Improving crops

Tropical Legumes III

  • October 16, 2020

The Tropical Legumes III – Improving Livelihoods for Smallholder Farmers: Enhanced Grain Legume Productivity and Production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

(TLIII) was implemented by IITA, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) from 2015 to 2019 in collaboration with national partners in seven African countries and a state in India. The project had three complementary research components of (a) development of improved varieties, (b) improvement of crop breeding programs’ capacity, and (c) establishment of sustainable seed delivery systems.

Research for development issues or challenges addressed:

TL-III was a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded initiative. It was designed to provide smallholder farmers with improved cultivars of four major grain legumes: common bean, cowpea, chickpea, and groundnut. The project aimed to fundamentally strengthen international plant breeding programs and, most importantly, the breeding programs of national partners in s-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

TL-III was designed principally to increase the productivity (by 20%) and production (by 10%) of groundnut, cowpea, common bean, and chickpea. These are grain legume crops that provide substantial nutritional, cropping system, and economic benefits to smallholder farmers.

Cowpea was the crop of focus for IITA in collaboration with INERA Burkina Faso, SARI Ghana, IER Mali, and IAR Nigeria.

Successes/achievements, citing outcome, figures/numbers, KPIs, etc.

A total of eight cowpea varieties were released in four sub-Saharan African countries: two in Ghana, four in Nigeria, two in South Sudan, and two in Tanzania.

A study on the adoption of cowpea varieties in 10 Nigerian states of Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Zamfara showed that 42% of the households were growing improved cowpea varieties. This was equivalent to 945,000 households. Nearly 30% of the cowpea area was under improved varieties, which was equivalent to over 1 million ha planted to improved cowpea. The farmers who adopted the improved varieties had 26% higher yield per hectare and 61% increase in net returns.

Through TL III, the IITA cowpea breeding program was able to significantly modernize its operations. Some interventions to improve efficiency and effectiveness included: undertaking the Breeding Program Assessment Tool (BPAT) assessment followed by recommendations for improvement and Program Improvement Plans (PIPs) such as improving physical infrastructure and human capacity to adapt to modern day breeding requirements. The program developed two product profiles that are now guiding its breeding pipeline. These are: (1) Short- and medium-duration grain-type cultivars with large white or brown grain for the Sahelian and Sudan Savanna zones; and (2) Medium- and late-maturing dual-purpose (grain + hay) cultivars with large white or brown grain for the Guinea Savanna zone. The program adopted the shuttle breeding approach where national agricultural research (NARS) partners were incorporated in the research.

The use of modern breeding tools were promoted during this phase. The Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP) developed a Breeding Management System (BMS) that has helped in data management and analysis. Digitization of data collection, curation, and archiving plus experimental designs using BMS were implemented by the project. Most of the data are now captured using tablets and recently a barcoding system was introduced.

Breeding modernization was also initiated at the NARS level. All the programs underwent BPAT self-assessment from which PIPs were developed and implemented. Product profiles were then developed. All the programs have increased the number of crosses by at least 25% and subsequently increased the number of entries in their breeding pipelines by more than 80%. The number of both on-farm trials and demonstration sites have increased by more than 100%. The number of generations was also increased from 1 to at least 2 per year.

The Cowpea Breeding Program also adopted an inclusive, pluralistic, and integrated seed systems approach that recognizes the complementary roles of seed producers such as individuals, seed companies, government organizations, non-government organizations (NGOs), and farmer groups. The program engaged national partners to popularize new improved varieties using various complementary approaches such as field demonstrations, extension guides, field days, agricultural/seed fairs and radio/TV programs. For the period 2015-2019, there were more than 1345 demonstrations conducted, 54,000 extension guides distributed, 89 field days held, 27 agricultural/seed fairs conducted, and 139 radio/TV programs conducted in the four participating countries. Also more than 783 (1-9 kg), 1457 (25 kg), and 1090 seed packs (size 25-50 kg) were made available to farmers across the four countries. From 2015 to 2018, NARS partners were able to produce 56.59 tons of breeder seeds, 1,684.61 tons of foundation seeds, and 17,683 tons of certified seeds.

IITA contributed about 4,000 kg of cowpea foundation seed in 2017 to ‘Seeds of Renaissance,’ an initiative aimed at towards rehabilitating farmers in the terrorist-ravaged North East of Nigeria.

Capacity building of NARS scientists:

A woman scientist from Burkina Faso was trained on plant breeding and a gender specialist from Nigeria was also trained at Ph.D. level. There was a workshop for TLIII scientists on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). All NARS breeders have received training in genomics and molecular breeding at CEGSB-ICRISAT, Patancheru (India). Annual training were organized for the use of BMS at the national, regional, or across the project for both IITA and NARS scientists and technicians.

Leveraging on TL project funds and other sources, NARS programs were able to renovate their irrigation facilities (Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali), screenhouses (Ghana, Nigeria, Mali), and cold rooms for seeds (Ghana Burkina, Mali, Nigeria). They have also been able to acquire other important items such as a generator and thresher (Burkina Faso), water pump (Nigeria), and tablets for data capture (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria).

Implications to future research or development

The achievements of TLIII constitute a strong foundation for the modernization of the IITA and NARS cowpea breeding programs. The strong collaboration established with NARS offers a solid testing network.


Authors: CA Fatokun, O. Boukar, A. Togola, and PO Ongom





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