School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Participants and ACCI staff at the Demand-Led Plant Breeding Workshop.

Zimbabwean Plant Breeders at UKZN Workshop on Demand-Led Plant Breeding

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) hosted a two-day workshop in Pietermaritzburg on the topic of demand-led plant breeding which attracted more than 20 plant breeders and scientists from the Zimbabwe Plant Breeders Association as well as current postgraduate students.

Zimbabwean participants, who came from universities, seed companies and associations, commercial agriculture and research institutes, among other bodies and organisations, arrived with expectations of learning about developing varieties that would be accepted by farmers, developing collaborations with UKZN and other organisations represented, and picking up important themes for education in plant breeding.

Researchers present had experience in a range of crops including forestry, tobacco, cotton, food crops and appreciated the opportunity to learn from one another.

‘The project goal is to enable African plant breeders to create more high performing varieties that are customer-focused and adopted by smallholder farmers so that they can better participate in their local and regional markets,’ said Professor Hussein Shimelis of the ACCI during his opening address.

This is achieved through educating participants on best practice from public and private sectors in Africa and internationally, strengthening postgraduate training, and ensuring that the business of plant breeding is introduced, and not simply the science,’ said Shimelis.

The training includes variety design so that participants can implement state-of-the-art knowledge, methodologies and tools as well as policy to enable them to provide evidence to support policy development and investments in plant breeding to meet emerging market demands.

More than 21 international partners support the project behind the workshop, 15 of which are African partners in the agricultural sphere. International partners include the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, the Australian International Food Security Research Centrethe Crawford Fund and the University of Queensland.

The workshop introduced concepts of demand-led breeding, and identified ways in which demand-led 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, 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 seven 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.

A group of pan-African educators has developed this training module in partnership with private and public sector experts. The resultant seven training module units are included in a 2017 textbook: The Business of Plant breeding: Market–led Approaches to New Variety Design in Africa, which Shimelis contributed to.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod