New website serves Africa’s breeders

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To maximize the benefits of R&D for smallholders, breeders need to develop varieties that match market requirements. We work with leading African universities and breeding professionals who train future plant scientists in ‘demand-led’ breeding (DLB). Here’s a look back and a look ahead. (For the new website, see the bottom of this text). 

Our Alliance program* entered a new phase in 2019. Some 400 African breeders formed a DLB Community of Practice. They come from national agricultural systems, African universities and several One CGIAR centres. Their common aim is to develop better varieties that smallholders will adopt because they meet market demands. Some 28 countries and 30 crops are represented in this community. (For contact information, see below).

“African scientists have been developing best practices by integrating the know-how from both the public and private sectors”, says our Foundation’s DLB program manager Viv Anthony. “The aim is to encourage the development of higher-performing varieties that smallholders will adopt because they meet market demands. These varieties will enable African farmers to participate better in local, regional, and sometimes overseas markets.”

Enthusiasm for DLB has spread from individual breeders to research institutions and entire national programs. In May 2019, the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR) held its first staff training expressly designed to build DLB into all its breeding initiatives. Program leaders and senior breeders working on over 20 crops met with DLB education experts from across Africa.

In October in Accra, Ghana, DLB partner Professor Eric Danquah launched the Pan-Africa Plant Breeders Association (APBA). He is the Executive Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) there. In her words of welcome, Viv Anthony encouraged APBA members to “use your collective wisdom and energy to address Africa’s food security challenges”.

In November, four of our African partners addressed the world’s largest conference on tropical agriculture, Tropag19 in Brisbane, Australia. They were Shimelis Hussein (Africa Centre for Crop Improvement, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), Jean-Claude Rubyogo, and Clare Mukankusi (Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT/PABRA, Nairobi, Kenya), and DLB Pan-Africa coordinator Nasser Yao, Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. The experts spoke at the symposium on “Market-led breeding for value-chains: Africa-Australia nexus for Innovation”, chaired by Viv Anthony. Their presentations focused on integrating market-led approaches into postgraduate plant breeding education, the importance of product profiles for bean value chains in East Africa, and Africa’s portfolio of public varieties in development. 

This year, our Australian partners and we are focusing on supporting the Community of Practice. This is led by Nasser Yao**. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, professional development support and training have shifted online. The aim is to share and implement best practices in breeding programs and sharpen members’ variety of design skills. New education materials feature product profile development and the communication of various designs and technical datasheets. “Good communication should increase interest and investment in scaling up new varieties”, comments Viv Anthony.

UPDATE, 27.8.20: The new materials are now available on a dedicated platform built by the Syngenta Foundation.   

* The DLB project is co-financed by our Foundation, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Crawford Fund, through an Alliance partnership for Food Security. It is administered by the University of Queensland.

** To join the DLB community of practice, please contact