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Magic mash: reducing child malnutrition with sweetpotatoes

Feb 18 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

CIP Principal Scientist Jan Low published “Magic mash: reducing child malnutrition with sweet potatoes” on the Guardian Development Professionals Network. The article explains the development challenges and nutritional successes of introducing orange fleshed sweetpotato in Sub-Saharan Africa.

reducing child malnutrition with sweetpotatoes

Strengthening Local Capacity to Breed Better Sweetpotatoes

Feb 06 2015   |   By: david-dudenhoefer   |   0   |  

Maria Andrade, a CIP sweetpotato breeder based in Maputo, Mozambique, can hardly believe the progress that has been made on improving that important crop for African farmers in recent years. “A decade ago, there were very few (sweetpotato) breeding programs in Africa; they mostly depended on the introduction of material from other countries or regions to do adaptive trials, and that material often did not adapt to local conditions,” she explains.

Andrade is one of four CIP scientists who have spearheaded a transformation of sweetpotato breeding in sub-Saharan Africa over the past five years. They are working to expand and accelerate the development of varieties that are adapted to local conditions in order to improve food security, health and incomes.

CIP is strengthening the sweetpotato breeding capacity of national agricultural research systems (NARS) across the continent, in close coordination with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), as part of the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. CIP has provided the latest technology and helped breeders adopt new tools and methods through training and knowledge sharing. This has created a breeders’ community of practice that has produced impressive results: 46 new sweetpotato varieties released in the region since 2009, 37 of which are orange-fleshed varieties rich in beta-carotene (provitamin A) that can greatly improve the health of young children. And because it takes years to develop and release a new variety, the initiative’s output has barely begun.

“There is no comparison with the way things were 10 years ago, because we are now in this network,” Andrade says. “We speak the same language and we use a common protocol with common procedures. Through this interaction, we are really making progress.”

Support Platforms at the Core of Decentralization

Wolfgang Grüneberg, who coordinates CIP’s efforts to improve sweetpotato breeding, explains that a decade ago, CIP emphasized a centralized breeding approach in which new varieties were developed in Peru and shipped to other regions for evaluation and possible adoption. Now CIP prioritizes a decentralized approach, which focuses on strengthening national breeding programs and taking advantage of the genetic diversity of local sweetpotato populations.

To achieve this, CIP has established support platforms in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Asia that are strengthening the breeding programs of NARS in those regions. These include three sub-regional platforms in SSA that support local breeding efforts: an East Africa platform based in Uganda, a Southern Africa platform based in Mozambique and a West Africa platform based in Ghana. Because of the decentralized breeding approach’s success in Africa, an Asian platform was recently established to work with NARS in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia. CIP’s work in South America and Haiti remains centralized, with varieties being developed at CIP headquarters in Lima, Peru, with the exception of a NARS breeding program in Cuba.

Over the past five years, each African support platform has organized one or two regional workshops per year, and CIP has brought Africa’s top sweetpotato breeders together for annual meetings. CIP scientists also arrange capacity building for smaller groups in specific countries as needed. CIP has developed and provided training in protocols and software for data management, analysis and sharing; the use of molecular markers for parental breeding; and an accelerated breeding scheme to reduce the time it takes from the initial cross to having a variety ready for release.

“We put an emphasis on sharing knowledge, and it is trickling down. Each of the breeders that participates in the workshops usually has one or two technicians working with them, as well colleagues in their institution who work on other crops,” Grüneberg explains. “There are now more sweetpotato breeding programs in Africa, more breeders with more knowledge of African sweetpotato breeding material and, most importantly, there are many more sweetpotato crosses being made in Africa for Africa.”

Robert Mwanga, who heads the East Africa support platform, notes that decentralized breeding is essential because each region is composed of different environments, making it difficult to develop a variety that will thrive in all parts of a country, let alone several countries. While all the platforms promote the development of resilient sweetpotato varieties with high nutrient content and dry matter, each one also focuses on a specific trait of importance for their region. In the case of East Africa, the priority trait is virus resistance, whereas in Southern Africa, it’s drought tolerance, and in West Africa, it’s low sugar content.

“The three platforms have different major focuses, but we all come together for a single training with the same tools. This way we minimize the duplication of efforts and maximize the use of resources,” says Mwanga.

According to Ted Carey, who manages the West Africa breeding platform, in close collaboration with Ghana’s Crops Research Institute (CRI), sweetpotato was a seriously neglected crop in that region prior to SASHA. Five years ago CRI was simply introducing and releasing varieties today it has a modern breeding program that makes crosses, analyzes progeny using the latest approaches, and develops new varieties.

“We have two major objectives – population improvement and participatory variety selection for release,” says Carey. “All of our activities are thoroughly collaborative, from the beginning to the release.”

Accelerated breeding

CIP’s capacity building efforts are complimented by AGRA’s support for graduate students and post-docs in sweetpotato breeding. CIP has provided equipment for procedures such as near infrared reflectance spectroscopy and software such as CloneSelector, and has trained African scientists in the use of that technology, all of which is speeding up the breeding process.

“CIP wants to revolutionize conventional sweetpotato breeding,” observes Mwanga.

One of CIP’s most revolutionary contributions has been the accelerated breeding scheme. Traditionally sweetpotato breeding programs have taken eight years to develop a new variety, this new technique has resulted in the development of various new varieties by different breeding programs in only four years. Accelerated breeding takes advantage of the fact that in breeding clonally propagated crops, each true seed plant is a potential variety. After each plant from a true seed is rapidly multiplied, the vine cuttings are planted in different environments for simultaneous field tests. The key to accelerated breeding is the early testing of genotypes over multiple locations, in contrast to the traditional approach of multiple cycles of evaluation at one location before going to multi-location testing as a final step in the selection process. Sweetpotato breeders can now identify viable candidates faster than they used to.

African scientists using this accelerated breeding scheme have adopted the moniker ‘speedbreeders,’ and their work is resulting in the development and release of more resilient and healthy sweetpotato varieties than African farmers have ever had access to before. Those varieties will play a vital role in efforts to improve diets and livelihoods across the continent, and to feed a growing population while adapting to a changing climate.

CIP is strengthening the sweetpotato breeding capacity of national agricultural research systems (NARS) across the continent
Robert Mwanga discusses the platform concept near an OFSP crossing block in Rwanda

“Our community of practice is quite coherent, and the result is that more varieties are being released and they are being developed much more quickly than in the past,” Mwanga observes. “I think that we will accomplish a lot in the coming years.”

For further information, read: Grüneberg W.J., Mwanga R., Andrade M. and Espinoza J., 2009. Selection methods Part 5: Breeding clonally propagated crops. In: S. Ceccarelli, E.P. Guimarães, E. Weltzien (eds) Plant breeding and Farmer Participation, 275 – 322. FAO, Rome.

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes: Rich source of Vitamin A

Nov 26 2014   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and under-nutrition generally limit the intellectual potential of individuals affected, undermining their economic and social development. Health experts say the medical condition is a major public health problem in many countries in Africa, with an estimated 42 per cent rate of VAD prevalence among children under five.

Asrat Amele, a Potato Breeder in a Sea of Sweetpotatoes

Oct 21 2014   |   By: kathleen   |   1   |  

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Asrat has always been fascinated with plant breeding. He is trained in plant genetics and plant breeding, obtaining his PhD. from Wageningen University, in The Netherlands.

Before starting at CIP, Asrat worked for over 10 years in plant breeding and plant genetics. During a national program in Ethiopia, Asrat got his first taste of working with CGIAR. He was a lead bean breeder for a project sponsored by the Generation Challenge Programme. Asrat found out about an opening as a potato breeder at CIP through his university professor. “I competed for the opening and luckily I got the job.”


Starting with CIP in 2012, Asrat began working towards creating a new regional potato breeding program in Africa, at CIP’s office in Nairobi. Building a breeding program from scratch required some patience at the start: “Inadequate infrastructures and facilities for initiating modest medium scale breeding were some hurdles at the beginning, but through the support of the Global Genetics, the Crop Improvement Program, and the Regional science and Operational Program we were able to beat the traffic and move forward”, the scientist explains.

Asrat enjoys the scientific gains being made at CIP. From testing new potato varieties that combine both local African and exotic allies, to the biofortification breeding for iron and zinc potato varieties, to even the testing of the potatoes in African soil, they all appeal to him. Asrat remembers fondly his experience of working with farmers testing the Andean potato Phureja and watching the potato gain the farmers´ approval. “My preliminary impression from exposing farmers to these new potato types is that farmers are open to learn and test new types in their family system. The conventional approach of developing varieties that have the same appearance as those farmers are accustomed to growing may actually restrict the introduction and exposure of farmers to novel, attractive and adapted germplasm.”


To Asrat, CIP is a great organization where “ideas are thoroughly discussed with colleagues and translated to practice to positive impact the lives of people.” When people hear he works at CIP he often gets asked: Where is the new potato? What is the difference it brings to the lives of people? He happily explains how he is part of a program working for a better future.

Photos: CIP/S.Quinn

Sweetpotato gives hope: Ensuring climate-smart food systems, livelihoods and resilience

Sep 11 2014   |   By: angelica-barlis-cpad   |   0   |  

In a media seminar workshop co-organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security in South East Asia (CCAFS-SEA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from 14-15 August 2014, sweetpotato caught the attention of the participants, mostly agricultural journalists and broadcasters in the Philippines.

Image Source: It's More FUn in Albay Blog

Eating sweetpotato, more fun in the Philippines?

Until recently, sweetpotato, “camote” to the Filipinos, has been an undervalued crop. Some participants at the media workshop shared anecdotes related to sweetpotato. One journalist recalled that whenever he got low scores, his grade school teacher would say, “You should go home and just plant camote.” Another participant said that he associates camote with poverty. During his childhood, when they could not afford rice, they only had sweetpotato for their meals. These are common misperceptions about sweetpotato in the Philippines – the crop is “lowly” and often associated with underperforming, incompetent students.

Representing CIP during the media forum was Dr. Julieta Roa, a collaborating researcher of CIP-FoodSTART. She was also the former director of Philippine Root Crop Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops), CIP’s national program partner in the Philippines. Dr. Roa enumerated several cases in the country where sweetpotato had played a crucial role in disaster recovery. CIP’s presentation gave the participants a clearer understanding of the importance and uses of sweetpotato – for both nutrition and food security.

Sweetpotato takes center stage in disaster situations

As the other PMCA/MarketLink pilot area, CIP, PhRootcrops-VSU and local partners established sweetpotato as a critical staple food base for disaster-readiness. Different MarketLink activities were conducted to improve farmers’ livelihoods and incomes through value-added interventions to sweetpotato with products such as sweetpotato muffins, noodles, doughnuts, flour-based products, pastries, ice-cream, fresh roots packs, even handicrafts from dried SP vines. Consumer awareness was carried out through exhibits in Agri-Fiesta and Magayon festivals, and fashion show food feature, in addition to media promotion and advocacy. The program undoubtedly aided the province of Albay to be more resilient to natural and economic vulnerabilities. The provincial leadership of Albay is now proactive in making sweetpotato an important food crop for climate-smart agriculture, especially since Bicol is in the path of a major typhoon.

Sweetpotato wine and fresh roots complete with labels and packaging from Albay province

Super Typhoon Yolanda (November 2013)

The strongest tropical cyclone in recorded history to hit the Philippines left the country with some 6,300 deaths and 31 billion pesos (708.3 US dollars) damage to the agriculture sector. Eastern Visayas, the home of CIP’s national program partner Visayas State University-PhilRootcrops, was severely hit. PhilRootcrops led or cooperated in the short-term response to the typhoon-stricken communities. Beneath the fallen coconut trees, or in open fields and on slopes, sweetpotato survived. Communities with fresh roots available did not have such severe food crises as those without. Sweetpotato served as local food supply until the relief efforts arrived.

Sweetpotato planting materials for distribution to households affected by the typhoon (Photo by:PhilRootcrops)

Distribution of sweetpotato planting materials in Southern Leyte after an orientation-appreciation symposium on RTCs for food security, livelihoods, and climate-smart farming (Photo by: PhilRootcrops)

CIP and PhilRootcrops targeted the victims of volcanic eruptions and typhoons from the provinces of Tarlac in Central Luzon and Albay in the Bicol Region as program beneficiaries. The multi-partnership program “Enhancing Research Utilization through Sweetpotato Livelihood Development in Disaster-Prone Communities” adapted the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) – the R&D method developed by CIP to stimulate innovation along market chains by enhancing stakeholder collaboration and level of trust. Known as the MarketLINK (i.e. Philippine adaptation), the program aimed to: (a) improve sweetpotato productivity and farm incomes of resource-poor farmers; and (b) address food insecurity by applying research outputs in exploiting market opportunities, and by training local partners in business development through the PMCA process . Interventions include]: supplying sweetpotato clean planting materials (CPM), improving farmer production practices, postproduction and processing innovations, as well as promoting sweetpotato diversity. Social marketing was an integral component, designed to change the negative attitude of many consumers regarding camote. The activities were carried out in international and local exhibits, agri-fairs and festivals, symposia, and even fashion shows, promoting sweetpotato products for health and nutrition, and livelihoods. The program was funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) from 2009 to 2012.

Mount Pinatubo Eruption (June 1991)

After the eruption, sweetpotato production areas were greatly reduced. A complex of sweetpotato viruses spread through all sweetpotato areas in Central Luzon; resulting in decreased yield and incomes among mostly smallholder farmers. Confronted with this situation, the program promoted the use of tissue-culture-generated clean planting materials (CPM) from Tarlac College of Agriculture (TCA); and C2 generation plantlets were produced by Mayantoc Cooperative as a CPM enterprise. CPM was used to develop off-season camote production in 14 lahar-laden ‘barangays’ [communities] of Concepcion, Tarlac; which then become sources of C3-C4 generation CPM for farmers in Tarlac, Bataan, and Pampanga. By the end of the project in 2012, the virus challenge had been dealt with; thus increasing the yield to at least 20 tons/ha, and incomes to at least 100% among adopters. Virus indexing was done by the Institute of Plant Breeding-University of the Philippines Los Banos (IPB-UPLB) using the CIP Elisa kit.

Using the PMCA/MarketLink platform, the program helped farmers and local entrepreneurs to identify market opportunities, and set up SP micro-enterprises, by providing training on processing and business aspects. The start-up value chains, such as sweetpotato wine, vinegar, candy, jam, fresh roots and flour-based products, require further business development services to improve facilities, packaging, and supply chain, if production and markets are to be sustained.

Mayon Volcano Eruption and Super Typhoon “Reming” (November 2006)

When the volcanic eruption had calmed down and the evacuees had returned to their homes, Typhoon Reming (Durian) swept across the Bicol, dislodging volcanic debris and causing mudslides that killed about 1,000 residents.

In Albay, in particular, farms, properties, and lives were lost; hunger was rife and livelihoods seriously destroyed. The agriculture sector was devastated; even sweetpotato was greatly reduced due to the hot volcanic flows. Early in 2007, the local leadership of Albay turned to mass growing of sweetpotato as buffer food during this crisis situation: three truckloads of planting materials of hybrids were shipped from PhilRootcrops-Visayas State University in Leyte. During the 2009-2012 PCAARRD-funded sweetpotato program, sweetpotato nurseries (with a total of 240,942 cuttings) were established by the provincial local government unit (LGU) in eight towns and three cities of Albay to provide quality planting materials for food, as well as livelihoods. After few months, ca. 256,700 sweetpotato vine cuttings were distributed to home gardens, LGU nurseries, Farmer Field School (FFS) demo sites and pilot school gardens in Albay.

Sweetpotato, the lone survivor among local crops after Typhoon Haiyan (Photo by: PhilRootcrops)

With the livelihoods and incomes of the typhoon victims badly affected, root crops, especially sweetpotato, were planted in coconut farm systems as part of the medium-term response. Sweetpotato and cassava planting materials were distributed to households by the LGUs, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Red Cross, and the Department of Agriculture, both for food and income. This posed a shortage in root and tuber crops (RTC) planting materials. To address this, VSU-PhilRootcrops and some LGUs north and south of Leyte Island province developed RTC nurseries in their stations and selected farmer-cooperators to supply continuing needs, and for disaster mitigation. Some local executives also support value-added RTC processing for income generation. VSU-PhilRootcrops leads the activities on monitoring, status of RTCs, planting material distribution, nurseries, capacity-building and nutrition awareness, and advocacy.

Participants of CCAFS-SEA media workshop piloting in the Philippines

Evidence strengthened support from media on climate change reporting

After presenting the outcomes of evidence-based action research and the roles of RTCs in climate change situations, the media group created clamor and anticipation on new stories of successes and breakthroughs of sweetpotato and other RTCs as super foods and resilient crops. Appreciation of the media’s role in disseminating accurate climate change information was emphasized. Dr. Leo Sebastian, CCAFS Regional Program Leader for South East Asia, posed a challenge to the participants: “You have to make sure that our message creates outcomes and impact.”

The media event was instrumental in making the practitioners realize the importance of root and tuber crops. The workshop was also tailored to highlight the roles and contributions of each CG center in adapting and mitigating climate change. The organizers will replicate the media workshop across South East Asia, particularly in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Besides CIP-Philippines, other research centers such as IRRI, World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) and WorldFish shared their programs and activities on climate change and agriculture. In addition, representatives from the Philippine government (Department of Agriculture and Department of Science and Technology) and NGOs (Catholic Media Network and Redraw the Line-Media Alliance) also imparted their own work and initiatives on climate change.