IITA’s breeding programs have experienced massive organizational and operational change in the past one year alone. This has resulted in a reorientation to achieve customer-centricity by employing customer-facing breeding strategies and augmenting successful industry processes for product design and development.
The manifestation of this change includes increasing the numbers of staff supporting breeding, engaging ancillary disciplines in the modernization drive, and centralizing facilities, farms, breeding operations, and services at the institutional level for cross-crop support and across the hubs.
Another innovation emphasizes collaboration with market-facing breeders in national breeding programs to build or enhance sustainable chains, from releasing market-preferred varieties through viable formal seed systems to farmers’ fields. There are strengthened partnerships with complementary projects on seed value chains. This will take the breeding gains in productivity and quality attributes from the breeding plots to the farmers and end-users. There are also numerous motivations for change, such as preparation for the transition to One CGIAR.
The digitization of data collection, deployment of the Enterprise Breeding Systems (EBS) database, mechanizing field operations, improving irrigation design, and introducing world-class systems to manage farms will transform breeding operations. The modernization drive will Annual Report 2020 11 usher significant gains in efficiency, effectiveness, cost savings, a culture of continuous improvement, and teamwork among the breeding staff across crops and the hubs.
The modernization efforts followed assessments of the breeding programs by the University of Queensland using the Breeding Programme Assessment Tool (BPAT). This strengthened capacity to deliver farmer- and marketpreferred, nutritious, and climateresilient crop varieties. There is a re-focus of products to align with customer and consumer requirements, institutionalizing operational excellence, strengthening partnerships with National Research and Extension Systems (NARES), training, retraining, and staff development. Thus, the central pillars or the tenets of modernization consist of customer focus, operational excellence, and organizational leadership.
New staff with industry experience were recruited to drive the modernization of breeding operations across all crops and move seed from breeders’ plots to the farmers. The Head of Breeding works closely with the Head of Farm Management and Operations to spearhead a shift towards centralized field and breeding operations. This will enable more efficient field trialing and increased genetic gain for all crops.
Product managers work with the breeders across clonal and grain crops and partners from national programs and the private sector to drive product development, anchor seed systems, and implement a clear pathway to market. A plant breeding informatics and analytics cluster comprising a biometrician, bioinformatics, and data management team enables datadriven decision-making for selection and product advancement teams in collaboration with partners.
Another notable change is the integration of other disciplines to support breeding activities across crops and the hubs. These functional teams are vital in consolidating breeding and seed projects as IITA transitions towards One CGIAR. Social scientists, such as market economists, gender scientists, and seed specialists, provide essential
information for product profiles and market intelligence. This will increase the adoption of new products and enhance the journey from innovation to impact and growth potential for the customer and end-users.
Numerous change management activities have been undertaken to accelerate breeding for better products and enhance the continuous delivery of products to the farmers and markets. For example, a change management pilot was initiated with the cassava breeding program with support from the CGIAR Excellence in Breeding (EiB) platform. The lessons learned were then used to change five other crop programs: banana, cowpea, maize, soybean, and yam.
The IITA teams are increasingly active in capacity-building meetings, including workshops and webinars supported by partners, such as Bayer Crop Science and EiB in the Modern Breeding Project (MBP) and facilitated by the Crops to End Hunger (CtEH) project. The earlier partnership with Bayer on cowpea breeding was successfully expanded to benefit all breeding programs. As a result, institutional and crop-specific improvement plans were developed to enable mechanization, leading to an increased breeding speed, seed delivery, and contribution to One CGIAR initiatives.
Current breeding projects and programs are used as vehicles for modernization and transition to One CGIAR. These are CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) and bilateral breeding projects, such as Accelerated Genetic Gain (AGG) for maize, NextGen Cassava for cassava, Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) for cowpeas, and Accelerated Breeding Better Banana (ABBB) for banana (matooke and mchare). Similarly, current seed system platforms, such as Building Economically Sustainable Seed Systems for Cassava (BASICS II), Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA II), and AVISA are vehicles for delivering genetic gains to the farmers. These platforms focus intensely on smart partnerships with the private seed sector and strengthening national regulatory agencies.
Overall, all innovations benefit the farmers and markets, aligning with the strategic plan for modernizing breeding programs to develop farmer- and market-preferred varieties. The strategic plan is a response to the funders for Crops to End Hunger requests of CGIAR centers.