Towards a community of practice around cassava: Report from Sierra Leone and Ghana

With contributions from Abdul R Conteh and Isata Kargbo

Members from the NextGen Cassava team visited Sierra Leone from 2-5 July 2018 to integrate the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) into NextGen Cassava under the Community of Practice (CoP).

The team members included Alfred Dixon, Chiedozie Egesi, and Peter Kulakow, all from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. After arriving in Freetown, the team made courtesy calls to SLARI Headquarters, Ministry of Agriculture, and IITA-country office. At SLARI Headquarter, the Director General introduced the team to SLARI management staff and informed the audience about the purpose of the team’s visit to Sierra Leone.

Alfred Dixon, who was also the former Director General of SLARI, highlighted the importance of SLARI as a partnering institution for the NextGen cassava and the TAAT (Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation) projects. Dixon went on further to unveil the prospects of the TAAT project for Sierra Leone in the first year.

TAAT will work closely with existing projects in upscaling shelf technologies developed by SLARI over the past years through the compact policy document and the introduction of SAH (Semi Autotrophic Hydroponics) technology.  In particular, Dixon mentioned the growing interest demonstrated by Irish Aid on the Provitamin-A cassava (yellow cassava) research to enhance nutritional efficiencies in Sierra Leone.

Chiedozie Egesi, NextGen Cassava’s project coordinator, gave SLARI a presentation on the NextGen cassava project. The project is led from Cornell University with implementing countries located in Africa. The first phase has been successfully completed while the 2nd phase, for which Sierra Leone is a member country, was launched few months ago and is on-going.  This phase will provide technical support in the form of capacity building on varietal release, electronic data capturing, quality data management, cassava database, flowering improvement technology and effective germplasm exchange program to national breeding programs for some selected countries in Africa.

The team also visited the Ministry of Agriculture where they were accorded a warm welcome by the Honorable Minister of Agriculture and his Deputy. In Dixon‘s opening remarks, he mentioned the low levels of productivity Sierra Leone has realized over the past years, which has triggered the intervention of the African Development Bank’s “Feed Africa” initiative under the “High Fives” priorities in Africa.  Dixon went on further to inform the minister about the TAAT program under the Feed Africa initiative for African Countries funded by ADB for which Sierra Leone is member country.  He asked the minister to kindly follow up on Irish Aid as they have expressed interest in nutrition research in Sierra Leone and crop processing zones.

Egesi presented to the minister and his team the objectives of the NextGen cassava project. The minister was very pleased, and confessed that his hope has been restored after this brief interactions and that his ministry is open and willing to work and partner with CGIAR centers more than before.  He extended an invitation to Dixon to be a member of Advisory committee that would be advising him and his team to transform Sierra Leone’s agriculture. The honorable minister accepted the invitation extended to him by IITA DG as he concluded by laying emphasis on the successful model used on cassava flour in Nigeria to be replicated in Sierra Leone.

The team then departed for Njala to continue oral presentation session, assessment of field trials and Laboratory facilities at the Njala Agricultural Research Center (NARC), Njala. After meeting with the NARC center director and presentations from the NARC cassava breeders (Festus Massaquoi, Kumba Koroma and Isata Kargbo), NextGen team members were then taken on a tour of infrastructural facilities at the Njala Agricultural Research Centre.

This tour included visits to the Soil and Plant Analysis Laboratory, Food and Nutrition Laboratory, Biotechnology and Tissue Culture Laboratories, and the newly constructed Post-Harvest Laboratory.  Following the laboratory visit, the team viewed the trials for the cassava breeding clonal and seedling nursery located at the Njala Crop site in Moyamba district, representing the transitional rain forest. Possible solutions, interventions and entering points were discussed as to how the NextGen Cassava project can positively contribute to the cassava breeding program in Sierra Leone to help it meet international standards.

Following the visit to Sierra Leone, the NextGen Cassava COPP was launched at Council for Scientific and Industrial Research- Crop Research Institute (CSIR-CRI) in Kumasi, Ghana during 6-7 July 2018.

CRI Director Dr Stella Ama-Ennin highlighted the importance of having her institute join NextGen since it is the center of specialization for Cassava for West Africa. It also plays a key role in enhancing the country’s Presidential Initiative for Cassava called “One district- One factory” Programme which involves a processing center in each of the rural areas. She also highlighted the challenges in cassava breeding in Ghana and expressed her joy that that these could be alleviated with NextGen Cassava’s tools and support.

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