Blog /

Show Side Panel

Creating a Community of Practice in Sub-Saharan Africa to utilize Unmanned Aerial Vehicle-based tools for agricultural development

Nov 18 2014   |   By: saraquinn   |   0   |  

An inception workshop to form a Community of Practice focused on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Agricultural Remote Sensing was held at the ILRI Campus in Nairobi on October 7, 2014. The workshop was the platform for launching the discussion on the potential use of UAV in Remote Sensing as an effective tool for improving agricultural statistics.

The workshop – an integral activity of a research project financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation- was hosted by Roberto Quiroz from CIP headquarters in Lima, Corinne Valdivia, Professor at the University of Missouri, USA and Dieudonné Harahagazwe, Adolfo Posadas and Elijah Cheruiyot all from CIP Nairobi. Thirty-two participants representing national, regional and international institutions based in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria attended the workshop, including five CGIAR centers (CIP, ICRAF, CIAT, IITA and ILRI) and icipe.

UAV-based remote sensing tools are being developed and constructed by CIP to more effectively monitor and study potato and sweetpotato cropping areas throughout the country. Air-borne remote sensing of plant reflectance make it possible for scientists to observe how crop characteristics such as canopy cover, biomass accumulation, nutrient content, diseases and water use develop and evolve across landscapes over time. . This project is part of a larger effort across the CGIAR, with activities linked to the CGIAR Research Programs on Root, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). It will provide new information about crop statistics, weather, crop performance, resource use, the improved genetic traits sought by crop breeders as well as changes in the landscape.

“Last year CIP received a proof of concept grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to further the work we have started on remote sensing of cropping areas and crop condition and to assemble a UAV-based low-cost remote sensing platform” said Roberto Quiroz. Roberto goes on to say that the project will “develop methods that can support institutions producing vital agricultural statistics and yield forecast at local and national scales”.

The CIP team is creating opportunities to use remote sensing as a monitoring tool for smallholder farmers. The pilot tests will take place in Tanzania and Uganda using sweetpotato as the pilot crop and aim to provide local institutions with effective and low-cost tools for gathering and processing data on smallholder agriculture.

CIP drone project in action
CIP drone project in action

The workshop brought together key stakeholders to discuss innovation as part of the tool-box of users in research, development, statistics and policymaking that ultimately improve agriculture and the quality of life of farmers. This included focus group discussions on the potential for agricultural remote sensing information systems (ARSIS) and the identification of networks and elements of the impact pathways by stakeholder groups.

According to Dr. Quiroz the project aims at developing open access data on UAV-based tools: “All the technology generated by this project must be of free accessibility. Our Center produces international public goods, a policy endorsed by our donor. Thus, all the knowledge, software developed, information on what to buy, where to buy, how to assemble, etc. must be made available for everyone. The idea is that users can download the information and with that assemble the vehicles and sensors and provide the service or information needed by beneficiaries”

The organisers were thrilled with the results of the workshop, especially with the high level of discussions and fantastic connections that were made between stakeholder organisations from across the sub-Saharan Africa region and across a wide variety of fields of practice ranging from core development, applied research, to end users, and enablers.

You can view a collection of photos from the event here.

For more information about the project read this great article: Invasion of the Potato Drones on the CIP Blog or send an e-mail to Dr. Roberto Quiroz at

CIP’s Genebank Backups Provide More Layers of Food Security

Nov 18 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

“These collections are irreplaceable,” says David Ellis, head of the Lima facility. “You don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket.”

To spread out those “eggs,” CIP backs up “copies” of its 11,000 living plants – representing potato, sweetpotato and nine assorted Andean roots and tubers – to sites in Colombia, Peru, Norway and other places.

The backup process provides an additional measure of protection against threats to global food supplies, which can range from climate change to man-made conflict to natural disaster – threats that are real to many populations now and will be in the future.

CIP’s genebank is clonal, a rarity among sites storing plant material, in that it primarily stores plants rather than seeds. “These are living plants you have to care for on a regular basis,” Ellis says. Methods of collecting, storing and maintaining these specimens vary from those used in seed banks.

“Mother Nature did a wonderful job when she developed the seed, because there, in a little package, you have something that when dried down and stored properly can last in some cases for hundreds of years,” Ellis says. (CIP does store and back up some seeds.)

Several international treaties guide the ways and means their signatory countries collect, store, back up and share specimens, he explains. They include the Convention on Biological Diversity, which 150 world leaders signed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which guides how 65 specific crops will be exchanged among countries when used for food, but not for medicinal purposes.

As geographical borders shift due to political factors, and in response to the world’s droughts, floods, earthquakes and monsoons, methods used to collect germplasm must necessarily adapt, Ellis says. “Collecting just doesn’t happen these days the way it used to.” Countries’ shifting budgetary priorities also shape collection practices.

All of which arguably renders existing seed stock that much more precious, Ellis contends.

One of CIP’s backup sites for its seeds is the world’s chief global seed bank, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located in the mountains outside Oslo, Norway. A couple of times a year, it opens to accept duplicates of seeds from around the world. “It’s the last resort.” says Ellis.

David Ellis, head of CIP's Genebank, Lima facility
David Ellis, head of CIP's Genebank, Lima facility

Many similar relationships exist among organizations like CIP and between countries all with an eye toward securing seeds and seedlings for generations to come, Ellis says.

“It’s about goodwill and good collaboration,” he explains. “This is something we do for each other because we all need it.”

Sweetpotato: One Word or Two?

Nov 12 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

Using the single-word term helps differentiate the sweetpotato from the white or Irish potato, which is a tuber, not a root, and which possess a different nutrient profile. One of the most healthful foods on the planet, sweetpotato is rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin A and other nutrients. It is a cheap, tasty source of food for people around the globe, as many who follow CIP’s work well know.

Differentiation also matters when it comes to separating sweetpotato from yams, another vegetable with which it is commonly confused. Aren’t sweetpotatoes synonymous with “yams”? Aren’t all roots and tubers with orange- or red-colored colored flesh genetically related? Indeed they are not.

Like white potatoes, true yams – which are native to Africa – are tubers. But their similar shapes and hues to sweetpotato tend to generate confusion among consumers who interchange these terms. Western supermarkets tend to sell “yams” at the winter holidays for traditional casserole preparation – but even those vegetables are actually sweetpotato. These stores tend to refer to the orange-fleshed, burgundy-skinned vegetables as yams, while their golden-skinned counterparts with a lighter-colored flesh are billed as “sweet potato” – or, increasingly, “sweetpotato.” See, even the stores are starting to catch on!

CIP since its inception has opted to use the one-word term for these nutrient-packed crops native to Peru and other parts of Central America. Grown in more countries around the world than any other root crop, sweetpotato – ipomoea batatas, part of the morning glory family - was first domesticated more than 5,000 years ago in Latin America.

Potato growers in Uzbekistan learn water-saving methods

Nov 10 2014   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

According to FAOSTAT (2011), potato was grown in an area of 73,100 ha in 2011. The Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Uzbekistan reckons that the country should increase potato production to meet local demand fully. But worries over water availability bring into question the possibility of increased production. And this raises the priority of producing more with less input, including water. Researchers argue that if stress-tolerant varieties are cultivated and water-saving technologies used, smallholders can increase potato yields by 40 per cent. So indeed farmers are looking for and testing new methods of irrigation and new varieties of potato to improve productivity.

International research organizations work together with national partners and local authorities to help farmers deal with this issue. They collaborate with farmers to combine the latest research with practice by setting up demonstration plots on farms and organizing training events. For example, IWMI, an international water think-tank, and CIP, an international potato research organization, conduct training for local scientists and farmers under various projects. One of them is a three-year project 'Improved potato varieties and water management technologies to enhance water use efficiency, resilience, cost-effectiveness, and productivity of smallholder farms in stress-prone Central Asian environments'. This project is aimed at increasing potato productivity and competitiveness, and family income of resource-poor farmers in stress-prone areas of Central Asia, specifically in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It is funded by the German development cooperation instrument of BMZ/GIZ and was launched in 2012.

Under this project, IWMI and CIP researchers train local farmers and agronomists in best potato cultivation and irrigation practices. Based on the project results so far, they have also developed a list of guidelines for farmers. Local scientists show a strong interest in drought-tolerant potato varieties and water-saving technologies and farmers are willing to take up solutions to cultivate potato with reduced water supply, and use early potato varieties, which are tolerant of drought and high temperatures.

As a continuation of capacity-building efforts under the project, IWMI and CIP researchers conducted two training courses in Andijan and Fergana regions on 8-9 September 2014. More than 50 farmers and specialists attended the courses. What is more, 25 per cent of the participants in Andijan Region were women farmers. Participants were briefed on theory and practice of potato cultivation and irrigation. During visits to demonstration plots, they also learnt about methods of measuring soil moisture content using different techniques, potato irrigation, water measurement devices etc. Project team members also showed farmers the advantages of water-saving methods like drip irrigation, alternate furrow irrigation and high-frequency irrigation.

The project team hopes that its recommendations will help potato growers to contribute to sustainable use of water on farms and also improve their potato production.

Demonstration plots in Fergana and Andijan regions, Uzbekistan, set up under the IWMI/CIP research project,
are used to show farmers the advantages of water-saving methods like drip irrigation in cultivating potato. Photo by Davron Eshmuratov.

Previously published in

CIP Trustee Peter VanderZaag Honored in China

Nov 06 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

In the years since 1986, when Dr. VanderZaag first arrived to lead CIP’s potato program in China, funds have been raised, training offered and potato genetic resources secured for at least seven critical research projects. As a result of these ongoing efforts by Dr. VanderZaag and his CIP colleagues in China, the country’s potato crop yields have skyrocketed and the crop’s popularity soared among Chinese farmers and consumers alike. Of particular note is Cooperation 88, a CIP potato variety that now grows on more than 400,000 hectares in Southwest China and has substantially boosted China’s Gross Domestic Product by its resistance to blight and its excellent quality and appearance. Today China is the largest potato-producing country in the world.

Last month, in recognition of his years of leadership, Dr. VanderZaag was one of 100 foreign experts to receive China’s prestigious Friendship Awards. The award is the nation’s highest honor for achievement by a non-Chinese for outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social progress.

With Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presiding, Dr. VanderZaag and others from 25 countries participated in the Friendship Award ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Peter was not able to attend the ceremony in the Great Hall of the People but accepted his award in person in late October at Yunnan Normal University. His work in 16 provinces across the country on both potato and sweetpotato as well as his close collaboration with Chinese partners, including his counterpart Song Bofu, were honored that evening.

“As a child [in the early 60s], my mother ingrained in me the need to eat all the food on my plate,” said Dr. VanderZaag in remarks he gave at the ceremony. “Why? She reminded me that in China, children like me did not have enough food to eat. You know the history of that time in China. I thought to myself that I should dig a tunnel from Canada through the earth and share my food with hungry Chinese children.

“That,” he added, “was my simple 10-year-old’s solution!”

In the wake of China’s “open door policy,” launched in the early 1980s, the impact of Dr. VanderZaag’s work on new generations of scientists and farmers is far-reaching. For one thing, several of his former students are now leaders in China’s potato program and other areas of government. In 2011, addressing the Chinese Potato Congress in Yinchuan, he described how satisfying teaching and collaborating with young Chinese scientists has been in his career. Over the years, Dr. VanderZaag has guided six graduate students at the Master’s level at The University of the Philippines and Yunnan Normal University; co-advised numerous graduate students at other universities and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS); and created a way for at least two Chinese scholars to obtain their doctorates abroad.

Dr. VanderZaag served as the Secretary General of the Asian Potato Association; its second Triennial Congress, held in Kunming in 1988, drew some 200 potato scientists from 56 nations to share findings. Moreover, he has served either as CIP’s Board of Trustees chair or member in recent years. In that capacity, he helped create the CIP-China Center for Asia and Pacific (CCCAP), which promises to further solidify China’s role in the global potato research and production community. All told, his solid and successful work in China laid an excellent and critical foundation which was a contributing factor to the establishment of CCCAP.

Dr. VanderZaag was one of the 100 foreign experts to receive The People’s Republic of China’s prestigious Friendship Award
Dr. VanderZaag was one of the 100 foreign experts to receive The People’s Republic of China’s prestigious Friendship Award