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Bio-Innovate’s cassava, potato, and sweet potato consortium project on course to deliver sustainable innovative seed delivery systems in the eastern Africa

Bio-Innovate’s cassava, potato, and sweet potato consortium project on course to deliver sustainable innovative seed delivery systems in the eastern Africa

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The Bio-Innovate Program Management Office (PMO) traveled to Kigali, Rwanda for a three-day project monitoring and evaluation exercise from 31 May–2 June 2012 to review the progress of project consortium 2 on ‘enhancing food security through improved seed systems of appropriate varieties of cassava, potato and sweet potato resilient to climate change in eastern Africa’.

This project consortium led by Samuel Kyamanywa from Makerere University (MAK-Uganda) included partners from Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), Namulonge Crops Resource Research Institute (NaCCRI-Uganda), Kabale Zonal Agricultural Research Development Institute (KAZARDI-Uganda), Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI-Tanzania), Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI-Kenya), International Potato Centre (CIP), and Addis Ababa University (AAU-Ethiopia).

The meeting brought together all project partners and was hosted by RAB, which was recently established after a merger of three institutions: Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda, Rwanda Agriculture Development Authority, and Rwanda Animal Resources Development Authority. The gathering was part of a series of monitoring and evaluation exercises that the PMO has planned over the next four months to review the progress of Bio-Innovate’s consortia projects. The purpose of the exercise is to discuss the overall progress, achievements and challenges in the course of the implementation of the consortia projects.

This involves visiting the implementing institutions and interacting with the consortium teams and other partners, and also visiting the project sites in the host institution in order to gain a deeper and more direct insight into the progress of the project activities. During the first day of the two-day meeting, the partners made detailed technical presentations on their progress and achievements thus far and the challenges they were facing in implementing project activities.

Sweet potato field trials at high altitude at the Kinigi station 15km away from Musanze District (photo credit: Bio-Innovate-ILRI/Albert Mwangi).

Overall, project partners are recording positive results. Ongoing activities on assessing appropriate disease-resistant varieties for cassava, potato, and sweet potato, adaptable to various agro-ecological zones are on track. Promising varieties for potato, sweet potato and cassava that are drought tolerant and disease resistant have been identified and are currently being evaluated in different agro-ecological zones in the eastern Africa region; preliminary testing using aeroponics technology (a technique for propagating and growing plants by pulse-misting nutrients in vapor form on to the developing roots without the use of soil) in the production of potato seed material is promising; low cost tissue culture protocol for rapid multiplication of quality sweet potato planting materials is progressing well; and preliminary data shows that sweet potato losses in the field can be reduced to less than 5% if integrated pest management packages are adopted by the farmers.

Jackie Bonabana a social economist from Makerere University was brought on board to assist in designing a tool for collecting data of existing seed delivery systems for cassava, potato and sweet potatoes in the region with a view to developing a model seed system that can be adopted by eastern Africa countries. Using this tool, the partnering institutions are currently engaging various stakeholders on the existing seed delivery systems in the participating  countries.

Creating sustainable seed systems requires the active participation of the private sector. As such, the project consortium is collaborating with private seed companies in the eastern Africa region to produce and multiply planting materials. The consortium is working with HarvestPlus to produce and multiply sweet potato plantlets. KAZARDI is collaborating with Uganda National Seed Potato Producers Association (UNSPPA) while CIP is working with Genetic Technologies International Limited (GTIL) to take up mass production of selected potato seeds for farmers in both Kenya and Uganda, respectively. During the two-day meeting, issues on project progress reporting and adherence to financial management requirements as stipulated in the standard operating procedures (SOP) manual were discussed and Seyoum Leta, the Program Manager clarified these issues. “Bio-Innovate is not business as usual,” Seyoum stated during his presentation.

He noted that the individual partners had presented technical details that showed commendable progress compared to what they had reported in the bi-annual progress reports, pointing to gaps in reporting of progress and achievements by the consortium team. Seyoum emphasized on the need to adhere to financial management procedures as spelt out in the agreements signed by implementing partners and the Bio-Innovate operational manual. Failure to observe these procedures would delay fund disbursement and impede project implementation activities.

Theresa Sengooba, the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) chair present during the meeting opined that the project had achieved a lot in line with the stated objectives and work plans. “The project partners have accomplished much more than they actually reported in their 2011 technical progress reports presented at the April 2012 TAC meeting. I believe this project can deliver at least 80% of what they promised. The challenge I see however is timely accountability of funds and therefore the PMO should continue providing financial management support to the finance officers at the implementing institutions to adequately and efficiently account for disbursed funds,” she recommended. She further advised the consortium team to be more conscious of reporting timelines and comprehensively and clearly report on progress and achievements, as this seems to be another area of weakness.

The assessment of the PMO is that the project consortium is on track to deliver on its objectives within the remaining timeframe. However, more needs to be done to improve fund management. The consortium demonstrated good cohesion and organization in implementing project activities and the regional nature of the project is evident in the way activities are shared within the consortium. Each partner appears to have a good grasp of their role in the consortium and how their activities feed into the project objectives, an indication of effective coordination by the principal investigator coupled with cooperation from the team members.