Highlights - Southern Africa
A virtually aflatoxin-free Zambia
In mid-January 2013, maize farmers in the Eastern Province of Zambia started receiving the first-ever batch of the Zambian aflasafeTM that is now being applied in their fields. This marks the first official field application of the biocontrol product in the country and comes only a year after researchers from IITA, ZARI, and NISIR began work to identify the best atoxigenic―or non-poison forming―strains of the Aspergillus flavus fungi. The product was developed under the “Aflatoxin Mitigation Project” component of the Zambia Feed-the-Future Research and Development Program (Zambia FtF R&D Program).
Maize and groundnuts—two of Zambia’s most important cash and food security crops—are prone to aflatoxin contamination. This is a major concern as it negatively affects the health of humans and domesticated animals, causing stunting in children and cancer. Aflatoxin contamination also hampers international trade and economic growth as it prevents affected export commodities from meeting stringent trade and food safety standards. Worse still is the fact that rejected contaminated produce is not usually destroyed but find its way into the domestic food chain, wreaking havoc on consumers.
It is recommended that farmers apply aflasafeTM-Zambia 30 to 40 days after planting and at a rate of 10 kg/ha for optimum efficacy.
During the development of the biocontrol product, the Zambia FtF R&D Program provided funds to the national partner ZARI to refurbish and upgrade a laboratory at its Mt Makulu Station in Lusaka to serve as the focal point for biocontrol work in Zambia. The program also helped to build local capacity by training staff to operate the aflasafeTM-Zambia laboratory and factory.
Minimizing the invasion of cassava diseases
During the year, the Mitigating Cassava Disease Threats for Improved Cassava Production component of the Zambia Feed-the-Future Research and Development Program conducted an extensive diagnostic survey in the Western, Northern, Eastern, and Luapula Provinces to get a general picture of the CMD situation in these cassava-growing areas. Although the surveys indicated that symptoms of the disease were mild, our researchers detected two distinct viruses: the Africa Cassava Mosaic Virus (ACMV) and the East Africa Cassava Mosaic Virus (EACMV). Of the two, ACMV was found to be more widely distributed than EACMV. On the other hand, we did not find symptoms of the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) in the areas surveyed or detect the cassava brown streak virus in the plant samples gathered from the sites.
Clean planting materials are being multiplied and CMD-resistant varieties developed to combat the spread of these diseases.
A MIRACLE for Southern Africa
In an effort to realize the potential of agriculture and agricultural research in enhancing health and nutritional outcomes in Africa, we are implementing with partners in the region a multi-country and multi-year project entitled Making Agricultural Innovations Work for Smallholder Farmers Affected by HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa (MIRACLE) in identified HIV/AIDS hotspots in Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zambia.
The priority action sites are those where research and development partners already have ongoing activities, such as the provision of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), and the implementation of nutrition agriculture-based interventions. MIRACLE adds value to these existing initiatives by improving linkages among agriculture, nutrition, and health. Its goal is to improve the health and nutritional status, food security, and income of people affected by HIV and AIDS in the target countries through the production, consumption, and marketing of nutritious crops by advocating supportive agricultural and health policies and by strengthening the capacity of key stakeholders engaged in agricultural activities.
To develop suitable and effective interventions, MIRACLE conducted a baseline survey of beneficiary households across the four participating countries to identify constraints to production, marketing, and technology adoption. More than 600 farm households were surveyed in each participating country. The results of the survey provided a clearer picture of the livelihood status of the target communities and guided our researchers in developing appropriate strategies in the areas of agricultural research and institutional innovations.
Innovation Platforms: partnerships for development
Since its inception, the MIRACLE project has promoted the use of an innovative approach to build and strengthen partners’ capacities in its operational countries. In this approach―called the “Innovation Platforms” (IPs)―stakeholders from local communities, research, extension, NGOs, and the private sector who share a common developmental vision come together to interact, prioritize issues, identify challenges and opportunities, and share experiences to help people affected by HIV/AIDS to improve their plight. IPs provide a springboard for building functional linkages between entities focused on HIV/AIDS, agriculture, nutrition, and community health R4D.
To be more effective, grassroots IPs make use of another MIRACLE-introduced approach called “Participatory Research and Extension Approach” or PREA. This emphasizes a “bottom-up” approach with a focus on locally defined priorities and local perspectives. It involves a four- stage learning cycle: social mobilization, action planning, implementation, and lesson learning.
In the future, MIRACLE will, through IPs, take steps to strengthen the capacity of participating CBOs and farmers through training in group dynamics, leadership, communication, and management practices associated with the promoted technologies.
Building a successful agro-enterprise
MIRACLE wants its beneficiaries to be self-sufficient―not only able to produce for their own needs but also to establish small-scale businesses to help others as well. However, encouraging farmers to do so is a daunting task. To achieve this, the project adopted a three-stage approach using “technology demonstrations”, capacity building, and provision of reliable market information. Beneficiaries who have actually ventured into agribusiness have been given support by the project in terms of business management coaching, infrastructure, such as processing equipment and low-cost bulking centers, and provision of regular marketing advice.
Examples of the project’s success are four cassava processing centers that produce high quality cassava flour (HQCF), starch, and chips have been established; nine community groups have begun commercially processing indigenous vegetables for an identified market; and 11 commercial entities (bakers, restaurants, caterers, lodges) now have existing arrangements with MIRACLE beneficiaries to supply them with cassava and sweetpotato produced in the communities.