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Building synergies between modernized sweetpotato breeding and seed systems for improved varieties in East and Central Africa

SweetGAINS (Genetic Advances and Innovative Seed Systems) is a project aiming to modernize sweetpotato breeding operations, accelerate and expand the development and dissemination of nutrient rich, climate-resilient sweetpotato varieties to benefit millions of African families. Over the next three years, SweetGAINS, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will employ cutting-edge science and methodologies through CIP’s regional breeding platforms in East and Central Africa to modernize national sweetpotato breeding programs on the continent. At the same time,through SweetGAINSs, CIP and partners will catalyze the creation of seed systems that deliver quality sweetpotato planting material to resource-poor farmers in Africa.

New sweetpotato varieties will only achieve their potential to deliver well being and improved life quality to smallholders if cost effective seed delivery systems are in place. Therefore, SweetGAINS has brought together sweetpotato breeders and seed specialists. This is expected not only to increase genetic gains, but also to accelerate the actual adoption of new varieties by farmers.

In support of this project, the SweetGAINS SpeedBreed and Seed Community of Practice (CoP) held its first meeting in Kigali, Rwanda from 19-22 February this year.  The attendees, who included officers from the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), discussed ways to build synergies between sweetpotato breeding and seed systems for delivering improved varieties to African consumers and markets.

Dr. Charles Bucagu, the Deputy Director General of RAB opened the meeting by lauding the steady progress made by the team to implement and institutionalize the sweetpotato business approach to basic seed production.

Hugo Campos, CIP Research Director and SweetGAINS Project Director, noted that developing product profiles was a crucial step for a successful breeding program.

“Product profiles,” he told the gathering, “are a concept designed to enhance the impact of breeding programs by focusing efforts on the development of varieties designed to be successful in target markets and carrying traits desired by end-users rather than just by sweetpotato breeders”.

Under the SweetGAINS project, breeders will make use of these product profiles to ensure varieties being developed are not only nutritious, resilient and high-yielding but that they have the taste, texture, cooking quality, and other characteristics that farmers and consumers want. Then the breeding can be targeted accordingly.

Participants also discussed electronic data capture and management. This  entails use of the Field Book app which enables breeders to record data while in the field and move it easily between applications 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 data accuracy and speed.

Members also learned how to use SweetPotatoBase for data management. Sweetpotatobase is a free online system developed by the Solgenomics team from Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University (USA) for breeding data. The website provides a comprehensive suite of search, management and analysis tools for breeding. Field Book is now integrated with Sweetpotatobase and CIP’s Highly Interactive Data Analysis Platform (HIDAP) to allow for easy creation of electronic field books and uploading of data to these platforms.

The SpeedBreed and Seed Community of Practice merges the sweetpotato breeding network CoP with the sweetpotato seed systems and crop management CoP to ensure integration between breeding outputs and early generation seed availability. Its vision is to strengthen links between breeding activities and commercial seed producer’s contributions to accelerated dissemination and adoption of market-preferred varieties.

Learn more about SweetGAINS here.

About Faith Njunge

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