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Gender’s Role in Agriculture in the Spotlight in Study

Jul 23 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

Gender, a term long assumed to be synonymous with “women,” in fact refers to the interplay between the sexes in the planting, cultivating, harvesting and selling of crops, according to Gordon Prain, Science Leader of CIP’s Global Program on Social and Health Sciences.


Prain is one of four senior social science researchers in the CGIAR leading a new initiative to examine dozens of cases across Africa, Asia and Latin America to measure and describe how gender roles shape agricultural outcomes. The idea is to identify what effect gender norms have on agricultural technology, and the ways – overt or subtle – in which such technologies, from tool use to access to credit lines improve or hurt gender norms.


If relevant research and development projects are to be designed and implemented, they must reflect the unique, only sometimes overlapping roles of men and women in a wide array of agricultural processes, from the storing of seeds to keeping crops free of pests. “If you focus solely on women, then you miss out on a lot of socio-economic and cultural data that can influence women’s livelihoods – and those of their children” says Prain, who has overseen multiple studies on gender in agriculture as part of his work within the CGIAR.


The influence of social norms on a woman’s interactions with her husband, her father, her brothers and other relatives as well as her engagement with different institutions of the society itself can shape crop choices and planting decisions, consumption patterns and the sale of products, he says. “These gender relations influence the capacity of a woman to take initiatives such as gain access to credit, or participate in local politics,” both of which can also shape crop investments and yields.



Photo Credits: Sara Quinn (CIP SSA)


Prain notes that many CGIAR studies have examined gender roles in agriculture, but they have been typically small scale and isolated from one another. “They are easily dismissed as anecdotal and their findings ignored,” he notes. This new, larger CGIAR study will use a common framework and standardized qualitative methodology to build a global database from large numbers of cases. Findings from the analysis of this data are expected to change how we approach agricultural research and to lead to more effective, equitable innovation.


“By looking comparatively, we can make a statement that will be difficult to ignore,” Prain says.

RTB published 2013 Annual Report

Jul 16 2014   |   By: veronique   |   0   |  

RTB proudly presents its 2013 Annual Report, Expanding Collaboration, Catalyzing Innovation. The report shows how the CGIAR Research Program grew during its second year, and documents the progress that the RTB centers and their partners made toward improving food security and livelihoods in some of the world's poorest regions.

Download a PDF of the report here

CIP scientists present new strategy and corporate plan in Brussels international conference

Jul 15 2014   |   By: veronique   |   0   |  

“There are plenty of opportunities here to present and get feedback on our planned activities for the next ten years”, said CIP’s Deputy Director for Development, Oscar Ortiz. “It is also a great place to enter into new partnerships or renew past ones.”


The EAPR seeks to promote the exchange of scientific and general information relating to all facets of potato growing and utilization, and also to encourage and assist international cooperation in this field. While 80% of the 400 attendees came from Europe, potato specialists from other continents were present, including representatives from the African Potato Association (APA) and the Latin American Potato Association (ALAP).


Two CIP senior scientists were invited to give keynote lectures in the first two days of the event. Andre Devaux, CIP's regional operation leader for Latin America and the Caribbean, was the first keynote speaker with a presentation entitled: "From a poverty lens to a food security lens: potatoes to improve global food security and sustainability". CIP’s Executive Officer for Research Management, Philippe Monneveux, gave a keynote lecture on ‘Drought and heat tolerance evaluation in potato (Solanum tuberosum L.)' .


In addition to the display of five scientific posters designed by CIP, other CIP scientists gave presentations on different topics, including:


A CIP booth allowed the 300+ attendees to find out about the latest publications, including the Catalogue of potato varieties and advanced clones 2014, and to taste colorful potato chips made from native potatoes from the Andes.


More than 50 attendees also joined CIP scientists for three open discussions held in a parallel session dedicated to international research for food security, where CIP’s new strategy and corporate plan was presented. Topics of discussion included seed systems, physiology and genomics.




“CIP’s presence at the conference clearly reinforced the global dimension of the event,” commented the outgoing EAPR President, Jean-Pierre Goffart. “It is important for the EAPR because even though we are a European association, we are interested in international cooperation and global food security.”


Genebanks: Updated Vaults for Food Diversity

Jun 23 2014   |   By: kathleen   |   0   |  

There are about 1,750 genebanks around the world, containing over seven million samples (FAO). This number may seem huge but with only 25% of these accessions unique, the rest being duplicated in two of more genebanks, the numbers aren’t so large after all. The importance of these repositories lies in their role in keeping diversity alive around the world. Discovered recently, the global diet is homogenizing, making the need even more prevalent to conserve biodiversity. Biodiversity helps prevent catastrophic crop loss, as seen in 2009 with banana wilt, and over the years with many widely consumed crops threatened by major diseases (Wilt, Late Blight). Genebanks are the platforms that enable breeding success, by providing accessions containing desired traits such as disease or heat-resistance. Finding and breeding plants that are able to have higher yields, shorter cropping seasons, better nutritional value or that can withstand typhoons, such as sweetpotato, is essential for preparing for climate change.




David Ellis, head of the CIP’s genebank, has had his wheels in motion about what needs to be done to update genebanks and further their ability to help the world. Before we can see where genebanks need to go, we must understand where they are coming from. “To best understand the current workings of the genebank, each individual accession (unique plant collection) should be thought of as a book with a title, history and subject content”, says Ellis. “Think back to the days of card catalog library systems: these systems required a lengthy trial and error process to attain the desired information. The problem with this outdated cataloguing system is that the information and knowledge housed inside each book is not accessible, can’t be lent to a global scale, nor can it foster collaboration to save both time and money for researchers.”


In order to make the vast knowledge locked in genebanks accessible to people, Ellis believes that they need to be on a modernized communication tool, starting with putting all the information known about each accession into an online database. There, a breeder could simply search a key feature, name, trait, attribute or even a gene sequence and be given the results that pertain to their search. Also, an updated system would provide the ability to search across global barriers (if legal rights are adapted to the system) and be able to search all “nearby” genebanks, just like in modern libraries. By having each accession catalogued with name, growth rate, yield, and trait information, climate standards, or taste, farmers, scientists or breeders can easily make the most of the information. Likewise, genebanks around the world could compare their collections and see what is or isn’t lacking in the collections. Helping maintain the biodiversity found in genebanks or adding to it could hold the key to meeting tomorrow’s food challenges.


David Ellis (CIP, Photo: Caddie Brain, ABC Rural)

David Ellis (CIP)


In this spirit, CIP’s Strategic Objective Six: Conserving Diversity for the Future, places emphasis on its genebank and its accessions. It is host to the largest in vitro collection, has more than 21,000 accessions of potato, sweetpotato, and Andean root and tuber crops (ARTCs) and was among the first to obtain certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Maintaining the biodiversity of these precious crops, that have been found to contain attributes such as some ARTCs which can survive extreme environments conditions, could help alleviate future food security problems.


Robert Mwanga, the Sweetpotato Pioneer

Jun 17 2014   |   By: joel-ranck   |   1   |  

Robert was the driving force behind changing the government’s position on sweetpotato, making sweetpotato a research priority in the country, largely replacing white sweetpotato with beta-carotene-rich OFSP, and disseminating strong OFSP varieties throughout east and central Africa. Large populations of east and central Africa would not have access to the benefits of OFSP had it not been for Robert’s research, mentoring, and persistence for the past three decades.


When Robert returned from his Master’s work at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos in 1986 he established the Roots and Tuber Crops Program at the Namulonge research facility. At the time, the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture (UMA) had deprioritized sweetpotato in favor of other crops, despite the fact that sweetpotato was a major part of the Ugandan diet. The opportunity to use sweetpotato and particularly OFSP to fight VAD did not escape Robert. He and the CIP representative in Nairobi, Peter Ewell, requested UMA to support sweetpotato by developing a separate research program for it. This successful request opened the door to research funding that enabled the release of improved OFSP varieties in Uganda and central and east Africa.


Robert began his research and simultaneously began training and mentoring staff to further this research. The focus on sweetpotato breeding in Uganda resulted in a strong research team at Namulonge with regional on-job training for technicians and scientists. Sweetpotato breeders and technician from 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa came to Robert’s program for week to month long workshops devoted to improving sweetpotato breeding skills. By 2009, when Robert joined CIP, Namulonge was the sweetpotato support platform for East and Central Africa due to Robert’s investment in developing infrastructure and staff over the years.


Including OFSP in the farming and food systems began in Central Uganda in 1999 as a joint multi-sectoral effort involving over 15 different partners. Robert and his team conducted rapid on-station and on-farm trials of introduced and local OFSP germplasm that led to the official release of the Kakamega and Ejumula varieties in 2004 for deployment by the projects and consumption by communities. Since then Robert has developed 12 new varieties, including the high-provitamin A (b-carotene) OFSP. Some of these released varieties have gained importance regionally.


Robert Mwanga shows harvested Sweetpotato crossing block

Robert Mwanga shows harvested Sweetpotato crossing block


In the 1990s, CIP introduced OFSP approximately 200 clones as in vitro plantlets to collaborating SSA countries. In Uganda, Robert evaluated the received OFSP in different agroecologies. The clones were either not adapted to the growing conditions or were not suitable for local consumption; they had low dry matter content (DMC); were susceptible to diseases, especially Alternaria bataticola blight, and sweetpotato virus disease (SPVD), the most devastating disease to sweetpotato in SSA. Robert worked on a short-term goal of testing local varieties and introduced germplasm, releasing adapted varieties, and used crossing schemes in crossing blocks at Namulonge that included OFSP clones from various sources around the globe. The raw materials (the genes) for improving OFSP were sought from non-orange sweetpotato germplasm. The schemes had medium to long term goals which aimed at finding solutions to the major sweetpotato production constraints, namely, the major diseases mentioned earlier and sweetpotato weevils that cause up to 100% yield loss in highly susceptible cultivars during dry periods. As a further challenge, Robert had to combine these desirable traits with high b-carotene content in the same genetic background.


Robert succeeded in breeding for virus resistance, made considerable progress in understanding the underlying genetics of virus resistance, and also managed to incorporate the high dry matter content that people liked. He also started work with various teams to understand better the molecular and genetic basis for field resistance to viruses to enable more accurate and targeted breeding strategies to achieve high levels of resistance in progeny populations. Although to date there are no cultivars with durable field resistance under high weevil populations, Robert and his team have made some progress by broadening the sources of weevil resistance through local collections and screening for resistance. Specifically, the team identified hydroxycinnamic acid esters as the biochemical basis for sweet potato weevil resistance in the New Kawogo sweetpotato landrace he released.


Robert’s successes have been shared throughout the region. His program generated breeding populations (seed), which he sent to Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, and Burkina Faso. In 2007, 261,980 seeds were sent to these countries, representing about 40% of the seed produced by Robert’s program.