Excellence in Breeding team set to catalyze culture change

Please see our new team bio page.

Crop breeding programs need to be more adaptive and innovative, and culture change may be the most challenging part of this transformation. Working with partners across CGIAR and externally to catalyze this change, the CGIAR Excellence in Breeding (EiB) Platform has also adapted its approaches. And it has been adding and reallocating some key talent.

Initially conceptualized as a one-stop-shop for tools and services to help breeding programs modernize, EiB has expanded its mandate toward more holistic relationships with breeding programs.

EiB now has a Deputy Director appointed to oversee EiB’s operations and team. Jan Debaene joins after serving with EiB partner ICRISAT as Head of Breeding.

“EiB can help with proven steps, backed up by science,” says Debaene. “From developing product profiles to simulations to data management, it’s important to implement the full suite of technologies and best practices. That holistic approach is what will vault breeding programs to the next level.”

Organized as five modules, the Platform works with breeders to improve product design and management, breeding scheme optimization, genotyping and sequencing, operations and phenotyping, and bioinformatics, biometrics and data management. The modules are interlinked, offering services and tools within the full relationship.

Recent module changes see Young Wha Lee, a former private sector data scientist, move to primary data module lead. The data team is developing a powerful data management platform called Enterprise Breeding System (EBS), which aims to improve breeding accuracy, speed and quality, as well as significantly free up breeders’ time. And now leading the genotyping and marker application module is Eng Hwa Ng, who will negotiate access to world class genotyping services at reduced costs for partners, while providing training in genotyping and marker applications.

Modernizing and innovating breeding programs

The EiB Platform is a response to the need in developing countries for breeding programs to deliver higher rates of genetic gain and increase variety turnover in order to meet the global food needs of up to 10 billion people this century.  With increasing climate change challenges and natural resource constraints, this is no simple task. The Platform aims to increase the rate of genetic gain in productivity on-farm by 1.5% annually, through supporting breeding modernization initiatives with CGIAR and at local levels working through national agricultural research systems (NARS). This is partly driven by the Crops to End Hunger (CtEH) program, through which donors are pushing breeding programs toward modernization and improved results.

“Ensuring we have the most modern and innovative crop breeding programs in the world means more than just offering tools and services,” says Program Director Michael Quinn. “It means full-fledged partnerships where we can offer some of the best people, programs and resources in the business.”

Integrating the latest breeding technologies in ways that result in meaningful increases in genetic gain per dollar invested is complex and difficult. Some programs and organizations will have to undergo serious cultural changes. But they will be well-placed to manage these changes with access to their own rich histories and human resources, as well as EiB’s team and support.

Building the right team of experts

The team is drawn from across CGIAR, CIMMYT, IRRI, ICRISAT and Cornell University. Here is a summary of key EiB personnel, highlighting new changes and additions:

  • Program Director Michael Quinn is focusing on strategy, supporting Center leadership, and engaging with donors and major partners. Jan Debaene started in May as Deputy Director and is overseeing the team internally to ensure progress on workplans. Brenda Bautista continues to support program management.
  • Module 1, Product design & management: After leading this module, George Kotch has moved on, and EiB is in the midst of recruiting new module lead along with a market strategy expert. In the meantime, consultant Peter Coaldrake is the module’s focal point.
  • Module 2, Breeding scheme optimization: Eduardo Covarrubias is now being supported by Dorcus Gemenet and her computer simulation skills. Sarah Hearne and Mike Olson now also lead work on upstream trait discovery and gene mining of novel germplasm in Module 2.
  • Module 3, Genotyping and sequencing: Eng Hwa Ng is now leading this work, with support from Ana Oliveira as Regional Genotyping Coordinator – Africa.
  • Module 4, Operations and phenotyping: continues to be led by Gustavo Texiera, who is building out his team with support from: network leads, two mechanization support positions, trial experts, and irrigation and soil management consultants to increase plotmanship and support needs identified during assessments of 25 breeding stations.
  • Module 5, Breeding informatics: now led by Young Wha Lee, coordinating the data management strategy for the CGIAR with Cornell’s Kelly Robbins in an advisory role, Tom Hagen leading the EBS development, and Liz Jones as outreach liaison for data management system adoption, collecting breeding programs’ requirements.
  • NARS: Bish Das still leads the extension of EiB activities to local institutions and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems on the African continent. Bodo Trognitz has joined as a breeding support expert for West Africa, and in East Africa recruitment is underway. They will push forward recommended improvements, and serve as EiB’s eyes and ears so that the Platform knows how to best support breeding teams.
  • Toolbox: Sarah Hearne continues to lead EiB’s efforts to create and curate the best tools for breeders to improve program performance.
  • Communications: Adam Hunt joins EiB to lead its global communications efforts, including building a strategic communications plan, marketing, content and platforms. Adam recently led communications for CGIAR Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

Please see our team bio pages for updated info on the EiB team members.

Please contact us for more information or if you would like to engage with the team: Excellence-In-Breeding@cgiar.org