Chrys Akem IITA-Ibadan
“The SARD-SC project has done many things for us. Before, we used to boil cassava to eat and sometimes make fufu, but the project has taught us a lot, especially processing cassava into various products. We now make custard, cakes, and bread from cassava flour and many other things,” said Korma Koroma, leader of the Tangeai Women Association, Sierra Leone, during an impact assessment program carried out by the project in 2016.
The intervention of the Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC) project in 20 Regional Membership Countries (RMCs) in Africa has transformed the cultivation of cassava, maize, rice, and wheat. It has also added value to these crops through the introduction of high-yielding varieties, new processing methods, and other agricultural innovations and technologies.
SARD-SC, funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and executed by IITA, is an integrated research, science, and technology development project established in 2012 to improve the productivity and profitability of strategic crops in Africa identified by African Heads of States as rice, cassava, maize, and wheat. Improving the productivity of these crops would enhance food and nutrition security, reduce poverty, and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and the people of the RMCs—Benin Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The project was implemented by several CGIAR centers, specifically IITA, ICARDA, AfricaRice, and IFPRI. ICARDA supervised the wheat value chain, AfricaRice carried out its activities on rice, and IITA supervised cassava and maize activities. IFPRI was tasked with supporting the other centers with policy initiatives and strengthening the technical and commercial capacities across the four value chains.
In its five years of implementation, the SARDSC project recorded many achievements and milestones to ensure food security in the target RMCs. It employed a multi-pronged approach focusing on production, marketing, transformation, and consumption to drive agriculture as a profitable business for resource-poor, smallholder farmers. In Sierra Leone, the only way the people knew how to eat cassava was by boiling and traditional fufu. However, with the establishment of processing centers and training of women processors accompanied with technical backstopping, many new products have been introduced to the country. Gari, which is one of the major products of cassava in Nigeria, has now become a staple food in Sierra Leone after rice.
Employing the value chain approach to improve the profitability of the mandate crops and introducing technical innovations have opened new vistas for smallholder farmers in many communities. Value chain development has enabled the identification of gaps and interventions that can benefit marginalized groups such as women, youth, and the poor and has contributed to improving the livelihoods of farmers and women, especially those who have become financially self-reliant.
New varieties developed and released
Technology generation efforts through SARD-SC support have led to the release of six new, high yielding cassava varieties resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD). In DR Congo, for example, these varieties have been handed over to the National Ministry of Agriculture for dissemination to farmers. They also served as sources for the regional breeding program, tackling CBSD challenges facing cassava growers in DRC and the Great Lakes.
In Sierra Leone, among the cassava varieties introduced into the country by the SARD-SC project was SLICASS 7. This has become the symbol of the women farmers and processor groups’ success in the country. Agnes Mamigbane, chairperson of the Mamigbane Women’s Processor group, in Bo District has this to say: “SLICASS 7 can last up to seven days after harvesting the tuber without a stain.” She pointed out that the improved variety has enabled them to meet market demand in producing gari, high quality cassava flour (HQCF), and other cassava products; and reduce post harvest losses. Marie Yomeni, Cassava Commodity Specialist, said that because of the project’s assistance, many of the women farmer groups had become invaluable partners of the project in supplying and disseminating improved varieties to other smallholder farmers.
The SARD-SC maize value chain particularly focused on creating and maintaining a seed system that would address low yields in the RMCs. Thus, the project developed and deployed tested and certified seed, and developed multi-stress tolerant, nutrient-dense, and mycotoxin-resistant varieties and complementary crop management options. These were strategically deployed to create impact in different countries. To date, some 123 such varieties have been developed and tested on-station and on-farm.
Sam Ajala, Maize Commodity Specialist said, “We are also concerned about maintaining sustainable production and multiplication of such certified seed varieties.” Some of the key milestones achieved included the introduction and intensification of maize farming in the southern part of Kaduna State and Nassarawa in Nigeria, establishing a maize innovation platform in Cameroon, and the economic transformation in the lives of maize smallholder farmers in rural Mali.
The SARD-SC wheat component has identified and released 21 new and best-fit improved wheat varieties along with their crop management packages, through successive multilocational field trials, and evaluation and validation of advanced breeding lines. Eight of these new varieties—four in Ethiopia, two in Nigeria, and two in Sudan—were officially released for wider cultivation in 2015. The introduction of heat-tolerant, high-yielding wheat varieties completely overcame the myth that wheat is not a tropical crop. Some countries such as Nigeria and Sudan readily incorporated this commodity into their agricultural transformation agendas.
New product development
Across the cassava and maize commodities, research and innovations have resulted in transforming traditional foods and agricultural produce into processed products. In all SARDSC cassava countries, more than 50 culinary innovations have been developed using cassava flour for confectionery such as cakes, bread, doughnut, chin-chin, egg rolls, biscuits, meat pies, tofu and tofu kebabs, and tapioca. Odorless fufu, coconut gari, and vanilla-flavored ice cream are some other innovations derived from HQCF in Sierra Leone. Innovation has also brought about new products and diversification of maize cookies, chin-chin, To’ (drink made from maize in Mali), and several other products. All these products are now commonly sold locally by women.
Activities were also undertaken to evaluate the economic use of cassava waste for commercial production of edible mushrooms. The project had conducted ethnomycological surveys in each of the three regional Innovation Platforms established for cassava in Sierra Leone to assess indigenous knowledge on mushroom value to rural communities.
For the wheat value chain, many women beneficiaries have been trained on making both local and exotic recipes from wheat. The products included bread, cakes, doughnut, buns, meat pies, egg rolls, chin-chin, taliya (local spaghetti), gereba, alkaki (wheat sweet), and funkaso.
Introduction of good agronomic practices
SARD-SC aimed to enhance the productivity and profitability of the mandate crops for smallholder farmers in many RMCs because of low yield, poor farming methods, vagaries of weather, and lack of improved planting materials. The need to introduce good agronomic practices was imperative, hence, the maize value chain included the adoption of complementary crop management options in training farmers. Implemented through demonstration trials across the four value chains, the farmers witnessed the outcomes of modern farming methods applied on farms.
Adoption of agronomic practices by farmers was responsible for a higher percentage of uptake of improved technologies. Affirming the impact of the adoption, Hauwa Bio, leader of Muamia Women Association, Sierra Leone, said: “IITA/SARDSC has taught us how to plant cassava in rows, spacing, weed control, harvesting, and reduction of postharvest losses.”
Sani Hamza, from Guzou, Zamfara, recorded his first success with the application of the best agronomic practices in 2015. He harvested 4 t of maize in 1 ha. Previously, Hamza had attended the SARD-SC pre-season training organized in collaboration with the Maize Farmers’ Association of Nigeria and the Ahmadu Bello University extension services. AfricaRice introduced a calibrated RiceAdvice android tool for providing farmers with guidelines on field-specific management practices to improve productivity and profitability.
Technology and mechanization
The project also introduced appropriate technology and mechanization to process the commodities.
In Sierra Leone, the project installed nine processing centers across the country in different cassava growing communities, equipped with milling machines, hydraulic pressers, graters, sealers, and many more to reduce drudgery and speed up processing.
The SARD-SC wheat sub-project introduced a raised bed mechanized planter towed by a tractor to all the wheat producing countries. The costeffective machine was devised to make land preparing and sowing on raised beds convenient for resource-poor, smallholder farmers.
Teaming up with the private sector and research partners, AfricaRice developed technologies that rapidly transformed the rice business within project countries. AfricaRice introduced the Agricultural Transformation Agenda thresher-cleaner or ASIThresher into Nigeria and other rice producing countries. The machine was designed to remove particles from paddy rice. It also introduced a new technology named GEM (Grain quality, Energy efficient, and durable Material) rice parboiling technology and different types of weeders such as the ringhoe and the straight-spike.
SARD-SC considered training and capacity development as key to understanding and embracing technological innovations. For example, the rice component has enhanced the competence and skills of 451 NARES partners in crop management, marketing, integrated rice management, data analysis, and multi-stakeholder platforms.
In 2014, over 360 agricultural professional and stakeholders from various countries attended training and workshops on diverse topics under the wheat component. Under the cassava value chain, 167 NARES scientists and technical staff were trained, whereas 1025 people were trained in processing cassava into new products. In addition, nine PhD and 10 MSc students from four countries were offered scholarships to carry out research in agronomy, breeding, postharvest, and socioeconomics in collaboration with African universities. A good number of people have also been trained under the SARD-SC maize and wheat sub-projects.
Deploying Innovation Platforms
The SARD-SC project adopted the Innovation Platform (IP) as a strategy to gain maximum benefits across all the value chains. Bringing together a group of individuals with different backgrounds and interests to diagnose problems, identify opportunities, and find ways to achieve their goals concretized the concept of IPs.
More than 100 IPs were established and promoted dissemination and adoption of proven technologies, with more than 10,000 stakeholders trained across the four value chains on their operations for technology delivery and impact.
The five-year SARD-SC project has indeed resulted in life changing impact on the beneficiaries and communities through the four commodity value chains.
In his assessment of the project success, Chrys Akem, SARD-SC Project Coordinator, said: “We believe we have delivered; achieving more than the targeted 20% yield increase across the different commodities, engaging millions of households and laying pathways that will influence sustainable agriculture for smallholder farmers to alleviate poverty.”