Accelerated Breeding Initiative expands costing support with a Train-the-Trainer workshop

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Understanding costs for better Breeding Programs

Since 2018, Accelerated Breeding Initiative (ABI), under CGIAR’s Genetic Innovation, has been assisting National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) breeding programs in costing out their pipelines operations. The effort enables the breeding programs to better understand their costs, optimize resource allocation, and accurately estimate expenses for key activities such as trialing or on-farm testing. Accelerated Breeding engages the programs through virtual meetings and physical workshops and trains the participants on how to cost their breeding pipelines using the use of the University of Queensland Breeding Costing Tool (UQ-BCT), a free software developed by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.

Accelerated Breeding’s costing support efforts have already reached over 100 scientists in East and West Africa. To broaden this support, the Initiative organized a Train-the-Trainers costing workshop in Nairobi between 13th-16th May 2024. This event brought together CGIAR and NARES partners from Africa and Latin America, marking a significant step toward increasing costing support for public breeding programs. Dr. Michael Quinn, Director of Breeding Innovations and Modernization at CGIAR, emphasized this in his opening remarks, saying, “Building capacities across institutions is a way of scaling up the costing of breeding operations innovation.”

The need for standardized costing tools

Breeding is a multi-stage operation with activities that are focused on delivering improved crop varieties. Accurate costing of the activities of the breeding stages is critical because it enables the programs to develop realistic budgets, make evidence-based decisions on resource allocation, and prioritize activities to maximize return on investment. These pipeline optimization actions are essential in achieving cost-effectiveness of operations to rapidly release resilient crops for the climate-change-affected farming systems.

Before the introduction of UQ-BCT, there was no standard method for costing the stages of breeding pipelines. Dr. Biswanath Das, NARES Coordinator and Accelerated Breeding Transform Work Package lead noted the relevance of the costing tool saying, “When I asked CGIAR and NARES breeders how much it would cost to expand early-stage testing by a certain percentage, none were able to provide any firm cost estimates, and none were using a standardized means to cost their operations.”

The UQ-BCT has been approved for use in CGIAR-NARES breeding networks and has already proven effective in sorghum breeding programs in Australia and the Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR).

Preparing for the Nairobi workshop

Participants for the workshop were nominated by CGIAR Centers, including CIMMYT, CIAT, ICARDA, IRRI, IITA, and CIP. These participants included research scientists, coordinators, technicians, and junior scientists who were knowledgeable of the operations of their breeding pipelines. Prior to the physical workshop, Accelerated Breeding required the participants to attend a bi-weekly online preparatory training which was conducted by Dr. Samuel Mutiga. The online training enabled the participants to assemble the data on the costs of items, labor, capital expenditures, and personnel salary rates, a task which needed a reasonable time outside the workshop schedule. Dr. Lennin Musundire, Accelerated Breeding costing lead, explained “The online preparatory meetings were important, and the workshop could not succeed without them.”

Workshop highlights and activities

The four-day workshop, held at the Concord Hotel in Nairobi, included both theoretical and hands-on activities. It aimed to equip participants with the skills to use the UQ-BCT for costing various stages of their breeding pipelines. The main topics covered included:

  1. Understanding experimental designs and their impact on breeding pipeline costs
  2. Methods for accurately collecting and calculating unit costs
  3. Uploading data into UQ-BCT
  4. Pipeline components identification, and creation of activities for each stage
  5. Cost analysis for the activities of different stages
  6. Creating reports and summaries of the costs

The breeding methods for specific crops are likely to be similar, and therefore the participants were divided into groups based on crop types to improve efficiency and accuracy of the costing tasks. For example, most participants worked on dryland crops such as groundnuts, millet, and sorghum, while others focused on crops like brachiaria, rice, and plantain bananas. This grouping allowed for crop-specific discussions and activities.

On the first day, the groups worked to identify activities and tasks for various breeding stages. Ruth Magaleta, a research associate working on common beans in Malawi, shared her experience, “When we started working on the breeding schemes, it was not clear, but now we understand why it is important to identify the stages of the breeding pipeline in costing.”

The second and third days were dedicated to data clean-up and uploading into the UQ-BCT. Participants appreciated the Excel data capture template created by Accelerated Breeding core team, which made it easier to align data with UQ-BCT features.

By the third day, the workshop became intense and exciting as participants mastered creating breeding stage activities. They reviewed costs to ensure they reflected actual expenses for a given season or year. On the final day, participants presented the costs of their breeding pipelines and the plans for applying their new acquired skills within their institutions and crop networks.

Looking Ahead

The workshop provided an opportunity for the participants to meet the trainers and work within crop-specific groups. To strengthen the teamwork, the crop-specific groups were encouraged to form costing communities of practice, and to continue attending regular online meetings with the support of Accelerated Breeding team. These communities will contribute to accurately cost breeding activities and reduce the need for individual support from the Initiative.

The implementation of this costing workshop was a valuable learning experience for both the trainers and the participants. It showed the importance of in-person meetings for effective interaction and collaboration. Based on the overwhelming demand for the workshop, Accelerated Breeding intends to hold similar events in other strategic regions to ensure there are enough trainers for costing support in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and beyond. As Biswanath Das concluded, “Accelerated Breeding is focused on building institutional capacity to cost out breeding operations and will continue to provide technical backstopping as required.”

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We would like to thank all funders who support this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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