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The 17th Sweetpotato SpeedBreeders and Genomics Community of Practice meeting in Nairobi, Kenya

The Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) SpeedBreeders’ and Genomics Community of Practice (CoP) held its 17th consultation meeting on 5th to 8th June 2018, at the Swiss Lenana Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. The theme of the meeting was “Making Tools Next Generation Breeders Can Use”.

SpeedBreeders’ and Genomics CoP members during the 2018 annual meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo: F. Njunge/CIP-SSA)

The meeting was attended by 51 participants from 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA): Madagascar and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) which have selection activities; the other 12 countries (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia, and Uganda) have active sweetpotato breeding programs. 

The meeting was officially opened by Dr. Lusike Wasilwa, Director Crop Systems at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).  Dr. Wasilwa noted that for a long time sweetpotato has been underutilized as a food crop in sub-Saharan Africa but it is notably gaining prominence. She also called for scientists to conduct more research to help use the crop to boost food security in the midst of climate change-related impacts such as floods and prolonged droughts.

Dr. Craig Yencho of North Carolina State University (USA), who co-leads the CoP, and is the principal investigator of the Genomic Tools for Sweetpotato (GT4SP) Project, stated the importance of having modern tools of genomics and breeding in SSA. “As breeders you recognize the tools are changing dramatically.  The GT4SPteam is focused on bringing us up to speed in SSA in terms of modern tools and technology” he said. The CoP devoted time to learning the practical application of two programs:  the Highly Interactive Data Analysis and Productivity Tools for Breeding (HIDAP) and the SweetpotatoBase with emphasis on special features for improving collection of breeding trial data, analysis and interpretation.

During the half day field visit, the breeders learnt how to use the hand-held PhotoSynQ/MultiSynQ equipment for measuring photosynthetic activity, gas exchange, light levels, and various other pieces of data. The PhotoSynQ data collected can be analyzed and used in screening for example for yield and drought tolerance.

Practical session on how to use Photosnyq Photo credits: Jan Low

In addition, the breeders also practice using the Fieldbook app-available for free on Android phones and tablets.  This tool enables them to record data while in the field and move it easily to be analysed later.  The app conveniently eliminates use of pen and paper to take notes and record observations on field research plots resulting in better accuracy.

The Fieldbook app has been integrated with the Sweetpotatobase and HIDAP tools to allow for easy creation of electronic field books and uploading of data to these platforms. Sweetpotatobase is a free online system developed by the Solgenomics team from Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University for managing sweetpotato breeding data. It provides a comprehensive suite of search, management, and analysis tools for different breeding activities.

HIDAP is a free system developed by International Potato Center (CIP) as part of on-going in-house efforts to unify best practices in breeding data management, data analysis and reporting in clonal crops breeding. HIDAP is available both online and as a standalone software that can be used without the internet.

This is the 17th Annual Sweetpotato Speedbreeders meeting. However, it is the fourth meeting to be jointly sponsored by the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project led by the International Potato Center (CIP), and the Genomics Tools for Sweetpotato Improvement (GT4SP) project led by North Carolina State University. Both projects are supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These two projects and various partners under the umbrella of the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) are committed to tackling climate change effects and malnutrition to contribute to improving the livelihoods of 10 million households in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2020.

Overall the meeting was a successful learning experience. Some media highlights include:

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