The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has unveiled a pioneering initiative poised to shake up agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The “Making effective bio-inputs work for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa” (BioSSA) project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to empower smallholder farmers through the deployment of innovative bio-inputs, leveraging the potential of beneficial microbes.
Bernard Vanlauwe, deputy director general: research for development at IITA, emphasised the project’s significance, stating, “BioSSA represents a critical step towards empowering African smallholder farmers with innovative tools to enhance their productivity and resilience in the face of climate change.
“By harnessing the power of bio-inputs, we can unlock the potential of African agriculture, empower millions of farmers, boost food production, and build a more resilient future for the continent.”
Harnessing microbial power
The project’s initial phase will involve collecting evidence to assess the effectiveness of candidate microbial strains. Subsequent stages will focus on identifying deployment pathways, culminating in the development of innovative bio-input products specifically tailored for two critical crop categories: grain legumes (soybean, cowpea, and Phaseolus bean) and roots, tubers, and bananas (cassava, yam, and banana/plantain).
These crops are fundamental to food security and income generation for millions of smallholder farmers across Africa. BioSSA leverages the extensive expertise and established breeding programs at IITA for these crops, providing a solid foundation for success in agricultural transformation.
Smallholder farmers in Africa face numerous challenges, including degraded land, unpredictable weather patterns, and resource constraints.
Low-input agriculture, marked by limited fertiliser use and poor yields, is exacerbated by widespread nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) deficiencies. BioSSA aims to address these challenges by harnessing the potential of bio-inputs – microbial-based products that improve soil health, increase nutrient availability, enhance crop yields, and boost farmer incomes.
In response to concerns about the cost and environmental impact of traditional fertilisers, BioSSA focuses on microbial inoculants as a promising alternative. Adopting a stage-gated approach, the project will validate microbial strains in sub-Saharan African conditions, followed by product development and exploring effective deployment pathways.
Key outcomes of BioSSA include identifying and validating microbial strains, understanding bio-input science, developing user-friendly and affordable products, and building partnerships and capacity. The project seeks to create a sustainable bio-input ecosystem in Africa, prioritising the needs of smallholder farmers and driving positive transformation in agricultural practices.
“Investing in bio-inputs holds immense potential to improve food security and livelihoods for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa. BioSSA’s focus on evidence-based development and farmer-centric solutions aligns perfectly with our commitment to driving sustainable agricultural transformation,” concluded Bernard Vanlauwe.
Facilitated by IITA through a dynamic public-private partnership, the project includes esteemed partners such as Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (US), Aphea.Bio (Belgium), Azotic Technologies (Canada), Embrapa (Brazil), Groundwork BioAg (Israel), Switch Bioworks (US), and UCLouvain (Belgium). BioSSA is positioned to accelerate progress and bring positive impacts to smallholder farmers across Africa.
IITA is one of the 12 international agricultural research centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium. Established in 1967 in Ibadan, Nigeria, IITA’s mission is to assure food security for some of the world’s poorest people and provide them with viable strategies for economic development and community stability while building an ecologically sound future that takes into account the issues of climate change.