Nigeria gets improved cassava

The Nigerian government has released four improved cassava varieties that are a product of about a decade-old conventional breeding research. These include NR 01/0004, CR 41-10, TMS 00/0203, and TMS 01/0040.

TMS 00/0203 and TMS 01/0040 were bred by IITA scientists, while NR 01/0004 was bred by the Umudike, Nigeria-based National Root Crops Research Institute, and CR 41-10 by the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

On-farm prerelease trials involving local farmers in eight states of the country show that the improved varieties outperformed local checks with an average yield of about 31 t/ha compared with 26 t/ha recorded by the local varieties.

Farmers love the varieties for their excellent culinary qualities, high yield, and resistance to pests and diseases.

The new varieties seek to strengthen Nigeria’s lead in cassava production, increase farmers’ incomes, and guarantee food security.

In Kanti Rawal’s footsteps

Remy S. Pasquet (rpasquet@icipe.org), Dominique Dumet (d.dumet@cgiar.org), and Sunday E. Aladele (sundayaladele@yahoo.com)

Cowpea is a rich source of dietary protein for millions in West Africa. Photo by IITA.
Cowpea is a rich source of dietary protein for millions in West Africa. Photo by IITA.

Cowpea, Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. is the major legume crop in the African lowlands. It is the main protein supply of half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigeria is the most populous country in West Africa, and also produces the largest amount of cowpea. Its urban population is growing in leaps and bounds, and thus, it is also importing a lot of cowpea from all its neighbors

Cowpea is considered by several authors as having been domesticated in Nigeria or within a larger area including Nigeria (i.e., Vaillancourt and Weeden 1992). In addition, the first wild cowpea accession was collected in northern Nigeria by J.M. Dalziel, a British botanist, and this led Piper (1913) to propose the African origin of cowpea1.

To some extent, this partly explains why Nigeria was the first country surveyed for cowpea accessions by IITA’s then Genetic Resources Unit. Between 1970 and 1973, Kanti Rawal traveled 38,000 km around Nigeria and Niger. He collected wild cowpea accessions as well as numerous accessions of domesticated cowpea.

According to his map, he collected wild cowpea in 68 places (Rawal 1975). Unfortunately, over the years, the passport data of these accessions were lost and, today, the place of collection is known for only four out of the 40 accessions still maintained at IITA.

Regarding Nigeria, Rawal (1975) wrote in the abstract of his paper: “As in the case with many cultivated species, Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. has a wild form growing in secondary forests and derived savannahs and a companion weed form adapted to disturbed habitats such as roadside ditches and fields. Evidence of introgressive hybridization between weedy and cultivated forms has been presented. The zone of extensive natural hybridization corresponds to the cultivation area of northern Nigeria and Niger and may well extend to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Senegal.”

Rawal gave very good descriptions of what he called the wild and weed forms. His wild forms were samples of subsp. baoulensis (A.Chev.) Pasquet; the weed forms were samples of subsp. unguiculata var. spontanea (Schweinf.) Pasquet. We (Pasquet and Padulosi in press) believe that the first subspecies belongs to the secondary gene pool of cowpea and the second to the primary gene pool. However, since Rawal’s material is mostly lost2, the assessment of the diversity of wild cowpea from Nigeria is impossible in the absence of new collection missions in the country.

In addition, factors such as climate change, increased incidence of pests and diseases, cultural change, or the adoption of improved lines are also likely to affect the diversity of cowpea and wild Vigna in the near future. To avoid the irreversible loss of Vigna and to secure highly viable Vigna diversity, the Global Crop Diversity Trust in association with IITA and Nigeria’s National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB) organized a collecting mission for wild Vigna germplasm in 2010. The mission covered 27,000 km in Nigeria between 14 October and 7 December and collected 260 accessions (242 of var. spontanea and 18 of subsp. baoulensis . In addition, 13 populations were sampled for further population genetic analysis.

In comparison with the Rawal missions that took place in 1971–73, we surveyed more localities within a shorter time. Unlike Rawal, we focused on wild cowpea only and benefited from a much better road network, especially in northern Nigeria where we were driving more than 600 km/day. In the end, there is a general agreement between the results of Rawal’s survey and our own in terms of geographical distribution of both subspecies.

In the northern ranges, we often encountered wild cowpea in fields or at roadsides. Wild cowpea plants are easy to spot in the field, as they twine 2–3 m above soil level on sorghum or pearl millet stems. Domesticated cowpea are prostrate or short and erect but usually not twining.

Based on the ecological definition of a weed, which is ”an uncultivated plant taxon that benefits from human impacts or ’disturbance’,” var. spontanea is a weed mainly encountered in disturbed places, such as in fields and gardens, at roadsides, and sometimes within towns (sewage ditches, grassy places); it was not observed within Yankari National Park. However, to some extent, var. spontanea is also a weed in the economic sense of the word since it is usually pulled out from the fields by farmers. It usually appears as isolated plants or isolated patches of fewer than 20 plants or as a few plants forgotten by the farmer while weeding.

In some places, we found fields with as many wild cowpea as domesticated cowpea (SP 815, Katsina State, for example). We suspect that, in these places, farmers were primarily interested in fodder. Var. spontanea is obviously a good fodder plant and farmers primarily cultivating cowpea for fodder would not choose to lose time weeding wild cowpea.

Domesticated cowpea close to var. spontanea (white arrow), SP 949, Borno State, Nigeria. Source: R. Pasquet, i<em/>cipe.” title=”domesticated-cowpea-close-to-var-spontanea” width=”300″ height=”252″ class=”size-medium wp-image-2510″ /></a><figcaption class=Domesticated cowpea close to var. spontanea (white arrow), SP 949, Borno State, Nigeria. Source: R. Pasquet, icipe.

Since experiments have proved pollen flow between wild and domesticated cowpea at over 30 m distances (Fatokun and Ng 2007), we checked if domesticated cowpea was grown within 30 m of the collecting sites for wild cowpea. This occurred frequently (70%) in the northern part of the range which is also the main cowpea production area. Our survey confirms Rawal’s (1975) conclusion. There are numerous situations in Nigeria in which domesticated cowpea and wild cowpea exchange genes. Therefore, its diversity may not be much higher than that of the domesticated gene pool. An evaluation of diversity among the collected material would help confirm or disprove this assumption.

The potential hybridization between wild and cultivated forms has implications for the transgenic Bt cowpea which are presently under confined field trials in Nigeria (www.aatf-africa.org/userfiles/Cowpea-Project-brief.pdf). If the Bt gene could move through the pollen from transformed to wild plants, further careful studies need to evaluate the advantage given by the Bt gene to a wild cowpea plant and whether Bt cowpea poses any risk to biodiversity.

References
Fatokun CA and Ng Q. 2007. Outcrossing in cowpea. J Food Agric Environ 5:334–338.

Pasquet and Padulosi. In press. Genus Vigna and cowpea (V. unguiculata (L.) Walp.) taxonomy: current status and prospects. Presented at the 5th World Cowpea Research Conference, Saly, Senegal, September 2010.

Piper CV. 1913. The wild prototype of the cowpea. US Dept. Agric. Bureau Plant Ind. Circular 124: 29–32.

Rawal KM. 1975. Natural hybridization among wild, weedy and cultivated Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. Euphytica 24(3):699–707.

Vaillancourt RE and Weeden NF. 1992. Chloroplast DNA polymorphism suggests Nigerian center of domestication for the cowpea, Vigna unguiculata (Leguminosae). Am. J. Bot. 79-10:1194–1199.

NAQS: IITA contributes to our effectiveness

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

Olufunke Awosusi, NAQS
Olufunke Awosusi, NAQS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The institute has contributed to our effectiveness in the country.

The state of Nigeria’s forests

David Ladipo, ladipoolajide@yahoo.com

The IITA forest. Photo by K. Lopez, IITA.
The IITA forest. Photo by K. Lopez, IITA.

Nigeria is blessed with a large expanse of land and variable vegetation, but this important resource is not sustainably used or managed. Many rural dwellers in the past have treated our forest resources as inexhaustible.

Today the story is different. The average rural dweller now realizes that the forest is “finished,” but poverty continues to force people to exploit even the relics of remaining forests.

The Federal Government has, over the years, attempted to generate baseline data on the state of our forests including their use. These studies have provided data for a better understanding of the state of forest resources, the rate of environmental degradation, and the rate of forest depletion.

They also emphasize that present-day forest cover is under pressure as a result of human activities such as agricultural development where vast lands are cleared without conservation considerations, large-scale peri-urban housing project development, fuelwood generation, uncontrolled forest harvesting including poaching for logs and poles, and urbanization.

Pterocarpus soyauxii (local name: Silk-cotton) in IITA. Photo by J. Peacock, IITA.
Pterocarpus soyauxii (local name: Silk-cotton) in IITA. Photo by J. Peacock, IITA.

In Nigeria, deforestation or loss of vegetation or the selective exploitation of forests for economic or social reasons is very common. In most areas major losses have been recorded in vegetation, forest complexity (diversity), or in germplasm (quality).

The deforestation rate in the country is about 3.5% per year, translating to a loss of 350,000–400,000 ha of forest land per year. Recent studies show that forests now occupy about 923,767 km2 or about 10 million ha. This is about 10% of Nigeria’s forest land area and well below FAO’s recommended national minimum of 25%. Between 1990 and 2005 alone, the world lost 3.3% of its forests while Nigeria lost 21%.

In addition, some state governments are removing the protected status from forest estates without regard for the environment. The State Forest Departments have been unable to curtail the spate of requests to establish large-scale oil palm plantations in forest estates. The unfortunate impression that has thus been created is that the forest estate exists as a land bank for other sectors as demands continue nationwide.

As the forests are exploited, so too is the biodiversity. Plant and animal genetic resources are also lost with this important genetic resource, vital for breeding in future. Conserving the wild relatives of cultivated crops is also needed.

What factors continue to threaten biodiversity and contribute to poverty? These include deforestation, desertification, habitat alteration, invasive alien species (plants and animals) importation, poor land management (fire and agricultural systems + grazing), climate change, unilateral development decisions, poor political accountability, and poor budget allocation, release, and implementation.

Young Milicia excelsa (Iroko). Photo by J. Peacock.
Young Milicia excelsa (Iroko). Photo by J. Peacock.

We cannot afford not to conserve our forests and thus lose the vital ingredients of rural development. The situation is getting worse every day and the need for forest conservation and restoration is becoming critical.

With the new National Forestry Policy and the National Document on Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, a new approach is needed now on forestry resources conservation in Nigeria. Enforcement and a community approach will produce positive results.

All stakeholders need to understand that biodiversity is critical to the maintenance of a healthy environment. Its role is enormous in meeting human needs while maintaining the ecological processes upon which our survival depends. Biodiversity not only provides direct benefits such as food, medicine, and energy; it also affords us a “life support system.”

Biodiversity is required for the recycling of essential elements. It is also responsible for mitigating pollution, protecting watersheds, and combating soil erosion. Controlling deforestation will ensure that biodiversity exists and can help reduce the impacts of climate change and thus act as a buffer against excessive variations in weather and climate. It can then protect us from catastrophic events.

Increasing our knowledge about biodiversity can transform our values and beliefs. Knowledge about biodiversity is valuable in stimulating technological innovation and providing the framework for sustainable development. Let us protect our forests as a start.

Biotech in Nigeria: The journey so far

IITA scientist in Biotech Lab. Photo by O. Adebayo
IITA scientist in Biotech Lab. Photo by O. Adebayo
Nigeria, the world’s largest grower of cassava, producing over 40 million tons per year, is seeking to adopt the use of modern biotechnology tools in agriculture, but efforts are stymied by the absence of a biosafety law.

The passage of the bill by the Nigerian Parliament will launch the country into the production and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMO) with the capacity to increase crop production, ensure food security, and improve rural livelihoods.

“The passage of the bill will be great,” said Dr Oyekanmi Nash, Program Director, West African Biotechnology Workshop Series. “Biotechnology holds the key to some of our problems in agriculture and health, and the earlier we tap into it, the better,” he added.

Background
Currently, Nigeria’s population of more than 140 million with an annual growth rate of 2.9% demands increased agricultural production to guarantee food security.

This means traditional agricultural practices, characterized by the use of poor seedlings, must give way to modern tools to allow agriculture to grow by double digits from the current average of about 6%. Such a growth will conserve government revenues from being used in importing food items.

According to government figures, the country spends about US$3 billion annually on food importation. The situation was worse in 2008 when food prices hit the roof, aggravated by the negative effects of severe drought on agricultural production in the northern parts of the country, and high energy costs when crude oil reached $150 per barrel.

“With the turn of events now and for us to meet our food demand in the future, we should apply modern biotech in crop production,” Nash said.

He commended IITA for setting up a modern biotech laboratory in Nigeria, saying that the establishment of such a multimillion dollar laboratory in Nigeria was a reflection of the institute’s commitment to fight poverty in Africa and improving rural livelihoods.

Fluorescence-based genotyping for DNA fingerprinting of plants and pathogens. Photo by IITA
Fluorescence-based genotyping for DNA fingerprinting of plants and pathogens. Photo by IITA
Challenges in introducing GMOs
If the biosafety bill is passed, Nigeria will join other African nations, such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa in cultivating GMO crops.

It is expected that the entrance of GMOs will increase crop productivity, lower the cost of production, guarantee food security, and improve both the health and livelihoods of resource-poor farmers who make up more than 70% of the rural population.

The absence of a biosafety law is the problem. In addition, research and development in GM crops are indeed in their infancy in Nigeria as very few establishments in the national agricultural research system have developed the critical mass of human capacity and the infrastructural requirements that would lead to the accelerated development of transgenic materials.

A communiqué issued last year by stakeholders, including the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) said that other limitations in the commercialization of GMO crops included poor capital equipment, irregular energy, inadequate water supply, and ineffective use of information and communication technology, among others.

The meeting further noted the obvious deficiencies in both the teaching and learning curricula at all school levels and accordingly recommended vibrant and dynamic curricula to generate appropriate labor to meet research and development needs in biotechnology activities.

biotech-milestonesBiotech and Nigeria’s vision 2020
In the next 11 years, Nigeria intends to be ranked among the top 20 economies of the world. Achieving this goal requires adopting policies and options that will lead to improved agriculture and food security among other benefits.

For Nigeria, experts say this will include genetic improvement in the priority crops such as sorghum, cassava, cotton, yam, banana, plantain, maize, wheat, gum arabic, cowpea, and soybean that are of critical importance to the nation.

Prof. Bamidele Solomon, Director-General of NABDA, which has the mandate to promote, coordinate, and regulate biotechnology across the country, said his agency would ensure that the cutting-edge technology of biotech promotes a healthy environment, ensuring national food security and providing affordable health care delivery as well as the alleviation of poverty.

While 2020 appears rather far away, not taking proactive steps toward tackling the present challenges facing the full implementation of biotech will certainly make Vision 2020 a mirage, as far as food security is concerned. This is indeed a wake-up call. The earlier we act, the better.

30 years R4D in soybean: what’s next?

Forty years ago, only a handful of farmers in Benue State, middle belt of Nigeria were growing soybean. The crop was generally thought more suitable for large-scale commercial growing and industrial processing. But not anymore.

This golden bean is grown in the farms of resource-poor smallholders in the Guinea savannas of Nigeria and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

“In the 1970s, there was little interest and effort in Africa to grow and improve soybean because of extremely low yields and seed viability, poor nodulation, high shattering rate, and limited postharvest use,” reported Dr Hailu Tefera, soybean breeder and OIC of IITA-Malawi, on 30 years of IITA soybean breeding work.

Breeding gains

When IITA started improvement research in 1974, the average yield per hectare in Africa was 660 kg/ha. Total production was only 0.2 million tons. Thirty years later, using IITA-developed varieties, the average yield in West African countries increased by more than 50%, and 67% in the whole of Africa, equivalent to 1.1 t/ha over 20 years of breeding effort. That is a genetic gain of more than 2% per year in grain yield.

Twenty-one African countries now produce soybean. Nigeria has the highest 6-year (2000-05) average production of 486,000 tons on an area of 553,260 hectares, followed by South Africa with 205,270 tons from 122,870 hectares, and Uganda with 155,500 tons from 139,500 hectares.

Soybean production increased dramatically, Tefera said, as locally adapted tropical germplasm was developed and distributed to other African countries. In Nigeria, the soybean industry quickly advanced. Integrated processing, use, and marketing aspects followed efforts to develop improved cultivars. This is a testament to IITA’s research for development (R4D) in soybean that produced high-yielding and stable varieties, tolerant or resistant to biotic and abiotic constraints, and promoted processing and use.

Community impact

In 1985, to improve nutrition and to create demand, IITA began the development of small-scale and home-level food processing technologies. A study funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada with the Institute for Agricultural Research and Training (IART), Ibadan, Nigeria, after 3 years found that soybean had been successfully used to increase the protein content of traditional foods. New products—flour, milk, baby food—had been developed and introduced. Small-scale processing machines were introduced. Over 25,000 people in the rural areas were trained, with training project sites increasing from 3 to 27. The number of farmers growing soybean in target villages increased by 35%. Sales of grain and flour soybean increased in Nigerian markets.

Phase 2 of the project covered all Nigeria with several national institutions such as IART; National Cereals Research Institute, Badeggi; National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services, Zaria; and the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. An assessment of four states in 1992 showed wide commercialization.

Markets had increased from 2 in 1987 to 42 in 1993. The number of retailers ballooned from 4 in 1987 to 824 in 1993. In Benue State, more women were involved in soybean production. New IITA varieties were widely adopted and grown by 9% of farmers in 1989 to 75% in 1997 on 30% of the area planted to soybean in the state.

So far, Tefera reports, some 17 IITA-bred tropical soybean varieties have been released by national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) of several West and Central African countries (Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo),  and Uganda. These show considerable increases in grain and fodder yields, improving soil fertility in the savannas and enhancing the yields of subsequent crops such as maize and sorghum. Since 2000, however, support for soybean research among the NARES has declined. On-farm variety testing and releases is at a standstill, except for MAKSOY 1N, an early maturing variety resistant to rust, a destructive foliar disease, in Uganda.

Potential for expansion

Soybean growing suitability map. IITA
Soybean growing suitability map. IITA

IITA recently expanded breeding of its West Africa-bred varieties to Southern Africa, where cultivation by small-scale farmers is rising because of less susceptibility to pests and disease, better grain storage quality compared with other legumes, large leaf biomass, and a secure commercial market. Commercial soybean farms are now found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.

In South Africa, the Agricultural Research Council develops cultivars with better adaptation and seed quality, high yield, resistance to nematodes and rust, and tolerance to low night temperatures. It is also developing genetically modified drought-tolerant soybean—the first soybean GMO in South Africa. Twenty-one members of the South African National Seed Organization produced 2,879 tons of soybean seed in 2006-07.

SeedCo in Zimbabwe breeds varieties for the local market and other countries in the region; these are resistant to red leaf blotch and frogeye disease. It produces inoculants that go with the varieties. The Zambia Seed Company produces, processes, and markets seeds of various crops including soybean and is considering testing IITA-developed varieties under Zambian conditions.

“Soybean improvement efforts in the past focused on helping subsistence farming,” said Tefera. “Currently many African countries are practicing market-oriented agriculture to increase farmers’ income and reduce poverty. Soybean improvement work at IITA should consider technologies for use by farmers of different capacities.”

According to FAO, Africa spent US$1 billion in 2004 to import soybean and soy oil. Of this, US$752 million was for soybean oil and US$254 million was for soybean grain/meal. Countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia in aggregate produce 33.4% of Africa’s total production.

Producing enough in the region and adding value can save millions spent on imports for other development activities, he further added. There are also export possibilities to Europe and Japan as soybean grown in Africa is mostly non-GMO.
Favorable government policies are needed to develop the soybean industry in Africa. In Brazil and Argentina in the 1990s, economic reforms created favorable conditions for agricultural investment, production, and exports. Research alone was not the driving force for the soybean industry’s impressive growth there.

Market-oriented policy changes included elimination of export taxes, lifted restrictions on import of agricultural inputs, privatization of marketing and transportation infrastructure including state-owned grain elevators, port facilities, and railroads. Farmers also invested heavily in new technologies that improve yields, accelerate planting and harvesting, and facilitate delivery.

“Achieving these targets requires the efforts of various players in research, production, and marketing,” Tefera concluded, “and should consider technological, institutional, and organizational interventions in both the supply and demand sides.”

AGRA

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.

Cassava research

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for more research on the tropical root crop cassava to help poor countries cope with rising food and oil prices. Cassava is a staple food for millions of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia, providing as much as a third of daily calories.

African cassava mosaic virus. Photo by IITA

Members of the Global Cassava Partnership for Genetic Improvement (GCP21) such as IITA reviewed the current state of cassava production worldwide and future prospects at a conference held in Belgium in July. Current average cassava yields are barely 20 percent of those obtained under optimum conditions. Despite growing demand and its production potential, the crop is grown mainly in areas that have little or no access to improved varieties, fertilizer and other production inputs, by small-scale farmers with no access to marketing channels and agroprocessing industries.

To help develop the crop’s potential in addressing the global food and energy crisis, GCP21 will launch new projects such as establishing a cassava chain delivery system to channel technical advances to poor farmers, improving soil fertility, enhancing basic scientific knowledge of the crop, including genomics, and training the next generation of cassava researchers in developing countries.

Detailed information about the Ghent meeting also on the AGRA website