Funding agricultural R&D and meeting the MDG target

Member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will need to significantly increase their investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) to achieve the aim of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.

Women selling yam, Ghana. Photo by IITA.
Investment in agricultural R and D needs to be increased to ensure Africa's food supplies. Photo by IITA.

The focus on agricultural R&D stems from the fact that, for all ECOWAS countries, more than half of a 1% reduction in poverty at the national and rural levels can be attributed to the growth of the agricultural sector.

A study by the IITA-led Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System West Africa (ReSAKSS-WA) finds that to achieve this remarkable agricultural growth, countries in this regional bloc will have to almost double their current share of agricultural spending.

On average, an agricultural funding growth rate of 18.3% is required to achieve the target 6% rate set out by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). However, successful reform of public institutions could lower this share substantially, according to a report by Mbaye Yade and colleagues.

CAADP was initiated in 2002 by the African Union. It is a strategic framework which guides the development efforts and partnerships of African countries in the agricultural sector. It has, among others, the following objectives and principles at its core: agriculture-led growth for poverty reduction; increased funding for agriculture (10%), and at least 6% agriculture growth, all aimed at achieving MDG1 and other welfare targets; greater efficiency and consistency in the planning and execution of sector policies and programs; increased effectiveness in translating government expenditure into public goods and services; and expertise and mechanisms to measure performance against objectives regularly and transparently, and keep policies and programs on track.

ReSAKSS-WA works with ECOWAS to provide strategic analysis, knowledge management and communications, and capacity strengthening, towards achieving the aims of CAADP.

To promote monitoring and evaluation, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development requested ReSAKSS to develop a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework which would guide the continent in implementing CAADP.

Working with national and international partners, ReSAKSS has since backstopped some member countries in developing their National Agricultural Investment Programs (NAIPs) with this aim in view.

Current scenario
The ReSAKSS study shows that, under current trends, expected performance in agricultural growth is projected to stabilize at around 4.4% by 2015. However, with the successful implementation of emerging national strategies for the sector, agricultural growth is expected to increase to 6.4% from 4.6% under a business-as-usual scenario. Even the CAADP target of 6% annual agricultural growth for each country is not sufficient to achieve MDG1 by 2015, except for Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, and Senegal. Therefore, other plans with additional efforts are projected for the other countries.

The first M&E report from ReSAKSS indicated that the average share of agriculture in the 2005–2008 period was 10% and above in Burkina Faso, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali. It was below 10% in Bénin, Gambia, Liberia, Togo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire. With regard to the planned 6% growth in agriculture, the average rate for Gambia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone in the 2003–2007 period was 6% and above. For all other West African countries, the average was below 6%. Apart from the incidence of stunting among children, all major indicators of welfare show an overall improvement in living standards in the 2000s compared with the 1990s.

Incidence of poverty in West Africa has decreased by about 18% in the 2000s, according to a study. Photo by IITA.
Incidence of poverty in West Africa has decreased by about 18% in the 2000s, according to a study. Photo by IITA.

The incidence of poverty using the international threshold for comparison—the US$1/person/day—decreased by 18% in the 2000s compared with the 1990s. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 35% between 1990 and 2008. The Global Hunger Index shows a 14% decrease from the 1990–2009 value. Overall, it seems that recent trends in welfare have been positive in West Africa.

What the future holds
Regional Agricultural Investment Programs (RAIP) under CAADP are being prepared and will be funded through various mechanisms. IITA should work closely with the regional economic communities or RECs in preparing such programs because of the Institute’s wealth of experience in R4D work aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in Africa, in particular with ECOWAS in priority crops, such as cassava, maize, and rice. Already some discussions are taking place but these should be increased. Given the poverty challenges facing West Africa and Africa in general, all avenues for productive collaboration should be explored.

To implement the Africa-wide M&E system, the system has to be adapted in each West African country. Two requirements for this are the establishment of a SAKSS in each country, and consequently, the inclusion of the M&E indicators in the SAKSS and country’s annual reports and surveys.

This would make M&E a routine and important activity carried out annually. In turn, this would provide each country with the opportunity to ascertain how much progress is being made and to change the aspects of a strategy that are not working in a timely manner.

Outcome mapping: a tool for monitoring and evaluation

E.A. Ouma, and G.A. Neba,

IITAroutinely measures impact resulting from its R4D projects and programs. Photo by IITA.
IITA routinely measures impact resulting from its R4D projects and programs. Photo by IITA.

Many development practitioners are preoccupied with the identification and measurement of impact resulting from their research-for-development projects or programs. In many high-level meetings, the importance of results-based management that is goal-oriented and that emphasizes cause and effect of inputs, outputs, and impacts, has been emphasized and a large number of methodological guidelines have been developed.

One such guideline is the Logical Framework Approach (LFA). It is a hierarchical linear causal-effect chain presented at four levels (activities, outputs, outcomes, and impact). It is concrete and encourages the clear formulation of outcomes and goals/impact and the precise definition of quantifiable targets. Its major weakness is the attribution of cause and effect between the levels of outcome and impact (Jones 2006). In reality, this cannot be conclusively determined. Most impacts occur a long way downstream and may not be directly influenced by a single actor. In addition, the linear cause–effect thinking in LFA is a rather strong assumption and has been criticized by many practitioners.

The weaknesses in the existing tools, particularly in the monitoring and evaluation of developmental impacts, motivated the International Development Research Centre to develop a different approach, referred to as outcome mapping.

Figure 1. Boundary partner's link to the program and the real world.
Figure 1. Boundary partner's link to the program and the real world.

Outcome mapping
Outcome mapping is a method for planning and assessing the social effects and internal performance of projects, programs, and organizations (Earl et al. 2001). It helps a project or program team to be specific about its targets, the changes it expects to see, and the strategies it employs, and as a result, to be more effective in terms of the results it achieves. Results are measured in terms of changes in the behaviors of people, groups, and organizations, also known as “boundary partners” (Fig. 1) with which a project/program works directly. The project/program works with the boundary partners to effect a change but it does not control them.

The changes are referred to as outcomes. In so doing, outcome mapping clears away many of the myths about measuring impact and focuses more on social changes within complex and dynamic partnerships. Once boundary partners have been identified, outcome mapping differentiates the levels of behavioral change which may be seen among the partner organizations—known as progress markers. These are grouped according to expected behaviors (early positive responses), desired behaviors (active engagement), and hoped-for behaviors (deep transformation in behavior) (Shaxson and Clench 2011). In the vocabulary of outcome mapping, these are behaviors we would ‘expect to see”, “like to see”, and “love to see” and they may be priorities for change or a time sequence of activities, or a mixture of both (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Progress markers of a boundary partner. Source: Jones 2006.
Figure 2. Progress markers of a boundary partner. Source: Jones 2006.

Attribution and measurement of downstream results are dealt with through a more direct focus on transformations in the actions of the main actors. The outcomes enhance the possibilities of developmental impacts but the relationship is not necessarily a direct one of cause and effect. The outcomes can be logically linked to a project’s activities although they are not necessarily directly caused by them. Outcome mapping, therefore, focuses on the contribution of a project in the achievement of outcomes rather than claiming the achievement of developmental impacts.

The development of M&E tools (both qualitative and quantitative) for assessing outcomes and impact on commodity systems, including outcome mapping and participatory impact pathway, was identified as an output target for IITA’s Opportunities and Threats Program in 2011 (IITA 2009). This highlights the importance of developing tools not only for documenting technology adoption trends and impact but also those that monitor outcomes, providing stakeholders with timely information about their progress and achievements for systematic and collective learning, reflection, and corrective action.

A few R4D projects at IITA have employed outcome mapping or some of its elements in their M&E framework. For instance, the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihood in Central Africa project, largely operating in the East and Central African highlands, follows the spirit of outcome mapping in its arrangements to scale out technology. The boundary partners, comprising international and national NGOs and farmers’ associations, articulate their goals, expectations, and contributions through informal or formal memoranda of agreement with the project. The project endeavors to meet the partners’ expectations through jointly planned activities to achieve the expected outcomes, which have prospects of producing sustainable impacts.
Opportunities for interactions between a boundary partner and the project and among the boundary partners are made available for collective learning, to evaluate progress towards the achievement of goals over time, and to identify corrective measures.

Other CGIAR centers, particularly the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the World Agroforestry Centre, apply outcome mapping in their natural resource management and livestock projects.

Stages of outcome mapping and monitoring tools
The process is divided into three stages. The first, referred to as the intentional design phase, is largely a planning stage. This helps a project to establish a consensus on the macro-level changes it will help to bring about and to plan the strategies it will use. It is based on the principle of participation and purposefully includes those implementing the project in the design and data collection so as to encourage ownership and use of the findings. It involves articulation of the vision and mission of the project, the identification of the boundary partners, the outcome challenges, progress markers, and strategies to be employed for changing the behavior of boundary partners to better deliver the progress markers. Supportive strategies facilitate change, possibly by one partner providing information, capacity, or skills to others.

The second stage is outcome and performance monitoring. It provides a framework for an ongoing monitoring of the projects’ actions and the boundary partners’ progress toward the achievement of outcomes. It is largely based on a systematized self-assessment and uses monitoring tools for elements identified in the design stage. The tools include an outcome journal (for monitoring progress markers), a strategy journal (for monitoring the strategy maps) and a performance journal (for monitoring the organizational practices).

The third stage is evaluation planning. It helps the project to identify evaluation priorities and develop an evaluation plan (this targets priority areas for detailed evaluation studies).

Strengths and weaknesses
Outcome mapping provides a focus on institutional transformation that is often lacking in techniques which emphasize the delivery of outputs as an indicator of achievement. It aligns itself with the realities of development, often occurring in complex and open systems with multiple actors. The methodology ensures the clear formulation of responsibilities, roles, and progress markers for each project partner in addition to providing a framework and the tools for continuous monitoring. Measurable outcomes and clear milestones enhance ownership by the local actors and beneficiaries as well as the management of multiple accountabilities (project, beneficiaries, partners, and donors).

Outcome mapping’s one-dimensional focus on “changes in behavior”, although important to sustainable development, cannot be an end in itself for development. The behavioral changes should support improvements in situations at a higher level. There is a need to have clear hypotheses about the framework, tools, and indicators for impact at the level of development results (such as the MDGs). Roduner et al. (2008) have proposed a synthesized model combining the strengths of outcome mapping focusing on capacity building and the logical framework with its focus on development results. The synthesized model has, however, not yet been tested.

Earl S, T Smutylo, and F Carden. 2001. Outcome mapping: Building learning and reflection into development programs. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada.

Jones H. 2006. Making outcome mapping work. Evolving Experiences from Around the World. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada.

Roduner D, W Schläppi, and W Egli. 2008. Logical Framework Approach and Outcome Mapping: A Constructive Attempt of Synthesis. A Discussion Paper, ETH, Zurich, Switzerland.

Shaxson L, and B Clench. 2011. Outcome mapping and social frameworks: tools for designing, delivering and monitoring policy via distributed partnerships. Delta Partnership working paper No 1,

Reducing crop loss from Striga

Scientists based in Nigeria and Kenya started an initiative against two parasitic weeds that have spread across much of sub-Saharan Africa. These weeds cause losses of up to US$1.2 billion from damage every year to the maize and cowpea crops of millions of small farmers.

The project, coordinated by IITA, will introduce proven technologies for fighting Striga (witchweed), and Alectra, which attack crops such as maize and cowpea, reducing yields or destroying entire harvests.

Extension workers explains about the Striga problem. Photo from SP-IPM.
Extension workers explains about the Striga problem. Photo from SP-IPM.

Witchweed primarily affects smallholder farmers. The most widespread species is estimated to have infested up to 4 million ha of land under maize production in sub-Saharan Africa, with yield losses of up to 80%. IITA’s researchers estimate that this represents about $1.2 billion in losses for farmers and affects approximately 100 million people in the region.

The Striga project is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It aims at helping 200,000 maize farmers and 50,000 cowpea farmers who work in areas with high rates of Striga infestation in Kenya and Nigeria. By the project’s end in 2014, organizers estimate that farmers will see up to 50% higher maize yields and 100% higher cowpea yields.

The 4-year project will focus on improving and expanding access to methods of Striga control, while supporting research to identify the most effective means of control under varying conditions. It will evaluate and implement four approaches: using Striga-resistant crop varieties; using a “push-pull” technology that involves intercropping with specific forage legumes that inhibit the germination of Striga; using herbicide-coated seeds; and deploying biocontrol of Striga. After a 2-year evaluation period, the project will scale up the most effective approaches.

Partners in the project are the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, African Agricultural Technology Foundation, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, and BASF Crop Protection. The poject will work with farmers, seed companies, community-based organizations, extension workers, policymakers, and researchers.

Scientists expect that the interventions will generate annually additional grain with an estimated value of $8.6 million at the project locations. This will result in increased incomes, better nutrition, and reduced poverty, and employment opportunities.

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 (, 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.

Edition 4, March 2010

Biodiversity and NRM
Biodiversity conservation is key
Insect biodiversity for NRM
Why manage noncrop biodiversity
A research park for Africa
Unlocking the diversity of yam
Cassava: improver of soils
Participatory yam conservation strategies
Smart NRM approaches
DNA barcodes for pathogens
A new food security crop?

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Dominique Dumet: Safeguarding agrobiodiversity for the future

Dominique Dumet showing seeds, IITA genebank. Photo by J. Oliver.
Dominique Dumet showing seeds, IITA genebank. Photo by J. Oliver.

As the head of IITA’s Genetic Resources Center (GRC), Dominique Dumet says she is something between a curator and an administrator. She is involved in conservation (field bank, seed bank, and in vitro bank, which includes cryopreservation for clonal crops), checking inventory, improving processes and workflows, transferring technology, and computerizing the system. In addition, she is involved in recruiting staff and selecting students, germplasm distribution and acquisition, research in plant genetic resources, staff management, research project development and proposal writing, and communication to donors on special projects and about germplasm at IITA during scientific meetings.

She is primarily interested in ex situ conservation and particularly low temperature biology and its application to conservation systems (cryopreservation, sanitation). She has an overview of all domains of germplasm conservation and takes part in various research projects as a collaborator to “add value to the germplasm.” She no longer considers herself a researcher, since she spends most of her time administering the genebank and planning or writing proposal or reports. This International Year of Biodiversity, she explains what GRC plans in support of promoting biodiversity conservation.

Why is biodiversity conservation important? What are your priorities?
Our work is very important. We try to reduce the rate of irreversible loss in the biological diversity that is used in agriculture. All conservation aspects are important, but maybe the conservation sensu stricto comes first if we have to choose as we have a responsibility towards the international community and if we do not work well, all may suffer from our mistakes.

What do you like about working in Africa? In your field of specialization?
I am proud of my job. I hope I contribute to improving the well being of the poorest even if for one iota. I also like being in an environment very different to the one in which I grew up.

In vitro biology and cryopreservation in particular is my field of specialization. Cryopreservation fascinates me as I find it amazing that we can stop the life of a tissue and bring it back again whenever we want to do so. In the frozen stage, all biochemical or biological processes stop—that means that everything stops moving at one moment—and then the magic of life makes it start again so long as physical and chemical parameters are adequate (cooling and thawing temperature, osmotic pressure, light, growth regulators, etc.).

What are your challenges and constraints at work?
The challenges are to maintain the bank at international standards and to keep all the accessions alive. Some constraints include unforeseen requests which make us work under pressure as we still have our routine activities, and new concepts that make our system obsolete.

Collection recording with barcode inventory system, IITA genebank. Photo by O. Adebayo, IITA.
Collection recording with barcode inventory system, IITA genebank. Photo by O. Adebayo, IITA.

How do you make the many visitors to GRC understand and appreciate what you are doing?
I give information on the basic concepts of diversity, I explain why we need to conserve it ex situ (out of the natural environment) because of the genetic erosion taking place in the field. Then I explain how we maintain it via seeds or field and in vitro banks, depending on the crop. I also show some examples of diversity, e.g., cowpea seed collection and the variation observed at seed coat. I provide some background on the gaps in the collection based on GIS. And I generally conclude with the International Treaty and access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA).

Please cite some concrete steps being taken by IITA in biodiversity conservation.
IITA was involved in collecting genetic resources as early as the 1970s so we do have a long history in investing in biodiversity conservation. Many collecting missions have been organized and germplasm has been also acquired from many national collections. The majority of the collections have now been described at agromorphological level, but we are still working on it for maize, for example. We have to characterize any new accessions coming into the bank.

Recently we organized a meeting and survey to develop the cowpea global conservation strategy (Trust-funded). We will have the same strategy developed for yam in 2010 (we are also organizing the Trust-funded expert meeting for this). We are developing more efficient conservation processes such as cryopreservation (this lowers costs but also limits genetic variation during storage). We are fingerprinting the collections of clonal crops to identify germplasm at accession level. This will further guide our collecting missions.

Do you think governments everywhere are serious about biodiversity conservation?
That depends on the country. The richer ones certainly take more serious action—but the poorest (or the less organized) do not have this ‘luxury’. I think all understand the value of biodiversity but as it is a long-term investment to store and as the return on investment is not guaranteed, countries either ignore it or do little about it.

What is the state of agrobiodiversity in Africa?
It is not too bad, compared to other continents—my view on this is that Africa has not yet undergone its Green Revolution (but this opinion may be controversial). However, things may change very quickly, especially now that Africa is seen as a big field where agriculture can take off. Somehow, if we are successful in producing high-yielding crops the adoption rate of such high potential crops may quickly wipe away natural diversity, including (but not only) the landraces (varieties developed by farmers over thousands of years). When the elite genotype replaces older varieties it makes the low performing one obsolete and it increases the rate of planting (as it can generate higher revenue). We have to be vigilant about this since we, as breeders of improved varieties, are partly responsible. There is a conflict of interest between agriculture intensification and conservation of biodiversity.

Do farmers understand the need to conserve seeds or genetic resources for future generations?
In general I would think they are the first one to know about biodiversity but they may not be aware of the amplitude of the “erosion” of species.

Some are already organized in community based genebanks and there are participatory conservation projects within the CGIAR but I do not know enough about the topic. This may be an important complementary approach, but participatory conservation may be difficult to sustain. Besides in community based conservation, the incentive is cultural preference. That means only materials of immediate interest for the farmers are kept.

Bambara groundnut seeds. Photo by J. Oliver, IITA.
Bambara groundnut seeds. Photo by J. Oliver, IITA.

What is the status of IITA’s seed shipment to Svalbard in Norway?
We had planned on sending more than 20,000 accessions of cowpea and its relatives, bambara groundnut, maize, and soybean in the next few years. Cowpea makes up the majority of the accessions that we are sending. There is a bit of deviation from the original plan but we are more or less on track.

Being the lead person in agrobiodiversity conservation in the Institute, how do you plan to mark the UN International Year of Biodiversity?
We plan to raise awareness about biodiversity among the youth, i.e., high school students and adults in the local community. We will organize quiz contests, tree planting activities, excursions to the IITA forest and to the genebank; produce information materials (videos, flyers, handouts) and set up roaming exhibits and posters.

We also plan to organize seminars and a field or biodiversity/community day for students, farmers, and residents in the local community. We will be coordinating with partners from the University of Ibadan, local schools, Alliance Française, and other organizations, such as the National Center for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology, Nigeria Institute of Horticulture, and University of Abeokuta.

What would be your message to colleagues about biodiversity conservation?
Don’t just conserve; educate as well.

A tough puzzle: Biodiversity and NRM

Peter Neuenschwander,


In the past, natural resources management covered approximately half of all activities and funds of IITA and similar institutes in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Most often, it did not include the conservation of wild biodiversity. The other half of funds and personnel were allotted to crop plant biodiversity, mainly the varieties available worldwide in genebanks. Increasingly, however, farmers’ varieties and wild relatives of crop plants became important and the biodiversity of pathogens and witchweed were investigated in view of their use for resistance breeding.

Thanks to new technologies, breeding barriers between species could be overcome and foreign genetic material was incorporated into so-called “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs). These are being tested at a relatively small scale in some African countries. They are the source of real worries and polemical distortions, while countries such as the USA, China, Argentina, Brazil, and India have chosen to grow some GMOs on vast areas. Today, GMOs are at the center of a heated debate in an unnecessarily antagonistic manner, pitting the ideals of biodiversity conservation against the need to feed the world.

Since the end of the 1980s, the importance of biodiversity in general for a sustainable future of Planet Earth has been increasingly publicized. At the Rio Conference in 1990, global warming and the loss of biodiversity were singled out as the two most important issues facing mankind. The climate conference in Copenhagen last year was supposed to reach goals on halting and mitigating climate change. The conference is generally considered to have been a failure; nevertheless, great efforts to avoid a climatic disaster are being taken by many governments, even without the wished-for strict regulations.

And here we are in 2010, the “International Year of Biodiversity”. International nongovernmental organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), BirdLife International, and many others are highly active in conservation and their efforts are showing successes. Most countries have subscribed to their ethics, signed the international treaties, and established focal points for the Convention of Biodiversity. For the CGIAR, though, biodiversity conservation mostly remains germplasm conservation. It is the world leader in the conservation of genetic material of crop plants and their wild relatives (for instance, yam and cowpea, of particular interest in West Africa). It is instrumental in the development of rules and regulations about the ownership of germplasm under the umbrella of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Meristem excision under aseptic conditions (laminar flow workstation) using stereomicroscope, IITA genebank. Photo by IITA.
Meristem excision under aseptic conditions (laminar flow workstation) using stereomicroscope, IITA genebank. Photo by IITA.

IITA is also co-developing best practices and tool kits for collecting germplasm and houses important pathogen collections. Generally though, conservation of other forms of biodiversity is treated rather timidly. The general antagonism between agriculture and nature conservation thus persists. Yet, it probably need not be so: In 2001, IUCN and Future Harvest came together to publish a policy paper outlining ‘The common ground and common future, how eco-agriculture can help feed the world and save wild biodiversity’. While some of the claims might be overwrought, enough is known to allow progress towards the twin goals of saving the bulk of biodiversity while feeding the human population.

Insects are the majority of all described species. On a worldwide level, BioNET INTERNATIONAL organizes and stimulates the coordination of taxonomic research (of all taxa, but with special emphasis on insects). The IITA biodiversity collection of insects, housed in IITA-Bénin, serves as the network center for West and Central Africa. This collection, the largest in the CGIAR, is instrumental in providing basic information about the biodiversity of natural enemies used in all types of biological control.

In addition, the insectary at IITA-Bénin houses numerous live beneficial insects and mites. IITA-Bénin can respond to the changing situations of ever more invading insects and mites. Thus, in the last few years and in West Africa alone, we have seen the invasion and sometimes the control of spiraling whitefly, a new invading fruit fly (Sri Lanka fruit fly), and very recently the papaya mealybug. Last year, when the cassava mealybug invaded Thailand, IITA was able to provide effective parasitoids without delay.

Many more natural enemies are out there in the wild, suppressing their hosts or their prey. Most concern agricultural pests, but increasingly, conservation biological control is becoming important to save natural habitats from invaders. IITA is participating in these international efforts through its biological control of floating water weeds across Africa.

To assess the elusive so-called “ecosystem services”, sophisticated biodiversity studies are required. IITA’s historic classical biological control projects were against cassava and mango mealybug and cassava green mite, three formidable agricultural pests. The first two were not even known to science before they appeared in new habitats. These examples from South America and India illustrate how the ‘ecosystem services’ provided by pests’ natural enemies in the home environments remain hidden until harmful insects and mites get dissociated from their predators. Important services are also provided by microbials and pollinators, but these become visible to farmers and policymakers only when their function is impaired. Examples are lack of conservation because of wanton destruction or by bad agricultural practices, such as those that lead to the depletion of nutrients in soils or the destruction of suppressive soils.

Researcher monitoring cowpea seeds kept in cold storage room in the IITA genebank. Photo by J. Oliver, IITA.
Researcher monitoring cowpea seeds kept in cold storage room in the IITA genebank. Photo by J. Oliver, IITA.

The contribution to sustainable agriculture and conservation that IITA can make is by improving the tools (GIS, sociological, etc.) and by significant advances in research and its application to real world needs. We can thus establish an intellectual agenda for discussion and change within IITA, collaborating organizations, and society at large. Comparing this claim for action with the actual situation at IITA, we find that traditional biodiversity conservation in the form of crop plant germplasm is rather well implemented; but the conservation of nonplant biodiversity is weakly institutionalized and would need better support. Natural resources management offers the intellectual platform to integrate the different disciplines in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, the inclusion of all biodiversity activities in a holistic natural resources management remains a dream.

Within the period of 20 years, biodiversity conservation has moved from being a specialized field to becoming an urgent task to be carried out before it is too late and extinction takes away the organisms we might one day have to rely on for survival. Even where we do not completely understand the benefits of biodiversity in providing stability to ecosystems, conservation should be implemented for the good of future generations. Apart from research, this also takes the form of providing refuges for biodiversity for future studies, as is the case with the IITA-Ibadan forest or the rehabilitated forest at Drabo Gbo in Bénin. Our national partners have many more examples; they might cherish our leadership in this matter.


Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Vice President for Policy and Partnerships Akin Adesina, was at IITA recently to talk about how agriculture could transform Nigeria from a food-deficit to a food-exporting country again.

“The answer to Nigeria’s development problems lies in using agriculture to transform the country into ‘cohesive production system’,” he said. “Agriculture has changed from a way of life to a business. Market intelligence is required to make agriculture work. Hence, national governments in Africa have to change their mind sets and think of agriculture as a business.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has a population of 781 million people, with 306 million or 39% living on less than US$1 a day. Of this number, 131 million live in Nigeria. Of the 131 million Nigerians, 101 million, equivalent to 77%, are poor. “Africa is not a basket case,” Adesina said. “With a distinctly African Green Revolution, we can turn the situation around. We can do this by building our competitive advantage in agriculture through research and infrastructure. Government support is crucial; political will is important. Africa cannot afford not to act.”

“A new, efficient, dynamic, and competitive agricultural sector will unlock hope for millions of children, and will provide a better, more secure future for everyone,” he concluded. Adesina was formerly a socioeconomist at IITA.

Irish Aid

Peter Power, image by DFA
Peter Power, image by DFA

IITA was among eight CGIAR centers that will receive over €4 million in funding from Irish Aid.

Peter Power, Irish Minister of State for Overseas Development, said that the €4.4 million funding is a “central component” of Irish Aid’s response to the global food crisis. “More than 850 million people across the world today are hungry, while high food prices risk pushing 100 million additional people over the edge into hunger and poverty. Top quality agricultural research plays a crucial role in improving the performance and sustainability of agriculture. It will also help the poorest and most vulnerable farmers cope with the effects of climate change.”

IITA will receive €640,000 in funding. Other research centers selected include Biodiversity International, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the World Potato Centre (CIP). Ireland has provided more than €20 million to support the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) this year, which includes €3 million to help mitigate the effects of price rises on the WFP’s existing food relief programs.