WEBINAR: How plant breeding can be deployed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19

WEBINAR: How plant breeding can be deployed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19

Some 180 persons participated in this Webinar:
  • Welcome and Introduction: Professor Mohammad Faguji Ishiyaku, Executive Director / CEO IAR Samaru Nigeria
  • Presentation 1: Professor Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, Director, West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) Ghana – How plant breeding can be deployed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on food and nutrition security across the African continent: Insights & perspectives from Western Africa
  • Presentation 2: Dr Richard Edema, Director, Makerere Regional Center for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI), Uganda – How plant breeding can be deployed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on food and nutrition security across the African continent: Insights & perspectives from Eastern Africa
  • Presentation 3: Professor Mark Laing, Director, African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) South AfricaHow plant breeding can be deployed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on food and nutrition security across the African continent: Insights and perspectives from Southern Africa

  • Presentation 4 Professor Rita H. Mumm, Director, UC Davis African Plant Breeding AcademyEmerging challenges related to food and nutrition security, seed business and training, as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic
  • Vote of thanks/Closing remarks Professor Mukhtari Mahmud Dean, Faculty of Agric. ABU Zaria

Professor Mark Laing is a Plant Pathologist, Plant Breeder and inventor. His early research focused on diseases of vegetables and seedlings, and the agrochemicals used to control the diseases. He then moved into the field of biological control, using beneficial microbes to control pests and diseases of crops and animals. 

He also started the ACCI in 2001, a centre to train PhD students in plant breeding from African countries. Mark has collaborated widely with colleagues on interdisciplinary projects in the agricultural sciences, Botany, Entomology, Forestry and Agricultural Engineering, across many countries in Africa. In this lecture on the Climate Crisis topic, Mark paints a picture of the new world that is most likely to develop in the next 30 to 120 years, and will have an impact on all of us, and future generations.

The Future of Agriculture in Africa 

i. Local is king, international transport is going to be reduced as the environmental costs of transport get carbon taxes. 

ii. Local conditions will change – hotter and drier: so we need new crops and new crop varieties, e.g., Tepary bean bred to be palatable; Cassava harvested in 7mo., not 18mo. Perennial cereals such as Eragrostis curvula to replace Eragrostis tef, perennial wheat, sorghum that ratoons. 

iii. Pest and disease resistance for new pests and diseases: e.g., 5 years to breed and release CMD resistant cassava varieties. 

iv. Stable funding for plant breeding – conventional breeding takes 5-25 years to release new varieties and hybrids – even with accelerated breeding we need continuity to ensure that breeders can deliver new varieties to growers. 

v. Accelerated breeding techniques: 
  1. Speed breeding with 22 hours of light + 2 hours of darkness = 6 cycles of wheat per annum in the UK. 
  2. Doubled haploids – conventional: tissue culture then colchicine 
  3. Doubled haploids – using pollen inducers, e.g., wheat pollen on maize 
  4. DNA fingerprinting to reduce the numbers of backcrossing steps: keep progeny most similar to the recurrent parent = 2 cycles instead of 6 
  5. Male gametocides for breeding and hybrid seed production : TFMSA, E4FO vs CMS 6. Proteomic markers for quantitative traits such as heat or frost tolerance – polygenic traits governed by many additive genes, but relatively few dominant proteins involved. High resolution techniques now available Ultra-thin IEF. Relatively quick and cheap. 
vi. Gene editing (CRISPR-CAS) as a viable technology that is affordable and not blocked by biosafety regulations. Africa to control the process for Africa. 

vii. Propagation of Vegetative Crops – once we have a superb new cassava variety: increased yield, early to harvest, good taste, resistance to pests and diseases – then what ? How do we go from one perfect cassava plant to 10 million plants across a region ? Who will do it, who has the capacity, what is the profit incentive ? When do we create this capacity ? It’s a chicken-andegg dilemma – which comes first ? 

viii. Propagation of Self-Pollinating Crops: e.g., like rice, wheat, sorghum – there is no financial incentive for seed companies to do this, but government departments do not have the logistics, marketing infrastructure or the motivation to do it either. 

ix. Seed Storage across Africa – solar chimney design tested and proven to work well, electricity free. Parent seed, foundation seed, inbred lines, landraces – priceless heritage, but stored under corrugated iron, with fluctuating temperature and humidity. 

x. Grain Storage across Africa – kill the pests, stop the moulds – reduce losses of 70%, and quality issues poisoning Africa 

xi. Fresh produce – optimize shelflife – UKZN technology package: pasteurize and protect 

xii. Local processing: Scotch whiskey takes a cheap grain and makes an expensive product of global demand, which is durable, dense, easy to store and transport. Why is Thailand the world’s largest producer of cassava starch ? Rice production in Africa does not match demand already


The African Plant Breeders Association (APBA) is an initiative of full-fledged scientists in Africa from higher education institutions, research organizations and private companies who felt the need to change the narrative of crop improvement and the seed sector in Africa. 
It is a forum dedicated to building capacities, problem solving, resources mobilization, and long-term strategic development of the agricultural sector in Africa through effective plant breeding programs and provision of tangible solutions to governments, seed companies, non-governmental organizations, and individual growers. 

The APBA was launched at a maiden conference on October 23-25, 2019, in Accra, Ghana with the theme “Advances in classical breeding and application of modern breeding tools for food and nutrition security in Africa.” This first conference of APBA brought together plant breeders, researchers, students, professional private companies as well as national agriculture policy makers to shared their research findings, discussed recent developments in their respective fields of research and potential collaborative actions to be put into place.

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