Tag Archives: agriculture

Africa’s Food Markets Could Create One Trillion Dollar Opportunity by 2030 | World Bank

Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2013 - Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they can expand their access to more capital, electricity, better technology and irrigated land to grow high-value nutritious foods, and if African governments can work more closely with agribusinesses to feed the region’s fast-growing urban population, according to a new World Bank report launched today.

According to the Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness report, Africa’s food systems, currently valued at US$313 billion a year from agriculture, could triple if governments and business leaders radically rethink their policies and support to agriculture, farmers, and agribusinesses, which together account for nearly 50 percent of Africa’s economic activity.

The time has come for making African agriculture and agribusiness a catalyst for ending poverty,” says Makhtar DiopWorld Bank Vice President for Africa Region. “We cannot overstate the importance of agriculture to Africa’s determination to maintain and boost its high growth rates, create more jobs, significantly reduce poverty, and grow enough cheap, nutritious food to feed its families, export its surplus crops, while safeguarding the continent’s environment.”

Agribusiness: strong growth opportunities

Due to a combination of population growth, rising incomes and urbanization, strong demand is driving global food and agricultural prices higher.  Supply issues – slowing yield growth of major food crops, slowdown in research spending, land degradation and water scarcity issues, and a changing climate all mean that prices will remain high.  In this new market climate, Africa has great potential for expanding its food and agricultural exports.

Africa holds almost 50 percent of the world’s uncultivated land which is suited for growing food crops, comprising as many as 450 million hectares that are not forested, protected, or densely populated. Africa uses less than 2 percent of its renewable water sources, compared to a world average of five percent. Its harvests routinely yield far less than their potential and, for mainstay food crops such as maize the yield gap is as wide as 60 to 80 percent. Post-harvest losses run 15 to 20 percent for cereals and are higher for perishable products due to poor storage and other farm infrastructure.

African countries can tap into booming markets in rice, maize, soybeans, sugar, palm oil, biofuel and feedstock and emerge as major exporters of these commodities on world markets similar to the successes scored by Latin America and Southeast Asia.  For Sub-Saharan Africa, the most dynamic sectors are likely to be rice, feed grains, poultry, dairy, vegetable oils, horticulture and processed foods to supply domestic markets.

The report cautions that even as land will be needed for some agribusiness investments, such acquisitions can threaten people’s livelihoods and create local opposition unless land purchases or leases are conducted according to ethical and socially responsible standards, including recognizing local users’ rights, thorough consultations with local communities, and fair market-rate compensation for land acquired.

Improving Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness sectors means higher incomes and more jobs. It also allows Africa to compete globally. Today, Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand each export more food products than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined.  This must change,” saysJamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region.

Value Chains are essential  

Rice: Africa has become a major consumer and importer of rice, and Africans import half the rice they eat and pay top dollar for it, $3.5 billion per year and more.  Ghana and Senegal are significant importers.  Senegal is competitive among its neighbors, but it is held back by the difficulty farmers have in accessing land, capital, finance for irrigation expansion and appropriate crop varieties.  Ghana produces fewer varieties of rice than Senegal, but at significantly higher cost, and levies 40 percent tariffs and other charges on imports. Poor grain quality, cleanliness and packaging are major deterrents for consumers constraining the sector’s performance.

Maize: A food staple for many Africans, maize is grown on 25 million hectares or 14 percent of cropped land. In Zambia where people eat on average 133 kilograms of cereals a year, maize provides half the calories in their diets.  Zambia is competitive when importing maize but fails on exports.  High transport costs, higher labor costs and lower yields combine to increase costs by one-third compared to Thailand, a major international producer of rain-fed maize.  The report argues that Zambia’s future competitiveness depends on raising yields, reducing costs, and removing disincentives for the private sector in markets and trade.

In addition, the study reviewed value chains for cocoa in Ghana and dairy and green beans in Kenya.

African farmers and businesses must be empowered through good policies, increased public and private investments and strong public-private partnerships,” says Gaiv Tata, World Bank Director for Financial and Private Sector Development in Africa.  “A strong agribusiness sector is vital for Africa’s economic future.”


Agriculture and agribusiness should be at the top of the development and business agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report calls for strong leadership and commitment for both public and private sectors.  As comparators, the report cites case studies from Uruguay, Indonesia and Malaysia. For success, engaging with strategic “good practice” investors is critical, as is the strengthening of safeguards, land administration systems, and screening investments for sustainable growth.

The report notes that Africa can also draw on many local successes to guide governments and investors toward positive economic, social and environmental outcomes.


© 2013 The World Bank Group, All Rights Reserved.

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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in General


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Planting Seeds of Prosperity | USDA:FAS

Posted by Erin Tindell, Foreign Agricultural Service Public Affairs Specialist

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda check the condition of virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries.  Photo courtesy of FAIM.COForestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda check the condition of virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.CO

Entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones was on a Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) agricultural trade mission (ATM) to Madagascar in 2006 when he first began thinking about how modern plant propagation techniques might help struggling East African farmers boost their productivity and prosperity.

“What I saw during my visit made an impression,” said Jones. Considering he and his wife, Cheryl, have 30 years of experience operating their business, Greenwood Nursery, in Tennessee, he knew there had to be something he could do that might make a difference.

The Joneses spent the next year developing a sustainable business model to improve the East African region’s agriculture and then coordinated with FAS to present his idea to more than 10 different African countries during the next FAS trade mission to the region in 2007. The overwhelming response from African representatives, especially the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda, pushed the Joneses to begin Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management Ltd. (FAIM).

FAIM’s goal is to establish plant propagation laboratories throughout Africa using the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants (seedlings) for African farmers. After a few years of research, in 2011 Rwanda invited FAIM to set up labs to develop and distribute 15-17 million virus-free banana starter plants for farmers in four out of the country’s five regions.

“Each region has specific diseases that affect the quality and production of the crop,” Jones said. “Their crop yield is, on average, 25 percent of what it could be per hectare measured against world standards. The problem is self-perpetuating if farmers use root division as their form of propagation, which passes viruses forward year to year.”

Instead of root division, Jones and other FAIM plant experts use plant tissue culture, which is a propagation process that extracts DNA from healthy plants within a crop to create virus-free seedlings without genetic modification. This breaks the disease cycle and allows for a consistent, high-quality supply. Plus, the seedlings are fairly cheap to produce and sell at a lower cost. Rwandan farmers using the seedlings are already producing 200-400 percent more than before.

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda prepare pots for virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.COForestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda prepare pots for virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.CO

“The farmers are able to provide a consistent supply to market and make more money, raising their standard of living and giving them enough income to purchase new plant stock when needed,” Jones said.

FAIM’s efforts will help create extensive benefits not only for the East African region, but also for U.S. exporters. The successful implementation of the project will generate an ongoing requirement for inputs from the U.S. such as supplies, packaging, product transformation equipment and farming equipment.

ATMs contribute significantly to the expansion of U.S. agricultural products and the creation of jobs for American workers. In the past three years, FAS led more than 100 U.S. agribusinesses on trade missions to various countries including China, Peru, Indonesia, Vietnam, Iraq, Georgia, Colombia, Panama and the Philippines.

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones stands in front of his Rwandan farm. After an eye-opening agricultural trade mission to East Africa, Jones started FAIM to produce healthy, virus-free starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply.  Using plant propagation techniques, FAIM has already helped Rwandan farmers increase crop production by 200-400 percent. Photo credit Mary L. Robbins.Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones stands in front of his Rwandan farm. After an eye-opening agricultural trade mission to East Africa, Jones started FAIM to produce healthy, virus-free starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. Using plant propagation techniques, FAIM has already helped Rwandan farmers increase crop production by 200-400 percent.Photo credit Mary L. Robbins
Source: USDA Blog
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in COMESA


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Promising New Technologies to Improve Cowpea Production in West Africa | Feed the Future USAID


August 21, 2012

Feed the Future | Science & Technology in Agriculture
Undamaged (left), superficially damaged (center), and severely damaged cowpea pods (right).


New insect-resistant varieties of the cowpea are helping to reduce significant losses in yield due to better technology to combat pest and diseases.

The cowpea (or black-eyed pea in the U.S.) is an important staple in the diet of more than 200 million households in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a robust plant able to withstand the low rainfall and poor soil conditions of the region, yielding protein-rich seed and providing valuable nutrition to its inhabitants, while also fixing nitrogen in the soil.

Unfortunately, African cowpea farmers suffer heavy yield losses (often over 80 percent) due to pests and diseases, and most significantly from an insect, Maruca vitrata, which destroys the seeds in the pods.

As conventional breeding has been unsuccessful in developing insect resistance in the cowpea, and smallholder farmers have limited access to costly insecticides, Feed the Future is working with partners to develop new approaches to manage maruca infestation. With support from Feed the Future, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation is developing an insect-resistant, bioengineered cowpea, and the Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program, led by Michigan State University, is working on bio control agents (or natural enemies of insect pests).

The insect-resistant varieties were developed using the same “Bacillus thuringiensis” or Bt technology that has been applied broadly in other crops around the world. Recent field trials of the Bt Cowpea technology in Nigeria and Burkina Faso have shown significant promise in maintaining yields in the face of insect infestations. Two promising Bt Cowpea varieties exhibited double the yield of the non-Bt control variety under insect pressure. As a next step, cowpea breeders are working to integrate Bt technology into farmer-preferred varieties, potentially making the Bt Cowpea available for widespread use within the next five years, pending regulatory approvals.

The bio control technology involves introducing a virus that attacks Maruca vitrata larvae inside the cowpea. Field trials are currently underway in Burkina Faso and a commercialized version of the virus is expected to be authorized in two to three years once the government has approved its use.

Both of these technologies are novel solutions under Feed the Future to improve cowpea production and combat insect infestation more effectively using fewer chemical fertilizers.

Source: Feed the Future


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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


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Female entrepreneurs critical in emerging Africa seed value chain.


Female entrepreneurs are critical in the emerging African seed value chain, from farmer-growers, to dealers, distributors, agri-input providers, lenders, breeders and seed company staff, including executives.

This initiative is funded by Spain and supported by ECOWAS. African Seed Networks welcomes this initiative, and hopes that it will support the many new businesswomen in Africa.

Originally posted on Database of Press Releases related to Africa - APO-Source:





ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 16, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ — ECOWAS and NEPAD have signed an agreement worth one million Euro for the empowerment of Africa’s rural women entrepreneurs.


The accord for the grant provided by the Kingdom of Spain through the NEPAD-Spain Fund was initialled on Thursday, 12th July 2012 at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Ambassador Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, and the Executive Secretary of the NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency, Dr.Ibrahim Assane Mayaki.


The grant will provide funds for the Business Incubator for African Women Entrepreneurs (BIAWE) project, which nurtures the business ventures of rural African women operating primarily in the area of agriculture.


The project seeks to support initiatives in economic capacity building for women, promote rural entrepreneurship and develop…

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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


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Great opinion piece by Märianne Banziger, DDG for Research and Partnerships at CIMMYT, a CGIAR Consortium center.

Many African countries have recently harvested maize – or are preparing to do so. They may avoid the full impact of high prices for months. Once their local production is consumed, these countries must rely on maize from international markets where there is no escape from high prices.”

Key Point:

  “There are many developing countries where productivity could be increased to reduce overreliance on imports and benefit rural poor and development in those countries at large. The potential for improvement is enormous”……a reliable supply of locally tested and produced high quality seed is essential to achieve this. We are working with many African seed companies and entrepreneurs to improve their production and access to genetics and skills. 

  “Individual countries must increase investment in agriculture. Agriculture remains one of the best uses of development money. Africa has invested in developing drought-tolerant maize and improving the productivity of maize-legume cropping systems”.

Holistic approaches must be used and all the tools at our disposal including both new and traditional approaches, new and older technologies, improved agronomy and extension, solving cash flows and markets to provide better access to inputs and knowledge. In terms of ‘bang for the buck’ we believe improved seed access ranks among the highest.

  “The goal is not simply to avoid another food crisis responsibly and efficiently grow enough food to feed the planet”

  “We have the means to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in spite of climate change and rising demand, but we need political will and investment”

African Seed Network agrees !

Related articles

Originally posted on Agricultura e Segurança alimentar:

How to avoid another food crisis – AlertNet.

Climate Conversations – How to avoid another food crisis

By Marianne Bänziger | Wednesday at 2:17 PM | Comments ( 3 )

A farmer harvests wheat on Miet Radie farm at El-Kalubia governorate, about 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Cairo, on May 8, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A farmer harvests wheat on Miet Radie farm at El-Kalubia governorate, about 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Cairo, on May 8, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

By Marianne Bänziger

The United States is currently in the midst of a severe drought, its worst in 50 years. Half of all U.S. counties have been declared disaster areas. In response, the international prices of maize and soybeans have risen past 2007-08 peaks, when they fueled food riots in more than 30 countries.

There have not been food riots but the world remains in a tenuous position. Another shock to the global food system could spark another food crisis. Here are four things to watch:


The demand for maize has risen…

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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in General


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Working together to better manage CGIAR intellectual assets


The CGIAR is the curator of much of the world’s crop genetic biodiversity. However access by small seed and medium seed companies has been difficult in the past, having to source foundation seed from unreliable public  breeding and foundation seed sources, which ultimately source it from the CGIAR. Much of the seed remained unused in seed-banks and research labs. However newly approved CGIAR Intellectual Asset principles give new opportunities for improved flow of genetics,  and partnerships, including with African seed companies to solve some of the most challenging crop problems, while at the same time maintaining the international public good and preserving biodiversity.

Originally posted on CLIPnet:

Participants of the CGIAR Consortium Legal/IP Network meeting held at ICRISAT-Patancheru, India. (Photo credit: ICRISAT/PS Rao)

Throughout CGIAR, the management of Intellectual Assets requires a careful balancing act of sometimes seemingly opposite objectives.  How does one find the correct balance between say maximizing global accessibility v. minimizing risk of misappropriation/misuse? Or, maintaining commitment to International Public Goods v. leveraging strengths of private sector partners?

These complex issues are the kinds of challenges tackled by the CGIAR Consortium Legal & Intellectual Property Network (or CLIPnet for short); a multi-disciplinary group from the members of the CGIAR Consortium comprising of lawyers, grant managers, and senior managers from genetic resources, communications and corporate services.  Last month the group met for their Annual Meeting, this year hosted by ICRISAT.  Over the 3-day meeting members of the group swapped ideas, experiences and practical advice on a range of issues such as; challenges of…

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in General


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Major investment to persuade bacteria to help cereals self-fertilise | The John Innes Centre


English: John Innes Centre, Norwich

English: John Innes Centre, Norwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The John Innes Centre will lead a $9.8m research project to investigate whether it is possible to initiate a symbiosis between cereal crops and bacteria. The symbiosis could help cereals access nitrogen from the air to improve yields. The five-year research project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, could have most immediate benefit for subsistence farmers.

As a result, yields are 15 to 20 per cent of their potential. Nitrogen fertilisers also come with an environmental cost. Making and applying them contributes half the carbon footprint of agriculture and causes environmental pollution.

“A new method of nitrogen fertilisation is needed for the African Green Revolution,” said Professor Oldroyd.

“Delivering new technology within the seed of crops has many benefits for farmers as well as the environment, such as self-reliance and equity,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The new research will investigate the possibility of engineering cereals to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and of delivering this technology through the seed. If it is found to work, farmers would be able to share the technology by sharing seed. And the research opens the door to the use of grasses as rotational crops to enhance soil nitrogen.

“We’re excited about the long-term potential of this research to transform the lives of small farmers who depend on agriculture for their food and livelihoods,” said Katherine Kahn, senior program officer of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We need innovation for farmers to increase their productivity in a sustainable way so that they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  Improving access to nitrogen could dramatically boost the crop yields of farmers in Africa.”

The focus of the investigation will be maize, the most important staple crop for small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Parallel studies in the wild grass Setaria viridis, which has a smaller genome and shorter life cycle, will speed up the rate of discovery. Discoveries will be applicable to all cereal crops including wheat, barley and rice.

The research will start by attempting to engineer in maize the ability to sense nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. This may be enough to activate a symbiosis that provides some fixed nitrogen. Even slight increases could improve yields for farmers who do not have access to fertilisers.

“We have developed a pretty good understanding of how legumes such as peas and beans evolved the ability to recruit soil bacteria to access the nitrogen they need,” said Professor Oldroyd. ”Even the most primitive symbiotic relationship with bacteria benefited the plant, and this is where we hope to start in cereals.”

In the most basic symbiosis, bacteria are housed in simple swellings on the root of the plant, providing the low oxygen environment needed. In more highly evolved legumes, the plant produces a specialised organ, the nodule, to house bacteria.

Bacteria can infect the plant through cracks or through more complex tunnels built by the plant called infection threads. As the complexity of the interaction increases, so does the efficiency with which bacteria fix nitrogen for the plant.

“In the long term, we anticipate that the research will follow the evolutionary path, building up the level of complexity and improving the benefits to the plant,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The project will also help highlight where more research is needed. It will run in parallel to ongoing research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council into how nitrogen fixation works in legumes. It will also run in parallel to an existing Gates-funded project, N2Africa, to improve nitrogen management in African farming systems more immediately.

About the John Innes Centre:

The John Innes Centre,, is a world-leading research centre based on the Norwich Research Park The JIC’s mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, and to apply its knowledge to benefit agriculture, human health and well-being, and the environment. JIC delivers world class bioscience outcomes leading to wealth and job creation, and generating high returns for the UK economy. JIC  is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in General


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How to Fight Hunger | USAID Feed the Future Infographic

How to Fight Hunger | USAID Feed the Future

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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in General


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Mali: Sowing the Seeds of Success | CGIAR – ICRISAT


English: Peanuts seller in Ouagadougou. França...

English: Peanuts seller in Ouagadougou. Français : Vendeuse d’arachides à Ouagadougou. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Mali, nearly 68 percent of the population is considered poor. They are mostly smallholder farmers. Women here, as in many parts of Africa and Asia, are particularly vulnerable due to limited access to capital, land and training. Increasing opportunities for women can have a powerful impact on productivity and agriculture-led growth.

Smallholder farmers with less than 2 hectares of land contribute to almost 90% of agricultural production in Mali but have very low yields, mainly due to low seed quality. The USAID supported Seeds project is part of a regional initiative, the West-African Seed Alliance (WASA), which aims at increasing local production and access to high quality-certified seeds of major staple crops for farmers.

The Seeds project trained women, such as Aïssata Konaté, to become seed producers, improving their incomes and helping to fill the yield gap in the farms buying these locally-produced improved seeds. Konaté is seen as a pioneer in Koporo-Na near Mopti, Mali. Being one of the first women to start producing certified seed independent to her family farm, she is now the leading seed producer in her village.

Three years ago, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Malian national agricultural system offered Konaté a high yielding cowpea seed variety along with technical support in soil, water and pest management from WASA’s regional office in Mopti. She has since doubled her cultivated plot from 1 to 2 hectares and was able to certify the seeds produced.

Konaté now supplies many other women farmers with high yielding seeds. Given her good reputation, she easily sells her improved seeds during seed fairs. Improving incomes, and lives

These high quality cowpea seeds drastically increased her yield from 2 bags of 100kg to 8 bags of 100kg per harvest. “I invested my extra earnings from the certified seed production into better food, schooling and health care for my three children,” Konaté says, when asked how the project has helped her. She points to the healthy crop covering her field. “The seed quality also increased the price of cowpea seeds from 300 CFA francs to 600 CFA francs.” she adds.

“My higher income meant I could save up and build a new house for my family,” Konaté says
proudly standing by her children in front of their new house. “This has changed my status in the
village. Here housing is normally the responsibility of men. Now the community can see how women
can provide for their families too,” she says.

USAID’s Seeds project looks at the whole seed value chain, from training farmers to become producers to building capacity of rural agrodealers. It also supports active rural marketing (demonstration plots, farmer field days, seed fairs) to develop local demand for better seeds and organize the seed production from farmer’s cooperatives.

WASA will be reinforced by a regional strategy of harmonization of seed policies making the local seed industry a sustainable agriculture growth tool in the 6 target countries, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. This means Konaté’s success will be followed by many others across the region, having a real impact on poverty reduction and food security.

Courtesy CGIAR and ICRISAT, a CGIAR Consortium Research Center

CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centers of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.



Posted by on July 31, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


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Saving Africa’s maize and cowpea from the violet vampire | IITA

Striga plant, a parasitic weed

Striga plant, a parasitic weed (Photo credit: IITA Image Library)

Striga bilabiata, nahe Gaoua, Burkina Faso.

Striga bilabiata, nahe Gaoua, Burkina Faso. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Source IITA – Ibadan, Nigeria

Agricultural researchers in sub-Saharan Africa are making progress towards ridding the region of the deadly parasitic weed—Striga that infests cereals such as maize and cowpea farms—by developing sustainable, multi-pronged management options that smallholder farmers could effectively and profitably deploy in their farms.

Striga is a crop parasite that is considered to be one of the biggest constraints to agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Also known as the violet vampire because of the beautiful violet flowers it produces, the Striga weed mostly affects cereals such as maize and legumes such as cowpea grown in the region. Farmers regularly lose 40 to 100 percent of their crops, with total losses amounting to about US$1.2 billion every year and affecting the livelihoods of more than 25 million smallholder farmers.

Like a vampire, the pest sucks and drains its host of water and vital nutrients to the point that the infested plant withers and dies. What makes Striga much more deadly is that it does most of its damage underground, even before emerging and being visible to farmers above the soil surface. By the time the weed and its tell-tale violet flowers appear, it’s already too late― there is not much that farmers can do to save their crop.

Striga produces hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant, leading to massive build-up in the soil that can remain viable for many years. To control this parasitic weed, farmers commonly use cultural methods and post-emergence herbicides, which are largely ineffective in protecting the crop as most of the damage has already been done below the ground/underground. Although this may provide some relief against Striga, the herbicides are nonselective, and are too costly and unavailable for most farmers to use in the long run.

In June 2011, a private public partnership coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), launched a collaborative effort known as the Integrated Striga Management in Africa (ISMA) project, to develop a package of Striga control options for smallholder farmers in Kenya and Nigeria. The project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is being implemented in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), BASF Crop Protection, and national agricultural research and extension services and private sector players in Kenya and Nigeria. ISMA’s main goal is to promote proven Striga management technologies that can be deployed and work in smallholder farming conditions.

The four-year project focuses on improving access to Striga control solutions that include using Striga-resistant maize and cowpea varieties, deploying a “push-pull’ technology that involves intercropping cereals with specific Striga-suppressing forage legumes, using maize varieties resistant to Imazapyr—an herbicide used in coating the maize seeds (StrigAway®) and which kills the Striga seed as it germinates and before it can cause any damage— encouraging maize-legume intercropping and crop rotation; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies. A significant component of the ISMA project is the identification of best-bet combinations of the available Striga control options for specific socio-ecological targeting.

“The suite of integrated Striga control interventions being promoted by ISMA will generate an estimated US$8.6 million worth of maize and cowpea grain annually in project sites in Kenya and Nigeria,” Mel Oluoch, ISMA project manager said.

“We are also optimistic that the interventions will lead to 50 percent more yields in maize and more than double the cowpea harvest in Striga-infested areas. About 250,000 farmers will directly benefit from the project,” he added.

One year on, the initial outputs of the ISMA project have been encouraging. In Kenya, almost 6,000 farmers in the western region now have access to new Striga and the Imazapyr-resistant (IR) variety and maize-legume intercrop Striga control technologies. Partner seed companies have produced 66 tons of seeds that use Imazapyr herbicide-resistant maize coating technology, with over 35 tons disseminated to more than 23,000 smallholder farmers through participating agro-dealer networks. To enhance IR seed production and distribution in Kenya, the project supported the Kenya Seed Company with a dedicated seed ‘treater’ early this year. IR-maize coating technology, combined with the use of Striga-resistant maize varieties, reduce the emergence of the parasitic weed by up to 60 percent. To complement the approaches, over 75 agro-dealers in Kenya were trained on the IR maize seed technology to enhance its dissemination as they are the first point of contact with farmers purchasing seed.

As part of the push-pull Striga management technology being espoused by the project, community seed producers and partner seed companies have produced and disseminated some 2.1 tons of Desmodium seed to farmers. Desmodium is a forage legume that, when deployed in maize or cowpea farms as intercrop, can significantly reduce the incidence of Striga by up to 100 percent within two years. The project has also trained more than 8,000 farmers on the push-pull technology, with 6,800 of them using it in their farms. The project is also working with the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya to mainstream the use of Striga control technologies into the Ministry’s extension program so as to reach more farmers.

In Nigeria, the project worked with 100 communities in Striga hotspots in Kano and Bauchi States and established 500 on-farm demonstrations of improved cowpea, maize, and soybean varieties along with Striga management technologies.

About 500 tons of certified seed of Striga-resistant maize varieties were produced by participating seed companies and community-based seed producers and distributed to project beneficiaries. These open-pollinated varieties and hybrids are proven to produce 30 to 75 percent more grain, reduce Striga damage by 20 to 50 percent, and lessen Striga incidence by 22 to 88 percent compared to the commonly grown farmers’ varieties and commercial hybrids. On the other hand, these partner seed companies and community seed producers have also produced some 142 tons of certified seeds of Striga-resistant cowpea varieties, with almost 80 tons sold to farmers across 100 communities in the two states.

The project has trained some 3,500 farmers on group dynamics, participatory approaches, modern crop management, and Striga control practices in Northern Nigeria. In addition, the project has also disseminated Striga management technologies to about 38,000 Nigerian farmers through farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer, on-farm demonstrations, field days, and radio.

Researchers working under the ISMA project also conducted field evaluation of the effectiveness of biocontrol technology against Striga in maize farms of Northern Nigeria. Their findings show that the biocontrol agent and resistant maize combination reduced Striga incidence by 26 to 60 percent and also resulted in 68 percent more yield compared to farms that grew farmer-preferred varieties alone.

The successful models in the two countries will be scaled out to other sub-Saharan Africa countries with similar ecologies and where Striga is also a major concern to maize and cowpea production systems.


Posted by on July 12, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


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