Professor Participates in Plant Breeding Guide International Launch

Professor Hussein Shimelis, Professor of Plant Breeding and South African Sugarcane Research Institute Chair of Crop Science is part of an international Demand-Led Breeding (DLB) team that recently held an online launch of product profiles(PP) as a useful guide for plant breeding practitioners.

The DLB project was created as part of efforts to transform African agriculture in the area of crop improvement, and involved the formation of an Alliance for Food Security in Africa by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the Crawford Fund Australia and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture with African, Australian and international research institutes and universities. It includes participants from Africa and internationally. Key partners in Africa are the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), the International Centre for Tropical AgriculturePan African Bean Research AllianceUniversity of Nairobi, KenyaMakerere University Uganda, and the West Africa Crop Improvement Centre.

Since late 2019, the DLB working group has been developing guidelines for developing and communicating PPs that are applicable for a range of markets, clients, crops, and environments.

Demand-led crop variety design enables plant breeders to create more high performing varieties that are customer focused and adopted by smallholder farmers, to enable farmers to improve their participation in local and regional markets. Developing PPs that identify the priority traits required by various actors along the value chain is an important first step to successfully implement DLB.

During the event to launch Product Profiles – A Practitioners’ Guide, Shimelis, an academic staff member in the ACCI, introduced the publication, explaining that DLB aims to make the business of plant breeding in Africa more responsive to market demand and places emphasis on the value of the breeder and their experience in new variety design and product profiling.

‘A new variety design and core product profiling requires inputs from a broad range of sources, including clients, stakeholders, the value chain and non-technical experts,’ he said.

‘The PP is an innovative and structured approach to capture a new variety profile involving plant breeders, clients, research and development managers and stakeholders. This guide will be widely shared among plant breeders in the DLB project and community of practice that work within national plant breeding programmes in Africa,’ said Shimelis.

He recommended the integration of PP into postgraduate Plant Breeding curricula to teach new variety design and product profiling that follows international best practice.

As part of a pan-African educators group that developed a PP in partnership with private and public sector experts and the DLB education programme, Shimelis previously contributed to the development of training module units that comprise the chapters of a textbook published in 2017 titled: The Business of Plant breeding: Market-Led Approaches to New Variety Design in Africa.

The new guide will support practitioners to complete the PPs of new varieties and enable communication of the profiles to technical and non-technical audiences that include product design teams, research and development managers, crop variety development teams, technology transfer units, seed scaling organisations and value chain representatives, and investors and donors.

The event included presentations on PPs and variety design for preference groups such as women and the youth and examples of the PPs used in developing various new crop varieties in Africa, and explored the next steps for introducing the Practitioners’ Guide to plant breeders in Africa.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied