PRESS RELEASE: Root and tuber crops key in building resilience in food system

[Nairobi, November 21, 2022]:  Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have not yet fully exploited the potential of Root and Tuber crops in their contribution to people diets, livelihoods, and economies. The production of main root crops such as cassava, sweet potato, coco yam, and yams remains below potential, and the status therefore presents a challenge to policymakers, researchers, and other value chain actors to strengthen the roots and tubers value chains to increase their competitiveness in our agri-food systems. This was revealed during the 19th International Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya between 21st – 25th November 2022.

Agriculture Research Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development in Kenya, Dr. Oscar Magenya, said that in the country, market demand for the roots and tubers is expected to continue growing, driven partly by rapid urbanization, and changing dietary habits of the growing town populations. “Many urban consumers are returning to traditional foods like sweet potato and arrowroot recognizing their good nutritional properties,” he said

Speaking during the 19th ISTRC, Dr. Magenya added that Roots and Tubers have made a steady transition from the perception as a low-income food option for a few decades ago to becoming part of the mainstream dietary choices. He noted the critical role that roots, and tubers are playing in the context of climate change.

Experts say root crops as a sub-sector in agriculture and food systems have, for a long time, received inadequate policy attention thus limiting their potential contribution to food and nutrition security of millions of households. This has also delayed the benefits that can be realized from the climate resilience potential of some of the value chains in this sub-sector.

According to Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Director, AATF, root and tuber crops are the most important commodities for food and nutritional security and income generation particularly among smallholder farmers.

Furthermore, as resilient crops, Dr. Kanangire observed that they can assist farmers in adapting to climate fluctuations noting that “this is the opportunity for the global community to look for technological and corporate solutions to boost root tuber crops for resilient foods, nutrition and industrial systems that will lead to long-term economic development.”

Although Africa has vast agricultural land, crop productivity in the continent has been low compared to other continents. Therefore, to improve crop production, Dr. Kanangire urged that there is need to have technologies that can increase productivity, protect crops from diseases and pests and climate fluctuations, adding that this will only be possible if farmers have access to technology and knowledge on smart agriculture

The ISTRC President Prof. Lateef Sanni, said the threats to food system, which have made it difficult for innovations to reach farmers’ hands and the shocks brought about by the Ukraine-Russia war have brought to the front burner the importance and significance of root and tuber crops.

“Empirical data shows that root and tuber crops are the most important commodities for food security nutrition and income generation, particularly among small holder farmers. As resilient crops, roots and tubers might assist farmers in adapting to climate change and fluctuation.

Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Director General, Dr. Eliud Kireger, said that roots and tuber crops are sources of income for our farmers and are climate resilient and above all, they provide carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and raw materials for industrial food processing and blending.

In a speech read on his behalf by KALRO Director Crops Research Systems, Dr. Lusike Wasilwa said that KALRO in collaboration with partners have developed and released over 19 varieties of cassava including KMEs, Tajirika, Karembo, and Karibuni, over 50 potato varieties namely Unica, Shangi, Sherekea and Asante and over 24 varieties of sweet potatoes including Kenspots, SPKs, Kemb10, Mugande, Vitaa and Kabonde.

Other speakers during this session included Miriam Cherogony, Self Help Africa, Country Director, Kenya; Dr Paul Demo, International Potato Center (CIP) Director for Africa who represented Dr Claudia Sadoff, One CGIAR-Executive-Managing Director; Dr. Susan Kaaria, Director, AWARD; Dr. Richardson Okechukwu, President, ISTRC-Africa Branch; and Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director, Programme Development & Commercialization, AATF, and First Vice President of 19th ISTRC

The symposium was held in Africa for the first time under the theme “Technological and business innovations for strengthening root and tuber crops for resilient food, nutrition and industrial systems towards sustainable economic development” It was organized by the AATF, the ISTRC. It provided an opportunity for scientists from around the world to showcase the latest technologies, products, and services and to create new ideas and partnerships for various stakeholders.


About AATF (

Founded in 2003 to address Africa’s food security prospects through agricultural technology, AATF believes that the agricultural sector is a key foundational pillar as Africa consolidates its economic growth and carves out its new position as a major global economic powerhouse and the next growth market in the world. It was formed in response to the need for an effective mechanism that would facilitate and support negotiation for technology access and delivery and formation of appropriate partnerships to manage the development & deployment of innovative technologies for use by smallholder farmers in SSA:

For more information contact:

George Achia, Communications Officer, East and Southern Africa, AATF; ; +254 785 334163

Addressing Gender Inequalities in Agricultural Sector

Addressing the importance of women leadership and participation in research, Dr. Susan Kaaria, Director, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) noted that although women contribute substantially to agriculture production compared to men, they face numerous obstacles and constraints such as lack of access to training, machinery, and new technology.

She noted that women are disproportionately affected by pandemics and crises with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2022 report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition, revealing that the gender gap in food insecurity widened substantially under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, to achieve a resilient food and nutrition system to a sustainable economic development, Dr. Kaaria said that there is need to address gender inequalities in all dimensions, noting that this can be attained through increasing women’s access to technology and business innovations and addressing the barriers women face in the root and tuber value chain.

Multidimensional interventions are key in addressing rural gender inequalities including addressing the root causes of gender inequalities such as discriminatory gender norms, behaviors, and attributes that continue to perpetuate inequalities policies, gender-responsive research institutions, and integrating women into the research designs, implementation as well as strengthen women leadership capacities making sure that the institutional mechanisms for recruiting and retaining women in the staffing sector, she said.

According to her, women representation in many institutions are as low as 24 per cent while women leadership in most institutions stands at only about seven percent due to many workplace and cultural challenges limiting their ability to progress within their careers. Therefore, to attain food security goals, she urges that there is need to leverage all the players including women.

Further, Dr. Kaaria observed that it is important to use scientific evidence to inform policy decisions thus, it is critical to mentor and ensure that younger women scientists are mentored by experienced women and men scientists to increase their visibility and access to networking services.

“We need agricultural policies that can help to close the gender gap in agriculture and rural labor markets, generate gains in agricultural productivity, increase food security, and foster economic growth”, she added.

Root tubers tackling impacts COVID-19, Russia Ukraine war and climate change

With the fervent impacts of war crisis, climate change, and COVID-19 net importers of cereal crops were largely impacted, but Roots and Tuber crops built resilience-saving the day as most households depending on crops had something to eat, experts say.

Experts said this during the 19th International Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) themed Technological and business innovations for strengthening root and tuber crops for resilient food, nutrition and industrial systems towards sustainable economic development” in Nairobi Kenya. The meeting was co-hosted by AATF, and the Government of Kenya, with partnership support from three One-CGIAR centers including CIP, IITA and CIAT; and Self Help Africa.

According to Prof Lateef Sanni, the ISTRC president, the world is under crisis as food system has consistently been threatened because of climate change, pests and diseases, low productivity, and a weak extension system in the global south which has made it difficult for innovations to reach farmers’ hands.

Further, he noted that the Russia -Ukraine war is undermining the supply of cereals, particularly wheat, and mounting pressure on root and tuber crops. These shocks have brought to the front burner the importance and significance of root and tuber crops particularly in building resilience in our food system, Sanni adds.

‘‘We have empirical data that root and tuber crops are the most are important commodities for food security, nutrition, and income generation, particularly among smallholder farmers’’ Sanni says.

Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Director, AATF, noted that root crops have gained further attention for their potential to act as a buffer against the ravages of climate change on the food and nutrition security needs of many households, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Kanangire further advises policymakers who are grappling with the challenge of climate variability on food systems to work with scientists to help them strengthen the climate resilience of food systems through innovative and scaled-up investments in the root crops sector.

According to Dr. Jan Low, the Principal Scientist at CIP, as the world gets hotter and the climate more unpredictable, there is a need for enhanced investment for more productive, nutritious roots and tuber crops as part of the solution.

Dr. Paul Demo, CIP Director for Africa agrees with experts observing that the scientific community working on Roots and Tuber crops contribution to building food resilience surfaced when the global food systems were being threatened by unique challenges such as Russia-Ukraine war which undermined food security adding that the significance of roots, tuber and banana crops cannot be over emphasized in contribution to food security.

‘‘Rood and rooter crops are the most important crops to tackle hunger and nutrition needs of our people while contributing to bulling economies’’ Demo said.

But scientists agreed that without progressive research, development and intentional funding for roots and tuber crops, gains made will be eroded by unique challenges that the sector faces.