IITA organized yet another colorful and successful event to mark its 50th anniversary. this time in Uganda at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCCRI), Namulonge. The event had the theme: “Research and partnership for transforming African agriculture: Looking back and forward” and was held on 21 September. It also celebrated the Institute’s 25 years of agricultural research for development in the country.

The event was graced by a wide spectrum of partners and stakeholders including representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), the Uganda Parliament, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), the embassies of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Nigeria, District Local Governments, the private sector, NGOs, civil society, Makerere University, IITA alumni, and the other CGIAR centers (CIP, ILRI, and IFPRI).

A series of activities were organized including an exhibition of IITA’s research-for-development activities and products in Uganda, a field tour of IITA’s research experiments, and the commissioning of the renovated banana breeding laboratory.

Picture of Rony Swennen leading guests on an inspection tour of the renovated banana laboratory. Photo by Chris Okello.

Rony Swennen leading guests on an inspection tour of the renovated banana laboratory. Photo by Chris Okello.

Speakers at the event included representatives from the Government, NARO, development partners, donor organizations, the private sector, and IITA alumni. The Permanent Secretary of MAAIF, Pius Wakabi Kasajja, said that “research is extremely important to support the efforts of the Ministry towards increasing production and productivity in Uganda.”

Okaasai Opolot, the Director of Crop Resources at the Ministry, noted that the IITA selection of commodities was in line with priorities of the Ministry and Government. Other speakers included Yona Baguma, the Director General of the National Crop Resources Institute (NaCCRI), and the Nigerian High Commissioner in Uganda, His Excellency Dr Etubom Nya Asuquo.

IITA’s Director for Eastern Africa, Victor Manyong, said that IITA started working on agricultural policy areas as a way of ensuring that there is a favorable policy environment for linking technologies from breeding to implementation.

Laurence Jassogne, IITA-Uganda Country Representative appreciated the valuable support from partners and donors, and emphasized that IITA will continue strengthening and widening its partnerships for greater research impact. She further thanked NaCCRI for hosting the celebrations and the guests for joining IITA to celebrate their silver jubilee.

Field tours and exhibitions

The guests visited one cassava and two banana fields where breeding and testing for improved varieties takes place. In the cassava field, Edward Kanju pointed out that IITA and NARO have developed and released NARO CASS 1 and NARO CASS 2, two widely grown cassava varieties in Uganda because of their resistance to both Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD). He said this was made possible using germplasm from IITA.

Picture of Edward Kanju explaining about cassava breeding during the field tour.

Edward Kanju explaining about cassava breeding during the field tour.

In the banana fields, Brigitte Uwimana pointed out the banana varieties affected by Black Sigatoka and two fields with improved varieties that are resistant to Black Sigatoka. She said the banana breeding program which started in 1994 aimed not only to reduce the 60–70% yield losses as a result of Black Sigatoka, but also reduce the negative environmental impacts from excessive use of chemicals against Black Sigatoka.

The guests were informed that through a NARO and IITA research partnership, a Black Sigatoka resistant NARITA 7 banana hybrid had been released in Uganda and farmers have nicknamed it “Kiwangazi,” literally meaning “long lasting” because it stays longer in the plantation in addition to yielding more.

At the exhibition booths, the teams displayed products from breeding, agronomy, and value-addition work as well as outputs from the policy work such as publications, policy briefs, and climate smart zonal maps. The IITA Youth Agripreneurs also exhibited their activities and products that included their online marketing platform. This platform was found to be innovative and had contributed to increasing youth employment and skills in agribusiness.

Honoring departed colleagues

IITA also took the opportunity to commemorate the three IITA banana scientists (Dirk R. Vuylsteke, Paul R. Speijer, and John B. Hartman) who tragically died in a plane crash on 30 January 2000. In their honor, Rony Swennen said: “It is important, as IITA, that we commemorate not just research achievements but also the people who have contributed to the achievements”.

As a way forward, the government, partners, and donors urged IITA to consider developing innovative ways, including working with the private sector, to translate research innovations and disseminate them to the farmers. IITA was also called upon to engage in research on the pathways for linking policy to local implementation.

This event was well publicized including documentaries that ran in the main­stream media houses before the event  ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiUPw3sDxNY ), feature stories in the print media, and a live televised broadcast ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJjuP5NyZns ).