IITA Raises Crop Breeders Skills in West Africa

Akanimo Sampson

Akanimo Sampson

In collaboration with CGIAR Excellence in Breeding (EiB), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) delivered two professional workshops titled EiB Breeding Scheme Design Training” and “West Africa Breeding Operations for crop breeders and operations staff from IITA and national agricultural research systems (NARS) in West Africa.

The breeding scheme design training aimed to increase the skill set of plant breeders to design breeding schemes.

It focused on helping crop breeders improve breeding programs, consider farmers’ and consumers’ needs, and position the product towards the target market. The breeding operations workshop facilitated operations teams to develop action plans to improve their stations.

In his welcome address, IITA West Africa Hub Director, Michael Abberton, encouraged the participants to take advantage of the workshops to initiate new avenues for strengthening research and addressing key issues such as the availability of improved varieties to ensure food security in Africa.

Agnes Mbugua, EiB’s Seed Marketing Specialist, explained the importance of market segments in identifying specific market needs and offering solutions to create an impact.

She said that since CGIAR crops are quite diverse due to the different subregions, “a common set of where and how to align the appropriate choices of the market segments should be put into consideration via prioritization.”

EiB’s Breeding Scheme Optimization Lead, Eduardo Covarrubias, highlighted the tools and methods used in breeding scheme design. The methods highlighted include defining the problem, measuring how to make the crossing, evaluation, and selection (CES) decisions, analyzing the problem background and possible solutions, and controlling the CES decision improvements.

Quantitative Geneticists and Simulation Specialists—Christian Werner, Marlee Labroo, and Dorcus Gemenet—covered major areas such as transmitting values to the next generation, the optimal number of parents, crosses, and progeny, recycling strategy, and management of genetic variation.

The training also featured a group discussion on “Applying the breeder’s equation to your program.” The participants took a tour of crop fields, seed processing facilities, and greenhouses.

As Covarrubias recapped the activities carried out during the training, he recommended implementing a check strategy and recording the breeding scheme in specialized software.

For the concurrent breeding operations workshop, EiB’s Breeding Operation Network for Development (BOND) brought together breeding operations staff to improve strategies that accelerate mechanization, technological capacities, and skills levels.

EiB underscored the principles of building a culture of excellence – implementing continuous improvement approaches to ensure operations are focused on improving the lives of farmers.

The workshop covered topics such as moving towards centralized operations, quality management systems in breeding operations, health, safety, security and environment, plotmanship, gender inclusion, irrigation, seed processing, greenhouse management, and addressing capacity development needs.

With the paradigm shift in operations and breeding taking place under One CGIAR, the workshops considered all components, including the activities and challenges of previous organizations and learnings from their perspectives. EiB aims to give the field workers a sense of involvement in the future.

The EiB platform provides system-level coordination of breeding programs, a space for information sharing, collaborative learning, and access to tools and services for partners, including CGIAR research centers, NARS, and the private sector.

Head of IITA’s Farm Management, Alick Mulenga, gave an overview of the workshop and focused on operational excellence and support for breeders. The training also highlighted the technical work in the field, challenges faced in implementing trials for the breeders, and possible improvements.

“One of the things we are trying to do in IITA is centralizing the breeding operations. For instance, we have identified some gaps in terms of planning. We should be proactive and start our planning ahead of time to give ourselves enough time before the onset of the season,” Mulenga said.

IITA Abuja Farm Supervisor Gabriel Adedayo, who participated in the workshop, said the training exposed him to new perspectives, widening his view and understanding.

The workshop participants and speakers came from CGIAR centers, NARS programs, and CGIAR Excellence in Breeding. The workshop series is continuing with events planned for East and Southern Africa and Latin America.

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