From yam production and postharvest constraints to opportunities

D.B. Mignouna,, T. Abdoulaye, A. Akinola, and A. Alene

Food insecurity remains a huge concern in West Africa. Agriculture, without doubt remains the main source of food and livelihood. Over the past two decades, agricultural yields have stayed the same or declined. Although there has been a recent rise in agricultural productivity, it derived more from expanded planting areas for staple crops than from yield increases. Thus, increasing and sustaining agricultural productivity should be a critical component of programs that seek to reduce poverty and attain food security in the region.

Yam (Dioscorea spp.), a vegetatively propagated crop cultivated for its underground edible tubers, is the mainstay for about 300 million people in West Africa. It is a very important food and income source for millions of producers, processors, and consumers in the region. About 48 million tons are produced annually in this subregion on 4 million ha. The five major yam-producing countries (Bénin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo) account for 93% of the world’s production, with Nigeria alone accounting for 68% of global production (36 million t on 3 million ha) with 31.8% of the population depending on yam for food and income security. The crop contributes substantially to the amount of protein in the diet, ranking as the third most important source, much more than the more widely grown cassava, and even higher than some sources of animal protein. Hence, yam is important for food security and income generation with a domestic retail price of US $0.49/kg. Yam is also integral to the sociocultural life in the subregion.

In present-day Nigeria, yam is still culturally significant because it plays an important role in betrothal ceremonies or traditional marriages. It is one of the significant items a suitor presents to his in-laws to obtain their approval to marry their daughter. Some grooms are compelled to present as many as 40 pieces of long and fat yam tubers, aside from gallons of palm oil, baskets of kola nuts, bags of salt, and other sundry items, the nonprovision of which could invalidate the union. The cultural importance of yam is higher in some regions in Nigeria as it is a crop celebrated annually during the New Yam Festival, with rituals to thank the god of agriculture, to seek its blessings for a bumper harvest in the forthcoming years. Yam is produced more in the middle belt zone of Nigeria and is consumed more in the South, but those making commercial gains from its sales are core northerners from the North West, the North Central, and the North East.

Despite its importance in the economy and lives of many people, the crop faces several constraints that significantly reduce its potential to support rural development and meet consumers’ needs for improved food security and enhanced livelihood. Constraints limiting yam production and postharvest handling need to be identified to provide a basis for appropriate interventions. This was the reason behind the interventions through the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project. YIIFSWA was initiated to work with other stakeholders in West Africa to identify the opportunities of interventions that could potentially help to increase productivity in the region. This report documents production and postharvest constraints and opportunities in yam.

Using Nigeria and Ghana as cases, important worldwide yam-producing countries, a study was carried out using a multistage, random sampling procedure in selecting a total of 800 and 600 households, respectively. All surveyed households were interviewed using a structured questionnaire.

Survey results indicated that a range of factors limited yam production and storage. These include insect pests, diseases, water-logging, drought, rodents, low soil fertility, shortage of staking material, inadequate input supply and storage facility, land shortage, high cost of labor, lack of improved varieties, and others such as theft (Fig. 1).

High cost of labor stands out as the most pressing problem in all the surveyed zones, both in Nigeria and Ghana. For instance, mounding as a seedbed preparation method, is laborious, and hence expensive. But apart from mound making all yam production operations are labor intensive because they are performed with hand hoes, machetes, and digging sticks without any form of a labor-saving technology.

Another main constraint are insect pests and diseases. The unavailability and high cost of good quality disease-free seed yam had been on one hand a result of pests and diseases and on the other hand a serious hidden constraint due to the fact that farmers do not purchase seed yam. Other important constraints mentioned were the inadequate input supply that was very pronounced in Ghana, low soil fertility more reported in Nigeria, rodents and drought (Ghana), water-logging (Nigeria), lack of improved varieties more prominent in Ghana, shortage of land and staking material (Ghana), and others such as theft that were not negligible in both countries.

It is clear that there are shared priority constraints in the two countries, indicating no specificity of problems by country. The YIIFSWA research agenda needs to be informed by the constraints facing yam farmers and based on these the following interventions were identified: (i) Key investments for lowering farmers’ production cost using agricultural research (breeding, agronomy) and extension (improved agronomic and management practices; and (ii) Managing pests and diseases.

As regards opportunities, yam could be be a formidable force in the fight against poverty, hunger, and deadly diseases if research and development measures are implemented to develop and disseminate technologies that can bring the crop into central focus in national food policies. This will enable it to benefit from policy programs that can drive down production costs. Yam is a preferred food in the region; some varieties, especially yellow varieties, are sources of betacarotene. The crop is produced mostly for sale, and it is increasingly becoming a major source of foreign exchange in the region as an export crop.

Therefore, YIIFSWA, through its initiatives, should ensure that all constraints are turned into opportunities for all the yam value chain players in general and farmers in particular.

A new paradigm for improving yam systems

N. Maroya, R. Asiedu, P. Lava-Kumar, D. Mignouna, T. Abdoulaye, B. Aighewi, M. Balogun, U. Kleih, D. Phillips, A. Lopez-Montes, F. Ndiame, J. Ikeorgu, E. Otoo, N. McNamara; S. Abimiku, Sara Alexander, and R. Asuboah

In West Africa, yam (Dioscorea spp.) plays a very important role as a source of income, food security, and livelihood systems for at least 60 million people. The crop also makes a substantial contribution to protein in the diet, ranking as the third most important source. Farmers engage in yam cultivation for cash income and household food supply. Yam traditionally plays a significant role in societal rituals such as marriage ceremonies and annual festivals, making the crop a measure of wealth. Yams therefore have significance over and above other crops in the region. At the regional level, yam seems to be a superior economic good in all countries. As incomes increase, consumers shift from cassava to yam. This is related in part to regional cultural values and consumer preferences, which is mainly due to the relative ease in consumer food preparation.

Despite its importance in the economy and lives of many people, yam faces many constraints that significantly reduce its potential to support rural development and meet consumers’ needs as an affordable nutritional product. Unavailability and high cost of high quality disease-free seed yam is a major constraint in West Africa. This is followed by high levels of on-farm losses of tubers during harvesting and storage, low soil fertility, and high labor costs associated with land preparation and staking. Other constraints include losses due to diseases caused by viruses and fungi and nematode attack. Scale insects, tuber beetles, and termites affect the tubers in some areas. These effects are experienced more in the dry savannah agroecologies where yam cultivation is rapidly expanding due to the shrinking arable land in the traditional moist humid areas. In addition, the seed yam system in West Africa is mainly informal and entirely market driven.

Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) was initiated to increase yam productivity of 200,000 smallholder farmers (90% with less than 2 acres) in Ghana and Nigeria by 40% (2011 to 2016), and deliver key global goods research products that will contribute to the sustainable development of the yam sector.

Early gains

The project started by identifying yam production systems with partners (Fig. 1).

The yam value chain surveys with farmers, marketers (including exporters), transporters, and processors helped to estimate the cost of production of ware and seed yam, analyze costs and benefits of yam transaction, and identify major ware yam supply and distribution routes in both Nigeria and Ghana. Detailed value chain analysis has shown that yam production is a profitable business and yam farmers are able to generate substantial income from the production of tubers. But at the same time, production costs tend to be high (in particular for seed yam and hired labor) and selling prices depend on the season. There is significant price variability between the new yam season (August to October), the peak season (November to April), and the slack season (May to July). During peak seasons there is much yam in the markets but because of unavailability of good storage facilities, yam are sold at the lowest prices (Fig. 3). The gross margins can be negative if farmers get the timing of their harvest wrong, or are unable to sell at times when prices are higher.

YIIFSWA baseline studies conducted in 600 and 800 households, respectively in Ghana and Nigeria, indicated that only 3% and 10% households are headed by females in Nigeria and Ghana. Land was by far the major natural capital for small-holder farmers in yam-growing areas. The average farmland available was about 2.4 ha in Nigeria and 2.7 ha in Ghana. Priority has been given by households to yam over other food and cash crops. The areas under yam cultivation are generally small and the primary objective of small-holder farmers is to meet subsistence needs.

To develop the capacity of farmers organizations (FOs) by linking them to service providers (SPs) that would offer demand-driven services, a profiling exercise was conducted on 77 and 44 FOs and 40 and 17 SPs in Nigeria and Ghana, respectively. Overall, the performance indicators revealed that the selected FOs in Nigeria performed better than the ones in Ghana, in terms of quality of governance, internal management, value chain management, and marketing strategy. However the selected Nigerian FOs performed poorly, compared to Ghana counterparts, in the internal management and operations indicators.

Over 90% of the farmers use tubers harvested from the previous season as ‘seed yam’ or sourced from local markets, which are of poor quality due to pest and disease attack and lack of seed yam replacement. To improve the quality of farmer-saved seed yam, two NGOs—the Missionary Sister for Holy Rosary (MSHR) in Nigeria and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Ghana—have taken on the responsibility to train yam growers on seed yam multiplication using minisett technique combined with seed treatment to protect them from nematodes and fungal attack. So far, about 16,784 farmers were trained in Nigeria and Ghana.

The seed and ware yam sanitation challenges were also tackled. Surveys were conducted to identify pest and disease prevalence to establish appropriate strategies to control biotic threats to seed yam and ware yam. Virus diagnostics has been simplified to detect major yam-infecting viruses, Yam mosaic virus (YMV), Yam mild mosaic virus (YMMV), and Cucumber mosaic virus (genus, Cucumovirus), through a multiplex PCR-based assay.

Breeder seed yams produced in 2012 by Crops Research Institute (CRI) in Ghana and National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria were handed over respectively to the Grain and Legume Development Board (GLDB, Ghana) and National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC, Nigeria) for generation of foundation seed yam.

The breeder seed yam under production in 2013 is 0.8 ha and 0.5 ha, respectively for Nigeria and Ghana. GLDB has taken the challenge in Ghana and has a 1.5-ha foundation seed production site at Afraku (Ashanti region); while in Nigeria NASC selected two private seed companies (Greengold Construct Nigeria Ltd. and Romarey Ventures Nigeria Ltd.) that were engaged in foundation seed yam production for the first time.

New techniques such as aeroponics and temporary immersion bioreactors systems (TIBS) were effectively established at Ibadan. Results of experiments on the use of aeroponics system were encouraging for both pre-rooted planted and direct planting of vine cuttings of D. rotundata and D. alata. The successful growth of yam on the aeroponics system is reported for the first time with production of microtubers and mini-bulbils.

The TIBS is reported on yam in general, and in only one article for D. rotundata. YIIFSWA established a TIBS running on automated computer system with remote control through Internet. The 128 units of TIBs can produce a minimum of 12,800 plantlets per cycle. The running of the TIBs and the aeroponics systems for breeder or foundation seed yam production will speed up the generation of initial stocks of seed yam to supply the formal seed system.

Integrating available technologies, local and improved varieties to increase yam productivity is also another key objective of the project. Improved varieties with good performance in low soil fertility and drought stressed environments, and in staked and no staked system have been identified (table). The integration of landraces with seed selection and treatment, effective weed control, fertilizer application under no-stake system has indicated yields of 50% above the local technology. Studies have also determined that choice of yam varieties could be same for both men and women farmers and sometimes preferences differ.

For an effective operational seed system the capacity building of the players is key. To that effect national training workshops were organized: breeder and foundation seed production training workshop in Ghana and Nigeria; seed yam quality management protocol (QMP), yam virus disease diagnostics. In addition many partners (NASC, GLDB, CRI; SARI, CRS, MSHR, etc.) have organized training workshops for different stakeholders mainly on minisett technique for yam propagation.


In 24 months of project implementation, significant results were achieved on baseline studies, value chain analysis, farmers’ organization profiling, farmers training, and participatory selection of new genotypes. New techniques on high ratio propagation (aeroponics and TIBS), novel methods to develop virus-free planting materials, and the multiplex RT-PCR test for simultaneous detection of major viruses infecting yam, were successfully established. The formal seed yam system has been initiated and training have started. These initial successes are expected to pave a way to tackle greater challenges confronting the seed yam sector in West Africa.

Issue 10, March 2013

Breakthroughs in maize breeding
Extra early white maize hybrids
Ensuring the safety of African crops
Helping farmers benefit from drought tolerant maize
New maize brings hope
Promoting drought tolerant maize
Saving maize from Striga
Ecofriendly bioherbicide
Developing aflasafeTM
Drought tolerant maize for Mali

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Breakthroughs in maize breeding

B. Badu-Apraku,, M. Oyekunle, and R.O. Akinwale

Extra-early maize inbreds and hybrids that are resistant to Striga, tolerant of low nitrogen (N) and drought at flowering and grain filling periods, and that combine tolerance for these three stresses are now available in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the painstaking research under the Maize Improvement Program at IITA.

Maize is the most important cereal crop after rice in West and Central Africa. However, during the last two decades, its production and productivity have lagged behind population growth for several reasons. These include low soil fertility, little or no use of improved seeds, herbicides, and fertilizers, inadequate plant density, weed infestation, poor tillage practices, labor shortages, increased levels of biotic and abiotic constraints, and high costs of inputs. In addition, serious infrastructural and institutional constraints have limited the adoption of improved maize technologies. Climate change and its associated effects have also resulted in altered weather patterns leading to erratic and unreliable amounts and distribution of rainfall, resulting in drought. Presently, stresses from Striga infestation, drought, and low N are the most important biotic and abiotic factors that limit maize production in the region.

Four maturity groups are needed to satisfy the maize varietal requirements of the subregion for human consumption, poultry and livestock feed, and industrial use. These groups are the extra-early varieties (80-85 days to maturity), early (90-95 days to maturity), intermediate (100-110 days to maturity), and late (>120 days to maturity). Extra-early varieties play a unique role in filling the hunger gap in July in the Sudan savanna and the northern Guinea savanna zones after the long dry season. The extra-early varieties are also used for late planting when the rains are delayed, for intercropping with cassava, millet, and sorghum, and as “green maize” in the forest agroecology where they allow early access to the market for a premium price. The availability of early and extra-early varieties has significantly contributed to the expansion of maize to new frontiers in the savanna agroecology, replacing sorghum and millet.

A major strategy of IITA’s Maize Improvement Program is to breed cultivars that are Striga resistant and drought- and low-N tolerant to increase and stabilize maize yield production in the subregion. Two approaches have been adopted for drought tolerance. The first is to breed for extra-early maturing cultivars that are drought escaping. These cultivars are adapted to drought-prone environments in West and Central Africa; they mature and complete their life cycles before severe moisture deficit occurs or before the onset of terminal drought. The second strategy is to breed drought-tolerant cultivars with better adaptation to drought-prone environments under induced drought stress. This is achieved by introgressing or introducing into extra-early cultivars the genes for drought tolerance to enable them to withstand mid-season drought when it occurs during the flowering and grain-filling periods.

Breeding for adaptation to drought-prone environments
The goal of the IITA Maize Program is to develop open-pollinated and hybrid maize cultivars adapted to the different forms of climatic variation prevalent in West and Central Africa with emphasis on drought stress. The naturally available mechanisms for drought escape and drought tolerance in the germplasm and the prevailing production environments in West and Central Africa were exploited to develop cultivars with enhanced adaptation to stressful environments. Drought escape occurs when the plant completes critical physiological processes before drought sets in. This trait is quite desirable in cultivars to be released to farmers in areas where terminal drought is most prevalent. Adaptation to drought-prone environments, on the other hand, is under genetic control and indicates the presence of physiological mechanisms that minimize or withstand the adverse effects of drought if and when it occurs. Cultivars with enhanced adaptation to drought-prone environments are useful where drought occurs randomly and at any growth stage of the maize crop. This is quite relevant in West and Central Africa where drought occurrence is erratic, with varying timing and levels of intensity.

Using the two strategies, IITA has, during the last two decades, developed a wide range of high-yielding drought tolerant or drought-escaping extra-early Striga resistant populations (white and yellow endosperm), inbred lines, and cultivars to combat the threat posed by the weed Striga hermonthica and recurrent drought in the savannas of West and Central Africa. The extra-early populations from which the inbred lines and cultivars were derived were formed from crosses between local landraces, exotic, and introduced germplasm identified through extensive multilocation trials in West and Central Africa. They were selected based on high grain yield, earliness, and resistance to the maize streak virus (MSV), and above all on adaptation to the high temperatures and drought stress characteristic of the Sudan savanna in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger.

The extra-early germplasm was expected to have adaptive traits for tolerance to these stresses in the environments where the cultivars had survived. Some of the extra-early inbred lines in the IITA Maize Program not only escaped drought stress but also seemed to possess drought tolerance genes. The inbreds, early, intermediate, and late-maturing, are also able to withstand the mid-season drought that occurs during the flowering and grain filling periods in the savannas of West and Central Africa.

Selection for tolerance for drought under managed drought stress
Selection for extra-earliness in the IITA Maize Program has been carried out in the savannas of the subregion. So far, several cultivars have been bred, some of which have been released to farmers after extensive testing in the different countries in the subregion.

Induced drought stress for selection for drought tolerance in extra-early maize is achieved by withdrawing irrigation water from 21 days after planting until maturity, with the plants relying on water stored in the soil for growth and development. Promising inbred lines selected for drought tolerance were used to develop extra-early maturing open-pollinated and hybrid cultivars with enhanced adaptation to drought-prone environments. The selected lines are also used as sources of tolerance genes for introgression into extra-early breeding populations that are undergoing recurrent selection. Using this strategy, several extra-early drought tolerant and Striga resistant cultivars with enhanced adaptation to drought-prone environments have been bred.

Selection for tolerance for low soil N
In most developing countries, maize production is carried out under conditions of low soil fertility which further compounds the problems of drought stress and Striga infestation on productivity. Estimated yield losses from N-stress alone can be as high as 50% (Wolfe et al. 1988). Therefore, the development and adoption of maize germplasm with tolerance for multiple stresses are crucial for increased productivity. Banziger et al. (1999) showed that improvement for drought tolerance also resulted in specific adaptation and improved performance under low-N conditions, suggesting that tolerance to either stress involves a common adaptive mechanism.

Identification of inbreds and hybrids with genes for tolerance for low soil N and drought
Three experiments were conducted between 2007 and 2010 in Nigeria to identify extra-early inbreds with tolerance for low N and/or drought stress at flowering and grain-filling periods, and to determine the potential of the inbreds for hybrid production and as a source of germplasm for improving breeding populations. In the first two experiments, 90 extra-early maturing maize inbred lines were evaluated in Nigeria at Ikenne (6º 53’N, 3º 42’E, 60 m altitude, 1200 mm annual rainfall) under managed drought stress and in well-watered environments during the dry seasons of 2007/2008 and 2008/2009. Similarly, the lines were evaluated in low-N (30 kg/ha) and high-N (90 kg/ha) studies at Mokwa (9º 18’N, 5º 4’E, 457 m altitude, 1100 mm annual rainfall) during the growing seasons of 2008 and 2009.

Results identified several stable and high-yielding hybrids ideal for drought environments and pinpointed the fact that the extra-early inbreds and hybrids are not only drought-escaping but also possess genes conferring drought and/or low-N tolerance. TZEEI 6, TZEEI 4, TZEEI 36, and TZEEI 38 were identified as ideal inbreds under drought. Under low N, TZEEI 19, TZEEI 96, and TZEEI 45 were top ranking with TZEEI 19 the ideal inbred. TZEEI 19, TZEEI 29, TZEEI 56, TZEEI 38, and TZEEI 79 were tolerant to both stresses. Eighteen of the 36 hybrids produced above-average yields across environments with four hybrids identified as very stable. TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 21 was the closest to the ideal genotype because it combined large mean performance with high yield stability.

Badu-Apraku et al. (2013) evaluated 17 of the 90 extra-early white maize inbreds tolerant to drought and low-N used in the earlier studies under drought, Striga, and in optimal environments at three locations in Nigeria for 2 years. Results indicated that the test environments were unique and that there were adequate genetic differences among the inbred lines to allow good progress from selection for improvements in the traits and to serve as sources of favorable alleles for improving breeding populations for drought tolerance at the flowering and grain-filling periods and Striga resistance and to serve as parents for developing superior hybrids.

Under drought stress, the mean grain yield of the hybrids ranged from 1114 kg/ha for TZEEI 14 × TZEEI 13 to 2734 kg/ha for TZEEEI 29 × TZEEI 21. The top-ranking hybrid, TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 21, outyielded by 13% the best Striga resistant and drought tolerant early maturing open-pollinated variety, TZE-W DT STR C4. Under well-watered conditions, the top-yielding hybrid was TZEEI 3 × TZEEI 13 (5868 kg/ha) while the lowest was TZEEI 14 × TZEEI 13 (2749 kg/ha). Under artificial Striga infestation, TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 14 was the top ranking hybrid, outyielding by 22% the best Striga and drought tolerant early open pollinated check, TZE-W DT STR QPM.

A stability analysis of the top 20 and worst five single-cross hybrids and four early open pollinated check cultivars revealed TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 14 as the second highest yielding and most stable single-cross hybrid across research environments; the highest-yielding single-cross hybrid, TZEEI 6 × TZEEI 14, was the least stable.

Badu-Apraku and Oyekunle (2012) also conducted two more studies for 2 years at five locations in Nigeria. TZEEI 79 × TZEEI 76 turned out to be the highest yielding and most stable hybrid across environments. It was concluded that the available extra-early yellow maize inbred lines are not only drought-escaping but also possess genes for drought tolerance at flowering and grain-filling periods.

The availability of these Striga resistant, low N and drought-tolerant extra-early inbreds and hybrids should go a long way in reducing the instability of maize yields in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the savannas and during the second season in the forest ecologies.

Badu-Apraku, B. and M. Oyekunle. 2012. Genetic analysis of grain yield and other traits of extra-early yellow maize inbreds and hybrid performance under contrasting environments. Field Crops Research 129: 99–110.
Badu-Apraku., B., M.A.B. Fakorede, M. Oyekunle, and R.O. Akinwale. 2011. Selection of extra-early maize inbreds under low N and drought at flowering and grain-filling for hybrid production. Maydica 56: 29-41.
Badu-Apraku, B., M. Oyekunle, R.O. Akinwale, and M. Aderounmu. 2013. Combining ability and genetic diversity of extra-early white maize inbreds under stress and non-stress environments. Crop Science 53: 9–26.
Badu-Apraku, B., M. Oyekunle, R.O. Akinwale, and A.F. Lum. 2011. Combining ability of early-maturing white maize inbreds under stress and nonstress environments. Agronomy Journal 103: 544-557.
Badu-Apraku, B., M.A.B. Fakorede, A. Menkir, A.Y. Kamara, and A. Adam. 2004. Effects of drought screening methodology on genetic variances and covariances in Pool 16 DT maize population. Journal of Agricultural Science 142: 445-452.
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Two extra-early maturing white maize hybrids released in Nigeria

B. Badu-Apraku,, S.A. Olakojo, G. Olaoye, M. Oyekunle, M.A.B. Fakorede, B.A. Ogunbodede, and S.E. Aladele

Two extra-early maturing hybrids with combined resistance/tolerance to Striga, drought, and low soil nitrogen have been released in Nigeria by the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR &T) in Nigeria. The extra-early hybrids originally known as IITA Hybrid EEWH-21 and IITA Hybrid EEWH-26 and now designated as Ife Maizehyb-5 and Ife Maizehyb-6 were developed by IITA, and tested extensively in Nigeria in partnership with IAR & T, through the funding support of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Project. The DTMA Project is executed by CIMMYT and IITA with funds provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Early (90-95 days to maturity) and extra-early (80-85 days to maturity) maize varieties can contribute to food security especially in marginal rainfall areas of West and Central Africa. These varieties are ready for harvest early in the season when other traditional crops such as sorghum and millet are not ready, and are thus used to fill the hunger gap in July in the savanna zone when all food reserves are depleted after the long dry period. Furthermore, there is a high demand for the early and extra-early cultivars in the forest zone for peri-urban maize consumers.

These maize varieties provide farmers the opportunity to market the early crop as green maize at a premium price in addition to being compatible with cassava for intercropping (IITA 1992). However, despite the potential of early and extra-early maize to contribute to food security and increased incomes of farmers in the subregion, maize production and productivity in the savannas are severely constrained by drought, Striga parasitism and low soil-nitrogen.

During the last two decades, IITA in collaboration with national scientists in West and Central Africa, has developed a wide range of high-yielding drought-tolerant and/or escaping extra-early Striga resistant populations (white and yellow endosperm), inbred lines, and cultivars to combat these threats.

Extra-early inbreds and hybrids that are not only tolerant to low N and drought escaping (characteristics of extra earliness) but also possess genes for tolerance to drought during flowering and grain-filling periods are now available in Nigeria (Badu-Apraku and Oyekunle 2012).

Saving maize from parasitic Striga in Kenya and Nigeria

Thousands of farmers in Kenya and Nigeria are successfully battling the invasion in their farms by Striga, a deadly parasitic weed. They are now enjoying higher yields in maize, the number one staple in Kenya and an important cash crop in Nigeria.

The key to managing this weed is to combine sustainable multiple-pronged technology options being advocated by the Integrated Striga Management in Africa (ISMA) project to sustainably eliminate the weed from their fields, says Dr Mel Oluoch, ISMA project manager.

Striga attacks and greatly reduces the production of staple foods and commercial crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice, sugarcane, and cowpea. The weed attaches itself to the roots of plants and removes water and nutrients and can cause losses of up to 100% in farmers’ crops. Furthermore, a single flower of the weed can produce up to 50,000 seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.

The weed is the number one maize production constraint in Western Kenya, and Nigeria, infesting most farmers’ fields.

The management technologies range from simple cultural practices such as intercropping maize with legumes such as groundnuts; crop rotation of maize with soybean which stimulates Striga to germinate but which later dies in the absence of the maize host to latch onto; deploying a “push-pull’ technology that involves intercropping cereals with specific Striga-suppressing desmodium forage legume; using Striga resistant maize varieties; and using CIMMYT-developed maize varieties resistant to Imazapyr—a BASF herbicide (StrigAway®), which kills the Striga seed as it germinates and before it can cause any damage; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies which uses a naturally occurring host-specific fungal pathogen that kills the Striga at all stages without affecting other crops.

Imazapyr-resistant maize varieties with natural resistance to Striga hermonthica have been developed. The best hybrids produce 19% to 333% more grain yields under Striga infestation, sustain 17% to 57% less Striga damage, and support 63% to 98% less emerged Striga plants compared with the commercial hybrid check. In addition, new Striga resistant hybrids and open-pollinated synthetic varieties (OPVs) that combine Striga resistance with good standability have been developed. The hybrids and OPVs produce 47% to 126% more grain yields under Striga infestation, sustain 17% to 60% less Striga damage, and support 45% to 90% less emerged Striga plants compared with the common farmers’ varieties and commercial hybrids.

ISMA ( is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is being implemented with the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, CIMMYT, African Agricultural Technology Foundation, BASF Crop Protection, and other national agricultural research and extension services and private sector players in Kenya and Nigeria.

Promoting the use of drought tolerant maize in Nigeria

Tahirou Abdoulaye, t. and Onu Anyebe

The DTMA project of IITA-CIMMYT aims at developing and deploying drought tolerant varieties in 13 sub-Saharan African countries. In West Africa, the project, led by IITA and its national partners, is being implemented in Nigeria, Bénin, Mali, and Ghana. In Nigeria, the project covers all the maize-producing agroecologies.

As part of the promotion efforts, farmers’ groups were formed in Kano and Katsina States in northern Nigeria to demonstrate the performance of these improved varieties but also to organize the farmers so that they could have access to the critical inputs needed in maize production.

IITA introduced the drought tolerant variety EVDT 99 to the community of Ruwan Kanya in Rano Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano State, in 2009. This was done as part of the efforts of the DTMA project to inform farmers about drought tolerant maize, both established and newly developed varieties.

A maize production innovation platform was organized around EVDT 99 in the village of Ruwan Kanya. Fourteen farmers initially participated in the production of seeds. For the first year, six farmers each planted 10 kg of the improved variety and eight farmers each planted 5 kg. Other farmers saw the maize fields during the growing season and requested seeds from the participating farmers; eventually the number of participants increased to 36 in 2010. They formed an association to enable them to obtain fertilizer from the State Government.

In the following season, more farmers planted the variety. Six were able to increase their farmland; others bought inputs that increased their production. For example, Alhaji Bako Monitor bought a pair of bullocks for his farm work and for the transportation of goods to the market.

Almost four years later, the DT variety EVDT 99 is now being called Ar Ashiru (named after the president of the farmers’ group). It is grown in the 10 communities in Rano LGA, one community in Sumaila LGA, one community in Tudun Wada LGA, all in Kano State and in Soba/Risipa in Kaduna State. Other communities in Kano State that got EVDT 99 from Ruwan Kanya LGA include Gidan Zangi, Garabi, Doka, Zazaye, Takalafia, Gana, Kajorawa, Yelwa ciki, Tadesha, and Kundu.

Some farmers also planted EVDT 99 in the dry season after harvesting tomatoes between February/March. The dry season maize is harvested fresh and consumed after being roasted or boiled.

The farmers’ association in Ruwan Kanya was linked to the Kano State Government in 2010. The members were able to purchase subsidized fertilizer at 1100 naira/bag (~US$7) including transportation to the village. The following year, in 2011, the government changed; the new government did not allocate fertilizer to the farmers’ group. The farmers put their money together and the project helped by linking them with a dealer who provided good quality input. They bought the fertilizer in bulk at 5000 naira (~$31) for NPK and 5200 naira for urea and continued seed production.

The farmers say that they appreciate the productivity and earliness of the variety. EVDT 99 responds well to fertilizer and those growing it have had no problem in getting the fertilizer they need to apply.

During the new phase of DTMA, the project team is focusing on getting these farmers linked to seed companies so they can renew their seed stock and continue to purchase quality certified seeds. The drought tolerant maize varieties and hybrids are now being produced and sold by some seed companies in Nigeria, thanks to the efforts of these farmers.

Farmers need to be made aware of the need to renew their seed stock regularly including seeds for open-pollinated varieties such as EVDT to maintain the purity and productivity level of their cultivars.

Nigeria releases Vitamin A maize

The Nigerian Government has released two new maize hybrids that can provide more vitamin A in the diets of millions in the country.

Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in Nigeria, especially among children, pregnant women, and mothers. It lowers immunity and impairs vision, which can lead to blindness and even death.

The hybrids, which are the first generation vitamin A-rich maize, were released by the National Variety Release Committee of Nigeria as Ife maizehyb 3 and Ife maizehyb 4. They are recognized as IITA hybrids A0905-28 and A0905-32, respectively.

The hybrids are a product of nearly a decade of breeding for enhanced levels of pro-vitamin A. Provitamin A is converted by the body into vitamin A when the maize is eaten.

The hybrids were developed by IITA with the Institute of Agricultural Research & Training (IAR&T) using conventional breeding in a project funded by HarvestPlus—a Challenge Program of the CGIAR as part of strategies to address the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency.

Other collaborating partners include the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria; University of Maiduguri; International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT), University of Illinois, and University of Wisconsin.

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.