By Jimoh Babatunde with agency reports
Nigerian farmers and others from six African countries like  Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania will benefit from the second phase of the Commercial Products (COMPRO-II) project.

The COMPRO-II project is a US$7m grant from the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to institutionalize quality assurance mechanisms and facilitate the rapid dissemination of top quality agricultural commercial products to increase yields and improve the food security of smallholder farmers in the region.

Dr. Bernard Vanlauwe, Director for Natural Resource Management and Central Africa with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, who disclosed this  recently, said that the  COMPRO-II project will be officially launched on 16 and 17 May 2007 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

IITA will lead the project, and will work with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – Soil Health Program (AGRA), Farm Input Promotions (FIPS), the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Research Area of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT), the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI), and universities, national research organizations, extension organizations, and quality control entities in the different target countries.

“The plan is to raise awareness among over two million smallholder farmers on effective and profitable commercial products by 2016 through public-private partnership,” according to Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General on April 20.

Of these households, 420,000 will have tested at least one effective commercial product and at least 50 percent of these will have adopted the technology and achieve a 15-30 percent yield increase with substantial impacts on food security and income.

“The key expected outcome of the project is the institutionalization of screening and approval of commercial products,” says Prem Warrior, Senior Program Officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the last decade, sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed economic growth amid population increases and rising demand for food. Consequently, investments in soil fertility have become indispensable to increase agricultural productivity, and access to agricultural inputs is required to achieve this goal.

But more than having access to inputs, quality assurance of agricultural inputs is of utmost importance to protect farmers, retailers, wholesalers, and importers, and to minimize health and environmental hazards.

For instance, new biofertilizers, biopesticides, and chemical agro-inputs have been commercialized, but these products are often insufficiently evaluated for quality and efficacy due to weak national and regional regulatory systems, says Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA’s Director for Natural Resource Management and Central Africa.

In the past three years, scientists working under the first phase of the Commercial Products project, also known as COMPRO I, have identified three effective commercial products out of the over 100 products evaluated that enhance yields by 15-30 percent. These products include Rhizobium inoculants for legumes, mycorrhizal inoculants for bananas, and seed coating of for maize.

“COMPRO-II will leverage on the gains earlier made in phase one, which covered Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria,” says Vanlauwe.

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