Workshop raises fresh hope for Food Security in Africa through Root and Tuber Crops.  

190 billion dollars to be created by 2050, $41billion to be contributed in sub-saharan Africa. - 400,000 Plant Species identified worldwide - no region or country is self sufficient - all countries are inter-dependent 




Stakeholders in Agriculture and related Researchers from within outside and Nigeria comprising farmers , traditional rulers, industrialists, businessmen and women met at the concluded two day 2024 annual research review and planning workshop of the National Root Crops Research Institute ( NRCRI ) Umudike Abia state which lasted 13 – 14 March, 2024.

Participants brainstormed on ways and means to further uplift root and tuber crops ( RTCs) which are major foods of billions of people and sources of raw materials in Africa.

The NRCRI Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer professor Chiedozie Egesi said that the workshop was a forum where problems of farmers and other end-users of root and tuber crops technologies are addressed and that NRCRI has for the past 100 years been statutorily mandated to research into them with Nigeria being the global leader in RTC production.

Speaking during the kick off of the two day workshop, which had the theme “Advancing Sustainable Root and Tuber Crops- based Farming Systems in Nigeria – A Pathway to Resilient Agri-food System”, professor Chiedozie Egesi who was the Workshop Chief Host , further said that the annual workshop specifically provides for reviewing the research results and new technologies developed by the Institute which tackle the hitches in National Food Security, alleviate poverty and increase youth economic empowerment.

He announced that it was projected that RTCs will deliver the main share of food security, incomes and climate resilience to Smallholder farmers and food systems and also forecasted that RTCs will create close to $190 billion ( US dollars ) in additional market value throughout year 2050.

He added that when compared with Cereals, RTCs will expectedly contribute $41 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa stating that ” their role as the focal center of food systems in Africa would only increase as they thrive under the daunting growing conditions and the increasingly unpredictable weather extremes female and male farmers endure because of climate change”.

According to him, in line with the mandate to research into the genetic improvement, production, processing , storage , utilization and socio-economics of RTCs economic importance ” NRCRI funded at least 140 research and development projects across different areas of RTCs in the country adding that to sustain research activities in the face of economic situation, it attracted ten ( 10 ) externally funded projects in different areas including breeding , biotechnology, product development, seed systems and climate adaptation research to complement federal government efforts to deal with issues on food and nutrition security.

He disclosed that the federal government gave the Institute another specific mandate to provide planting materials ( Seeds ) of improved cassava varieties sufficient for 20,000 hectares across Nigeria as part of the National Agricultural Growth Scheme ( Agro Pocket ( NAGS-AP).

Also speaking, the Executive Secretary of the National Agricultural Research Council ( NARC ) professor Garba Hamidu Sharbutu who represented the Minister of Agriculture Dr Abubakar Kyari, described RTCs as crops with potentials to improve revenue, engender industrial activities and employments and called for collaboration of research institutions and the Univerties to establish a sustainable food value chain for national survival.

He specially appealed to Abia state governor Dr Alex Otti to, as an agriculture enthusiastic governor, to register his administration’s presence in NRCRI by building in it ( NRCRI ) what he called Researchers’ Lodge/ Hostel to serve local and international researchers visiting the Institute.

The keynote Speaker on the Workshop theme, Dr Kent Nnadozie, who is the Secretary , International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources , Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations in Rome, said that the world is facing unprecedented confluence of threats from complex and interconnected factors that include ; population increase projections, conflicts, rural poverty, migration, consequences of climate change among many others.

According to him , while fewer crops are feeding more people worldwide, 400,000 plant species were globally identified , humans have utilized more than 6,000 plant species to meet their basic food needs either by cultivation or gathering.

On the present scenario, Dr Nnadozie said that it is only about 150 plant species that are under reasonably extensive cultivation while only nine (9) species supply nearly 66% of the total crop production adding that ” no region or country is self-sufficient as all countries are interdependent”.

The Abia state governor Otti while declaring the worship open through his Adviser on Agriculture and Food Security Chief Cliff Agbaeze, called on all and sundry to collaborate efforts towards addressing the threat of increasing hunger in the land, sustain continued efforts in the drive to turning around the fortunes of the over 200 million Nigerians, as well as evolve strategies towards the country migrating from a food deficit status to sufficiency in the shortest possible time.

According to governor Otti ” it is only when the agri-food system has sufficiently performed the fundamental roles of adequate supply of nutritious food, generates private and public incomes and employment, feeds the local industries with agricultural derivatives of raw materials , and serves as a veritable source of foreign exchange, that it could be adorned with the garland of resilience”.

The workshop featured Group discussions on the theme paper and two other presented Papers.

Discussion on the Lead Paper titled ” Quality Early Generation Seeds: Key to Delivering the Roots of Prosperity” which was presented by professor Happiness Oselebe, deputy VC of Ebonyi state University, had Drs Joe Onyeka, Godwin Asumugha and Chika Anyim all of the NRCRI as discussants with Dr Chinedu Agbara from the Sahel as the Moderator.

Second paper titled ” The Role of Biotechnology in Crop Improvement: Addressing Food Security, Economic Development and Public Perception and Engagement” which had Drs Agnes Asagbra , Director General/ Chief Executive Officer National Biosafety Management Agency ( NBMA ) , Amin Habora of UNESCO Biotechnology Center, Charles Amadi of NRCRI, professor Ifeoma Ijeh of Michael Okpara University and Dr Ihuoma Okwuonu of NRCRI as discussants with Dr Joe Onyeka of NRCRI as the Moderator.

The Group discussion on the Workshop theme, which was moderated by barrister Richard Mbaram , had panelists as professors Maduebibisi Iwe – VC Michael Okpara University, Jude Njoku – former VC Federal University of Technology Owerri, Chinedum Nwajuba – former VC Alex Ekwueme University Ndifu, Happiness Oselebe – Deputy VC Ebonyi State University, Chiedozie Eze – VC Imo State University of Agriculture Umuagwo and Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation ( AATF ).

Goodwill messages were presented by the NBMA DG/CEO, Dr Agnes Yemisi Asagbra, African Agricultural Technology Foundation ( AATF ) represented by Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin, it’s Director, Program Development and Commercialization, Vice Chancellor Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike Abia state professor Maduebibisi Ofo Iwe including Federal College of Agriculture Ishiagu Ebonyi state represented by the Deputy Provost Dr Jona Nwawuisi.

The NBMA DG in her message underscored the critical role that root and tuber crops play in ensuring food security, improving livelihoods, and enhancing the resilience of agri-food systems urging workshop participants to deliberate on strategies to enhance the productivity, sustainability, and resilience of root and tuber crops-based farming systems, imperatively recognize the interconnectedness of agriculture, environment, and biosafety.

” As we chart the course for the future, let us leverage our collective expertise, resources, and partnerships to address the challenges facing root and tuberi crops-based farming systems, including climate change, pests and diseases, market access, and sustainability”.

She commended the NRCRI for its unwavering dedication to research, innovation, capacity building in the field of root and tuber crops and contributions which she said have been instrumental in advancing scientific knowledge, developing high-yielding varieties, and empowering farmers across Nigeria.

Adding that by embracing innovation, adopting best practices and fostering collaboration, the full potential of root and tuber crops to transform our agricultural landscape and improve the livelihoods of millions of Nigerians can be unlocked, Dr Asagbra asserted that her led NBMA

” remains committed to fostering a regulatory environment that promotes the safe development and deployment of biotechnology in agriculture, including root and tuber crops while safeguarding human health and the environment”.

According to her , NBMA has given permits on Confined Field Trials (CFT) for genetically modified cassava to improve its nutritional value, expressing confidence that the workshop will yield valuable insights, foster meaningful collaborations, and pave the way for a more resilient and prosperous future.

Report by Gordi Udeajah