Breeding programs for the developing world urgently need to get better-performing crop varieties into farmers’ fields to help them cope with 21st-century challenges. These challenges include 50–60% greater demand for food in the face of climate change, natural resource constraints, and diet-related and food safety issues. Climate change alone will reduce crop productivity by about 5% for every degree of warming above historical levels. This requires breeders to speed up current efforts to substantially increase the resilience and nutritional value of modern varieties.
But the pace of technological modernization in breeding programs for the developing world is inadequate. Farmers still grow obsolete varieties, in part because they derive inadequate benefits from recent breeding efforts. Breeding programs need to better address market demands. And breeding progress needs to be greater and more rigorously verified by farmers and consumers.
This Initiative aims to develop better-performing, farmer-preferred crop varieties for crop-region combinations, prioritized for their potential to increase incomes and reduce hunger in poverty-affected countries.
It seeks to achieve, by 2030, improvements of at least 1.5% annual genetic gain (increase in the performance of priority crop characteristics on-farm), and in adoption that results in a reduction in the average age of the varieties in farmers’ fields to less than 15 years.
This will be achieved through:
- Climate-smart varieties that address value chain demands: restructuring and reorienting breeding programs to develop varieties that demonstrate greater benefits (i) under farmers’ actual and future growing conditions, (ii) for processors and consumers, and (iii) for women and marginalized groups.
- Professionalizing breeding to systematically implement best-practice breeding and trialing approaches across breeding pipelines; replace multiple in-house solutions with high-quality shared services; and initiate changes towards a single multi-crop breeding organization.
- Partnerships that deliver: recasting breeding networks and promoting co-creation that empowers national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) and local private sector, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with the purpose of establishing ownership, enhancing effectiveness, and driving variety adoption on farms.
Proposed 3-year outcomes include:
- Use of product profiles (blueprints for the varieties breeders aim to develop) that are informed by updated insights from social science and inputs from NARES, farmers, and consumers generates varieties aligned with drivers of adoption and stakeholders’ requirements. Investment cases linked to breeding pipelines give decision-makers greater confidence to allocate resources in line with development goals.
- Structuring and stage-gating breeding pipelines enable a culture of continuous improvement, learning, and innovation, in which specialized yet integrated teams identify, fine-tune, and streamline cutting-edge approaches. Beyond creating a modern, more efficient and responsive breeding engine, this approach more effectively attracts and develops talent and external partnerships.
- Local partners are motivated to engage in CGIAR-NARES-SME networks and are more successful in ensuring that there is a continuous flow of high-performing varieties, adapted to local needs, moving towards commercialization or other forms of dissemination. Capacity development is an integral component, improving networks’ and partners’ performance.
- Coupling elite breeding population improvement with access to valuable genetic diversity for current and emerging needs increases rates of genetic gain (improvements in varietal performance) and enables a fast response to new threats and new insights.
- Rates of genetic gain increase due to greater trial data accuracy, selection precision, and throughput. Expanding on-farm trialing and systematizing gender-disaggregated user feedback enables more accurate identification of desirable varieties. Operations are more efficient, better managed, and safer.
|NUTRITION, HEALTH & FOOD SECURITY
Increased genetic gains (improved varietal performance) and variety replacement increase the quantity of food, lowering food prices and enabling poor consumers to diversify their diets. Varieties biofortified with elevated zinc, iron, and vitamin A content address the higher need of adolescent girls and women for micronutrients.
|POVERTY REDUCTION, LIVELIHOODS & JOBS
Farmer- and market-oriented value chain planning results in varieties better suited to local growing conditions, anticipated climate changes, processing, and sale at local and urban markets. Farmers adopting new varieties have increased food security and income, and local jobs are created along the value chain. More nutritious food improves health and livelihoods.
|GENDER EQUALITY, YOUTH & SOCIAL INCLUSION
Researchers better understand how product profile (target variety description) choices can empower women, youth and socially marginalized people. On-farm trialing uses gender-sensitive indicators and insights to adjust product profiles. Capacity development, choice of collaborators, and staff follow gender equity targets.
|CLIMATE ADAPTATION & MITIGATION
Variety development and trait discovery target adaptation to forecasted climate change impacts—such as drought, heat, flooding, diseases, and pests—for specific crop-region combinations. Research informs locally desirable coping strategies in response to climate change.
|ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH & BIODIVERSITY
Breeding-driven production gains reduce pressure for deforestation to increase farmland, allowing more land to remain in its natural state. Traits supporting sustainable farming are weighted and targeted by selection.
Header photo: A durum wheat field landscape at CIMMYT’s Toluca Station. Photo by A. Cortes/CIMMYT.