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RISING voices: Mariama Fofanah, nutrition specialist at the International Potato Center (CIP)

Oct 05 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

Mariama Fofanah, nutrition specialist at the International Potato Center (CIP), introduces herself and her work with the program. It is one of a series of portraits of key people in Africa RISING.

Mariama Fofanah, nutrition specialist at the International Potato Center (CIP)


Tell us about your background

I am from Sierra Leone. I obtained my Bachelors (BSc) degree and a Master’s of Public Health degree (MPH) in Global Health Nutrition from Johns Hopkins University and George Mason University United States, respectively. My research interests include nutrition, agriculture and health linkages, policy advocacy, social and behaviour change communication. I joined the International Potato Center as a nutrition consultant in 2011 working mostly on nutrition sensitive agriculture program design, implementation and capacity building in particular, promoting food-based approaches to improve nutrition and food security in Ethiopia. Prior to CIP, I worked with health care agencies and NGOs primarily in designing and implementing social behaviour change, advocacy and nutrition promotion programs targeting disadvantaged populations.


What do you do in your current position?

Currently, I coordinate nutrition related research activities within the Africa RISING project in the Ethiopian Highlands. My main role is to mainstream nutrition in the design, planning and implementation of research protocols. In particular, I work closely with the Africa RISING nutrition research team as the principal investigator for the protocol “Integrating nutrition in to the crop/livestock farming systems of the Ethiopian highlands for improved nutrition outcomes”. Our research examines community dietary practices and behaviours, farming practices, as well as nutrition-related policy and institutional issues.  In addition to this, I provide relevant technical advice to implementing partners; help design nutrition education and behaviour change resources and support nutrition training and capacity building.  The goal is to gain a thorough understanding of agriculture pathways to nutrition particularly for women and children and to ensure that farmers across all sites are diversifying production systems and diets for better nutrition.


What are your next plans for Africa RISING?

“Developing a proof of concept” related to effective agriculture pathways to improved nutrition. Formative research studies and needs analysis are now complete and some of the data has already been analysed and initial results documented in briefs. Our next steps are to share findings, design nutrition education/behaviour change materials, and conduct nutrition training of trainers targeting relevant stakeholders including the bureaus of agriculture, health, innovation platform members and farmer groups. Key outcomes would be empowering communities and strengthening the collaboration between agriculture and health sector to tackle food and nutrition issues. Further work will entail collaborating with other CGIAR partners, government, NGOs and the private sector  to look at bio-fortification of staples using zinc fertilizers, irrigated vegetable production, complementary food processing and nutrition sensitive value chains  (milk, butter processing).


What are the biggest Africa RISING challenges and how do we deal with them?

Africa RISING project involves complex collaborations among different CGIAR partners, government agencies at local and regional levels and farmers held together by a shared vision. These partnerships are valuable but the challenge is managing and harmonizing wide ranging priorities and perspectives, as well as tracking different outputs, deliverables and finances. Dealing with these issues is a learning process, we focus on achieving the common agenda through effective communication; understanding and valuing what each sector or partner contributes to achieving the common vision.


What are some of the main achievements of this program?

In the Africa RISING project sites, farmers face multiple problems of food insecurity, under nutrition, land degradation, lack of alternative income, feed, low crop yields, among others. The project has so far, managed to empower decision makers and farmers to tackle these problems holistically using a systems approach. It has also done well in strengthening local capacities, and ensuring cross-cutting themes of gender, nutrition and climate change are embedded in program planning and implementation.


What gives you hope looking at a possible second phase, based on the first phase?

I see the first phase of the project as laying the foundation – finding out what works and learning useful lessons. We now have a strong foundation to build on successes. Based on the first phase, Africa RISING would have a chance to fully leverage the many opportunities identified during the first phase and we should begin to see tangible results, the possibility of out scaling these technologies gives me hope.



From Africa-Rising.Net (Original Post)

Beyond flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in smallholder farms: crop discrimination solutions

Sep 22 2015   |   By: admin   |   1   |  

If you look up at the sky while visiting the quiet villages of Misungwi District in Tanzania you might just see an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flying above you.  Commonly known as a drone, UAV technology is being piloted with local farmers as an innovative way to gather information about their crops (Fig. 1 left).

Utilizing sweetpotato as a pilot crop, the International Potato Center (CIP), through a Remote Sensing project being implemented in Tanzania and Uganda is leading the efforts of developing cost-effective methods that utilize UAV as a platform to collect data for agricultural statistics. Crop statistics are important tools for planning, policy making and timely intervention to address food insecurity.  Special cameras are attached to the UAV, and a pilot remotely flies the UAV over farmers’ fields to take images of the crops. Different crops reflect light in unique ways, and the optical characteristics of the crops are recorded by the camera (Fig. 1 right).

The on-going project began with the assembly of the UAV in Nairobi in January 2015 (the first in Sub-Saharan Africa) in an effort to decrease the cost of the technology and to make it more beneficial to smallholder farmers. To this end, aerial images of crops were taken during a field mission conducted in Misungwi district, Tanzania in April 2015. A team of CIP scientists are currently processing data to tell apart different crops from the images and estimate the area coverage of each crop. Sweetpotato is one of the major crops grown in the low lying region which partly borders Lake Victoria; the other crops include cassava, maize, sorghum, rice, and cotton.


f1  f2  

Figure 1:  Villagers watch the UAV flying over their fields in Tanzania (left), and an aerial image taken with a regular digital camera (right).


A wide range of methods are available, that may be used to discriminate crops from digital images, for example Maximum Likelihood, Spectral Information Divergence, Neural Network, etc. These conventional methods exploit the uniqueness of the reflective properties of crops in order to discriminate among them. However, special sensors needed to collect such kind of data are not easily available to normal users. For this reason, CIP is currently developing non-linear methods – based on wavelet transforms and multifractal analysis – to discriminate among crops using images taken with regular cameras (see comparison in Figure 2). Though the non-linear methods seem to be a bit complicated, CIP is working towards providing the technology to end-users in a user-friendly format that does not require expert knowledge to operate.



Figure 2: Identification of crops from images taken using different sensors – multispectral camera (left), and regular camera (right).


Beyond the simple discrimination of sweetpotato from other crops, CIP scientists are attempting to tell apart different sweetpotato varieties. This is a more challenging task because different varieties of the same crop reflect light in a very similar manner, so that conventional classification methods cannot discriminate them, even with highly detailed UAV-based images. “Even at this spatial resolution [5 cm] conventional processing methods do not seem to be the answer,” said the Project Leader, Dr. Roberto Quiroz. “Let us see what other less conventional processing techniques can do” He added. CIP is researching non-conventional processing methods to discriminate among sweet potato varieties.

So far, stakeholders have expressed great enthusiasm about the technology. “We look forward to seeing how this technology will improve the quality of our crop statistics”, said Mr. Lucas Kulliani, a District agricultural officer, as he received the team of scientists at Misungwi.

For more information on this technology please send an email to Dr. Roberto Quiroz (, or see related stories in the following links: AgroTV–16; UAV Assembling; Community of Practice.


CGIAR Open letter to the UN General Assembly

Sep 21 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

Co-advancement of Agricultural and Natural Resource Management within the SDGs


The 17 global goals which you have supported the creation of are an unrivalled span of human aspiration covering everything from sharing prosperity, to protecting the planet, to promoting a more peaceful world. The commitments, resources and accountability that you have offered in support are tremendous, and have helped to fill a huge political gap by acting collectively.

Reducing rural poverty, ensuring food and nutrition security, and improving natural resource systems are key dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are also the shared strategic goals of the 15 Centres of the CGIAR. Together we stand ready to engage and be accountable for our contributions to the entire SDG ambition, and specifically to: SDG1 (Poverty), SDG2 (Food Security and Nutrition), SDG6 (Water), SDG7 (Sustainable Energy), SDG13 (Climate Change), and SDG15 (Land Use).


The collective of 15 CGIAR Centres is more than 40 years old and works in over 70 developing countries through extensive partnership networks. Its 12,000 staff focus on delivering actionable knowledge, robust evidence for policy and investment decisions, and capacity development for, inter alia: sustainable agriculture practices, rural livelihood improvements, improved crop varieties, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and sustainable management of landscapes.


We have aligned our new strategies with the SDGs and we offer realistic impacts by 2030 of: (i) improved varieties and management practices for 350 million smallholder farmers; (ii) 500 million people, of which at least 50% women, no longer suffering nutritional deficiency; (iii) 100 million people lifted out of and staying out of poverty; (iv) reduction of GHG emissions from agriculture by 0.8 Gt per year; and (v) restoration of 190 million ha of degraded land. No other group of organisations combines advances in agriculture development and natural resource management better, or more comprehensively, than the CGIAR Centres.


A key to successfully achieving the SDGs will be sufficient means of implementation. Here the CGIAR Centres are concerned by the fluctuating recognition of coupled research and development endeavours in priorities and financial commitments. Accordingly, at the 70th UN General Assembly in New York next week we call on world leaders and key development actors to recognize and document their appreciation for the importance of groups such as the collective of CGIAR Centres. Furthermore, to incorporate new commitments and continued support up to and beyond 2030 for advancing our innovative programmes in alignment with, and strongly contributing to, the SDG ambition.


Our two main questions for you are: (1) can we include you along with other countries and key actors as champions of the co-advancement of agriculture and natural resource management?; and (2) which agencies in your country should we more actively engage with in this co-advancement? Please respond with answers or any further information required either directly to any of the signatories of this letter or centrally to the CGIAR Centre Representative (CentreRep@CGIAR.ORG).


If we had all the knowledge, technology and capacity we needed then we would not need coupled research and development endeavours. We remain at your service to help combine the science of discovery with the science of delivery of positive agriculture and natural resource management impacts



Yours sincerely,


Ann Tutwiler, Director General, Bioversity, Italy

Barbara Wells, Director General, CIP, Peru

Beth Woods, Board Chair, Worldfish, Malaysia

Bruce Coulman, Board Chair, IITA, Nigeria

Camilla Toulmin, Board Chair, ICARDA, Lebanon

Chandra Madramootoo, Board Chair, ICRISAT, India

Christian Samper, Board Chair, Bioversity, Italy

David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, India

Don Blackmore, Board Chair, IWMI, Sri Lanka

Emerlinda Roman, Board Chair, IRRI, Philippines

Geoff Hawtin, Board Chair, CIAT, Colombia

Harold Roy-Macauley, Director General, Africa Rice, Cote d’Ivoire

Jeremy Bird, Director General, IWMI, Sri Lanka

Jimmy Smith, Director General, ILRI, Kenya

John Hudson, Board Chair, CIFOR, Indonesia

John Lynam, Board Chair, ICRAF, Kenya

John Snape, Board Chair, CIMMYT, Mexico

Kym Anderson, Board Chair, IFPRI, USA

Lindiwe Sibanda, Board Chair, ILRI, Kenya 

Martin Kropff, Director General, CIMMYT, Mexico

Mahmoud Solh, Director General, ICARDA, Lebanon

Nteryana Sangina, Director General, IITA, Nigeria

Peter Holmgren, Director General, CIFOR, Indonesia

Peter Matlon, Board Chair, Africa Rice, Cote d’Ivoire

Robert Zeigler, Director General, IRRI, Philippines

Rodney Cooke, Board Chair, CIP, Peru

Ruben Echeverria, Director General, CIAT, Colombia

Shenggen Fan, Director General, IFPRI, USA

Steve Hall, Director General, Worldfish, Malaysia

Tony Simons, Director General, ICRAF, Kenya

Creation of Asiablight the Latest Effort to Improve International Cooperation on Controlling Potato Late Blight Disease

Sep 03 2015   |   By: david-dudenhoefer   |   1   |  


The establishment of an Asian late blight network is part of a global trend of greater collaboration and knowledge sharing to improve the management of that highly destructive crop disease.

At a satellite event during the World Potato Congress, which took place in Beijing during the last week of July, approximately 50 people from an array of countries attended the kickoff meeting of Asiablight: a regional network for knowledge sharing to improve control of potato late blight disease.

The cause of historic famines, potato late blight remains a major constraint for farmers around the world. The creation of Asiablight is the latest effort to promote regional cooperation around the disease.

Though the pathogen behind late blight, Phytophthora infestans, is widely controlled with fungicides, those agrochemicals represent a significant cost and threat to the environment and human health. This is especially a problem for the smallholders in developing nations whose diets and incomes CIP works to improve. Because they lack the necessary resources or knowledge, those farmers often don’t apply fungicides properly, and suffer major crop loss despite using them.

“Late blight is a huge problem globally. It is managed with fungicides, but it’s still a big issue,” said Greg Forbes, a senior scientist at the CIP Center for Asia, who was instrumental in AsiaBlight’s creation.

CIP has long bred late-blight resistant potato varieties and promoted integrated approaches to managing the disease, but the pathogen’s propensity for spawning new lineages has complicated efforts to control late blight. In fact, a first order of business for Asiablight members will be to map major the genetic groups of Phytophthora infestans in Asia, as a baseline for studying the disease and designing better control strategies.

Greg Forbes, CIP Scientist.

Greg Forbes, CIP Scientist.

Forbes explained that the proposal to create AsiaBlight was approved in November 2014 at a CIP workshop in Nepal that was attended by potato experts from 10 Asian nations. That decision came on the heels of the creation of a Latin American late blight network, called Red Tizón Latino – after the disease’s name in Spanish (tizón) – which was launched in Bogotá, Colombia in October 2014, at the Congress of the Latina American Potato Association (ALAP).

Forbes, who has been promoting knowledge sharing on late blight for years, observed that there are many advantages to regional cooperation on the disease, such as centralized data management, capacity building and better selection of late-blight-resistant potato varieties.

European scientists have been sharing knowledge on late blight since 1996 through the network EuroBlight, and their colleagues in the United States created USABlight in 2011. CIP has cooperated with both those networks and has been active in Red Tizón Latino since its creation. The first meeting of Asiablight included presentations on Red Tizón Latino and Euroblight, the latter of which focused on cooperation between the public sector and industry in Europe.

“CIP is kind of a broker in this, facilitating and trying to find funding for these different networks,” said Forbes. “As a global research center, we promote ideas such as standardization and better data management, and these networks can provide a mechanism for achieving them.”

Nane and Kofi Annan visit Sweetpotato fields in Ghana; show continued support for crop

Aug 31 2015   |   By: sara-fajardo   |   0   |  

Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and his wife Nane Annan, continued to show their support for harnessing the power of the sweetpotato by visiting a sweetpotato trial field in Nyankapala, Ghana on August 14th.  The Annans have teamed up with the International Potato Center (CIP) and its partners to promote the development of orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) cultivation in Ghana. CIP began operating in Ghana in 2010 and has set a goal of reaching an estimated 500,000 households there with resilient nutritious sweetpotato by 2020.

The highly productive climate smart sweetpotato has tremendous potential to contribute to Ghana’s agriculture development— its relatively low entry cost for producers coupled with harvests 3 to 4 times a year provide ample opportunities for employment. Increased consumption of OFSP has also been shown to help combat micronutrient deficiency and hidden hunger a critical boon for the overall health of women and children. The nutritious crop is rich in energy, nutrients and dietary fiber, and is a potent source of beta-carotene a precursor of Vitamin A. Its leaves can be used as leafy greens, while both roots and foliage can be used as animal feed.

OFSP vine multiplier, Dauda Zakaria, shared his story with the Annans during their visit. His business has grown from .5 acres to 1.5 since he began working with OFSP in 2013. Key to his success have been awareness raising campaigns through community radio broadcasts that have been instrumental in helping to increase demand for OFSP and drive customers to his business. “The radio programs opened a window for (the) sale of vines at community markets,” Zakaria says. “Any time I want to take vines to the market, I make (an) announcement on the local radio and buyers rush on me and finish (my) vines even before the market opens.” CIP and its partner the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI) have also helped to facilitate market linkages through Durbars (community meetings) at local markets which brought buyers together. “The Durbars created an avenue for me to sell vines and make contacts with buyers such as farmers, food vendors, caterers, restaurants and farmer organizations,” Zakaria says.

The field visit was followed up with a luncheon featuring OFSP and a stakeholder discussion dedicated to mapping out a strategy to “encourage the adoption of OFSP for both health and wealth.” More than 30 organizations including government ministries and local and international entities were invited to participate.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his wife Nane sample products made with OFSP in Ghana. Photo Credit Erna Abidin (CIP-Ghana)

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his wife Nane sample products made with OFSP in Ghana. Photo Credit Erna Abidin (CIP-Ghana)

“The high vitamin A content of sweetpotatoes is of high value to children and young infants, particularly in West Africa and in Ghana,” Nane Annan said.  “Offering vocational training to mothers and youth and making use of marginal lands is a great model for the region.”