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CIAT Rewind

50 years building a sustainable food future

In 1967, the majority of poor and hungry people in the tropics were smallholder farmers. Increasing the productivity of their crops was, therefore, the critical entry point for CIAT’s research. Since that time, we have been concerned with nearly every aspect of tropical agriculture: the crop varieties that farmers grow, the production systems they manage, the agricultural landscapes they inhabit, the markets in which they participate, and the policies that influence their options and decisions.

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CIAT provides cassava, bean, and forage materials stored in its genebank free of charge for the purposes of research, breeding, or training for food and agriculture now under the terms of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which it signed in 2006.

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Over the years, CIAT has distributed:: 37,390 accessions (441,225 samples) of bean germplasm to 105 countries since 1973 6,492 accessions (43,458 samples) of cassava germplasm to 84 countries since 1979 13,692 accessions (90,624 samples) of tropical forage germplasm to 110 countries since 1980

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Over 23,000 accessions of beans, cassava, and tropical forages have been shared with researchers in CIAT’s host country, Colombia. Through the Plant Treaty, CIAT has also received new accessions of wild beans for use in its bean breeding program.

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CIAT bean breeders have developed beans containing about 60% more iron and up to 50% more zinc – two important nutrients for human health. They include the varieties BIO101 and BIO107 – released in Colombia’s Santander department, where they produce good yields and are of the shape, size, and color preferred by farmers.

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High-iron beans released in Rwanda in 2012 have been shown to reverse iron deficiency and anemia in young women in just four-and-a-half months. Lack of iron can impair cognitive and physical development in children. High-iron beans have also been released in Uganda, Colombia, and Guatemala.

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Pro-vitamin A-rich cassava developed by CIAT and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as a contribution to the World Food Prize-winning HarvestPlus initiative is helping tackle vitamin A deficiency, especially among women and children in Nigeria, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Vitamin A deficiency can cause vision loss and blindness, and impair the immune system.

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CIAT provided technical assistance and forage grass hybrids for farmers enrolled in Rwanda’s One Cow per Poor Family initiative launched in 2006. As well as improving production of meat and milk, the grasses help ensure animals survive the dry season, when other feed sources are scarce.

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CIAT and partners have developed “quick-cook” beans (as well as precooked bean snacks) to reduce the amount of time and energy households, typically women, spend preparing nutritious meals.

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In late 2015, CIAT deployed new drought-resilient white beans to Ethiopia, where erratic weather was threatening yields. Most commonly used in the production of baked beans, the country’s export market for white beans is worth over US$100 million a year, providing incomes for around 3 million smallholder farmers.

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Climbing beans – the type that climb up stakes like a vine, and are up to three times more productive than bush beans – are providing an eco-efficient solution for improving nutrition for farming families in densely populated places such as Rwanda, Burundi, and Western Kenya.

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Today, improved climbing beans are planted on more than half of Rwanda’s bean production area, a 45% increase since 1985. Bean yields have increased from 0.7 to 1.1 tons per hectare and, in the last decade, the country has been transformed from a net importer to an exporter of beans, with exports valued at US$12–20 million.

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The adoption of improved cassava varieties resulting from research by CIAT and its partners in Southeast Asia has generated benefits worth almost US$12 billion over the last 20 years.

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Cassava variety KU 50, bred by scientists at CIAT and Kasetsart University in Thailand, is better adapted to a wider variety of growing conditions, has less of an impact on soil quality, and provides roots with high starch content. Between 1993 and 2011, Thai cassava farmers earned an estimated US$1.56 billion dollars from KU 50.

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In 2003, CIAT and partners released a new cassava variety, Nataima-31, which was bred for whitefly resistance, high yield, and good cooking qualities. Yields outperformed local varieties in Colombia’s Tolima department, even without pesticide applications. Nataima-31 is now being grown commercially in several areas of Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil.

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In the 1970s, ranchers in Colombia’s Llanos region replaced native grasses with selected varieties of Brachiaria forages developed at CIAT. Meat production per hectare increased 10-to-15 fold, with economic benefits estimated to exceed US$1 billion.

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Sown forages could relieve Africa’s severe shortage of feed and sustain its ongoing livestock revolution. A recent CIAT study shows that planting Brachiaria hybrids could bring smallholder livestock farmers in East Africa tens of millions of dollars in revenue from increased milk production alone.

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The time it takes to raise cattle was reduced from 4 years to about 20 months in Brazil thanks to new varieties of forage grasses developed by CIAT and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). Improved feeding, backed by strong tax incentives, has already resulted in significant reduction of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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Sixty percent of the improved rice varieties released in Latin America and the Caribbean can be traced back to parent varieties developed by CIAT, preliminary research suggests. Related benefits are estimated at US$860 million for the period 1967–1995. Rice consumers are the main beneficiaries, receiving almost 60% of all the gains generated by adoption of improved varieties.

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The world’s third largest consumer goods company, Unilever, has adopted CIAT’s LINK Methodology in support of its Sustainable Living Plan. This is helping it develop inclusive trade relationships and source products from smallholder farmers around the world.

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In Latin America alone, there are over 50 cases in which CIAT’s LINK Methodology has been used as a development, evaluation, or business tool to build more inclusive and sustainable business models between producers associations and buyers.

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CIAT’s cassava collection of over 6,700 accessions includes approximately 30 species of cassava wild relatives. Breeders around the world are using these species to produce cassava varieties with more protein and greater resistance to drought and diseases.

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CIAT scientists are about a year away from defining cassava’s pan-genome. This will allow scientists to identify genes responsible for increasing yields, boosting protein content, and improving resistance to pests. This will also make possible the breeding of cassava in silico (by computer simulation) to establish the most effective combinations of parent plants to produce offspring with the most valuable traits.

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After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda – as genetic resource facilities were destroyed and seeds were eaten – CGIAR centers launched a project called “Seeds of Hope” to ensure that Rwandan farmers were supplied with the varieties of seeds they had before, suited to their soil and climate, and resistant to local pests and diseases. Through the following decade, CIAT, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and CARE Norway collaborated on a series of seed aids and seed system security guides.

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CIAT scientists at Kawanda genebank in Uganda safeguard the largest collection of beans in Africa. East African bean breeders are using this diversity to develop new high-iron and drought-tolerant bean varieties. Five such varieties were released in Uganda in 2016.

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The first high-iron, drought-resistant beans were released in Uganda and distributed to Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and South Sudan in 2016.

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After Hurricane Mitch tore through Central America in 1998, CIAT’s GIS team worked with the Canadian Space Agency to help relief workers identify areas most affected, and determine suitable crops and locations for replanting.

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CIAT scientists have discovered 30 new types of “heat-beater” beans able to handle an average 4-degree Celsius temperature increase.

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Selected Brachiaria forage grasses can greatly help mitigate climate change thanks to their capacity to inhibit nitrification, a natural process that causes the conversion of nitrogen into nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2. With the seven-fold rise in the use of nitrogen fertilizers since the 1970s, tackling nitrification is crucial to tackling climate change.

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In 2014, 170 rice growers with 1,800 hectares in Colombia’s Córdoba department avoided big economic losses by following a recommendation to skip a growing season due to forthcoming drought. The recommendation, made by the country’s rice growers association Fedearroz, was based on CIAT climate simulations.

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In 2015, CIAT and its partners used crop and climate models to show the likely impact of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and, for the first time, when changes in policy and practice need to take place to avoid the loss of suitability of key staple crops such as maize, beans, and banana.

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Research by CIAT and CCAFS led the Nicaraguan Government to prioritize the adaptation of smallholder coffee and cocoa farms to the impact of climate change in its 2013 National Adaptation Plan for Agriculture (NAPA). The NAPA helped attract major investment, including US$24 million from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to help finance that adaptation.

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In Colombia, Terra-i – a near-real time deforestation monitoring tool developed by CIAT and its partners – revealed massive deforestation in 2008 and 2009. The Colombian government used the information to revise its estimates and set new targets to tackle deforestation ahead of the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

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In Peru, Terra-i is being used by the Ministry of Environment as the official early-warning system for land cover and land-use change, producing a monthly update or alert system and pin-pointing deforestation hotspots.

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CIAT’s research helped design the Tana-Nairobi Water Fund, which was launched in 2015 thanks to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and partners. The Fund, the first of its kind in Africa, is a public-private scheme aimed to increase farm productivity upstream, while improving water supply and cutting costs of hydropower and clean water downstream. It is expected to generate US$21.5 million in long-term benefits to Kenyan citizens, including farmers and businesses.

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CIAT’s research helped put a value on ecosystem services in Peru’s Cañete River Basin. In 2014, the country’s Congress approved a law promoting compensation mechanisms for equitable sharing of economic benefits from vital services provided by the country’s diverse ecosystems.

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CIAT virologists have developed a diagnostic technique to efficiently detect the presence of viruses infecting cassava, including those associated with cassava frogskin disease (CFSD).

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In 2014, scientists from Indonesia’s Bogor Agricultural University release about 3,000 parasitic wasps with CIAT and FAO’s support to thwart cassava mealybug invasion. Similar biocontrol responses were implemented in Vietnam in 2013 and Thailand in 2010, as well as in Africa in the 80s, where it saved a whopping US$20 billion for the cassava sector. The introduction of the wasp in Africa by IITA is recognized as one of the most successful pest control programs in the world.

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More than 30,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda have taken up the climate-smart version of a “push-pull” crop production system developed by the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and which aids the elimination of stem borer, a devastating insect pest of maize and other cereals. The “push-pull” system integrates drought-tolerant Brachiaria grasses developed by CIAT as a “trap” crop for the pest, while also being used to feed cattle.

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The climate-smart agriculture (CSA) country profiles produced by CIAT, CCAFS, and partners are helping countries take the next step in implementing their climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. The briefs outline the country-specific CSA considerations and highlight their relation to adaptation, mitigation, productivity, institutions, and finance.

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The adoption through participatory research of agro-ecological farming systems, such as Quesungual in Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, has helped restore soil moisture, prevent erosion, reduce deforestation, and mitigate climate impacts by replacing slash-and-burn practices with “slash-and-mulch” methods, which maintain tree cover. The Quesungual slash-and-mulch agroforestry system was originally developed by FAO in the early 1990s.

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By building up an arable layer on the infertile acid soils of the savannas of Colombia’s Llanos region in the early 2000s, farmers were able to greatly increase their productivity and economic returns on investments. This was made possible thanks to soil improvement and conservation practices, including crop and pasture rotation, vertical corrective tillage, correction of soil nutrient deficiencies, and sowing improved forages adapted to the region’s soils.

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CIAT contributed to the dissemination of integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) principles by informing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s African Soil Health Initiative (2007). ISFM entails practices adapted to local conditions, including the use of fertilizer, organic inputs, and improved crops.

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Through the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), which CIAT created in 1996, over 450 improved bean varieties have been released across sub-Saharan Africa, and millions of farming households accessed quality seed. PABRA currently works to improve bean production and access in 30 countries.

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Since CIAT created the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR) in 1995, it has evolved into a strong regional organization encompassing 36 public and private sector partners in 17 countries, which influences about 80% of the 27.8 million tons of rice produced in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Since the 1990s, CIAT has promoted the “Learning Alliances” model in Central America and Africa as a way to successfully scale up development impact. Learning Alliances can be understood as a process where researchers and development practitioners combine forces, skills, and funds, and where research outputs are shared, adapted, used, and improved upon to effectively translate research findings into development outcomes.

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Over five decades, CIAT has hosted and collaborated with tens of thousands of visiting researchers from universities, the private sector, other CGIAR Centers, and local organizations.

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CIAT co-established the African Network for Soil Biology and Fertility (AfNet) in 1988 to build the capacity of African institutions to conduct interdisciplinary and integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) research at regional and international levels.

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CIAT mentored current and future leaders in agricultural science such as Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Gerardine Mukeshimana, who worked with then CIAT bean breeder and current Bean Program leader, Steve Beebe, to gain exposure to drought selection techniques.

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CIAT emeritus scientist Rainer Schultze-Kraft received the 2016 Friendship Award from the Chinese government for his long-term work with tropical forage scientists in the country. The award – presented by China’s Vice Premier Ma Kai – is considered the highest accolade that foreign experts working with Chinese institutions can receive.

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The Ethiopia Bean Research Programme led by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) has won the country’s highest scientific award – the Gold medal and Cup – for the impact of its bean research, which has transformed the lives of millions of farmers. Dr. Berhanu Amsalu Fenta, Coordinator of the National Lowland Pulses Research Program, who received the award on behalf of EIAR, is a former PhD student supported by CIAT.