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“The soil nutrient losses in sub-Saharan Africa are an environmental, social, and political time bomb. Unless we wake up soon and reverse these disastrous trends, the future viability of African food systems will indeed be imperiled.”
– Dr Norman Borlaug, 14 March 2003, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, USA

IITA was the first major African link in the integrated network of international agricultural research centers. It was also one of the first centers that engaged in  farming systems research. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Institute had a very strong program on natural resource management (NRM), covering aspects of soil fertility management, cropping system diversification, and improved agronomy. This, along with the emphasis on the genetic improvement of the major food crops in the humid tropics, provided an integrated program of research on sustainable agricultural development.

Over the past fifteen years, the focus of research-for-development activities at IITA shifted away from NRM, party driven by changes in the investment portfolios of important donors. With the area of soils and natural resources back on top of the development agenda and recognizing that the potential of improved germplasm can only be realized in the presence of appropriate crop and nutrient management practices, IITA has recently decided to increase its investments on NRM research for development with a particular focus on soils.

The March 2012 issue of R4D Review commemorated IITA’s 45 years. It focused on the successes, challenges, and prospects of the genetic improvement programs; these are key to the Institute’s success in improving food crop production in sub-Saharan Africa. Innovations in genetic improvement have shown how enhanced crop productivity, along with other ingredients, such as capacity building and policies, has helped to lift millions out of poverty.

This second issue for the year highlights our important work undertaken in partnership with national and international institutions in the area of sustainable NRM in sub-Saharan Africa. It also signals IITA’s renewed focus on this area of research. The articles cover the three main pillars of the NRM research-for-development agenda: (1) Integrated Soil Fertility Management, aiming at enhancing crop productivity following agroecological principles, with a livelihood focus, (2) Sustainable Land Management, aiming at rehabilitating soils for the provision of other essential ecosystem services, with a landscape focus, and (3) Climate Change, aiming at enhancing the resilience of farming systems to climate variability.

IITA at 45: 1967 to 2012 and beyond…

This year, IITA marks its 45th year of service to the African farmers and national agricultural research systems.

In 1962, two years after the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations helped launch the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, Los Baños, the Philippines), both Foundations began discussing the possibility of establishing centers concerned with improving the yield and quality of tropical food crops other than rice. Thus, was the idea of an institute that would conduct research in the tropics of sub-Saharan Africa conceived by IITA’s founders1.

The Institute was established in July 1967, as the first major African link in an integrated network of international agricultural research centers located throughout the developing regions of the world.

IITA is under the umbrella of the CGIAR, a global research partnership that unites 15 organizations engaged in research for sustainable development for a food secure future that carries out research in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

Funding for IITA came initially from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and the land for the headquarters in Ibadan was allotted by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Currently, the Institute is one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. IITA’s award-winning research for development (R4D) addresses the development needs of the poor and vulnerable in the tropics. Together with scores of partners, IITA is contributing to enhance crop quality and productivity, reduce producer and consumer risks, and generate wealth from agriculture.

For the last 45 years, IITA has delivered over 70% of the impact from the CGIAR in sub-Saharan Africa. The Institute has achieved this by focusing on key tropical food crops, such as banana and plantain, cassava, cowpea, maize, soybean, yam, and tree and vegetable crops.

For the next decade, IITA plans to raise over 20 million people out of poverty while simultaneously making available over 25 million hectares of farm lands for agricultural production. This is important as demand for food in the midst of the rising population and limited natural resources will remain as important challenges.

IITA will tackle these challenges by pursuing high quality research that improves food security, increases the profitability of foods and other agricultural products, and helps national entities to expand agricultural growth.

With the help of partners and other stakeholders, IITA endeavors to continue to improve the lives of the poor in the region through R4D.

1 Excerpts taken from Ortiz, R. 2004. IITA: 40 yeas after. Historical account for the Handbook of IITA Board of Trustees. IITA Report. 36 pp.

Issue 8, March 2012

Maize genetic improvement
A success tale in legume work
Breeding superior banana hybrids
Cassava & agrigenomics
Yam breeding at IITA
Genomics for yam breeding
A ‘Green Revolution’ in cocoa belt
Partnerships for development
Estimating aflatoxins
Agrigenomics for improving crops
Transgenics in crop improvement
Molecular diagnostic tools

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Mind the gap…

Excising banana explants. Photo by IITA.
Excising banana explants. Photo by IITA.

IITA was established in 1967 to increase and improve food crop production, and soil and crop management for sustainable agricultural development. The Institute has become integral to the quest by sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to attain food and income security. Multi-pronged approaches, in partnership with national and international organizations, on natural resource management and the genetic improvement of staple crops in the humid tropics and tropical savannas have led to the development of high-yielding varieties. These have resilience to counter multiple biotic and abiotic threats, and new technologies have been established for crop protection and sustainable natural resource management. Since its establishment, the institute has become a pacesetter in agricultural development in SSA.

This issue commemorates the 45th anniversary of IITA. It focuses on the successes, challenges, and prospects of the genetic improvement programs which have been the cornerstone of IITA’s success in improving food crop production in SSA. These innovations in genetic improvement, together with supportive policies and training, have dramatically improved crop productivity and lifted millions out of poverty.

However, achieving self-sufficiency in food production and reducing poverty still remain as intractable problems in many countries here. There are many reasons for this situation. Inadequate economic and political systems, conflict, adverse weather, lack of crop production support mechanisms, inadequate funds for research and development, inefficient marketing structures, and a limited pool of trained scientists are key factors for the poor performance of the agriculture sector in SSA1.

Many governments are embarking on initiatives to establish agriculture as a commercially viable entity to produce enough food and create opportunities for employment. However, institutional reforms are also required to establish sound technical capacity, infrastructure, and enabling policies for the benefit of technological innovations to be fully realized and to facilitate farmers’ access to inputs and markets.

Governments are urged to show greater commitment to invest in reforms that can foster the establishment of a strong and sustainable agricultural system. This is essential to cater to the demands from economic growth and the rapid rise in population (set to double by 2050 2) and to develop the adaptive capacity needed to cope with risks from climate change. Without these, the current situation can only worsen and increase the levels of hunger and poverty.

1 Joubert, G.D. 2007. Trends in Africa’s crop production and the way forward on research and development. African Crop Science Proceedings 8: 5–7.
2 Eastwood, R. and M. Lipton. 2011. Demographic transition in sub-Saharan Africa: how big will the economic dividend be? Population Studies 65: 9–35.

Countries need strong leadership to introduce changes in implementing agricultural development programs.
— Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General, IITA