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Training to build maize breeding capacity in Africa

March 1, 2013

Thirty-six maize breeders from fifteen African countries participated in a course in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1st to 4th October 2012.

The course attracted participants from national agricultural research institutes, private seed companies, and universities collaborating on the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Initiative, Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) Project, the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) Initiative, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems for the Eastern Province of Zambia (SIMLEZA), and a USAID-funded project on heat stress in maize.

Breeders attending the course were introduced to new germplasm, recent advances in maize breeding for biotic and abiotic stresses, breeding informatics tools (e.g. IMIS-Fieldbook and Integrated Breeding Fieldbook developed by the Generation Challenge Program), approaches to high quality phenotyping, molecular breeding tools, and the use of doubled haploid technologies. They also visited fieldsites at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Kiboko Research Station to interact with CIMMYT breeders and assess breeding nurseries and yield trials.

The participants attended presentations by a private-sector representative - Walter Trevisan from WEMA/Monsanto. He covered the origin of maize and importance of the heterotic pools in maize breeding around the world. “We learn from the partnership that we can work as a team and, most of the time, reach goals ahead of time,” said Trevisan, stating that he is looking forward to the future projects such as WEMA II. “We really enjoy working with CIMMYT and the national agricultural research institutes,” he added.

“Mali has only five seed companies serving the country, thus it is imperative to build the skill base in breeding,” explained Ntji Coulibaly, who is from Mali, on the value of such training opportunities. He observed that CIMMYT “has raised the bar for private institutions to improve and develop better products in the region.” Bhola Verma from ZAMSEED, a private seed company operating in Zambia, concurred - reiterating the importance of training the next generation of breeders to ensure the continent does not lag behind.

Zubeda Mduruma, a Tanzanian breeder from Aminata Quality Seed, was particularly excited about doubled haploid breeding technology: “It is very handy and will shorten our breeding times,” she noted. Doubled haploid technology enables breeders to save time and labour costs associated with conventional breeding - facilitating the release of improved varieties that are more resilient and higher-yielding within a shorter timeto farmers .

Simon Gichuki, KARI Biotechnology Programme coordinator, observed that the key challenges facing African agriculture include diseases, pests, and climate change. “We feel that we can contribute to mitigating these by engaging science,” he said, adding that this would be achieved by ensuring that breeders regularly update their knowledge and skills. He urged the participants to explore and use advanced technological tools, and to train other breeders working with them. Sylvester Oikeh, WEMA project manager at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, urged the participants to embrace mentorship and share their knowledge and skills with young breeders.

Shehu Ado from the Institute for Agricultural Research, Samaru, Nigeria, said the training would benefit his students: “I will encourage my students to apply the IB Fieldook in their work,” he said. Thokozile Ndlela from the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture, expressed her excitement about the developments made in both maize breeding and the IB Fieldbook.

The course facilitators were drawn from CIMMYT, Generation Challenge Program, and Monsanto. The course was coordinated by Cosmos Magorokosho and Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT maize breeders from Zimbabwe and Kenya, respectively.

Adapted from an article posted by Barbora Nemcova on the CIMMYT Blog on 30th October 2012

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