Sorghum improvement in West Africa faces a host of challenges in capacity and resources. Despite some important successes in sorghum breeding in West Africa, the overall impact of sorghum improvement has not yet met stakeholder expectations on varietal adoption, increased farm income, or improved nutritional status. National programs are working to address local producer and user needs, but frequently with limited funds, researchers, staff and infrastructure. The result has been limited success in varietal adoption and a rate of improvement that is not sufficient for the necessary impacts on food and income security in the region.
The Sorghum Adaptation in West Africa with a Genomics-Enabled Breeding Network (SAWAGEN) project creates a defined network of national researchers, international collaborators and farmer organizations aimed at leveraging capacity to develop and deliver demand-driven varieties to farmers. It is built on four separate platforms – local adaptation breeding, genetic mapping research, physiological mapping research, and broad adaptation breeding – and links researchers across those platforms in a hypothesis-driven, goal-oriented research approach. The SAWAGEN spans Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo and Niger and reinforces existing regional breeding network initiatives to further accelerate interdisciplinary solutions to key crop improvement challenges across the Sahel.
Burkina Faso - Kaya
Niger - Aguié, Bkonni, Kollo, Niamey, Say, Tillabéri
Senegal - Bambey, Tambacounda, Thiès
Geoffrey Morris Bassirou Sine
Eyanawa Atchozou Cyril Diatta
Falalou Hamidou Fanna Maïna
Aissata Mamadou Jaques Faye
Colorado State University
Kansas State University
Burkina Faso - Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherches Agricole (INERA)
France - Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD)
Niger - International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), LSDS (farmer organization), HALAL (farmer organization), Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey (UAM)
Senegal - Centre d’Etudes Régional pour l’Amélioration de l’Adaptation à la Sécheresse (CERAAS), Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA)
Togo - Institut Togolais de Recherche Agronomique (ITRA)
Improving Sorghum Adaptation in West Africa with a Genomics-Enabled Breeding Network (SAWAGEN) is making a positive impact on varietal adoption, increased farm income, and improved nutritional status. SAWAGEN brings existing research and development capacity together into a network to regularly deliver sorghum varieties that are adapted to West African environments, adopted by smallholder farmers, and appreciated by value-chain actors.
SAWAGEN brings together National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) breeders, NARS researchers, international collaborators, and farmer organizations. To align missions and leverage expertise among diverse scientists and stakeholders, we use a goal-directed hypothesis-driven (GoHy) method for program planning and adaptive management. At the core of the network are four early-career NARS breeders in Senegal (ISRA), Burkina Faso (INERA), Togo (ITRA), and Niger (INRAN), who were trained in genomics-enabled breeding during phase-I (SMIL and/or WACCI).
SAWAGEN's top priority is to develop new versions of locally preferred varieties that carry stress-resilience traits by the project's end in 2023. Each NARS breeder has identified 2–3 product concepts that will be delivered to smallholders within a 5–10-year time frame. The varieties will be under testing in farmers’ fields - in partnership with farmer organizations - by 2023. SAWAGEN's other major product is the R&D network itself, with four platforms designed to scale beyond the current participants and beyond the end of the project. Varietal development will be carried out in the Local Adaptation Breeding Platform with marker-assisted backcross of known stress tolerance alleles into locally preferred varieties and participatory evaluation. The foundation for delivery of future products will be laid with the Broad Adaptation Breeding Platform (gender-responsiveness training, germplasm exchange, recurrent population development, multi-environment trials); the Genetic Mapping Research Platform (genome-wide marker discovery, genetic mapping, marker development); and the Physiological Mapping Research (trait discovery, trait validation, ideotype definition).
Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN)
Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles du Senegal (ISRA)
All four breeding programs have now completed stakeholder validation of the varietal product concepts, based on feedback from multiple grower organizations in multiple regions in each country. Field breeding to generate and advance breeding lines towards varietal release has progressed largely as planned. Some delays have occurred due to adverse environmental conditions or problems with germplasm purity. Depending on the program and product concept, the breeders have advanced between 1–4 generations, out of a total of 6–8 generations that will be required to deliver varieties to the seed system. Marker genotyping was successfully conducted for all four breeding programs.
A key criterion for durability has been for NARS scientists to build strong collaborative relationships with each other, not just with U.S.A. collaborators. The strength of the NARS collaborations is evidenced by the participation in bimonthly reference calls. A key research goal was the discovery of drought tolerance alleles in West African germplasm for use in molecular breeding of drought tolerance. The development of molecular markers, which will facilitate selection of drought tolerance in West African sorghum, is now underway.