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Improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers
Dr. Jean-François Rami
Sorghum marker-assisted recurrent selection
Dr. Rami works as a molecular geneticist at CIRAD and is the product delivery coordinator for the Generation Challenge Program (GCP) on improving sorghum productivity in semi-arid environments of Mali through integrated marker-assisted recurrent selection (MARS).
His main research focus is marker-assisted plant breeding on sorghum and peanut. He is also currently involved with another GCP project on enhancing sorghum grain yield and quality for the Sudano-Sahelian zone of West Africa. He has previously worked at CIRAD’s base in Senegal and as a molecular breeder at a European seed company. Dr. Rami received his doctorate in Genetics and Plant Breeding from the University of Paris XI.
How would you briefly explain the Sorghum MARS project with Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA)?
The project is part of the Generation Challenge Program. It includes three partners – CIRAD, IER (Institut d’Economie Rurale - national agricultural research institute in Mali), and Syngenta Seeds in Toulouse, France. It is a sorghum breeding project working closely with IER’s breeding program, with CIRAD coordinating and producing the molecular data. Syngenta Seeds has an advisory role on the marker-assisted recurrent selection (MARS) methodology. MARS identifies regions of the genome that control important traits. It uses molecular markers to explore more combinations in the plant populations, and thus increases breeding efficiency.
How did the project get started?
The idea came in a discussion with Syngenta employees. They wanted to see if the methodology they had developed in their corn breeding program could also help with another crop in a developing country. Syngenta does not directly participate in the research, but company scientists participate in meetings and give advice based on their experience.
What is the current status of the project?
We are still in the discovery stage, and next year we will start the building phase. We have identified parental varieties with good and complementary characteristics, and from there generated populations for evaluation. When we have identified the genome regions on which to focus, we will cross the progenies and monitor the resulting new varieties. The improved varieties will subsequently go to plant breeders in Mali’s national research program, which will later release varieties to farmers.
What particular private sector strengths are necessary? Why is it not possible with only public resources?
The main benefit of working with private sector researchers on this project is to build on their experiences. The public sector knows plenty about the theory of molecular breeding, but the private sector has more practical experience of implementing these methodologies in a breeding program.