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CIP Hosts Climate Change Application Contest ‘Hackathon’

Dec 19 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

The International Potato Center (CIP) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 36-hour “hackathon” at CIP Headquarters in Lima, Peru to see what useful applications the programmers might fashion out of information CCAFS is continuously collecting.

Using an array of data about everything from seed varieties to future climate variables, eight teams from Colombia, Jamaica and Peru spent a weekend together on the CIP campus, sustained by sandwiches, coffee and creativity.

“It was amazing how all these programmers used the data to play with different platforms,” says Sophia Tejada Carranza, one of the members of the CIP team (the others were Elisa Salas Murrugarra, Mirella Flores Gonzalez and Raul Angel Cordova Solis). “The idea was to have all these different points of view [aimed at] trying to help the farmers.”

The CIP team hacked together an app - Trato Justo - that would help a farmer compute and receive a fair price for his crops based on their quality, regional climate conditions and other factors.

Each team – five from Peru, one each from Colombia and Jamaica – was assigned a mentor to guide it through the creation of a technical solution that could help answer a question a farmer might ask: “How can I increase my crops’ nutrient density?” or “How can I make more money from my crops?”

The data is current and rich, says Elisa Salas Murrugarra, but not usually readily accessible as it was during the hackathon. “We wanted to explore news ways to use and reuse all this information,” she explains.

“We work together [every day], but we haven’t really had the opportunity to try to improve upon our ideas” in the community setting that the hackathon provided, added Raul Angel Cordova.

Cross-fertilization of ideas from one team to the next was a key part of the event. CIP staff were assigned to each team to help facilitate that kind of exchange.

At the conclusion of the event, each team presented its idea toa jury of five specialists in agriculture, climate change and information technologies, who rated the project c based on a number of criteria including user-friendliness and innovation.

Winning first place was Colombia’s Geomelodicos with an app using Global Positioning Satellite data and regionalized climate models to maximize crop yields for farmers in Latin America. It could, however, be applied to other global regions. First prize was USD 3,000 cash. The second-place winner, Via Soluciones, was awarded USD 2,000 cash.

Whether or not a team’s idea won an award, the event generated excitement around a common cause.

“All of us were thinking about how to protect the environment,” says Murrugarra, who says that future hackathons are a distinct possibility after the success of this initial one.

More on Hackathon:

Collaborating to Improve Nutrition and Incomes in Bangladesh

Dec 18 2014   |   By: david-dudenhoefer   |   0   |  

Shawkat Begum, a Bangladeshi anthropologist who is coordinating the horticulture project, explains that it has provided training in sustainable agricultural techniques such as integrated pest management and grafting to rural men and women in four districts of Bangladesh. Those farmers are now producing improved orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) varieties and nutrient-rich vegetables. At the same time, CIP has helped Bangladeshi potato farmers to boost their production and incomes through the improvements in potato seed storage.

The four-year project, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Feed the Future initiative, is using potato, sweetpotato and target vegetables to improve the food security, nutrition and incomes of smallholders. To accomplish this, CIP and AVRDC have partnered with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and the PROSHIKA Centre for Human Development. Scientists at the US universities Virginia State University and University of California Davis have contributed to the project’s integrated pest management and potato storage components.

There is great need for such interventions in rural Bangladesh, where many families don’t own enough land to grow the food they need and malnutrition rates are among the world’s highest. Sweetpotato is an excellent option for those farmers, since it grows quickly and can produce a lot of calories in a small area, even in marginal soils. The orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties that the project has distributed have the advantage of being high in iron and beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A. And the plant’s leaves are also nutritious, which has led to a growing popularity of sweetpotato-leaf curry in the four districts.

The goal of the four-year project is to reach 100,000 households by September 2015, and significant progress has been made in 2014. The implementing partners are in the process of reaching 39,000 households in 2014, which will bring the total number of beneficiaries during the project’s first three years to 69,000. Given the multiplying effect of the project’s train-the-trainer approach, it is well on track to meet its goal.

The horticulture project not only addresses such widespread problems as poverty and vitamin A deficiency in children, it also has a strong gender strategy. Bangladeshi inheritance laws and traditions have left most of the country’s women land poor, so the project provides training to groups of women in productive activities that require very little land, such as such as home gardens, and the production of grafted tomato or eggplant seedlings or sweet potato vine cuttings (planting material) for sale. Almost half of the project’s participants to date are female, and the training and assistance they’ve received has improved their families’ diets and incomes while helping them to take more control of their lives.

Begum, the project’s Chief of Party, is quite familiar with the limitations that rural women face in her country. She explains that women beneficiaries have told her that the intervention helped them to gain more respect from their husbands and community members.

“I personally did case studies on vine multiplication with women who told me that they never felt like they would have ownership over anything, but they now feel like their lives have meaning, and they can tell their husbands that they have earned their own income,” Begum said. “That is really motivating.”

Bangladesh Horticulture Project

One such woman, Jogun, from the Chowgachha area of Jessore district, explained that since receiving training from the project, she has grown sweetpotatoes for her family and neighbors and has earned income from the sale of planting material.

“We regularly eat sweetpotato leaves and roots,” she said. “My grandchildren like sweetpotato and they are eating it regularly. I hope that this makes them healthy.”

Jogun explained that she grew enough sweetpotato vines on five decimals (approx 200 sq. meters) of land in five months to earn 5,000 taka (approx. US$65), which she used to improve her family’s diet and to purchase a goat. She added that she intends to sell the goat when it is grown, and hopes to have enough money to buy a cow.

“Women in my village are taking interest and approaching me to learn vine multiplication. I have helped them, and now they are helping others. This simple technology is spreading in my village,” Jogun said.

The horticulture project’s impact has likewise spread beyond the communities it works with directly. CIP has also contributed to a project led by WorldFish called Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition. CIP provided Worldfish with sweetpotato vine cuttings, which are used as planting material, so that the organization could promote sweetpotato production among participants in the aquaculture project. The horticulture project also contributed 20 metric tones of sweetpotato roots to a factory that is producing baby food from fish, rice, sweetpotato and rice.

Begum explained that she has witnessed plenty of success stories since the horticulture project was launched. She citied a group of landless women in Barisal who the project trained in vine multiplication and who managed to produce enough vines in area’s behind their homes to earn about $130 per member in eight months – money they spent on such essentials as milk and school supplies for their children.

“I really find this job enjoyable,” Begum said. “When you see women following innovative approaches, or when you give them a way to generate their own income and attain a different role in their community, that is very rewarding.”

The Reaching Agents of Change Training of Trainers (TOT) Courses – Photostory

Dec 16 2014   |   By: saraquinn   |   0   |  

For three years, hundreds of participants in Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and Burkina Faso benefited from an annual Training of Trainers (ToT) course called ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sweetpotato.’ The course was one of the main activities implemented by the Reaching Agents of Change (RAC) Project (2011-2014). RAC aims to increase investment in orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) to combat vitamin A deficiency among young children and women of reproductive age. RAC also seeks to build the capacity of public sector extension and non-governmental organizational personnel to effectively implement initiatives aimed at promoting the dissemination and appropriate use of vitamin A-rich OFSP. The course was implemented by the International Potato Center and Helen Keller International in partnership with three national host institutions – Sokoine University of Agriculture - Tanzania, Eduardo Mondlane University – Mozambique, and the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute - Nigeria. This photostory highlights the objectives and content, target group, training methodology and step-down process of the course. It also emphasizes the institutionalization of the course, impact and sustainability strategies of future courses. The implementers call upon development partners to sponsor participants to take part in this annual course.

To see the Photostory in fullscreen click here

The Papa Andina experience: No small potatoes

Dec 09 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

In 2000, “the goal of the program was to see how we can help small-scale farmers here in the Andes” bring thousands of little-known Peruvian roots and tubers to market, says Devaux’s CIP’s regional director for Latin America. The potato crop, in particular native potatoes or landraces, as well as centuries of traditional knowledge around how best to cultivate them, “are assets these farmers have. Our challenge was this: how do we transform this asset into a business opportunity? How can we bring them to market and make them attractive to consumers?”

Devaux described the process he and the rest of the CIP team developed to try to reach these goals. Members of the “value chain” – from farmers who grew more than 3,000 varieties of native potato, to processors who would convert them into ready-to-eat snacks, to the consumers who would buy those snacks – were identified, and various innovative potato-cooking recipes explored with a number of chefs and cooking schools.

Papa Andina

The crops in question grow in a range of brilliant hues, red and blue, orange and yellow, he says. “We evaluated how they would perform when cooked in oil, and we got these fantastic potato chips.” A combination of five or six different-colored chips, salted and packaged into individual servings, became a popular item among tourists browsing in duty-free shops in the Lima airport. “People tended to buy them more as a souvenir than as a snack.”

More products followed, such as blends of colorful potatoes coveted by chefs and home cooks alike. Not every product under the Papa Andina initiative succeeded, such as mashed potatoes made with the colorful crops. Yet no effort was wasted, Devaux contends.

Papa Andina

“For CIP, [Papa Andina] was a way to align research activity with development needs,” he says.

Other organizations have since imitated CIP’s efforts in terms of bringing products generated by these crops to a broader marketplace. “Our idea [in launching Papa Andina] was good – but it was very small,” Devaux says. “To have it copied by others in a process we called ‘creative imitation’ has allowed the idea to grow.” To this day CIP continues to provide research support to organizations who seek to bring new Andean potato-based products to market, even some large companies who initially rejected the concept due to its small scale. “Once they saw the market was developing for these products, they came back to us,” Devaux says.

Papa Andina

Several key changes have occurred in the wake of the program, Devaux notes. For one thing, “these potatoes had not been part of the national potato variety list” administered by Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture – and until they were on that list, their seeds could not formally be made virus free by to produce a healthy stock of quality seed . They have since been placed on that list, and a national holiday declared, May 30, National Potato Day, celebrated nationwide. “All of this gives more visibility to these potatoes and promotes their consumption.

Data gathered over the course of Papa Andina tells Devaux and the rest of the CIP staff who were involved in the project revealed measureable changes in the way native potatoes are marketed and sold at national and international levels - thereby increasing the demand for the potatoes and the,price they command. That data has also informed similar efforts in Boliva, Ecuador and other countries.

Papa Andina

A less tangible but no less important benefit is the sense of national pride now felt by Peruvians as their unique native potatoes find a way to the tables of consumers around the globe.

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