Accelerated Breeding


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.To trigger timely adoption, new varieties must offer a step-change in performance. This can only be achieved through higher rates of genetic gain than are currently being achieved, requiring new breeding methods and approaches.

Breeding programs also need a greater focus on the development of farmer- and consumer- preferred varieties adapted to distinct production environments, markets and end uses. This can be facilitated by closer breeding partnerships between CGIAR, national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as capacity building for partners.


This Initiative aims to develop better-performing, farmer-preferred crop varieties and to decrease the average age of varieties in farmers’ fields, providing real-time adaptation to climate change, evolving markets and production systems.


The objective will be achieved through:

  • Re-focusing: Aligning breeding teams and objectives with farmers’ needs through achievable product profiles and breeding pipelines targeting prioritized market segments.
  • Reorganizing breeding teams to drive efficiency gains through a common organizational framework, stage gates, key performance indicators and handover criteria.
  • Transforming towards inclusive, impactful CGIAR-NARES-SME breeding networks with empowered partners and capacity development aligned to change ambitions.
  • Discovering: Trait discovery and deployment through agile, demand-driven and effective trait discovery and deployment pipelines, and elite donor lines with novel and highly valuable traits.
  • Accelerating population improvement and variety identification through rapid-cycle recurrent selection, farmer- and market-relevant variety identification, and market-demanded varieties.


This Initiative will work in several countries globally.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. 75% of breeding pipelines are oriented towards specific market segments, enabling greater focus on farmers’ needs, drivers of adoption and distinct impact areas, and the strategic allocation of resources for maximum impact.
  2. 70% of breeding pipelines use a revised organizational framework that provides operational clarity and effectiveness for specialized teams pursuing breeding outputs.
  3. 80% of the breeding networks have implemented documented steps toward stronger partnership models where NARES and SMEs have increased breeding capacity, and make greater scientific, operational and decision-making contributions to the breeding process.
  4. 50% of breeding pipelines are supported by a dedicated discovery and trait deployment program that delivers high-impact traits in the form of elite parental lines.
  5. At least 70% of breeding pipelines have increased the rate of genetic gain in the form of farmer-preferred varieties, with at least 50% providing candidate varieties with a step change in performance under farmers’ conditions to seed systems actors or the variety release system.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


More than 23.1 million people (4.7 million households) are projected to benefit from higher-yielding vitamin A-rich cassava and orange-fleshed sweetpotato.

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.


More than 42.6 million people (9 million households) are projected to benefit from higher-yielding rice and wheat, and stress-tolerant maize.

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.


More than 2.5 million women producers (and 3.4 million women and girls in adopting households) are projected to benefit from high-yield fast cooking beans and orange-flesh sweetpotato.

Development of more, more diverse and better suited products for local value chains will create new entrepreneurial opportunities and employment, including for women and young adults. The Initiative will also increase breeding efforts for traits and crops most relevant to increasing women’s income opportunities and reducing time and labor involved in e.g. processing and cooking.


More than 69.9 million people (14.7 million households) are projected to benefit from stress-tolerant maize.

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.


70,000 additional genetic accessions are expected to become available (an increase of 15%).

Breeding-driven production gains reduce pressure to increase farmland through deforestation, allowing more land to remain in its natural state. Traits supporting sustainable farming (e.g. biodiverse, pest resistant, low-input, nitrogen-efficient systems) are weighted and targeted by selection.


For more details, view the Initiative proposal

Header photo: A durum wheat field landscape at CIMMYT’s Toluca Station. Photo by A. Cortes/CIMMYT.