Making healthy crops

Clean cassava seed systems in Burundi, DR Congo, and Rwanda

  • October 16, 2020

Burundi, DR Congo (DRC), and Rwanda form part of the Great Lakes region and have known disrupted food production systems, partly caused by recent civil strife. Cassava is a popular crop in the region but on-farm productivity is low (at about 8 t/ha) due to several factors, including (i) predominant use of local varieties that are low yielding and susceptible to pests and diseases; (ii) disease outbreaks, especially viral diseases (cassava mosaic disease, CMD; cassava brown streak disease, CBSD) and pathogen disease (cassava root necrosis disease, CRND); and (iii) reliance on informal seed systems.

Farmer participates in variety selection, Moso Burundi.


Indeed, the three countris constitute a frontline for CBSD westward spread (originating in East Africa) to Central and, ultimately West Africa. The region is therefore, an important area of action for IITA to stop the further spread of CBSD. IITA and partners have scaled the use of improved resistance and commercial clean seed systems as dual complementary strategies to combat these viral diseases and restore cassava productivity.

The goal of this project is to contribute to food security and improved livelihoods in the three target countries. The overall objective is to build sustainable clean seed delivery systems that help farmers access improved high-yielding and resistant varieties and hence controlling the spread and impacts of these deadly viral diseases.

IITA has partnered with a diverse set of stakeholders along the seed value chain to lay the foundation for functional, clean seed delivery systems in the three countries (Table 1). IITA as a partner continues to offer leadership, technological options for adaptation, advocate for policy change, and build personnel and physical capacities of key stakeholders.


Table 1. IITA key partners for project implementation in the three countries.

Partner category Institutions/Organizations Roles and responsibilities
National agricultural research programs ·       Rwanda Agricultural and Animal Resource Development Board (RAB), Rwanda

·       Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi (ISABU), Burundi

·       Institut National pour l’Etude et la Recherche Agronomiques (INERA), DR Congo

·       Provide and register improved varieties

·       Produce quality pre-basic seeds

·       Train cassava seed value chain actors

Seed regulation agencies ·       RAB seed systems division, Rwanda

·       Office National de Contr̲ôle et de Certification de Semences (ONCCS), Burundi

·       Service National de Semence (SENASEM), DR Congo

·       Undertake seed inspection and certification

·       Oversee variety registration or homologation

Policymakers ·       Rwanda Standards Board (RSB)

·       National Seed Advisory Committee


·       Develop or review cassava seed policy
Non-government organizations ·       One Acre Fund

·       INGABO syndicate

·       Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF)

·       RESEAU BURUNDI 2000+ (RBU2000+)

·       Centre d’Appui au Développement Intégral /Mbankana (CADIM), DR Congo

·       Mobilize seed multipliers and farmers

·       Facilitate linkages of the actors

Seed multipliers networks ·       Rwanda Seed Multipliers Organization (RWSMO)

·       Collectif des Producteurs des Semences du Burundi (COPROSEBU)

·       Association des Producteurs et Transformateurs du Manioc du Congo (APTM)

·       Multiply quality seed

·       Coordinate seed multiplication and marketing


Project achievements

Identification of improved resistant varieties

Having the right varieties is vital for any seed system. Studies show a general lack of improved resistant varieties by farmers in all the three countries, although the situation is a little better in Rwanda. Elite clones have been introduced and tested in key locations. In Rwanda and Burundi, varieties that include NASE14, NAROCASS1, Mkumba, F10-30-R2, and KBH2002/026 as well as Ilona and Lumonu in DRC have been earmarked for release and are already being multiplied. In Rwanda, many farmers have adopted NASE14 and is popular for cassava flour production. More clones with CBSD/CMD dual resistance, including yellow fleshed, are in the breeding pipeline and will soon be ready.


Tissue culture (TC) capacities for seed systems

IITA has spearheaded continuous efforts to build both human and infrastructure capacities in each of the target countries. For example, technicians from the three countries were trained in Uganda (National Agricultural Research Organisation, NARO) on TC techniques and post-flask management. Also, climate chamber, biosafety cabins, and water purification systems were installed in Rwanda and Burundi. In DRC, TC capacities are part of the Obasanjo Research Campus in Kalambo.


Pre-basic seed production and management

SH-based macropropagation and semi-autotrophic hydroponics (SAH) micropropagation techniques are the two low-cost and easy-to-adapt approaches being promoted by IITA for pre-basic seed multiplication and management. SAH capacities have been built and are operational in Rwanda and DRC where to date (1st cycle) up to 4,817 and 365,000 respectively have been multiplied. These facilities are managed by national research partners in Rwanda and Burundi and by IITA in DRC.


Decentralized commercial seed multipliers: Commercial seed multipliers are critical for the sustainable supply of quality planting materials. In the three countries, efforts are ongoing to orient the existing cassava seed multipliers into the formal system while enhancing their business skills. This process is still in initial stages and four seed centers have been trained and supported to set up their own seed crop that is registered by the regulatory agencies.


Seed distribution and marketing

A lot of seeds have been distributed to farmers, benefiting 12,500 households across DRC. And an estimated 1,921 ha of seed will be ready for distribution next season in DRC. In Rwanda, millions of NASE and NAROCASS1 planting materials have been distributed by the government as an emergency response. In both Rwanda and Burundi the clean seed system started by the CBSD Control Project is yet to reach on-farm distribution. Four pilot commercial basic seed centers (to be expanded to 10 centers) have been established in each of the two countries and will sell their first crop of inspected seed by end-2020. In Burundi, it is anticipated that the availability of this planting material may catalyze lifting of the more than 5-year provincial quarantine for cassava.


Seed policy formulation

Cassava seed standards that conform to the local pest and disease realities have been developed and are now ready for use.

Capacities for seed quality control

Cassava seed quality control is minimal, but IITA has engaged the relevant agencies for this purpose. In Rwanda and Burundi, the regulatory agencies have received training and equipment to facilitate their work while in DRC, the training is scheduled. The regulators visited a sister agency in Tanzania that is already advanced in implementing cassava seed inspection and certification in a commercialized setting.

Implications for future research

In the future, the project will focus on building coordinated seed multiplier networks linking quality early generation seed and certified seed multiplication and distribution systems. The introduction and use of the IITA-developed seed tracker app may be essential for this purpose. There is also a need to firm up the cassava seed certification systems and capacities, research into viable business models at different stages of the seed value chain, as well as research on cost-reducing cassava seed production systems or practices.

To be able to meet these goals and objectives, IITA is implementing diverse but well-coordinated and synergistic projects such as CBSD Control Project in Rwanda and Burundi funded by IFAD; Cassava Agribusiness Seed Systems (CASS) in Rwanda and Burundi funded by the Dutch Government; Programme Intégré de Croissance Agricole dans le Grands Lacs (PICAGL) financed by the World Bank; Actions to control CBSD in DRC funded by USAID; and Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation Program (TAAT) funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).. The projects are also supported by other IITA projects (e.g., GoSeed, 5CP, BEST Cassava, and BASICS).

The governments of the three target countries have contributed personnel and physical research infrastructure through partner national research institutions, i.e., ISABU, INERA, and RAB.


IITA Virologist and Head of Germplasm Health Unit (center) visiting the tissue culture lab producing semi-autotropic hydroponics (SAH) cassava plants in The President Olusegun Obasanjo Research Center, IITA, Kalambo, DR Congo.


Authors: Tumwegamire Silver, Sikirou Mouritala, Adetoro Najimu, Akande Adebowale, Bamba Zoumana and Vanlauwe Bernard


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