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CIAT in Africa

CIAT works with more than 400 partners across 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to improve food security, nutrition and incomes of millions of smallholder farmers.

Through collaborative agricultural research, we help farmers identify solutions that are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable, and to harness opportunities for investment.

All of CIAT’s research in Africa is aligned with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which has been endorsed by the African Union. The Center’s Africa work also contributes importantly to CGIAR Research Programs, which address the major agricultural challenges of our time.


Collaborative research begun in the mid-1980s has brought about a remarkable transformation in the production of bean, a vital food legume, generating large development impact.

National research organizations have released more than 650 high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties with the support of CIAT since 1980, some of which have been nutritionally enriched through a breeding approach called biofortification. In addition to bolstering food and nutrition security, improved beans enhance soil fertility while generating significant income because of their strong market appeal.

Researchers have also devised a wide array of improved practices for better managing the crop and its many pests and diseases.

The development and wide dissemination of new bean technologies, for example, are orchestrated by the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), which CIAT coordinates.

Soils and landscapes

Land degradation affects 67% of Africa’s agricultural land. Overall, farmers lose 8 million tons of nutrients each year, estimated to be worth US$4 billion.

Reversing soil degradation and halting the steady decline of soil fertility in Africa are central prerequisites for reducing hunger through sustainable intensification of agriculture and for coping with the impact of climate change on crops and livestock.

CIAT’s research on soils in the region has grown from a 2001 alliance involving the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility (TSBF) Institute. Working at the interface between agriculture and ecology, TSBF has gained recognition for its innovative strategic research, dealing mainly with integrated soil fertility management and sustainable land management.

Building on this strong foundation, CIAT soil scientists are beginning to concentrate on large-scale application of new knowledge to key tasks, such as closing crop yield gaps, intensifying tropical forage production, restoring degraded agricultural landscapes, and fostering climate change adaptation.

Big data

The recent worldwide diffusion of new technologies, combined big data and analytics, is providing the opportunity for developing countries to leapfrog intermediate development phases to provide farmers with greater access to timely, cost effective, and personally-relevant information.

This information can range from best practices to markets prices, inputs to weather information and news of impending disasters.

Scientists envision routinely using advanced analyses of commercial data in their research, and promote the “revolution in data-driven agronomy”. That includes breeders gathering feedback on the real-world performance of their varieties; agricultural support organizations helping farmers make informed decisions and become resilient to weather changes.

Researchers have already applied big data analytics to agricultural and weather records in Colombia, revealing how climate variation impacts rice yields. These applications can be scaled out.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and CIAT believe in the potential of big data, and have proposed the launch of a global platform to support and improve data production, access, and management within the CGIAR System.

Tropical forages

In recent years, CIAT has laid the groundwork for a major initiative that will enable African smallholders to benefit more from rapidly rising demand for milk and meat. Drawing on the Center’s extensive collection of tropical forages and its global expertise, researchers are introducing superior forage germplasm to provide new sources of animal feed for the region’s important crop-livestock systems.

Focusing currently on milk cows and monogastric animals in eastern and central Africa, CIAT will expand this work to include other livestock value chains, such as fattening of small ruminants and cattle for meat production. Extensive research has demonstrated the high potential of forages for enhancing livestock nutrition and raising farm incomes, while also delivering environmental benefits, such as increased soil organic matter.

Read more on tropical forages research

Climate change

Climate change threatens the production of staple food and cash crops in Africa, where agriculture contributes nearly two-thirds of all employment, and food insecurity rates are already the highest in the world. A recent study shows that up to 30% of areas growing maize and bananas, and up to 60% of those producing beans are projected to become unviable by the end of the century. CIAT has undertaken a major effort to develop and implement novel methods for generating information that can guide policies and decisions related to climate change adaptation in tropical agriculture. CIAT works with local partners to identify, prioritize, and test climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies, and understand the conditions to accelerate their adoption at large scale. This work is conducted in support of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which CIAT leads.

Research updates

Africa | CIAT Blog Science to Cultivate Change


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