Roots, Tubers and Bananas Newsletter - November 2014
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Getting ready for RTB 2.0

Dear colleagues and partners,

A highlight of these past few months was the Annual Review and Planning Meeting that took place in Entebbe, Uganda from 31 Sep–3 Oct. The week-long gathering resulted in a new program structure around flagship projects to guide our research, which I believe will allow us to enter RTB 2.0 on a new foot. More importantly, the way we moved on to this new design clearly demonstrated that we are capable of adapting and agreeing quickly in a changing context. We should all give ourselves a big pat on the back for that.

I am also glad we are consolidating fruitful upstream partnerships. My visits to several renowned institutions – Cornell University, the Generation Challenge Programme (GCP), the UK Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) – showed me that we can count on strong and motivated partners to succeed in implementing our program and getting results. We were also very pleased to welcome NARO, other national partners and ASARECA to our Annual Review in Entebbe.

I wish all of RTB’s friends and partners a productive end of the year.

Best regards,

Graham Thiele, RTB Director

Feedback and suggestions always welcome at



Stepping up collaboration with Cornell University
The ongoing cooperation with Cornell University is taking a multifaceted and promising shape:

  • An alliance with the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) will allow for the creation of a shared database and bioinformatics platform to help breeders develop improved root, tuber and banana crops. RTB Director Graham Thiele met with BTI project leader Lukas Mueller in September.
  • Gender considerations must inform next generation breeding for it to have the desired impact. Graham Thiele gave a presentation on gender implications for breeding at Cornell in October. Watch the seminar.
  • Cornell, among other U.S. universities, is part of a new initiative that aims to link faculty and students with RTB research projects to conduct gender analysis, facilitate interdisciplinary exchange, and strengthen partnerships to address the challenges of integrating gender into agricultural research.

ISHS-ProMusa symposium held in Brisbane
With support from RTB, ProMusa organized a symposium on “Unravelling the Banana's Genomic Potential” as part of the International Society for Horticulture Science’s (ISHS) 29th International Horticulture Congress (IHC 2014) held in Brisbane, Australia in October. More than 100 scientists participated in the symposium, which was organized under five themes: diversity and conservation; host reaction to stress; crop improvement for host reaction and quality; new cultivars; and integrated crop management and value chains, with a special focus on challenges posed by banana streak viruses and Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (Foc TR4). Delegates also visited the banana research laboratories at the Queensland University of Technology and banana evaluation trials in New South Wales.

More on the symposium

Panama disease: Collaboration is key to prevent the spreading
There is considerable concern about the new strain of banana fusarium wilt (also called “Panama disease”) known as Foc TR4, which appeared in Africa for the first time last year. We interviewed Altus Viljoen, who is leading efforts to fight the propagation of the disease from his office at RTB’s partner institution Stellenbosch University, in South Africa.
The Banana Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (BARNESA) convened an Extraordinary Meeting on Foc TR4 in Africa, from 26-29 October 2014 in Entebbe, Uganda, as a response to reports of further spread. The meeting’s outputs include:

  • Countries zoned and prioritized – 4 risk levels – with those around Mozambique (Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and S. Africa) considered the highest risk.
  • Identification of most probable routes and means of entry into currently free but threatened countries, and recommendation that PPOs in countries be given training in field recognition tools and linked to PCR lab capacity for effective actions.
  • Identification and prioritization of intervention measures:
    o Short term – Massive awareness raising; deployment of diagnostics; capacity strengthening for surveillance and control in countries most threatened, linked to mapping programs; enhanced engagement of policy and legislation bodies to increase investment in TR4 control; heightened preparedness for preventing Foc TR4 entry.
    o Medium to long term – Germplasm evaluation; breeding higher yielding and more resistant banana varieties; developing a sustainable Fusarium Wilt management system in smallholder systems
  • Impact pathways were developed for priority intervention measures, linked to SMART indicators for activity and development outcomes
  • A BARNESA statement urging key partners to join the campaign was developed, highlighting BARNESA’s recommendations for the next course of action and urging AU, SADC and South Africa to engage with Mozambique, underscoring risks for the region, especially banana-dependent East and Central African countries. Statement is linked to identifying BARNESA Champion(s) against TR4 in ESA with two nominations – President Chissano of Mozambique and/or President Museveni of Uganda
  • The meeting agreed on a tentative budget of US$2.5 million over two years.

Integrated breeding platform (IBP) holds promise for RTB communities

Graham Thiele and CIP's Reinhard Simon participated in the Generation Challenge Program (GCP) General Research Meeting in Rayong, Thailand from 7-10 October. One important lesson he took from GCP is the attention paid to product definition and delivery, something he hopes to see applied in RTB. “The integrated breeding platform (IBP) as a cross-crop and center platform with many NARS users is a real asset for CGIAR”, he commented. “I hope we can fully embrace it across our breeding work with different crops in RTB, although more testing is still needed. It should be possible to link the IBP with Cassavabase which is another platform RTB supports for genomic selection”, he added. For GCP Director Jean-Marcel Ribaut, “it was enlightening to hear Graham’s impressions and thoughts as an outside observer, especially the feedback he gave on the GCP’s impact on community building with a focus on delivering products, and how that might also be applicable to RTB. This event was a great opportunity to consolidate solid foundations for the integrated breeding platform (IBP) to serve the RTB communities. Now that the IBP is entering its second phase, I trust that we will be able to build on our respective partner bases to strengthen our reach and influence for change, towards better crop data management and access to modern breeding technologies.”


Going to scale with Banana Xanthomonas Wilt management in Uganda and DR Congo

As part of the results-based management (RBM) initiative within RTB, Bioversity International is piloting an RBM approach in the RTB Flagship BA1: Regional Approach to Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) Containment and Control.  To this end, 37 delegates representing 22 different organizations attended a two-day, bilingual stakeholder workshop entitled, Going to Scale with Banana Xanthomonas Wilt Management in Uganda and DR Congo held in Kampala, Uganda in September. International organizations, governments, NGOs and the private sector were represented, along with researchers, farmers and other stakeholders. Various research products arising from the BXW work were considered: appropriate refinement and scaling models; best practices for producing disease-free planting material, and diagnostic tools for BXW detection and surveillance. The workshop identified the next users for these products, and considered what the resulting development outcomes would and should be. The workshop report (in press) will be available soon. Next steps include: refining the impact pathway; attracting funding; developing an M&E facility and information platform, hosting follow-up workshops before year-end, and constructing a baseline for disease incidence and related socio-economic factors in DR Congo.


Results-based management to accelerate genetic gains with Next Generation Breeding
Around 20 scientists met in CIAT headquarters in Cali, Colombia on 22-24 October to develop a results-based management (RBM) system to assess next generation breeding towards realizing impacts on productivity, food security, nutrition and income generation along the value chain for root, tuber and banana crops. CGIAR researchers and external partners exchanged views and agreed on RBM principles and framework for variety development, including next generation technologies. They also identified key metrics of genetic gain and intermediate progress and their associated indicators identified for RTB crops.


Looking into science solutions at FERA
UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and RTB share several areas of interest, as Graham Thiele found out in a visit to FERA in York last July.

Read more

RTBMaps reaps new recognition as innovative tool promoting open data
RTBmaps, the interactive online mapping tool that already received an ESRI award in 2013, was highlighted among other innovative online tools by ComputerWorld.

Read more



First Global Conference on YamConceptual Framework and Seed Degeneration Workshop: RTB scientists will meet in Wageningen, Netherlands, from 8-12 December to work on the Project “Developing tools for describing, quantifying and managing diseases causing degeneration of planting material in RTB and accelerating learning and tackling bottlenecks through a conceptual framework for RTB seed systems”.

More on this page


First Global Conference on YamThe Banana Asia Pacific Network (BAPNET) Biennial Steering Committee meeting will be held back-to-back with the regional BAPNET International Banana symposium 17-22 November in Davao, the Philippines. It will be opened by the Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD). The BAPNET meeting will review BAPNET’s structure and objectives and provide an update on outputs/outcomes of BAPNET’s R&D collaboration. The main focus will be on managing TR4 in Africa, on MusaNet’s global conservation and use strategy, and on the current threats from bananas pests and diseases. There will be field visits to nearby banana farms.

The symposium links public and private sector banana organizations and is supported by Bioversity, the Pilipino Banana Growers & Exporters Association (PBGEA); Mindanao Banana Farmers & Exporters Association (MBFEA); Davao City Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Inc.; and the Philippines Department of Agriculture; with the mayor of Davao City as chief guest of honor.

We hope you enjoy this edition of the RTB eNewsletter. Let us know what you think at

CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas - 2014

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