The Collaborative Breeding Leadership Program

Participants at the foundation workshop in Nairobi, June 24-29.

(July 8, 2024) - By 2050, our planet will be home to over 10 billion people, with Africa alone needing to feed more than 2.5 billion—a monumental task amidst climate crises and global uncertainties. Today, we stand at a pivotal moment. The disparity between population growth and food production in sub-Saharan Africa emphasizes the urgency for innovative solutions. 

A recent joint paper by Australia’s National Science Agency, CSIRO, Lincoln University in New Zealand, and McGill University in Canada highlights the urgency of this mission. The paper presents a concerned picture of the future capacity in the plant breeding area, emphasizing the critical need to address the skills shortage to maintain our agri-food, fiber, and feed production level. This shortage has been building for some time and poses a significant threat to agricultural production worldwide. This is where public breeding programs like National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) and CGIAR play an important role. We must develop resilient, nutritious, and market-driven crop varieties reinforced by advanced agronomic practices.

The Collaborative Breeding Leadership Program (CBLP) is a beacon of innovation in plant-breeding capacity-sharing. This groundbreaking NARES and One CGIAR initiative integrates practical know-how with theoretical foundations, promoting a new cadre of breeders skilled at tackling complex agricultural challenges. This program ensures inclusive access to cutting-edge knowledge, nurturing talent across the global south through a hybrid training model, a face-to-face foundation training workshop, scientific placement, and expansive online resources.

At its core, the CBLP emphasizes collaborative excellence. With the aim to amplify breeders’ impact on smallholder farmers and the broader agricultural value chain, the curriculum enhances teamwork and the building of robust networks. The goal is to cultivate a continuous stream of skilled professionals who will drive progress across NARES and CGIAR breeding networks in the global south.

With the foundation workshop on course in Nairobi, Kenya, young breeders selected through a targeted but competitive process are getting a front-row seat to the fundamentals of running a successful breeding program. They will soon be placed in different breeding programs within the CGIAR, universities, and other NARES.

“Unlike other breeding academies, the CBLP offers an in-house leadership model that encourages peer-to-peer learning,” said Javier Betran, Advisor and Chief Mentor of the program. Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) Director General Dr Eliud Kireger reiterated the importance of this program, especially for NARES scientists, given the long-standing relationship with the CGIAR.

Beyond technical proficiency, the approach is around developing well-rounded leaders equipped with essential skills—management, leadership, and more—critical for navigating diverse cultural contexts and achieving sustainable agricultural outcomes. “We are happy to see more women in agricultural spaces and also happy to see the different realms covered in this program spanning from social sciences to gender inclusion in breeding,” said GIZ representative Birthe Paul. IITA Eastern Africa Hub Director Leena Tripathi emphasized the need to support and inspire talented individuals who will make a real difference in agriculture and beyond. She believes that CBLP is going to create something truly impactful.

This program has been developed and implemented by assembling a multidisciplinary team of experts across the One CGIAR, NARES, and subregional organizations. The team comprises CGIAR Genetic Innovation leadership (John Derera), technical expertise and Breeding Optimization Lead (Dorcus Gemenet), CBLP advisor and mentor (Betran), CG-NARES Breeding networks (Bish Das), program management (Trushar Shah, IITA), CGIAR Capacity sharing (Zainatou Sore, Javier Mateo-Vega, and Charles Kleinermann), and the NARES and Subregional Organization Leadership (Godfrey Asea from NARO-Uganda, Hortense Mafousssam from IRAD-Cameroon, Busiso Mavankeni from CBI-Zimbabwe, and Ousmane Ndoye from CORAF). IITA hosts the CBLP office.

The rationale behind the CBLP is rooted in collaboration and mutual learning. Aligned with the CGIAR 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, this program pioneers a dynamic capacity-sharing model. Bridging gaps and fostering South-to-South collaboration paves the way for game-changing agricultural research and innovation advancements.

Contributed by John Derera, Trushar Shah, and Rose Harriet Okech