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Tanzania edge closer to approving seed standards for Sweetpotato, Potato and Cassava

Mar 19 2015   |   By: kwame-ogero-margaret-mcewan   |   0   |  

The Government of Tanzania has moved a step closer to approving standards for different classes of seed for sweetpotato, cassava and potato. Addressing stakeholders at a final joint consultative meeting held on March 3, 2015 at the Agricultural Research Institute- Kibaha, the acting Director General of the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), Dr. Hamis Mtwaenzi, said TOSCI is determined to seeing that the proposed standards receive ministerial assent. Dr. Mtwaenzi added that the certification process will ensure seed producers are giving farmers quality planting materials hence contribute to improved food security and poverty reduction. He also emphasized the importance of a joint approach and dialogue among cassava, potato and sweetpotato stakeholders since the three crops have common challenges. Unlike cereals, the three do not require compulsory certification at the moment.

Protocols and standards for Quality Declared Planting Material (QDPM) for vegetatively propagated crops were published by FAO in 2010 but are yet to be adapted to national conditions at country level. Previous project interventions have highlighted that quality assurance is important due to disease and pest constraints. Sweetpotato production is particularly hampered by viruses in single and complex infections (i.e. sweetpotato virus disease (SPVD)) and weevil infestation, both of which can be transferred through planting material. In Tanzania, formal inspection and certification schemes exist for grain crops only. Vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs) including sweetpotato have been left behind due to the perceived low status of the crops. However, with increasing commercialization, there has been a growing interest to introduce certification and inspection procedures for VPCs. The concerns of the authorities are to prevent the spread of plant borne diseases and protect farmers from unscrupulous seed traders. However, the characteristics of VPCs – in particular the bulky and perishable nature of their planting materials - means that the process of  certification used for seed of grain crops cannot be simply transferred for use in VPCs.

The meeting at Kibaha brought together cassava, potato and sweetpotato stakeholders to share experiences across the crops and present and review the standards with the TOSCI legal team. For sweetpotato stakeholders this was the culmination of previous meetings hosted by Lake Zone Agricultural Research and Development Institute (LZARDI) and TOSCI in collaboration with the International Potato Center (CIP) in 2014 and 2015 to discuss and develop seed standards (Pre-basic, Basic, Certified 1, Certified 2 and Quality Declared Seed). The draft standards were presented at the joint cassava, potato and sweetpotato stakeholders’ workshop held at ARI- Kibaha. The next step is now for the legal team to present the standards to the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives for assent after which they will be officially published.

The journey towards domestication of the FAO QDPM standards for sweetpotato in Tanzania started in 2009. The idea to validate the FAO standards for sweetpotato was proposed by Dr. Ian Barker (then Head of Virology at CIP) as part of the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) seed system intervention, ‘Marando Bora’ (Swahili for Quality Vines). In 2011 a pilot study was initiated at the Lake Zone with the objective of testing different approaches for a community based QDPM inspection scheme based on the FAO QDPM protocols and standards. A participatory workshop was held in October 2011 to prepare the inspection procedures based on the FAO protocols and standards. Three inspection models were then investigated. These were: “self-inspection” centered on existing practices for farmer selection of material; “team inspection”, where the local village-based agriculture extension provider inspected the multiplication plot together with the decentralized vine multiplier (DVM); and “external” inspection where the district-based crop protection officer conducted the inspection. The hypothesis which was tested was that the implementation of QDPM guidelines through a team inspection system would improve vine quality produced by decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs) in a cost effective way. The pilot was conducted over two seasons in 2012.

Mwanza Plant Health Officer Dorothy Lusheshanija providing feedback on the QDPM inspection to Tunu Group multipliers. Photo credit: M.McEwan

Mwanza Plant Health Officer Dorothy Lusheshanija providing feedback on the QDPM inspection to Tunu Group multipliers. Photo credit: M.McEwan

For the first season, 64% of all plots inspected achieved the “acceptable” standard based on the locally negotiated tolerance levels, but this reduced to 55% of plots in the second season.  If the FAO tolerance levels and standards were used, 25% and 14% of plots would have been scored as acceptable in each season respectively. The parameter which was most contentious was for signs of weevil infestation. In the FAO standards, the tolerance level is set at “zero”; however, multipliers argued that they knew how to harvest only the upper part of the vine to avoid weevil eggs and to treat the vines with appropriate pesticides. They proposed that local conditions should be taken into account, and that the tolerance level should be 10%.  After completion of the pilot studies engagement with the national regulatory bodies continued in order to feed the experiences from the field level into the national process.

One of the major issues arising from the series of consultative meetings is the burden of the costs of inspection especially at the QDS level ( i.e. what amount is reasonable and who will pay? Is it the seed producers, TOSCI or both?). Although ultimately it is farmers who will pay if they see that there are benefits from planting seed which has been checked for its quality. Stakeholders who met at Kibaha suggested that the scale of production and profits accrued to the multiplier should be factored in. For instance, it was proposed that at the Quality Declared Seed level multipliers can pay an amount equivalent to 5% of their net income from sale of planting materials. The government can then subsidize the rest. Additionally, it was proposed that decentralization of the inspections will help reduce associated costs. Indeed the decentralized approach using the ‘team inspection’ model came out as the most cost-effective during the aforementioned pilot studies under Marando Bora. The cost of inspecting one site/visit was $25.30 using the District Plant Protection Officer (DPPO) compared to $10 when using the Village Extension Officer (VEO). Furthermore, the inspections only made economic sense when the scale of multiplication increased to about 0.5ha. The cost of inspection should be reasonable such that it does not discourage seed producers nor impede the implementation process. There is also need to understand the level of quality that farmers are willing to pay for and the real demand for clean seed of existing varieties compared to that of new varieties.

The new standards are expected to receive Ministerial assent and go into effect in the next two to three months. Their successful implementation will boost productivity by ensuring that farmers have access to clean planting materials. Any increase in production of sweetpotato, cassava, and potato will have a positive impact on food security. Furthermore, according to a decentralized vine multiplier who attended the Kibaha workshop, certification will play an important role in the development of the market for vines. Meanwhile, together with multipliers and farmers, CIP and national scientists will monitor the implementation of the seed standards and inspection protocols to understand the institutional implications and what benefits actually accrue to farmers. It is also important to continue to test and adapt technologies that can reduce exposure to pest and disease vectors such as the “net tunnel” technology where the correlation between a range of pest and disease parameters and reduction in yield will be validated. In pursuit of quality it is important to be cautious and ensure that over-regulation and bureaucracy do not stifle emerging seed entrepreneurs at birth. Increased yields are vital but only if farmers have access to output markets. A multi-pronged strategy is needed: Breeding to develop virus-tolerant/resistant varieties; strengthening the capacities of farmers to maintain seed quality; and advocating for devolved authority to develop informal quality assurance systems to cover multiple, dispersed, small scale sites; together with laboratory testing of the source material as it enters the seed value chain i.e. at a limited number of facilities.

Better lives with sweetpotatoes

Mar 18 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

A nutritious sweet potato variety is growing in popularity and becoming an important strategy to improve vitamin A deficiency across Uganda.

Kofi Annan promotes consumption of sweetpotatoes

Mar 16 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

A former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, and his wife, Nane, are collaborating with the International Potato Centre (CIP) to intensify a campaign on the consumption of sweetpotatoes to improve the health of women and children less than five years.

Kofi and Nane Annan put Sweetpotato on the table to Improve the Lives of Ghanaian Children, Women and Small Farmers

Mar 13 2015   |   By: joel-ranck   |   0   |  

CIP has had a presence in Ghana since 2009 and has set a goal of reaching nearly 500,000 households with resilient nutritious sweetpotato by 2020.

Mr. and Mrs. Annan attended a round table discussion led by CIP and attended by a range of Ghanaian partners to discuss innovative ways to harness the power of orange fleshed sweetpotato, which is rich in beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A that is critical to enhance children’s health and in reducing blindness. Sweetpotato is also rich in other nutrients and carbohydrates vital for children under the age of five and lactating women. The Annans hope that the discussions lead to further development of sweetpotato in Ghana so that Ghanaians can benefit from this superstar of biofortified crops.

“The potential benefits of OFSP to Ghanaians are enormous,” stated Barbara H. Wells, director general of the International Potato Center. “CIP has a product that works and a proven method to develop farmers and markets to scale up rapidly in Ghana.”

CIP began work in Sub-saharan Africa in the early 2000s promoting orange-fleshed sweetpotato, providing quality and clean planting material, promoting good agricultural practices, and developing consumer demanded post-harvest products like biscuits and purees. To date CIP has reached 1 million households and has a goal of reaching 15 million households by 2023.

“The high vitamin A content of sweetpotatoes is of high value to children and young infants, particularly in West Africa and in Ghana,” stated Mrs. Nane Annan. “Offering vocational training to mothers and youth and making use of marginal lands is a great model for the region.”

CIP will convene separately with its partners based upon the discussions to make a proposal to move forward with a sweetpotato as the centerpiece of a nutrition and health initiative. CIP’s partners in Ghana include CSIR – Crops Research Institute (CSIR-CRI) which hosted the event on its premises in Kumasi, the Savanna Agriculture Research Institute (SARI), Ghana Health Service, The Ministry of Food and Agriculture, leading Ghanaian Universities and private sector partners.

The International Potato Center (CIP) is a research and development organization with a focus on potato, sweetpotato, and Andean roots and tubers. CIP is dedicated to delivering sustainable science-based solutions to the pressing world issues of hunger, poverty, gender equity, climate change and the preservation of our Earth’s fragile biodiversity and natural resources. CIP is a member of CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. .

Kofi Anna & Barbara Wells
Kofi Annan, CIP DG Barbara Wells, and Nane Annan

Kofi Anna & Barbara Wells
Mrs. Nane Annan and CIP DG Barbara Wells