IITA’s transformative agricultural initiatives: Nurturing sustainability, resilience, and inclusivity

IITA student Christine Mutoni evaluates new, improved, disease-resistant, and high-yielding cassava variety.

Photo credit: IITA

What you need to know:

Operating in 35 African countries, and with over 50 years of working in the continent, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a member of CGIAR, collaborates globally to enhance livelihoods, food security and employment, and preserve natural resources.

The initiatives led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) align seamlessly with the World Food Day 2023 theme: “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind”. The comprehensive efforts, including the Cassava Value Chain Project, implementation of the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), and involvement in the CGIAR Initiative on Excellence in Agronomy (EiA), are programmes of IITA that contribute to sustainable agriculture, resilience in the face of climate change, and inclusive practices that leave no one behind.

IITA, a non-profit agricultural research institution, generates agricultural innovations to tackle hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and natural resource degradation challenges. Operating in 35 African countries, and with over 50 years of working in the continent, IITA collaborates globally to enhance livelihoods, food security, and employment, and preserve natural resources. As a member of the CGIAR, it actively contributes to shaping a food-secure future. In Kenya IITA, operating from the ILRI and ICIPE campuses, is reinforcing its commitment to transformative research and development.

The Cassava Value Chain Project in western Kenya, funded by Irish Aid and spearheaded by IITA, Self-Help Africa (SHA), and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), promotes cassava as a drought-tolerant crop with hidden potential. This collaborative initiative introduces and tests new, high-yielding, disease-resistant cassava varieties and rapid propagation technologies to boost food security and income in water-scarce areas amid climate change.

Cassava, recognised as the third most crucial global starch source, exhibits versatility across various industries, from canned foods to chipboards. When blended with wheat flour, its flour reduces reliance on wheat imports in baking, and its root and peels add value to non-ruminant animal feed. Additionally, cassava starch presents opportunities for creating biodegradable alternatives to plastic, reflecting the project’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and resilience against climate challenges.

Under the TAAT programme, the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) Compact, the High Iron Beans Compact, the Maize compact, the Fisheries Compact, and the Youth Compact, focus on providing smallholder farmers access to climate-smart, high-yielding agriculture innovations and their accompanying farming practices. These initiatives enhance farmers’ resilience to climate-related stresses.

Led by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in collaboration with partners like KALRO and the World Food Programme (WFP), the OFSP Compact empowers smallholder farmers with access to drought-resistant, early maturing, and high-yielding Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) varieties. Such varieties include Irene, Sumaia, Kabode, and Delvia.

Rich in Vitamin A, OFSP thrives in diverse agroecological zones, including Kenya’s arid and semi-arid counties, enhancing farmers’ resilience to climate-related challenges.

The commercialisation and value addition of OFSP is gaining traction in Kenya, with applications ranging from milling into flour for wheat complementation in bread, to puree for cakes, and chapatis, juices, and porridge. Easy-to-grow cuttings ensure accessibility, and with proper agronomy, they can yield over 40 tonnes per hectare, surpassing traditional varieties.

The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), working through the Pan African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), leads the TAAT High Iron Beans Compact. In collaboration with KALRO and Cereal Growers Association (CGA) and employing the Bean Corridor Approach, the Compact raises awareness about micronutrient-rich beans (high in iron and zinc) and promotes Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for enhanced productivity, market access, and bean consumption.

Over six years, Nyota, Angaza and Faida bean varieties have been promoted in Kenya. Nyota, adapted for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) and cold dry highlands, is drought-tolerant, fast-maturing, and yields 1.4-2.2 tonnes per hectare. Angaza, bred for mid to high altitudes, yields 1.4-2.5 tones per hectare, while Faida, also bred for mid to high altitudes, yields 1.4-2 tonnes per hectare. These High Iron Beans offer essential proteins and micronutrients, addressing anaemia, supporting women’s health, and contributing to children’s physical and cognitive development, among other health benefits.

A harvest of high-iron beans.

Photo credit: IITA

The Maize Compact, led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in partnership with KALRO, local seed companies, and CBOs, commercialised Drought TEGO climate-smart maize hybrids in various counties of Kenya. A total of 8,182 tons of certified seed were commercialised in Kenya, and this quantity was adequate to plant 327,000 hectares under climate-smart maize hybrids.

The seed of the climate-smart maize hybrids was certified by the national seed authority (KEPHIS), and helped farmers to improve their yields to about 2.25 tonnes per hectare from 1.5 tonnes per hectare in the intervention sites. The maize value chain approach was enhanced under TAAT, with market linkages that involved maize millers who purchased maize from farmers at fair prices.

Photo credit: IITA

The TAAT Fisheries Compact, led by WorldFish, is catalysing a transformation in African aquaculture. Key initiatives of the TAAT Fish Compact include fast-growing, mono-sex Tilapia production in hapa systems, high-quality Clarias species and hybrid fingerling production, and innovative Better Management Practices (BMPs).

Ground-breaking technologies like the In-Pond Raceway System (IPRS) have shortened the fish production cycle to just five months. Empowering women and landless youth through the Raised Pond System (RPS), the project ensures inclusivity and income growth. By prioritising fingerling rearing in hapa systems for improved seed survival and overall efficiency, the Fish Compact aims to boost fish production, foster self-sufficiency, and drive progress in African fisheries.

The ENABLE TAAT Compact is led by IITA and powered by dynamic youth. This youth-driven initiative not only disseminates transformative agricultural technologies developed by various TAAT Compacts, but also actively engages communities, promoting the adoption of GAPs to enhance agricultural efficiency. The Compact successfully distributed approved drought-tolerant maize seed and supported production of drought-tolerant OFSP varieties in Kenya, promoting innovation and economic viability for global food security.

By extending its reach to various counties, including Makueni, Machakos, Kitui, Taita Taveta, Vihiga, and Kisumu, the Compact demonstrates its commitment to leaving no one behind. Furthermore, the initiative collaborates with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centres and private sector organisations to boost seed multiplication systems and emphasise a holistic approach to sustainable development in Kenya’s agriculture sector.

The CGIAR Initiative on Excellence in Agronomy (EiA), led by IITA, further emphasises the commitment to sustainability, resilience, and environmental protection. The Foodscape Innovation Hub, a partnership with The Nature Conservancy, exemplifies efforts to accelerate the transition to regenerative food systems. Decision-support agronomy tools provided by the hub align with the World Food Day theme by promoting efficient farming practices that could help increase agricultural yields by up to 20 percent, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent. It is also expected to create new jobs and opportunities for farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector. IITA’s initiatives in Kenya span across diverse value chains, from cassava and sweet potato production to high-iron beans, fisheries and maize, all emphasising the importance of accessibility, collaboration, and environmental protection in fostering a resilient and inclusive food system for Kenya.

For more details, contact [email protected].