CIP Newsletter – December 2014

CIP takes part in Mountains and Water Pavilion, emblematic issues in COP20

In the context of the Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Lima, Peru, from December 1 to 12, the International Potato Center (CIP) participated in several events, namely the “Voices for Climate,” a forum for dialogue with discussion and exhibition areas to communicate with the public and raise their awareness on climate change.

“Voices for Climate” was held in the Peruvian Jockey Club in the district of Surco. It displayed the diversity of initiatives put forward in different parts of the world to address climate change with an emphasis on the five emblematic issues prioritized in the Peruvian domestic agenda among them the issue of Mountains and Water.

CIP cooperated with the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment and other organizers to prepare the Mountains and Water Pavilion that sought to position the mountain ecosystems and populations and water as essential elements for sustainable development in a context of climate change. CIP focused on the sub-theme of Ecosystems, Biodiversity and Food Security.
In “Voices for Climate”, CIP also had a stand where visitors could find out more about our work relating to climate change, such as the conservation of the genetic wealth of potatoes and sweetpotatoes, the breeding of varieties to deal with climatic stress, the use of methodologies and tools for evaluating and mitigating the impact of climate change, and other projects under way. It was staffed by CIP volunteers who answered queries from thousands of visitors.

CIP also took part in several other COP20 related events and exhibits. For example, it had a stand in the Army Headquarters, in the district of San Borja, the site of COP20 international negotiation center; and several of CIP scientists participated in the meetings of the Global Landscapes Forum that took place in the Westin Hotel, district of San Isidro, on December 6 and 7.

CIP Joins FARA’s 15th Anniversary Celebrations

CIP participated in the FARA@15 celebrations held in Johannesburg, South Africa from November 25-28 as part of a group of CGIAR Research Centers. FARA@15 was a week-long event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), which coordinates and advocates for agricultural research-for-development across the continent, and serves as the technical arm of the African Union Commission on matters concerning agricultural science, technology and innovation.

The theme of the conference was: Delivering Africa’s Future Through Science Led Agricultural Transformation. The CGIAR Consortium, led by Alain Vidal, coordinated participation in the CGIAR Exhibition Booth and CGIAR-led workshops and panel sessions. CIP Senior Project Manager Margaret McEwan attended the celebrations to participate in a regional meeting about FARA’s Dissemination of New Agricultural Technologies (DONATA) project, and for the launch of a book about DONATA that she co-authored with Lydia Kimenye.

Over 500 people attended the event representing an array of institutions that included the African Union, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), NEPAD, MIT, Harvard’s Kennedy School, FANRPAN, the World Bank, ASARECA, RUFORUM, AGRA and GFAR.

View photos of the conference here.

CIP Trustee/Alumnus Peter VanderZaag Honored in China

Nearly three decades ago, CIP Trustee Dr. Peter VanderZaag went to China in the wake of the country’s “open door policy” to open an International Agricultural Research Center there – the first of its kind.

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 of excellent quality and appearance that is resistant to late blight disease. It now grows on more than 400,000 hectares in Southwest China and has substantially boosted China’s Gross Domestic Product. Today China is the largest potato-producing country in the world.

In October, Dr. VanderZaag was one of 100 foreign experts from 25 countries to receive China’s prestigious Friendship Awards. The award is the nation’s highest honor for achievement by non-Chinese for outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social progress. Dr. VanderZaag was honored for his work on both potato and sweetpotato in 16 provinces across the country, and for his close collaboration with Chinese partners, such as the counterpart Song Bofu.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presided over the Friendship Award ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. However, Dr. VanderZaag, who was unable to attend that ceremony, accepted his award at Yunnan Normal University.

“As a child [in the early 60s], my mother ingrained in me the need to eat all the food on my plate,” Dr. VanderZaag said in remarks for 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 was my simple, 10-year-old’s solution!”

Dr. VanderZaag has done much better than that. The impact of his work on Chinese scientists and farmers is far-reaching. Several of his former students are now leaders in China’s potato program and other areas of government. Over the years, Dr. VanderZaag has guided six masters students 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 paved the way for at least two Chinese scholars to obtain their doctorates abroad.

Dr. VanderZaag has served as the Secretary General of the Asian Potato Association and as a member and the chair of CIP’s Board of Trustees. 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.

Celebrating Five Years of Progress in Sweetpotato Research for Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

In September, the International Potato Center (CIP) hosted the 5th Annual Technical Meeting for the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) in Nairobi, Kenya. Over 80 participants from ten sub-Saharan Africa countries, Belgium, Peru and the USA attended the three-day meeting to examine progress made by 16 projects to integrate Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) into the diets and agricultural systems of sub-Saharan Africa over the past five years, and to discuss efforts to scale up the initiative’s activities in the coming years.

The meeting celebrated the completion of the first five-year phase of SPHI with a series of research findings that demonstrated considerable progress toward addressing the bottlenecks that impede sweetpotato’s ability to contribute its full potential toward reducing hunger and malnutrition. The crown jewel of the SPHI’s sweetpotato value chain work is the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project. The meeting reflected on the successes of the first five-year phase of SASHA and celebrated the launch of a second five-year phase.

CIP Director General Dr. Barbara Wells, who attended the meeting, said: “Today I recommit CIP toward enabling at least 15 million households to improve the quality of their diets and raise their crop incomes over the next 10 years in countries with micronutrient deficiencies. We will reach this goal by increasing the production and utilization of nutritious sweetpotato, starting with biofortified OFSP.”

The meeting included a half-day exhibition with 20 booths full of information about projects on breeding, seed systems research, marketing and product development. “As one walks around the exhibit booths here, it becomes abundantly clear that the success of Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato is the result of a concerted effort that spans basic research through development with the ultimate beneficiaries being the smallholder farmer and the communities where they live,” said Dr. Wells. “The story of orange fleshed sweetpotato is truly inspiring.”

Other organizations participating in the event included HarvestPlus, Helen Keller International, Farm Concern International, Innovative Ingredient Solutions, the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project, and various national research programs. Countries represented included Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Ghana, and Nigeria. Special guests included Dr. Barbara Wells; Dr. Hans Adu-Dapaah, SPHI Chairperson and Director of the Crops Research Institute in Ghana; Dr. Jean Jacques Mbonigaba Muhinda, Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) Director General; Dr. Jim Lorenzen, Program Officer for the SASHA project, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Dr. Regina Kapinga, Program Officer for the Reaching Agents of Change (RAC) Project, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Collaborating to Improve Nutrition and Incomes in Bangladesh

Tens of thousands of smallholders in villages in southern Bangladesh have improved their farming methods, their families’ diets and their incomes thanks to a horticulture project led by CIP and The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC).

Shawkat Begum, a Bangladeshi anthropologist who is coordinating the horticulture project, explained 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.

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 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 while helping them to take control of their lives.

Begum explained that women beneficiaries have told her that the intervention helped them to gain more respect from their husbands and community members. “I 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,” she said. “That is really motivating.”

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. She grew enough sweetpotato vines on approximately 200 sq. meters of land in five months to earn about 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.

CIP’s Genebank Backups Provide More Layers of Food Security

“These collections are irreplaceable,” said David Ellis, head of the CIP Genebank in Lima. “You don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket.”
To spread its “eggs” out, CIP has backup “copies” of its 11,000 living plants – representing potato, sweetpotato and nine Andean roots and tubers – at sites in Colombia, Peru, Norway and elsewhere.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.

CIP’s genebank is clonal, meaning that it primarily stores plants rather than seeds, which makes it a rarity among genebanks. Methods of collecting, storing and maintaining these specimens vary from those used in seed banks.

“These are living plants you have to care for on a regular basis,” said Ellis. “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.” (CIP does store and back up some seeds.)

Ellis explained that several international treaties guide the ways and means their signatory countries collect, store, back up and share specimens. 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. Countries’ shifting budgetary priorities also shape collection practices. “Collecting just doesn’t happen these days the way it used to,” Ellis observed, adding that this renders existing seed stock that much more precious.

One of CIP’s backup sites for its seeds is the world’s chief 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,” noted Ellis.

Many similar relationships exist between organizations like CIP and national governments, all with an eye toward securing seeds and seedlings for generations to come. “It’s about goodwill and good collaboration,” Ellis explained. “This is something we do for each other because we all need it.”

Director General’s Fieldbook

By Barbara Wells

This past year, I traveled to the field and visited our sweetpotato and potato projects across Africa, India, China, and Latin America. I met dedicated CIP staff, small-scale farmers, and our strategic partners with whom we work closely to enhance our impact at the household level. Together we are making a difference in improving food security, nutrition and gender equity of smallholder farmers and their communities. In the labs, screen and green houses, I saw great science at work. In the fields, farmers explained the challenges they faced and the successes they had using CIP varieties and good agricultural practices to improve their productivity. On other visits, smallholder communities shared their experiences in developing sweetpotato and potato processing and diversified value chain opportunities to improve their family’s income.

One of the most moving personal moments occurred when I visited a local clinic in Kenya. There I met with the healthcare workers and local community leaders who were an integral part of CIP’s Mama SASHA (Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa) project. This project integrated agriculture and nutrition into prenatal healthcare to maximize the nutritional benefits of orange flesh sweetpotato (OFSP). I saw pregnant women receive vouchers for sweetpotato vines when they came to the clinic for prenatal care. Later I visited a community center where the children’s development was recorded. Making the connection from farmer’s field to the community clinic was an affirming moment for me. This linkage between vitamin A rich OFSP and improved maternal, infant, and childhood nutrition is the difference between CIP being solely a research institute and our role as a research and development organization able to make a difference in the lives of the poor.

I now know that when we expand our work as we plan to do over the next 10 years our impact will be even greater. 2014 was a year of putting everything CIP does in context. The Strategic and Corporate Plan that we formally announced last May and are now implementing is a strong roadmap to help us achieve greater impact over the next three to five years. We will amplify our impact through sweetpotato and potato, innovate through technology, strengthen food security by increasing resiliency through systems approaches, and conserve and preserve diversity through climate smart agriculture. And in so doing feed and nourish another 24 million people.

We are thankful for our donors who support our efforts, our partners who strengthen us, CIP staff and alumni who turn ideas into action, and to the smallholder farmers who inspire us with their dreams of a food secure future. Dreams we will fulfill.

Here in Peru, I visited the community of San Jose de Aymara where farmers are exporting their colorful and nutritious native potatoes to France and Belgium. These farmers high in the Andes are connecting the links of the value chain, putting their potatoes into new markets, and increasing their incomes so that they can do more than just feed their families. They can now send their children to school as well.

I wish you a prosperous 2015.

Barbara H. Wells
CIP Director General