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African Centre for Crop Improvement

“Training African Breeders on African Crops, in Africa”

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Four ways that adoption rates can be improved — ACCI study

A study commissioned to determine what impact students trained by the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) have had on food security among African smallholder farmers has yielded promising details.

In pursuit of clarity about the impact of its training of plant breeders, the ACCI commissioned a two-year post-doctoral study by agricultural economist Dr Gideon Danso-Abbeam. The study, which started in 2019, was supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the agency that has funded the ACCI since 2006.

The first paper from Danso-Abbeam’s research, focusing on the impact of dual-purpose sweetpotato in Rwanda, confirms that improved varieties do make a substantial difference to the lives of farmers who adopt them — but there are important determinants of adoption rate that must be tracked if adoption and impact are to be multiplied.

Danso-Abbeam’s research started with a questionnaire sent to all ACCI graduates, from 19 different African countries. It was envisaged that crops covered would be roots and tubers, cereals and legumes. However the arrival of Covid-19 (C-19) threw a spanner in the works and most of the follow-up visits to interview graduates in countries where new varieties have been release had to be halted, and the scope of the project severely reduced.

Danso-Abbeam did, however, manage to get to Rwanda before C-19 hit, and, based on interviews done with graduates there, as well as a survey about the diffusion and adoption of dual-purpose sweet potato varieties, first developed there by ACCI graduate Dr Damien Shumbusha, he was able to produce the aforementioned academic article plus three more that are currently being reviewed.

Dr Gideon Danso-Abbeam, who has published the first of four articles on ACCI graduate impact

In Rwanda sweetpotato is an important staple crop, with approximately 80% of the population producing it for home consumption. Training plant breeders there to develop new varieties that are high-yielding, nutritious and multi-purpose for local agroecologies has therefore been a priority. The dual-purpose sweetpotato is extremely useful to farmers as it feeds them and their animals, which are a common feature of Rwandan farming households despite a national zero-grazing policy to mitigate the effect of soil erosion.

Danso-Abbeam’s published article, titled “Food security impacts of smallholder farmer’s adoption of dual-purpose sweetpotato varieties in Rwanda”, discusses the determinants of adoption of these varieties and the extent to which adoption impacts the food security status of farmers.

To establish causation, he used an endogenous switching probit to reduce the selection bias resulting from observed and unobserved characteristics.

He writes in the article that “The results of the adoption analysis indicate a low level of adoption (42%), and factors such as sex of the respondent, primary occupation, farm size, membership of social group, and a visit to farm demonstrations play significant roles in shaping farmers’ decision to adopt the dual-purpose sweetpotato varieties.”

The findings also indicate that food insecurity continues to affect 37% of rural farming households, while the majority reported experiencing mild food insecurity to food security. Adopters, on the other hand, increased food security by about 11%, and adoption reduced moderate and severe food insecurity by about 8% and 19% respectively.

“Generally, the adoption of dual-purpose sweetpotato has a positive impact on food security of the adopters, and the non-adopters would have benefited substantially from adoption if they had adopted,” writes Danso-Abbeam.

The challenge, then, is to aim to increase levels of adoption by paying close attention to the reasons why farmers do or don’t embrace improved varieties, and, based on his findings, he suggests several interventions that could encourage adoption. First, because sweetpotato is perceived to be a “women’s crop”, women should be targeted in campaigns to promote and disseminate new varieties.

Second, due to the intensity of livestock farming in Rwanda, the use of dual-purpose sweetpotato to prepare silage as complementary feeds in the lean season should be promoted by appropriate stakeholders, such as the extension directorate of Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) and NGOs.

Third, deliberate efforts should be made to enable farmers to be members of social or community groups, to enable the sharing of personal and technical information, and increase the likelihood of adoption.

Fourth, stakeholders such as the extension directorate, seed companies and NGOs should promote demonstration plots where adoption of improved varieties can be encouraged.

Danso-Abbeam recommended that the Rwandan government should promote low-technology and multi-purpose crop varieties such as dual-purpose sweetpotato, which have the potential to minimize food insecurity in rural farming households.

He indicated that the role of academic programmes like the ACCI and international funding organisations, particularly AGRA and research centers such as International Potato Center (CIP) have multiplier effects in contributing to crop variety development and sustainable agricultural production.

Words and photo: Shelagh McLoughlin

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