College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Webinar Series to Strengthen Plant Breeding in Africa

As part of the international Demand-Led Breeding (DLB) project that is using the science of plant breeding to transform small-scale agriculture in Africa, members of the project based at UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) are hosting a series of online dialogues to strengthen plant breeding and to make the case for investing in demand-led plant breeding in southern Africa.

The first webinar, which focused on investing in demand-led plant breeding for plant variety design for emerging markets in Africa, was attended by more than 100 scientists, researchers, students, academics and practitioners working in the research and development community in southern Africa and beyond.

The event boasted a line-up of eminent speakers including representatives from South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and Seed Co Group Ltd in Zimbabwe.

‘We hope that you will gain valuable lessons or evidence to support our research and development initiatives,’ said Professor Hussein Shimelis, Professor of Plant Breeding and South African Sugarcane Research Institute Chair of Crop Science at UKZN and core member of the DLB project.

The DLB’s Pan Africa Co-ordinator, Dr Nasser Yao of the Alliance of Bioversity and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, gave an overview of the DLB project, after which keynote speaker Professor Richard Sikora, Emeritus Professor of the University of Bonn in Germany and Fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, spoke about issues and challenges facing agriculture and food production in southern Africa.

The ARC’s Dr Shadrack Moephuli spoke on research and development in South Africa, highlighting key examples demonstrating the impact of agricultural research and development on food and nutrition security.

‘Trends in agricultural research indicate that new technologies and innovation advancements are a necessity for scientific solutions that drive competitiveness of agriculture and sustainability of food systems,’ said Moephuli. He provided case examples illustrating the impact of crop improvement on food and nutrition security in southern Africa, Africa and internationally.

Dr Ephrame Havazvidi, formerly of Seed Co, detailed opportunities and challenges of breeding for a market-led pan African region by way of lessons from Seed Co’s regional presence, its major breeding stations, growth trajectory, challenges in crop breeding for Africa, the breeder’s equation developed by the group, and its distinctive achievements in crop breeding. He noted that there were considerable opportunities and scope to breed new crop cultivars for Africa.

Mr David Cochrane, a partner at Spoor and Fisher, spoke on patents, trademarks, and copyright affecting plant breeders, highlighting that plant breeders’ rights in Africa vary across countries and regions depending on the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) membership, the need for distinctness, uniformity, stability and newness tests from other UPOV member countries, and time duration from application to grant.

Mr Jean Claude Rubyogo, Director of the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance Programme in Kenya, closed proceedings.

‘It’s good to keep pushing this boundary beyond normal practice, to be innovative and see the industry flourish and benefit millions of people,’ said Rubyogo.

‘We really see the possibility of expanding this to translate to many other benefits; breeding beyond just to have the variety, but breeding for job creation, breeding for economic opportunity and inclusivity, for health and nutrition,’ he said.

Aiming to enable small-scale farmers to better participate in local and regional markets by increasing the availability and adoption of high-performing plant varieties that meet market demands, the DLB project has focused on developing guidelines for improving and communicating versatile product profiles and on training plant breeders on the fundamentals of demand-led crop variety design.

With participants from Africa and beyond, it forms part of an Alliance for Food Security in Africa comprising the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the Crawford Fund Australia and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, supported by African, Australian and international research institutes and universities.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied