Katherine Lopez and Kwesi Atta-Krah IITA-Ibadan
For a long time subsistence agriculture has been seen as the way of life for poor smallholder African farmers, contributing to their livelihoods and creating employment. Agriculture, however, can drive economic development and wealth creation. To maximise its potential for transformation, agriculture needs to be seen as a commercial business at all levels.
The birth of IITA
IITA was established by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in 1967 to contribute towards global food and nutrition security. It was created based on the need to have an African version of the Green Revolution that transformed Asia through increased agricultural production in the 1960s. It became the first African link in a network of international agricultural research centers.
As a research-for-development center supported by numerous donors and partners, IITA focuses on three strategic objectives: (1) increasing food security and availability, (2) increasing profitability of foods, feeds, and other agricultural products, and (3) sustainable management of natural resources.
Its research is organized around several core themes: Improving crops, Making healthy crops, Managing natural resources, Improving livelihoods, and Enhancing nutrition.
The Institute also works on special initiatives including youth engagement in agribusiness, commercialization of technologies in a business incubation platform, empowering women, developing seed systems, protecting and conserving biodiversity, and big data and open access.
In 2017, IITA celebrated its 50th year of service to African agriculture and smallholder farmers.
Impact on agriculture
Presently, IITA has become the largest international agriculture research center in tropical Africa, contributing to food and nutrition security in the region. Its research has produced many improved varieties in most major African staples that include banana/plantain, cassava, cowpea, maize, soybean, and yam; improved overall agricultural productivity; and created wealth for farmers and value chain actors, while making significant contributions to national economic development.
IITA has spread from its original location in Ibadan, with hubs created in East Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa, while the Ibadan facility doubles as Headquarters and the West Africa Hub. Each Hub is equipped with research facilities and fields, with operations engaging countries within the Hub in a spectrum of research and delivery activities.
The impacts of IITA’s research for development on smallholder farmers are evident in the development and adoption of improved varieties in most of the major staples in the continent. For example, adoption of almost 400 varieties of cassava with increased yields and better resistance to pests and disease and environmental stresses; more than 100 IITA-bred materials or genebank accessions of cowpea; 327 maize varieties—70% of which have IITA germplasm; 78 improved yam varieties developed; introduction of soybean as a food and cash crop in West Africa; adoption of drought-tolerant maize in 13 countries in eastern, western, and southern Africa with projected economic gains of US$907 million; introduction of cowpea and soybean for nutrition; and nutritional benefits of biofortified yellow cassava.
The development of a biocontrol product called Aflasafe™ against aflatoxins in maize and groundnut and its commercialization in IITA’s Business Incubation Platform is now helping some African countries go back to trade in groundnut and maize and making food supplies safer.
In Nigeria, IITA has been working with the Federal Government on its Agricultural Transformation Agenda.
Poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa
IITA’s impact assessment studies in several countries showed that as of 2016, at least 4.3 million people had been lifted out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa through the adoption of improved agricultural technologies developed by the Institute and its partners.
In Nigeria, two technologies—improved cowpea varieties and drought tolerant maize varieties— have contributed to getting an estimated 3.5 million people out of poverty.
One study found that by 2012, 58% of cowpea farmlands was cultivated to improved varieties with yield gains of 254% over local varieties. It also established that the nutritional status of children below five years was higher among those who had adopted the technologies compared to the non-adopters.
A 2015 baseline study of the African Development Bank-funded Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARDSC) and an impact study of the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) on improved crop varieties combined with crop management practices, integrated pest management practices, and marketing strategies collectively showed further that almost a million people were lifted out of poverty in association with IITA technologies.
Food security improvement
In 2016, IITA received the Al–Sumait Food Security Prize for Development in Africa. The prize was awarded jointly to the International Potato Center (CIP) and IITA for the groundbreaking research on the causes of undernourishment and for providing solutions to agricultural challenges.
IITA was cited as “a leading Africa-based crop center and a member of CGIAR, focusing on research and development of the key African food crops: banana and plantain, cassava, cowpea, maize, soybean, and yam. The team’s efforts developed and deployed safe and more nutritious food crops such as legumes, cereals (vitamin A maize), with the first released orange maize varieties from it, and tubers (cassava) through biofortification, use of efficient and affordable biocontrol products against aflatoxins, and made these available to smallholder farm families in the region to balance calories, diversify diets, and safeguard health and nutrition.”
In support of AfDB’s programs, including the Feed Africa initiative, IITA leads the implementation of the AfDB-funded multimillion dollar initiative to transform African agriculture called Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation or TAAT. Over the next 10 years, AfDB will be investing US$24 billion in agriculture, focusing on agricultural value chains, agribusiness, and agroindustrial development.
A key component of AfDB’s strategy is providing support to Agripreneurs who will drive agriculture and development in Africa in the future. This will be achieved in a flagship program known as ENABLE Youth. This program was based on an approach that IITA piloted and is designed to develop the next generation of millionaire/ billionaire farmers and agribusinesses. In 2016, AfDB financed almost $800 million for the program in eight countries. In 2017, another 15 countries were planned to be financed.
IITA has also contributed massively to the capacity development of African researchers and scientists in agriculture and supported national agriculture research systems in the continent.
Since inception, IITA has trained over 140,000 individuals from 68 countries—more than 40,000 of them women. These professionals have advanced their knowledge and acquired skills directly through IITA’s training programs and indirectly through knowledge passed on to them.
In the next 50 years IITA will intensify its efforts in three areas: (1) The transformation focus of its research which aims, through massive scaling out efforts, to have an impact on changing livelihoods of farmers and the economies of African countries; (2) Youth in agriculture and agribusiness, which provides solutions to the issue of youth unemployment and unearthing opportunities for youth in agriculture and agribusiness; and (3) Strengthening research to address direct and indirect impacts of climate change in partnership with other institutions, to ensure food security and incomes through agriculture.
Finally, IITA will strengthen efforts in aligning its research and delivery operations with the strategic goals and targets of priority countries in partnership with other research and development entities, including stronger engagement with NARs, regional and subregional organizations, and continental policy and political processes. This will be done in parallel with its historical mandate of developing international public goods to enhance science and agricultural productivity.