The ACCI was a hive of activity last week, with 22 of its graduates back on campus for a workshop on demand-led plant breeding.
The graduates, who obtained their PhDs in plant breeding through the ACCI, came from Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and they attended the workshop from 22-25 January as part of the Demand-led Plant Breeding project that was started in Australia.
In 2014, the Australian International Food Security Research Centre, in collaboration with a range of African and international partners (see below), set up the project to enable African plant breeders to create more high performing varieties that were customer-focussed and adopted by smallholder farmers, so that they could better participate in local and regional markets.
Participants of the workshop came from seven African countries and were all graduates of the ACCI
This is being done by strengthening post-graduate education and by providing professional development for plant breeders in demand-lead variety design. The ACCI is one of the project’s education partners, working in central and southern African countries, and the centre’s deputy director, Professor Hussein Shimelis, taught the seven components of last week’s workshop.
He describes demand-driven plant breeding as involving key stakeholders such as farmers, seed producers, retailers, processors and consumers. “We teach plant breeders that they must consider all the stakeholders in the value chain,” he says.
This is important because “in Africa there are improved varieties released to farmers but only 35% of them are adopted. This is very low compared to Asia, where 60% are adopted, and Latin American, where 80% are adopted.”
Shimelis says there are a variety of reasons for the low adoption rate in Africa. These include that farmers are not always aware that the improved varieties are available or they are not interested in them, and that the seed and/or fertiliser and other production technologies are not available.
“We have to investigate what the reasons are for poor adoption,” he says, “and plant breeders also have to develop improved varieties that are fit-for-purpose in the value chain”.
In February the ACCI will teach the course at UKZN for selected members of the Zimbabwe Plant Breeders Association.
• The project’s partners are: ACCI, WACCI; BecA; PABRA/CIAT; University of Nairobi; RUFORUM/Makarere University; Rwanda’s Agriculture Board and Crop Research Institute; Ghana’s NARs, universities and CG centres; AGRA; CORAF/WECARD; ASARECA; NEPAD; FARA; Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); Australian International Food Security Research Centre (AIFSRC/ACIAR); Crawford Fund (CF); University of Queensland.