A group of agricultural scientists and other value chain actors, such as processors and seed business houses working with sorghum and millets, came together to create a platform – a Crop Network Group (CNG) – to stimulate crop product design, development, testing and delivery in Eastern and Southern Africa.
At the meeting, jointly convened by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and ICRISAT, breeders from ICRISAT and NARS partners reported the progress in improving market traits as well as production traits of sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet. Dr Jane Ininda, Associate Program Director, AGRA, and Dr Janila Pasupuleti, Flagship Leader, CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals led by ICRISAT, shared the common vision of all the partners.
A panel discussion on public-private partnerships revealed potential in deploying sorghum and millet hybrids in Africa. The panel comprised members of public and private seed companies. ICRISAT’s Hybrid Parent Research Consortium (HPRC) was seen as an excellent source for the private seed sector to access parental lines for hybrid development, especially for climate resilience and biofortification.
Dr Twanda Mashonganyika from the Excellence in Breeding Platform discussed the concept of crop Product Profiles (PPs) and introduced a tool that could be used to develop PPs. Several NARS partners found the futuristic PP concept useful as it helped persuade donors and private partners to invest.
Dr Moses Siambi, Research Program Director–Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, said, “Public-private partnerships are critical to deliver improved genetics to the farmers’ fields along with improved agronomy. Crop networks can play an essential role in this delivery.”
Dr Boaz Waswa from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) presented the PABRA (Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance) model of crop improvement. Key features of this model include shared breeding responsibilities – centralized breeding at CIAT, Cali, coupled with adaptation testing in target countries – resulting in accelerated variety development, release and availability, and building partnership with private seed sector and processors.
The CNG Steering Committee – with members from AGRA, ICRISAT, ADVANTA, Syngenta Foundation (SFSA), NARS, HPRC, and CRP-GLDC – will be responsible for raising resources for the network. An Implementation Team – represented by AGRA, ICRISAT, NARS coordinators from each country, AVISA, SFSA, food processors and seed companies – implement the activities of organizing and coordinating testing, exchange of improved germplasm, capacity building and Community of Practices (CoPs). CoP is important for communications that holds the key for the success of such networks. The CNG will be seeking support from the ASARECA (Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa) for a range of its activities.
“Networks are important for the transformation of African agriculture,” said Prof Barnabas Mitaru, University of Nairobi, giving a short history of erstwhile networks of a similar nature. The Eastern Africa Regional Sorghum and Millet Network (EARSAM) was a forum for exchange of research information and improved germplasm, and capacity building of NARS; it implemented collaborative research projects during 1982–92. Later, during 2003–07, the Eastern and Central Africa Regional Sorghum and Millet Network (ECARSM) focused on market orientation and dealt with constraints in the production and consumption chains. However, EARSAM and ECARSM ceased to function owing to funding limitations.
“The CNG can help the emerging sorghum brewing value chain by enabling use of hybrids and by streamlining seed supply,” said Mr Gerald Gacheru, Head of Agribusiness, East-African Breweries Ltd (EABL). He was keen on research collaboration for improved cultivars and agronomy, particularly deploying hybrids to enhance productivity in farmers’ fields.
The Crop Network Group meeting was held under the auspices of CRP-GLDC during 26–28 March 2019 at Nairobi, Kenya.
For more information on ICRISAT’s work in Eastern and Southern Africa, click here.