essential for intra-regional trade and successful regional integration.

What is the Green Pass system?
It is the harmonization of SPS measures across COMESA countries and the establishment of equivalence through common certification schemes. The Green Pass system is intended to restore confidence among trade partners and remove SPS barriers to facilitate trade and the marketing of food and agricultural products within the region.

How can Green Pass help trade and markets in East and Southern Africa?
Since SPS is an important area for effective markets in the context of regional integration, COMESA has a regional work program aimed at mobilizing resources to address the critical gaps in the SPS systems of regional member countries. The work program has four result areas: (a) common certification schemes (standards), (b) monitoring, surveillance, and preparedness for emergencies, (c) improved exchange of SPS information between the public and private sectors, and (d) improved regional leadership and coordination.

Our activities include encouraging the adoption of regional standards, establishing regional SPS databases and information systems, establishing modalities and piloting mutually agreed certification schemes such as the Green Pass, awareness and training workshops, and strengthening SPS infrastructure, such as laboratories.

How are you implementing the Green Pass system?
The first step in creating awareness and motivating countries to step up harmonization efforts is the establishment of the SPS legal framework to guide countries on the necessary policy and legal reforms. At the heart of the legal framework is the Green Pass system.

Enforcing phytosanitary policies and regulations in the region would benefit  trade and commerce, and ultimately the farmers and consumers. Photo by IITA.
Enforcing phytosanitary policies and regulations in the region would benefit trade and commerce, and ultimately the farmers and consumers. Photo by IITA.

What can international organizations or networks do to help promote standards and the Green Pass system?
Currently we are developing proposals to pilot commercially driven Green Pass certification schemes. For example, we will support the member countries to develop common protocols to address the problem of fruitflies in banana, passion fruit, and avocado, or aflatoxins in maize. Such protocols, developed and piloted by the private sector and governments, with support from COMESA, will constitute the science to inform the Green Pass certification scheme. The protocols and related infrastructure, such as reference laboratories, are regional public goods that serve both the private and public sectors.

Who are your partners in implementing the system?
In piloting the Green Pass certification scheme, we envisage partnerships with the private sector, regional institutions with relevant expertise, such as IITA and governments. The decision to implement the Green Pass was endorsed by ministers of agriculture in July 2010, and thus all countries will be involved to the extent that the Green Pass is the viable option to resolve the existing SPS problem.

What are some of your challenges?
The greatest challenge is to create a common understanding of the Green Pass concept; there are variations in the way it is understood by experts, governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

Another challenge is traditional certification schemes that are based on international standards but may not respond to intraregional trade challenges. For example, South Africa (SA) demands a certificate of origin from Zambia honey exporters in addition to the animal health certificate issued by the Government. The Zambia market, however, has lots of food imports from China which treats bees with antibiotics. SA regulations restrict antibiotic residues in honey. Therefore, SA demands full proof that the honey originates from Zambia and not China, where the honey is not organic. In this case the Green Pass would come in handy to establish a certification scheme that includes traceability protocols and a certificate of origin in addition to the animal health certificate from the Government.

Of course, there are also constraints in both human and financial resources.

Food supplies being loaded on trucks for transportation to urban centers. Photo by IITA.
Food supplies being loaded on trucks for transportation to urban centers. Photo by IITA.

Why a common market for East and Southern African?
On 22 October 2008, heads of States and Governments of the 26 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa that have membership in COMESA, EAC, and SADC, made a landmark decision that the three RECs should immediately start working towards a merger into a single FTA to deepen regional integration. The three have a combined population of 565 million, and a gross domestic product of US$875 billion. These are 57% of Africa’s population and 59% of the GDP. The total land mass of the COMESA-EAC-SADC region is 14.8 million km² or 49% of Africa’s total land mass.

The decisions of the Tripartite Summit have far-reaching implications on the operations of the three RECs with regard to joint planning, programming, and implementation of the common agenda. In addition, there will be a need for development partners to rationalize and harmonize their support in the tripartite framework.

Since then, the Agreement to establish the Tripartite FTA has been developed and will be signed in mid-2011. The purpose of the Agreement is to enhance collaboration (through joint investments) and avoid the duplication of effort that has characterized the COMESA region as a result of multiple membership of the regional communities.

Annex 14 of the Agreement to establish the Tripartite FTA specifically addresses SPS, requiring Tripartite member countries to harmonize SPS measures and, where necessary, to implement joint programs.

What role do you envisage for IITA in COMESA?
IITA and other regional specialized scientific institutions have a huge role to play They can ensure that the best science informs agricultural planning and development, using the CAADP framework that has proved to be an effective instrument in harnessing knowledge and bringing it to sector planning processes at the national and regional levels. However, governments are responding slowly to the all-inclusive principle of CAADP; non-State actors such as IITA, farmers, and the private sector have not been engaged to the extent necessary to achieve the effective transfer of scientific knowledge and expertise.

What support do you need?
At this stage, it is important for all players to recognize the transformation taking place in the agricultural sector on this continent—the bumper harvests and the increased investments. This is largely driven by RECs through support to country CAADP processes and regional integration programs. Policy reforms and technical support are important elements of the transformation process that cannot be achieved by RECs acting alone; specialized institutions such as IITA and other nonstate actors need to fill this gap. It is, thus, important that development partners, donors, and other actors respond positively to the call by the African Union to align with regional priorities embedded in the RECs’ regional integration programs and in so doing support the transformation process currently taking place on this continent.

What is your vision for African agriculture, trade, and economy?
I look forward to deeper regional integration among the African countries. The Tripartite framework provides the best means to achieve this. By strengthening infrastructure on key trade corridors and facilitating the transport of goods while strengthening the countries’ SPS systems through the best science available, agricultural value chains will expand beyond the COMESA region. New opportunities will be opened for the private sector. At the same time, it is my hope that the Tripartite framework will encourage collaboration in scientific research and innovations to further strengthen value addition and trade in value-added food products.

James M. Lowenberg-Deboer: Ensuring Africa’s future through agriculture

James Lowenberg-DeBoer, Purdue University. Photo from J. Lowenberg-DeBoer.
James Lowenberg-DeBoer, Purdue University. Photo from J. Lowenberg-DeBoer.

James M. Lowenberg-DeBoer, or Jess, has 24 years of worldwide experience in agricultural research, teaching, outreach, and administration. He currently serves as Associate Dean and Director of International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA) at Purdue University, coordinating all international programs for the Purdue College of Agriculture.

His research focuses on the economics of agricultural technology. He brings to his research, teaching, outreach, and administration a perspective gained through private sector experience as a farmer and journalist.

Please describe your work.
I have participated in every step of the cowpea value chain in Africa from production to consumption. I have helped cowpea breeders define their genetic strategy, collaborated with entomologists on pest management in cowpea fields, partnered with extension specialists to transfer improved cowpea storage technologies, and worked with food scientists to reduce the labor required to make cowpea-based street foods. I have even initiated some exploratory research on the economics of cowpea leaves as a green vegetable. Most recently, I focused on the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) project, teaching farmers and cowpea traders how to use hermetic storage methods to reduce damage without insecticides and developing the supply chain for the heavy duty plastic bags that are, in most cases, the most cost-effective hermetic storage container.

How important is cowpea in the American diet and economy?
Cowpea is a specialty item in the American diet and economy. It is commonly known as “black-eyed peas” in the US because the varieties found in supermarkets are usually white with black eyes.
Many Americans eat cowpea in traditional dishes associated with holidays. For instance some Americans eat “hopping john”, a dish made of cowpea and rice on New Year’s Day. “Southern peas,” cowpea that is picked before maturity and eaten as a vegetable, are widely consumed in the Southeastern US. Some families have heirloom cowpea seed varieties that are passed down from parents to children, and grown each year in the household garden.

On US farms cowpea is a specialty crop grown on roughly 92,000 ha annually. Dry cowpea grain is produced on only about 12,000 ha annually, mostly in California and Texas. Southern peas are produced mostly in the southeastern US, mainly in home and market gardens. Because they are not a large-scale commercial crop, the government does not collect statistics on production, but informal estimates indicate that up to 80,000 ha of cowpea in the US is used annually as southern peas.

How did you get started in cowpea research?
I started working on cowpeas when I was a researcher at the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Niger (INRAN) from 1988 to 1992. Niger exports more cowpea than any other country in the world. The crop is very important for the Nigerien economy and for Nigerien farmers.
In West and Central Africa, the demand for cowpea is very strong, particularly in Nigeria. Farmers could increase cowpea production with the assurance that there would be a market for their product. Urban people, particularly the urban poor, benefit from cowpea because it is a relatively low-cost, high-protein food that does not require refrigeration. Improvement in cowpea production, storage, and marketing would benefit millions of people. In short, cowpea research allowed me to maximize my impact as a scientist.

Please describe your collaborative work with IITA.
I have worked with almost every IITA cowpea researcher. For example, B.B. Singh and Ousmane Boukar used the consumer preference research done by my students and I do to help determine the goals of their breeding efforts. I collaborated with Ousmane Coulibaly to assess the reactions of potential producers and consumers to genetically modified cowpea. Over many years, I have worked closely with Tahirou Abdoulaye, most recently in assessing the impact of the PICS project.

What are the major constraints in cowpea research and development?
Twenty years ago when I started working on cowpea issues, farmers usually said that their most pressing problem was storage. They said that they would produce more cowpea if only they could store it safely until they needed it for household consumption or until prices made marketing profitable.

Today, farmers in the current PICS countries usually say that management of field insects is their major problem. They say that PICS has provided a cost-effective solution to the storage problem. It is hard to predict which cowpea constraint will be the most serious in the future, but I think we should pay attention to two issues: soil fertility and consumers’ demand.

In general, African soils are becoming degraded. Like most legumes, cowpea is very sensitive to soil phosphate levels. World phosphate stocks are decreasing and the price of phosphate fertilizer is trending upward. We should think about breeding cowpea varieties that make better use of the phosphates in the soil and we need to consider how to recycle urban wastes and livestock manure to return the phosphates from cowpea grain and forage to the soil.

Any other concerns?
My concern about cowpea demand is related to economic growth. In many countries in the world, when incomes rise, people want more animal-based protein and more convenient foods. For instance, in some Latin American countries, consumption of beans per capita is declining as people switch to meat, milk, and eggs.

For economic, nutritional, and environmental reasons, it is important that people everywhere continue to consume grain legumes, especially cowpea. In West and Central Africa, that means we need to educate consumers on the benefits of eating cowpea and we need to work with food scientists to develop labor-saving forms of traditional cowpea-based foods. For example, we hope that our work on coarse cowpea flour can be used to make cowpea fritters (i.e., akara or kossai) or cowpea dumplings (i.e., dan waké) without the laborious traditional wet milling process. This will help to keep cowpea foods in family meals and on street vendors’ stalls.

James Lowenberg-DeBoer interviewing a vendor in Accra, Ghana. Photo from J. Lowenberg-DeBoer.
James Lowenberg-DeBoer interviewing a vendor in Accra, Ghana. Photo from J. Lowenberg-DeBoer.

What do you think is the future of cowpea in Africa?
Cowpea is a great grain legume crop for the low-altitude tropics. Because it is very heat and drought tolerant, cowpea is ideal for semi-arid areas.

The single greatest threat to the future of cowpea in Africa is that it will be displaced by other crops that have greater research backing. For example, soybean benefits from the extensive research done in the US, China, Japan, and other temperate zone countries. To a lesser extent, the same is true for the common bean. In spite of cowpea’s natural advantages, African farmers may be obliged by economic forces to switch to producing other crops for which research develops greater heat, drought, resistance to pests and diseases; and crops for which food science and marketing develop alternative high-value uses. The future of cowpea in Africa depends on maintaining and developing a research community that will allow this species to fulfill its potential.

How could farmers and producers cash in on cowpea?
African farmers are already cashing in on cowpea. In the Sahelian countries, cowpea is often the only viable cash crop. If science finds a solution to the field pest management problems, we can expect a much greater production in the humid zones of West and Central Africa. To realize profits on cowpea with current technology, farmers have improved varieties, soil fertility management methods, pest management techniques, and storage technologies. They need to determine which combination works for them. Like farmers in industrialized countries, African producers of cowpea need to be attentive to new technology. Economics dictate that the biggest benefits from new technology go to the early adopters.

How would you describe your experiences in working in Africa?
I have worked on every continent which has agriculture. My work in Africa has been the most professionally and personally satisfying. I think this is because in Africa the need is great and the potential is even greater. Per capita food production in Africa has been declining for decades, but Africa is also the area with the greatest potential for increased food production. In the rest of the world, most of the land that can be farmed is already farmed intensively. In Africa, land that is farmed is mostly cultivated with the most extensive methods and there is still land to be developed for agriculture.

Africa is the future of agriculture and agribusiness. I am pleased to have played a small role in the research that is building African agriculture and a slightly larger role in training the African scientists who will help Africa to realize its agricultural potential.