Breeding future-ready crops: selecting priority traits in breeding programs via product profiles
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Developing crop varieties that meet the needs of all stakeholders, with farmers, value chain actors and end-use consumers having specific needs for attributes of breeds or varieties, is a challenging task. Defining, communicating and incorporating desirable traits into breeding programs requires focused interaction between different disciplines and stakeholder groups in a process known as product profile development.
With this in mind, partners of the AVISA project (https://www.avisaproject.org/) got together to brainstorm about market demands, climate change adaptation and nutrition needs, so that these could be brought together most efficiently in product profiles for the project target crops – sorghum, millet, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut. They also learnt to use tools and techniques to enable effective product profiles to be developed.
Dr Chris Ojiewo, AVISA Project Coordinator, suggested spending adequate time to ensure that the products were demand driven and fit into the market. “The end user should be linked to product design and product profiles,” he said. “The time has come to fine tune existing product concepts into product profiles for faster adjustment.”
Dr Jan Debaene, AVISA Principal Investigator, held that product profiles were designed not by breeders alone but by multi-disciplinary teams. He advised the attendees to be mindful of future dynamics such as climate variability, emerging markets, gender mainstreaming and socio-economic aspects including nutrition as they develop the product profiles.
Dr Tawanda Mashonganyika, Excellence in Breeding (EiB) Product Manager, who was also the lead trainer and facilitator at the meeting, led the partners through development of market-oriented product profiles and harmonizing them with underlying concepts and the available online tools. Mentioning a product profile database that had been developed and made accessible, he said that it would be used in product advancement meetings to make progressive decisions in line with different market segments. While new varieties meeting market needs were needed to replace existing ones, he explained that those with market shares of 70% or more should not be ignored, as their widespread adoption pointed to market preferences.
Dr Tawanda defined a product profile as the ‘What’ of the breeding pipeline; a living document that gave key indicators of well-defined traits for specific markets. He described it as a vehicle that would help the programs succeed in dissemination and adoption of the developed products. He reminded the participants that a product profile should be formalized, written down and aligned to a ruling variety in the market. “Product trait must be measurable and specific, and there must be justification why that particular trait is of importance,” he added.
Dr Esther Njuguna, Gender Specialist, ICRISAT, shared the state of Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI) and the proposed AVISA methodology for Gender Responsive Product Profiles for Tanzania/Uganda. She noted that a network of gender scientists, breeders and genomics specialists from different CRPs was designing tools to assess gender responsiveness of a trait based on two ideologies: 1) no harm to the population, especially women, and 2) benefits to the population, especially women. This initiative, according to Dr Esther, is working to raise funds to move this process forward; looking for programs that could test the tools and provide feedback; and working with funders’ recommendation for cross-program collaboration between EIB and GBI.
In her opinion, even though breeding programs may have had gender-responsive product profiles they have not been presented as such. “This is the right time to connect the missing links, particularly between breeding and gender-related aspects,” emphasized Esther. “AVISA provides a rare opportunity to test an ‘integrated methodology’.
Dr Everina Lukonge, Director – Research and Innovation, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, said that the training was essential as they had been releasing a lot of varieties which were hardly accepted in the market. She urged the partners to share the lessons with colleagues and mentoring them to achieve sustainability even after AVISA.
The product profile meeting was held on 19 July 2019 in Arusha, Tanzania.