Blog /

Show Side Panel

SPHI “Through the lens of a camera” 2014 Photo Contest

Aug 13 2014   |   By: saraquinn   |   0   |  

You could be the lucky 1st prize winner of $120 or the lucky person to go down in sweetpotato history! The top 5 photos will be featured on our popular Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal.

There are two competition categories: SPHI at Work and Promoting Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP). For more details on how to enter please visit the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal and for inspiration read this blog and see last year’s winners!

The prizes for the top 3 photographs in each category are: 1st Prize: $120, 2nd prize: $70 and 3rd prize: $45 and the winning photographs will be displayed at the SPHI 5th Annual Technical Meeting to be held in Nairobi from September 9-11.

Please send your photos to before 5pm (NBO) on Friday, 22 August 2014. Best of luck to you all!

CIP’s Mama SASHA Project (Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa) featured at the Experimental Biology Conference

Aug 11 2014   |   By: path-cpad   |   0   |  

In April 2014, scientific findings from two PATH projects – the Mama Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (Mama SASHA) project and the Infant and Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) project – were presented at the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego, California. The conference is an annual meeting comprised of over 14,000 scientists from around the world and exhibitors representing six sponsoring societies and multiple guest societies. The conference brings together leading global nutrition scientists and public health nutrition practitioners. At the conference, the Mama SASHA and IYCN projects were highlighted in four oral presentations and four poster sessions.

These two Kenyan-designed and tested innovations offer health facility, community, and household solutions to promote maternal, infant and child health, and nutrition:

  • The Mama SASHA project – led by the International Potato Center (CIP) and PATH’s Kenya Country Program – integrates agriculture and nutrition into prenatal healthcare to maximize the benefits of orange flesh sweet potato (OFSP). OFSP is an important source of energy and beta-carotene, also known as pro-Vitamin A, which is essential for mothers and young children.
  • As part of the global IYCN project, PATH sought to reduce child malnutrition in the first 1000 days by engaging men and grandmothers to improve maternal dietary and infant and young child feeding practices.

Experimental Biology Conference

Photo: PATH Stephanie Martin presents findings from the IYCN Project


Both projects demonstrated cross-program and multi-partner collaboration, and specifically:

  • Strived for optimal integration into Kenya’s existing health care delivery system;
  • Leveraged support through USAID’s APHIA II Western and APHIAPLUS Western platform projects in western Kenya;
  • Developed collaborative partnerships at the local, national, and international levels;
  • Included partnership with academic and research institutions;
  • Employed rigorous evaluation designs, including formative studies to design locally appropriate interventions, process evaluation activities, and outcomes evaluations with comparison groups;
  • Resulted in invitations for publication in special issues of highly renowned peer reviewed publications and a request for assembly of a future special symposium for Experimental Biology in 2015; and
  • Demonstrated the value of producing and disseminating evidence of the highest scientific rigor.

Please contact Dr. Frederick Grant (, Mama SASHA project coordinator, or Dr. Allison Bingham (, Mama SASHA PATH studies representative, with any questions regarding the Mama SASHA Project. Please contact Denise Lionetti (, MCHN Project Director, with any questions regarding the IYCN Project.

For further information about the Mama SASHA project please visit the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal and the CIP website. You can view this Youtube video all about this innovative project.

Drought Management and Resilience Building: From Ecosystem to Plant Functional Traits

Jul 30 2014   |   By: david_ramirez   |   0   |  

Challenges posed by climate change and land use

As part of its strategic objective of enhancing food security, CIP is proposing a diversification and intensification of cereal-based cropping systems in Asia using early maturing, or “agile” potatoes. The potatoes that will be introduced into cereal cropping systems need to be agile, or precocious genotypes with growing periods of 70-80 days and the ability to endure various biotic and abiotic stresses. At the same time, intensification will require responsible agricultural practices to avoid water waste, nutrient loss, carbon emissions among others.

Central Asia is dominated by grassland and rangeland, followed by sparse vegetation deserts. Agricultural land covers more than 21% of Central Asia, and roughly 30% of this cultivated land is under irrigation. Uzbekistan has the largest irrigated area (>80% of the cultivated land), whereas Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have the lowest (<13%).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios for the region predict that atmospheric temperature will increase, which will result in greater evapotranspiration, canceling out the moderate increase of precipitation predicted for some areas. Increases in annual temperature have already been reported for the region, which has experienced a noticeable reduction in ice and permanent snow cover as glaciers melt and snowfall decreases. Another problem that the region faces is increasing soil salinization (both in rate and extension), which is the result of water withdrawal (e.g. Aral Sea reduction), saline groundwater levels and suboptimal irrigation and drainage management. The abandonment of irrigated areas has consequently increased.

Resilience, Drought and Scales

Resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb shocks without losing its structure and function. Ecosystems move into different states through succession, and some of those states are more resilient than others. However, external factors such as resource overuse, inappropriate management and natural disasters can push an ecosystem into an undesirable state that is difficult to move out of. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment classification, ecosystems provide “provisioning services,” which include food, fiber, fuel, genetic resources and clean water, and “supporting services,” which include carbon sequestration, nutrient or water cycling and soil formation. Inappropriate management practices or resource overexploitation erode the capacity of an ecosystem to provide these services and can push it into a highly stable, degraded state. One of the mechanisms ecosystems have for avoiding this is response diversity: if a perturbation causes the loss of a function, response diversity allows for it to be compensated by a homologue function.

Response diversity reduces sensibility to disturbance and fosters the capacity to adapt to varied scenarios, which helps to enhance operating resilience across different scales.

CIP's Durbek Khalikov showing an experiment with the Partial Root-Zone Drying (PRD) technique
CIP's Durbek Khalikov showing an experiment with the Partial Root-Zone Drying (PRD) technique

In the context of resilience, there are two types of droughts: meteorological drought and agricultural drought. Meteorological drought is when total precipitation is below the minimum required to maintain fundamental ecosystem services. Agricultural drought is when there is not enough plant-available soil moisture in the root zone. Agricultural drought is driven by inappropriate land management and is very common. For example, in rain-fed savannah cropping systems, only 30% of rainfall reaches the root zone because 70% is lost to evaporation, interception, drainage and surface runoff. Agricultural drought can be reduced by good soil management. For example, some soils in the Sahel are prone to the formation of a crust that reduces water infiltration. De Goede and Brussaard (2002) tested the incorporation of mulch (wood shavings) and termites into the soil and found that after three years, agricultural drought was reduced and plant cover and diversity increased significantly. The termites accelerated the decomposition of the wood shavings, adding organic matter to the soil, while the canals they constructed to link their colonies increased soil porosity and water infiltration. However, if water scarcity crosses a threshold, nothing can be done to produce more food or other ecosystem services, and the only solution is to rely on “resilience parachutes” such as food relief, cereal banks, social networks and conservation.

Conversion of natural systems for agriculture causes depletion of soil organic carbon (SOC) pools (by approximately 60% and 70% in temperate and tropical soils respectively). Grasslands and sparse vegetation are the main land cover in Central Asia, and data for the last 80 years show that SOC has increased in these ecosystems, which indicates that rangelands are carbon sinks. However, there was a net loss of soil carbon in cultivated areas, both rainfed and irrigated. Central and South Asia are considered global soil degradation hotspots, making these regions high priorities for soil restoration and the resumption of carbon sequestration. The concept of response diversity can inform the implementation of alternative mechanisms to compensate for the loss of carbon sequestration. Some authors propose the conservation, restoration, and appropriate management (avoiding overgrazing) of the rangeland ecosystems in order to compensate for carbon emissions from the intensification of agriculture. At the same time, it will be necessary to improve the soil carbon sequestration capacity of cropping systems through practices such as no-till farming, efficient irrigation (drip irrigation, partial root-zone drying) water conservation and harvesting, nutrient management (mulching) and other conservation agriculture strategies.

Two studies provide insight into to how to measure drought resilience in breeding programs. Chapuis et al. (2012) analyzed 14 environmental contexts (France, Chile and Hungary) and 19 maize hybrids, and estimated a drought index as the mean of soil water potential (a physical variable related to soil water availability) during a period spanning from 10 days before to 10 days after male flowering (a key developmental stage). The resilience for each hybrid was estimated as the slope of the response curve between seed numbers per plant and drought index in each environment. Low slope (high resilience) means that the variation of drought index (in different environments) has low effect in yield. This result was coherent with the resilience estimated in a phenotyping platform (phenodym) of potted plants in greenhouse conditions. In another study, Kahiluoto et al. (2014) defined 12 phenology-based agro-climatic parameters that are critical for barley performance in Finland. Two kinds of diversities were calculated using the Shannon Diversity index: a) Type Diversity was based on the numbers of cultivars used in an area, while b) Response Diversity to weather was based on the yield response of genotypes to the agro-climatic parameters. Despite a steady increase in barley cultivar diversity, the diversity of response to weather declined during the last decade in the regions with highest barley productivity in Finland.

Experiment with mulch
Experiment with mulch

CIP’s strategic objective number two (SO2) highlights the requirement of “resilient and competitive” potato varieties. However, what kind of traits must be prioritized to get these resilient genotypes? Some authors highlight two main reasons for choosing a trait: It must be scalable at different levels (from the leaf to the canopy) and it must be integrative across the growing period. François Tardieu from the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) stresses that the selection of a trait should depend on the drought scenario. Thus, in mild water stress conditions (which is the most common scenario in agriculture) it is much better to prioritize individuals with a risky or opportunistic behavior, such as higher carbon assimilation, stomatal conductance and transpiration, that enables to take advantage of water pulses. However, under terminal or severe drought, it is more important to select plants that reduce stomatal conductance to save water, which increases the intrinsic water use efficiency, defined as assimilated carbon per transpired water. It doesn’t make sense to search for genotypes with high water use efficiency in scenarios of mild water stress. A resilient genotype is one that has a high diversity of traits to respond to different drought scenarios.

Closing Observations

  • Response diversity is crucial to keeping an ecosystem in desirable states. Some proxies used to measured response diversity can help the assessment of resilience at different scales.
  • SOC is a component that reflects environmental health, and its measurement and monitoring are crucial for assessing land management. CIP and EMBRAPA have developed some techniques for measuring SOC stocks in the field using Laser-Induced breakdown and Fluorescence Spectroscopy technologies.
  • The definition of drought scenarios is important for prioritizing the choice of traits, drought targeting and phenotyping. The identification of key environmental factors during some critical phenological stages (i.e. tuber initiation onset in potato, conversion of adventitious to reserve roots in sweetpotato), type of agriculture (rain-fed or irrigation) and the simulation of water demand via modeling will be crucial for the drought targeting of root and tuber crops based on experiences in cereals.
  • Research on the interaction of drought with biotic (microorganism infections, pests) and abiotic (heat, salinity) stresses will be necessary for achieving SO2 goals.


Cattivelli, L., Rizza, F., Badeck, F.-W., Mazzucotelli, E., Mastrangelo, A. M., Francia, E., Marè, C., Tondelli, A., Stanca, A. M. (2008). Drought tolerance improvement in crop plants: An integrated view from breeding to genomics. Field Crops Research 105(1–2): 1-14.

Chapuis, R., Delluc, C., Debeuf, R., Tardieu, F., Welcker, C. (2012). Resiliences to water deficit in a phenotyping platform and in the field: How related are they in maize? European Journal of Agronomy 42(0): 59-67.

Chen, X., Bai, J., Li, X., Luo, G., Li, J., Li, B. L. (2013). Changes in land use/land cover and ecosystem services in Central Asia during 1990–2009. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5(1): 116-127.

Chenu, K., Cooper, M., Hammer, G. L., Mathews, K. L., Dreccer, M. F. &Chapman, S. C. (2011). Environment characterization as an aid to wheat improvement: interpreting genotype-environment interactions by modelling water-deficit patterns in North-Eastern Australia. Journal of Experimental Botany 62(6): 1743-1755.

de Goede, R. G. M., Brussaard, L. (2002). Soil zoology: an indispensable component of integrated ecosystem studies. European Journal of Soil Biology 38(1): 1-6.

Elmqvist, T., Folke, C., Nyström, M., Peterson, G., Bengtsson, J., Walker, B., Norberg, J. (2003). Response diversity, ecosystem change, and resilience. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(9): 488-494.

Hagg, W., Mayer, C., Lambrecht, A., Kriegel, D., Azizov, E. (2013). Glacier changes in the Big Naryn basin, Central Tian Shan. Global and Planetary Change 110, Part A(0): 40-50.

Heinemann, A. B., Dingkuhn, M., Luquet, D., Combres, J. C., Chapman, S. (2008). Characterization of drought stress environments for upland rice and maize in central Brazil. Euphytica 162(3): 395-410.

Jarvis, P. G. (1995). SCALING PROCESSES AND PROBLEMS. Plant Cell and Environment 18(10): 1079-1089.

Kahiluoto, H., Kaseva, J., Hakala, K., Himanen, S. J., Jauhiainen, L., Rötter, R. P., Salo, T., Trnka, M. (2014). Cultivating resilience by empirically revealing response diversity. Global Environmental Change 25:186-193.

Klein, I., Gessner, U., Kuenzer, C. (2012). Regional land cover mapping and change detection in Central Asia using MODIS time-series. Applied Geography 35(1–2): 219-234.

Lal, R. (2004). Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science 304(5677): 1623-1627.

Lal, R. (2013). Food security in a changing climate. Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology 13(1): 8-21.

Monneveux, P., Ramírez, D. A., Pino, M.-T. (2013). Drought tolerance in potato (S. tuberosum L.): Can we learn from drought tolerance research in cereals? Plant Science 205–206(0): 76-86.

Palm, C., Blanco-Canqui, H., DeClerck, F., Gatere, L., Grace, P. (2013). Conservation agriculture and ecosystem services: An overview. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment (0).

Rockström, J. (2003). Resilience building and water demand management for drought mitigation. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C 28(20–27): 869-877.

Rockström, J., Karlberg, L., Wani, S. P., Barron, J., Hatibu, N., Oweis, T., Bruggeman, A., Farahani, J. &Qiang, Z. (2010). Managing water in rainfed agriculture—The need for a paradigm shift. Agricultural Water Management 97(4): 543-550.

Segnini, A., Posadas, A., Quiroz, R., Milori, D., Saab, S. C., Neto, L. M., Vaz, C. M. P. (2010). Spectroscopic Assessment of Soil Organic Matter in Wetlands from the High Andes. Soil Science Society of America Journal 74(6): 2246-2253.

Segnini, A., Posadas, A., Quiroz, R., Milori, D., Vaz, C. M. P., Martin-Neto, L. (2011). Soil carbon stocks and stability across an altitudinal gradient in southern Peru. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 66(4): 213-220.

Shipley, B. (2010) . From plant traits to vegetation structure. Cambridge University Press

Siegfried, T., Bernauer, T., Guiennet, R., Sellars, S., Robertson, A., Mankin, J., Bauer-Gottwein, P. &Yakovlev, A. (2012). Will climate change exacerbate water stress in Central Asia? Climatic Change 112(3-4): 881-899.

Sommer, R., Glazirina, M., Yuldashev, T., Otarov, A., Ibraeva, M., Martynova, L., Bekenov, M., Kholov, B., Ibragimov, N., Kobilov, R., Karaev, S., Sultonov, M., Khasanova, F., Esanbekov, M., Mavlyanov, D., Isaev, S., Abdurahimov, S., Ikramov, R., Shezdyukova, L. &de Pauw, E. (2013). Impact of climate change on wheat productivity in Central Asia. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 178(0): 78-99.

Sommer, R., Pauw, E. (2011). Organic carbon in soils of Central Asia—status quo and potentials for sequestration. Plant and Soil 338(1-2): 273-288.

Tardieu, F. (2011). Any trait or trait-related allele can confer drought tolerance: just design the right drought scenario. Journal of Experimental Botany.

Thomas, R. J. (2008). Opportunities to reduce the vulnerability of dryland farmers in Central and West Asia and North Africa to climate change. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 126(1-2): 36-45.

Walker, B., Hollin, C. S., Carpenter, S. R., Kinzig, A. (2004). Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 9(2).

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