Scientists discuss ways to improve RTB planting materials
The Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Cross-cutting Cluster 2.1 had its annual meeting on 14 to 16 March at IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria. The meeting objective was to discuss the progress and main findings on the development and validation of the RTB Toolbox. Present at the meeting were about 30 international experts who have been working on this topic for the past four years.
Scientists are leading a research program on RTB seed systems, working on five main crops—banana, potato, sweet potato, cassava, and yam. The research program is on a global level, covering countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. The goal is to improve the livelihoods of rural people in the developing countries. They are also disseminating varieties of the five crops because the farmers need better varieties with better nutritional values and better yields, to improve their livelihoods.
The planting materials for RTB crops are very bulky and expensive and are not easily stored like maize. The RTB seed system usually has an accumulation of pathogens, especially viruses on the planting materials, causing poor seed quality and resulting in decreasing yields. This is usually caused by climate change and has a direct impact on the RTB seed system. However, scientists are looking at good progress on helping farmers to improve the quality of their planting material and access clean varieties.
Speaking about the Toolbox, Jorge Piedra-Andrade, Co-Leader of RTB Cross-Cutting cluster, said, “We aim to develop tools that can provide answers relevant to research questions in the seed value chain at different stages. We are partnering with the international universities like Florida and Wageningen and have a team of PhD students working with us and developing methodologies for improving these interventions. Furthermore, a team of young and talented scientists are working on RTB seed systems to increase the quality and access of clean planting materials to farmers.”
These methodologies will help NGOs and other national partners to improve interventions at the field level especially in improving the quality of seed and planting materials of these five crops by improving the multiplication rate of producing new clean planting materials and understanding the demands of clean seeds or new varieties from farmers. It will help scientists have a quick look at existing seed systems, identifying main partners, potential conflict among partners, and the major bottlenecks within the seed systems. The methodologies will also help with knowing what seed policies are in place in a country and provide recommendations to policy makers on how to improve these policies.
Presenting on policy studies, Margaret McEwan noted, “In Nigeria where the cassava seed system is predominantly informal, the source of planting materials is usually 87.4% family and friends, and 12.6% government. Towards a better cassava seed system, it is necessary to certify at breeder and foundation seed level; introduce lower quality for subsequent generations of seed; and improve distribution and marketing channels.”