Accuracy is the key: Lessons from the CMS project in Nigeria

Many of the challenges we face today such as food insecurity and poverty require innovative and multidisciplinary approaches. The development, dissemination, and adoption of improved crop varieties provide a major pathway by which agricultural research can bring about gains in productivity, food security, and poverty reduction.

Many of the challenges we face today such as food insecurity and poverty require innovative and multidisciplinary approaches. The development, dissemination, and adoption of improved crop varieties provide a major pathway by which agricultural research can bring about gains in productivity, food security, and poverty reduction. To attain these, understanding how and why smallholder farmers adopt improved varieties is vital for targeting and prioritizing technologies that are appropriate to their conditions.

To this end, IITA has implemented the project “Cassava Monitoring Survey (CMS) in Nigeria” which involves a multidisciplinary team of breeders, biotechnologists, bioinformaticians, economists, extension officers, agronomists, gender experts, and postharvest specialists (Fig. 1). The project was jointly funded by the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IITA, and the CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA).

Figure 1. Correlation between GPS-based plot area and self-reported plot area.

This project introduced area measurement based on the Global Positioning System (GPS) to accurately determine the land allocated to cassava among smallholders in Nigeria. Findings show a clear disparity between the GPS measurements and farmer-reported area measurements, with farmers overestimating the size of small plots and underestimating the size of large ones (Fig. 1).

Additionally, the CMS project—for the first time in CGIAR—introduced DNA fingerprinting to track the adoption of improved cassava varieties by smallholder farmers. The innovative method accurately identifies varieties grown by farmers and provides a benchmark against which the effectiveness of other potential methods for scaling up could be assessed. The project has enabled IITA to accurately document adoption rates of cassava varieties in Nigeria, and, consequently, undertake a credible assessment of the effect of adoption of improved varieties on productivity, food security, and poverty in the country.

A female enumerator taking a cassava leaf sample for DNAextraction.

Using farmer-reported data, the project showed that about 60% of the farmers grow improved cassava. However, when DNA fingerprinting was used to measure adoption, it was found that about 66% of the farmers actually grow improved varieties. A comparison between DNA fingerprinting and household survey adoption data further showed that 41% of the respondents misreported their cassava variety adoption status. About 28% of the farmers believed that they were growing local varieties when they were actually growing improved ones. Conversely, about 13% of the surveyed households believed that they were growing improved varieties when they were actually growing local ones.

between DNA fingerprinting and household survey adoption data further showed that 41% of the respondents misreported their cassava variety adoption status. About 28% of the farmers believed that they were growing local varieties when they were actually growing improved ones. Conversely, about 13% of the surveyed households believed that they were growing improved varieties when they were actually growing local ones.

Findings by the CMS project clearly underscore the perils of such misclassification of adoption status by farmers, which could lead to wrong conclusions and inappropriate policy recommendations. These underline the importance of designing a well-functioning seed system to reduce errors related to misreporting by farmers.

Using DNA fingerprinting, the project concretely showed that adoption of improved cassava varieties has led to a 58% increase in yields. If we had measured the productivity gains from the adoption of improved varieties using self-reported data from household surveys instead of DNA fingerprinting-based data, the result would have been 46%. This would have significantly undermined the role of crop genetic improvement in ensuring food security, a critical argument for funding such investments in Africa.

The project further showed that productivity gains resulting from the adoption of improved cassava varieties have reduced poverty by 4 percentage points, which translates to roughly 2 million individuals lifted out of poverty. Again, if only self-reported adoption data were used, the number of individuals escaping poverty would have been reported to be only 1.6 million, considerably undervaluing the role of improved varieties in enhancing rural livelihoods.

Despite the higher adoption rate, the intensification rate of improved cassava varieties was found to be only about 38%, which is quite modest. This would have been higher if the availability of planting material and access to extension and input and output markets were better.

In addition to its relevance in creating appropriate supporting policies, the CMS project also played a key role in building capacities. For example, IITA developed a toolkit for collecting samples from farmers’ fields to be taken to laboratories for DNA extraction. IITA has also established a strong collaboration with Cornell University for undertaking genotyping-bysequencing for the accurate identification of varieties grown by farmers. Learning from the CMS project, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched a similar new project called “The Nigerian Baseline Survey” that will use the methods developed in the CMS project in four priority states in the country. The Foundation is also funding similar research to track the adoption of other major crops in Nigeria.

ORCID: 0000-0003-3793-7078, 0000-0002-8072-1363, 0000-0001-9966-2941, 0000-0002-2491-4603, 0000-0002-0759-4070, 0000-0003-2477-7132

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