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When a spider helps spot special spuds

AGRICULTURAL

How can public breeding programs focus on the right varieties? That’s a big question across all crops. A recent Foundation workshop zoomed in on potatoes.

‘Diversity’ is a much-used word nowadays. One place where it certainly applies is the potato market: Each of the world’s many potato-producing countries has its own wide diversity of growing conditions, varieties, uses, and preferences – whether by farmers, processors, or consumers.

In many countries, potatoes are an important smallholder crop, both for consumption and income. Our Foundation has had a strong local potato focus for some years now. (See this film for an example from Kenya). One crucial topic for breeders and companies aiming to supply smallholders with the most suitable varieties is Product Advancement: How do scientists know which new varieties to develop? «It’s a highly complicated subject», declares Hervé Thieblemont, who runs our Seeds2B program in Asia. «We’d noticed a lot of interest in training in this area, so we decided to run a workshop.» Capacity-building in the public sector is a pillar of our Foundation’s mission.

The webinar attracted some 30 participants. Most came from the International Potato Center (CIP)  in Peru, Africa, and Asia. «We examined three key topics», Hervé reports: «Segmenting markets, designing Target Product Profiles and visualizing data.» That may sound rather dry, but CIP and the Foundation organizers ensured that it wasn’t. «We went for a very interactive format», says Miriam Gutherz from our Seeds2B team, «and used real-life cases from Kenya and Ethiopia».       

What sort of lessons did the scientists take away? Hervé Thieblemont comments: «One point is that market and product segmentation is different exercises. Segmenting the market starts with consumers and then works back along with the needs of the entire value chain. Excellent market intelligence is absolutely essential!». Designing a good Target Product Profile means pursuing the variety traits that match demand*. «When visualizing all this, workshop participants realized that a ‘spider-chart’ can often be more helpful than bar diagrams», adds Miriam Gutherz.

There was a lot packed into three hours. Among the participants providing feedback was Hannele Lindqvist-Kreuze, CIP’s Head of Genetics, Genomics, and Crop Improvement. «The meeting was very helpful and a lot of fun», she found. «Market segments and product profiles are not easy concepts. But the more contact we have, the more ready we get to apply them.» Hannele now looks forward to involving CIP Product Management as well. Thiago Mendes (CIP Kenya) says “It was a real pleasure to co-lead this workshop and get the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture amazing support. Many thanks for sharing the methodology and the tools, this is extremely useful”. 

Neeraj Sharma from CIP Vietnam sees the workshop as part of CIP efforts to look beyond research, notably in smallholder regions. «As discussed here, price information is useful for breeders and farmers. For their breeding targets, scientists also need to understand how processors use various potatoes. We saw that spider-charts can help breeders understand the worth of a product before pushing it for release. CIP breeders found the whole exercise interesting.”

  • For info on our promotion of Demand-Led Breeding, see the dedicated website