CIP SSA newsletter March 2014

Stories and updates from the people and projects of CIP Sub-Saharan Africa – Newsletter Vol. 2, No 2 – May 2014


Breeding new potato varieties for Africa’s future


Improving the process of potato breeding in East Africa
Life in the Lab. (Credit: S. Quinn, CIP)CIP potato breeder Asrat Amele and his team divide their days between the lab, the greenhouse and the field. The team is working to develop new potato varieties that meet the needs of African farmers and strengthen potato breeding programs across the continent.

Asrat and his team are working on an initiative supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas(RTB) to invigorate the potato seed industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. Based at KEPHIS Plant Quarantine Station, Muguga, and KARI Research Station, Tigoni, on the outskirts of Nairobi, the team focuses on breeding robust varieties and producing disease-free potato mini-tubers through aeroponics and improved soil-plot systems. Their goal is to develop potato varieties that combine high tuber yield with consumer-preferred traits, resistance to biotic stresses and enhanced adaptation to local climates and soil types.

In most African countries, potato-breeding programs field test materials that were developed elsewhere. This can be a slow process, sometimes taking as long as 8 to 10 years to deliver a new variety. Those programs often lack sufficient genetic diversity or access to trained and experienced breeders.

Asrat and his team are working towards decentralizing breeding in Africa. They want to build capacity in breeding and selection, and to reduce the time it takes to deliver pro-poor potato varieties to farmers. The team wants to develop a platform where breeders in the region interact, in order to stimulate discussion and encourage collaborations across breeding and research teams. They also want to focus on integrating a breeding strategy that utilizes both scientific knowledge and farmer knowledge, and which pays attention to gender and age preferences.

The CIP Potato breeding team is establishing regional breeding hubs in Kenya and Ethiopia that will support national programs by providing new and diverse genotypes that combine traits for a range of farm conditions, markets and preferences. The program is currently targeting Angola, Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and Mali.

From the lab, to the greenhouse, to the field, and back again, this talented team is paving the way for better potato breeding techniques in Africa. On a recent visit, we documented the team’s efforts to invigorate the potato seed industry in Kenya through innovative breeding work. For more information about the making of the next generation of potato seed for Africa, in Africa, read this article in more detail here and view the photo story from Seed to Plant & Lab to Greenhouse and Back Again.

To see more images of Asrat and his team at work, visit the CIP SSA Potato Flickr Site. If you would like further information about CIPs Potato Portfolio, click here.

Dr Barbara Wells, CIP Director General visits CIP Sub- Saharan Africa


CIP Director General, Dr Barbara Wells recently visited Sub-Saharan Africa to visit CIP staff and projects in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. It was a wonderful opportunity for Dr Wells to see first hand the work that CIP SSA staff are carrying out in the region and to meet CIP beneficiaries. Photos of Dr Wells visit can be viewed here.

A New Strategic and Corporate Plan for CIP

CIP has just released a new strategic and corporate plan, via a new look website. The plan outlines that the best way to enhance CIP’s impact over the next 10 years is to assume greater responsibility for putting the results of our research into the hands of smallholder farmers while maintaining our identity and core business as a science-based organization”. Read more about CIP’s new Strategy and Corporate Plan for 2014-2023 in the Executive Summary and be sure to explore the new look website while you are there.

A Retreat for Food and Nutrition Advocacy Champions

A Reaching Agents for Change initiative

In February 2014 the Reaching Agents of Change team held the ‘Retreat for Food and Nutrition Advocacy Champions’. The retreat brought together a range of stakeholders to strategize around the inclusion and promotion of Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) to address food insecurity and micronutrient malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Food and nutrition security are critical issues in the region and so RAC is working strategically to advocate for a multipronged response.

The retreat provided a great opportunity to discuss opportunities and challenges and to review the RAC regional advocacy strategy. Key issues discussed included opportunities for advocacy, identification of strategic policy makers, integration of the RAC message into the broad nutrition discussion and strategic planning for advocacy initiatives.

The retreat was a key component of the RAC advocacy strategy, which has three broad objectives: influencing policies and strategies of regional and sub-regional organizations; promoting investments in food-based approaches to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in SSA; and creating demand for comprehensive solutions to VAD.

The project will benefit from recent growth of food and nutrition security initiatives globally and in the region, which have created a policy environment conducive to getting food-based strategies into regional and national agendas.

RAC is a three-and-half-year project (2011-2014) that targets three primary countries – Tanzania, Mozambique and Nigeria – and two secondary countries: Ghana and Burkina Faso. RAC works with professional bodies concerned with food, nutrition and agriculture to advocate for foodbased approaches to VAD to be included in the agendas of key regional and sub-regional bodies. Through regional advocacy activities, RAC seeks to have a wider influence on nutrition security and to build institutional capacity to design and implement gender-sensitive projects to ensure wide access and utilization of OFSP in selected African countries.

To see photos of the workshop, please visit the CIP-SSA Flickr site. For further information about Reaching Agents of Change (RAC), please visit the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal and the Helen Keller International site.


Growing a Better Sweetpotato

An interview with Lydia Wamalwa, Molecular Plant Scientist, at CIP SSA Kenya

Our CIP SSA colleague, Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan molecular plant scientist based in the CIP Nairobi office, was recently interviewed by the World Bank to highlight the work of organizations it supports in Africa.

In this video, Lydia describes her research with sweet potato resilience and what made her want to work in plant science. Watch Lydia’s interview here.

Studying heat-tolerant potato clones in Africa’s humid tropics


A knowledge sharing initiative to promote learning across crops at CIP SSA

As a contribution to the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics), CIP’s Potato Research Team in Sub-Saharan Africa has been leading an Africa-based project focused on heattolerant potato clones. Based in Western Kenya – a Humidtropics action site – the CIP-Humidtropics research project has included a farm-based trial on heat-tolerant potato clones and training for farmers.
CIP has been a participating center in Humidtropics since the research program was created in 2012. Humidtropics targets the vast wet areas around the equator – approximately 3 billion hectares – where some 2.9 billion people live. It aims to intensify agriculture in these regions in order to reduce poverty, especially among women and other vulnerable groups.
The CIP-Humidtropics potato project, which started in 2013, focuses on the important issue of crop diversification. By introducing potato as a rotation crop in Western Kenya, the project aims to reduce dependence on maize – a principal cash crop – and mitigate the effects of the maize lethal necrosis virus there. Yields of both maize and beans have declined in the region, and farmers are looking for alternative food crops to supplement their diets and incomes.
Western Kenya has altitudes lower than 1800 m, which are unsuitable for potato production due to temperatures that exceed the minimum required for tuberisation. Heat-tolerant potatoes would enable farmers there to take advantage of marketing opportunities in their regions, which currently source potato from the highlands.
CIP is evaluating 16 heat-tolerant potato clones in Western Kenya to determine which clones are the most suitable for the region’s conditions. The research team includes CIP potato scientists Monica Parker, Elly Atieno and Dorothy Onyango, and John Onditi, a potato breeder with CIP’s partner organization, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Farmers have played a key role in the project, since they work closely with the research team.
CIP identified 12 sites in Western Kenya (in Kisumu and Vihiga counties) to evaluate the clones. Following planting, hilling and mid bloom evaluations, the research team completed its first review. The team spent three days in the field conducting the mid-season evaluation, visiting each of the participating farms to evaluate their potato fields. The team also discussed the challenges – and opportunities – presented by the trial with the farmers.
The research team took the opportunity to spend two days training the farmers in key skills for potato production, such as recognizing major potato diseases and safe and effective spraying practices. There were 36 participants, the majority of whom were from the 12 sites where the Humidtropics trial is being conducted. The participatory training was also attended by representatives of three project partners (MFAGRO, AVENE and RPK) and various agricultural officers working in the area.
The CIP-SSA Potato Research Team is looking forward to continuing the research, and to exploring the opportunities that heat-tolerant potato clones could provide farmers in western Kenya.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Sweetpotato


Training of Trainers Courses in Tanzania, Mozambique and Nigeria in 2014

What is the nutritional value of orange-fleshed sweetpotato? What are the best growing conditions for the crop? How do I manage pests and disease?

The first of the 2014 courses was held from 10th – 21st March at the Sokoine Unversity of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. 23 participants from Tanzania (and one participant from Sierra Leone) attended the course to learn everything from OFSP planting and harvesting to how to prepare and cook OFSP chapatti and mandazi.

The gender-sensitive training is facilitated by staff from implementing organisations who have a wealth of theoretical and practical experience in sweetpotato production and utilization. It is aimed at senior public health and agricultural extension officers, NGO team leaders, researchers, farmer organization leaders, educators, agribusiness professionals and others.
Trainers use an adult learning methodology that combines lectures, case studies, hands-on exercises, site visits, group work and plenary discussions. Participants gain an in-depth understanding of issues relating to sweetpotato value chains, including selection, multiplication and preservation of clean planting materials, pest and disease management, good nutrition and gender roles in production, utilization and marketing of OFSP. Since it is a training of trainers (ToT) course, participants will be able to deliver their own sweetpotato training by the end of the two-week course.
The course is a core component of the “Reaching Agents of Change (RAC): Catalyzing African Advocacy and Development Efforts to Achieve Broad Impact with Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato” project, which works to increase investment in orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) to combat vitamin A deficiency among young children and women of reproductive age. Trainings are jointly organized by CIP SSA, Helen Keller International (HKI), Sokoine University of Agriculture and the National Sugarcane Research Institute, Roots and Tubers Programme – Kibaha (in Tanzania); the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI) and National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria; Eduardo Mondlane University and the Centre for Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Studies (CEAGRE), in Mozambique.
Since 2012, 169 individuals have completed the two-week course. Hilda Munyua, RAC Communications and Training Specialist, believes the training offers participants an opportunity to “become agents of change in their communities and abate the debilitating effects of vitamin A deficiency in Africa”.
Ms. Neema H. Nkotagu, who completed the course in 2013, says it gave her the skills, knowledge and confidence to “be able to train others on all aspects of orange fleshed sweetpotato value chains, from production to consumption”. She highly recommends the course to practitioners looking to build their knowledge on sweetpotato and develop leadership, training and education skills.
For further information or visit the Sweetpotato Portal – Course Announcement.
To see a great collection of photos from the Tanzania course visit the CIP SSA Flickr Site.

The LunchBox Series

A knowledge sharing initiative to promote learning across crops at CIP SSA

An exciting new knowledge sharing initiative at CIP’s Nairobi office aims to promote learning across crops. Under the guidance of Margaret McEwan, Social and Health Sciences Division, Sweetpotato Sub-Saharan Africa, the LunchBox Series provides an opportunity for CIP SSA staff to share ideas and discuss topics across the sweetpotato and potato portfolios.

Margaret launched the series to provide an opportunity for CIP staff to share experiences and ideas on a wide variety of topics. Because many CIP staff travel regularly, it can be difficult to find opportunities to meet with colleagues to discuss their work. She sees the series as an opportunity to foster friendship and community at CIP and for younger and more experienced scientists to interact.
Margaret believes that knowledge sharing across the two portfolios can enhance CIPs work: “There are common issues across potato and sweetpotato, and it is important that we have a technical ‘space’ to discuss these. Often, we can be working in the same country but not really aware of what activities are happening with the other crop; we need to be in a better position to identify potential synergies.”
The first lunchbox event was held in November 2013 on the topic of “Gender inclusive research – what are we doing right, what do we need to do better, and how can we do it?” Attendees enjoyed a vigorous discussion about gender in relation to research, management and agriculture.
Two more Lunchbox sessions have since been held. The second session was a follow up to the first, since CIP-Peru staffer Carlos Leon- Velarde’s presentation on a project in the Andes was followed by further discussion on gender. The third installment of the series was “Who wants to communicate?” Sarah Thotho, Reaching Agents of Change Advocacy Assistant and Sara Quinn, CIP Regional Communications Officer, spoke about the wealth of communications opportunities that exist within the CIP system and how to communicate more effectively and creativity.

The LunchBox Series will take place each month in 2014. If CIP SSA staff have a particular topic or idea that you are burning to discuss with your CIP colleagues, or if you would like to access the presentations or notes following a session, please email Margaret McEwan at

CIP Sweetpotato Projects Star in Shamba Shape Up:

A knowledge sharing initiative to promote learning across crops at CIP SSA

CIP Sweetpotato projects have taken a lead role in one of East Africa’s most popular TV shows – Shamba Shape Up – a makeover style TV series on Citizen TV Kenya.
Shamba Shape Up is aimed at East Africa’s rapidly growing rural and periurban TV audience, and this season’s shows feature CIP’s Sweetpotato projects, allowing our experts to educate Shamba viewers about the Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP).
Each week, the Shamba team visits a different farm in Kenya to focus on agricultural issues ranging from livestock to soil fertility to harvesting rainwater. The show is the third “edu-tainment” production created by The Mediae company and the first of its kind in Kenya. Aimed at East Africa’s rapidly growing rural audience, the show gives farmers the information they need to improve productivity and income on their farms.
CIP’s OFSP experts have been traversing the country and providing expert advice on camera on all aspects of OFSP – from planting and nutrition to harvesting and marketing – for Shamba viewers. CIP is excited to be reaching such a large audience with the OFSP message: the show’s estimated audience in the first season was around seven million, and it is expected reach 11 million by the end of season three. And we hope it to grow even further once the audience hears about OFSP.
Shamba Shape Up airs every Saturday (English) and Sunday (Kiswahili) at 1.30 pm on Citizen TV Kenya. Be sure to tune in to see your CIP colleagues on the screen!

To view past episodes, visit the Shamba website. Visit for more information about sweetpotato in Sub-Saharan Africa. And to see more photos of OFSP in action please visit the CIP SSA Flickr Site.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Visit the new CIP SSA Flickr Site to see our people and projects in action!

CIP Sub-Saharan Africa recently set up a regional image database on Flickr. The image database is a great way to keep up with the people and projects of the CIP SSA region, and to see our staff, field workers and partners in action across Kenya and the SSA region. Visit the CIP SSA Flickr site.


All Photo Credits:
S. Quinn, CIP

CIP on Facebook and Twitter

Taking the discussion about potato and sweetpotato to the world!

The conversation about potato and sweetpotato has hit the world of social media and we would like you to be a part of it! All CIP-SSA staff are invited to join CIP on Facebook and Twitter and we encourage staff to submit ideas for CIP-SSA’s contribution to the CIP social media pages and blog.
The CIP social media team is looking for anything and everything related to potato and sweetpotato in Africa – newspaper articles, academic articles, images and interviews. So next time you read an interesting article about potato breeding, you come across a great new potato recipe, or you find an interesting video about sweet potato production – let us know! We’ll post a link on one of our social media sites so that everyone can enjoy it.

Please submit information to Sara Quinn, CIP SSA Regional Communications Officer at

CIP SSA Gathering Under the Tree Newsletter by CIP SSA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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