A two-day workshop hosted in Pietermaritzburg by the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) on the topic of demand-led plant breeding attracted ACCI alumni from across Africa as well as current postgraduate students.
The project the workshop is part of is supported by more than 15 African partners including universities, research institutes and agriculture boards. International partners include the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, the Australian International Food Security Research Centre, the Crawford Fund and the University of Queensland.
The larger project of demand-led crop variety design for emerging markets in Africa is intended to enable African plant breeders to create more high performing varieties that are customer focused and adopted by smallholder farmers, so farmers can better participate in their local and regional markets.
The specific objectives of the workshop were to introduce the concepts of demand-led breeding, and identify ways in which such breeding approaches can be implemented within on-going crop-improvement programmes. Another key objective was to discuss how to establish partnerships among plant breeders, farmers, the agri-industry, government regulatory bodies and policy entities, and other important stakeholders and value chain participants within crop value chains in Africa.
During the workshop, presentations and discussion took place around several training module units, including principles of demand-led plant variety design, setting breeding goals, understanding clients’ needs, new variety design and product profiling, variety development strategy and stage plans, monitoring, evaluation and learning, and making the business case for investment in new variety development.
Overarching objectives of meeting demand in plant breeding include the enhancement of education that will strengthen postgraduate and professional development on demand-led variety design, using best practices from public and private sectors in Africa and internationally.
A group of pan-African educators have developed this training module in partnership with private and public sector experts. The education module development began with an African educators’ workshop in Nairobi in 2014 where the education programme design began and the first beta test of the training module with breeders started in October 2015.
The resultant seven training module units, discussed at the ACCI workshop, are included in a textbook published in 2017 titled: The Business of Plant breeding: Market-Led Approaches to New Variety Design in Africa, edited by Dr Gabrielle J. Persley and Dr Vivienne M. Anthony. The ACCI’s Professor Hussein Shimelis contributed Chapter 4 of the book: New Variety Design and Product Profiling.
Demand-led crop variety design for emerging markets in Africa also requires enabling breeders to have access to and the ability to implement state-of-the art knowledge, methodologies and tools to develop more high performing varieties that meet customer requirements and market demand. Education and plant variety design then feed into policy by providing evidence to support policy development and investments in plant breeding to meet emerging market demands.
The ACCI is also hosting the training workshop for selected members of the Zimbabwe Plant Breeders Association from 19 to 22 February.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Alistair Nixon