Breeding success: Bunmi Olasanmi and the UC Davis African Plant Breeding Academy
Growing a food-secure future for Africa is the aim of the University of California at Davis African Plant Breeding Academy. Bunmi Olasanmi is the first in a series of success stories.
By Bunmi Olasanmi
I am Bunmi Olasanmi, a lecturer in the Department of Agronomy, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. My responsibilities at the university include teaching, supervision of students’ project work, research into improvement of crops, administration and community service.
I participated in Class I of the African Orphan Crops Consortium’s African Plant Breeding Academy in Nairobi, Kenya, a six-week course conducted from December 2013 through to December 2014 during which I learnt new, modern methods in plant breeding, improved data collection methods and new tools for data analysis, most especially R software.
During the third session of the training, I presented a proposal that I had developed using some of the new techniques I learned during the first two sessions of Class 1, in addition to experience I had in plant breeding before the training. The proposal was developed with guidance from my supervisor at the Academy, Bruce Walsh, a professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA. Suggestions on how to improve the proposal were made by other tutors and colleagues at the training and I went back to Nigeria to make the necessary amendments.
I started the research work outlined in the proposal on my own initiative in Nigeria in 2016 by generating five breeding populations of cassava and planned to evaluate the progenies at seedling evaluation trial stage, during which the plants generated from botanical seeds of cassava were assessed for resistance to mosaic disease, plant architecture, root tissue colour, storage root yield and other desirable traits in the 2017/18 growing season.
Meanwhile, in 2016, I was encouraged by the instructors at the Academy of the African Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program at the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa Hub at the International Livestock Research Institute, also in Nairobi, to apply for a fellowship at the Hub because they foresaw that the molecular screening part of my proposal could be carried out at the Hub, supported by the Fund.
I worked on the part of the proposal that was relevant to the ABCF and after a few months I was informed that it had been approved. I was only asked to make a few adjustments to the first submission, an indication that the proposal was good, partly thanks to my training at the Academy.
I went to the Hub in September 2017 to carry out the molecular component of the research work called, Marker-Assisted Selection for Improvement of Cassava for Beta-carotene (β-carotene) Content and Resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease in Nigeria. It has become part of a project at the University of Ibadan to improve cassava for β-carotene content, plant architecture and resistance to disease.
After the molecular screening at the Hub, 68 genotypes were identified with desirable alleles for both traits. My placement at the Hub helped me to reduce the number of genotypes to be evaluated in the next trial to about 2% of the total in the breeding program. This was achieved in less than a year into the breeding program because I was able to complete the screening at the Hub within six months. Using only conventional breeding, all the genotypes (2,855 in total) would have been evaluated for three years before selection of a few promising ones. Through the work at the Hub, the selection time had been drastically shortened and with more precision of selected genotypes, translating into releasing improved varieties sooner to farmers.
In my role as lecturer, I have been teaching my graduate students at the University of Ibadan and the Pan-African University of Life and Earth Sciences (PAULESI) based on the same campus some of the techniques I learned during the training at the Academy and the Hub. The students in PAULESI are from every part of Africa, so the impact is being felt across the continent. I have been teaching them concepts of experimental design to facilitate accurate testing and some of the statistical packages to enable them analyse and interpret test data.
Personally, I have been able to analyse some of my data using the R software. I elaborated my work at the Hub here because the Academy played a significant role in making it a reality and my experience during both training courses can only be imagined. The impact of my training at the Academy will surely be long term and it is, indeed, training of a trainer. The ABCF grant was the first and only funding that I have secured in my research career, with the Academy playing a significant role in that achievement.
The UC Davis African Plant Breeding Academy, part of the African Orphan Crops Consortium, was established by the Seed Biotechnology Center of the University of California, Davis, a Consortium partner. The Academy provides training in the latest principles in plant breeding to Africa’s top plant breeders. The first of five courses was launched in 2013. ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre provides administrative support to the Academy.
The African Orphan Crops Consortium’s goal is to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 101 traditional African food crops to improve their nutritional content. This is intended to provide long-lasting solutions for Africa’s nutritional security. The information is in the public domain with the endorsement of the African Union. The Consortium is made up of the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Mars Incorporated, ICRAF, BGI, Thermo Fisher Scientific, World Wildlife Fund, University of California at Davis, CyVerse, LGC, Illumina, Google, UNICEF, FAO, Wageningen University, Ghent University, Dow AgroSciences, Integrated Breeding Platform, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa Hub at the International Livestock Research Institute.
The World Agroforestry Centre is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.