The Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) project consolidates the gains made by TL-III, HOPE-II and HarvestPlus — all funded by the BMGF – while refocusing the work to improve the CGIAR and key NARS breeding and seed delivery systems. The AVISA initiative comprises the most important dryland cereals (sorghum and pearl millet) and legume crops (groundnut, common bean and cowpea) on the African continent, in the key BMGF focus geographies where these crops are important (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda). ICRISAT will improve the performance of its sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut breeding programs, while IITA and CIAT will improve their cowpea and common bean programs, respectively. All these programs will adopt modern best practices with respect to breeding program management, organization and technology to generate a continuous stream of improved varieties for smallholders to achieve greater yields and the prospect of higher incomes and improved livelihoods. In addition, the increase in varietal turnover can mitigate losses from evolving climate patterns, and pest and disease complexes, while driving to enable public-private partnerships for enhanced seed delivery. High functioning, integrated CGIAR/NARS breeding networks and coordinated seed delivery partnerships will be built to facilitate smallholder farmers’ access to high quality seed.Although significant adoption of improved seed of dryland cereals and legume crops in Africa has been reported, its overall use remains low. Fortunately, there is an emerging interest by the private sector to include these crops in their portfolio. However, the private sector’s hesitation to hasten expansion is driven by the lack of product information, including the technical and market performance of new varieties, dearth of knowledge of the size and scale of the business opportunity, non-access to early generation seed (EGS) and obscurity about the licensing and regulatory environment. AVISA will address these constraints by enabling the establishment of a robust system that (i) increases the quantity and quality of performance data substantiating varietal superiority; (ii) boosts the availability of EGS seed by strengthening the technical and business acumen of the public EGS systems through technical, management and business capacity building; (iii) establishes a clear path and handover process from the research system to the private sector; and (iv) enables private sector multipliers to seize opportunities to capitalize on the commercialization of these crops. The project partners have experience in key frameworks which will be pursued to ensure a reliable supply of EGS seed, including the seed revolving fund model, the foundation seed company model and the seed company model. These three frameworks are proposed to suit the diversity of size and capacity of certified seed producers to be engaged in AVISA and to reflect the different crop value chains and contexts of the 6 AVISA countries. AVISA seed systems work will primarily focus on Nigeria and Tanzania, the two countries with growing seed industries and the biggest markets for seed of dryland cereals and legume crops. The project is committed to linking with/aligning around new (some pending) institutional seed systems initiatives of BMGF, USAID and AGRA in these and other AVISA target geographies to obtain greater outcomes than would be possible through independent efforts.

AVISA is committed to gender equity as a guiding principle, considering the critical role women play in choosing legume and cereal varieties and seed sources. Women seed entrepreneurs and women-led seed companies will garner special attention for capacity development in seed business and technical areas. To ensure women farmers have equal access to improved seed, gender-responsive demand will be generated through linkages and innovative public-private partnerships and platforms with actors along the commodity value chains and through demonstrations that directly expose women farmers and other value chain actors to the material. By the end of the grant, the aspiration is to have national institutions with the technical capacity to take on the principal responsibility of ensuring the adequate supply of EGS of these crops.

The vision of AVISA will be achieved through five integrated Primary Outcomes (POs):

Primary Outcome 1 (PO 1): The rate of genetic gain for performance in mandate crops accelerated to an estimated 1.5% annually. To realize Primary Outcome 1, a series of modernization steps will be undertaken that include structural and management changes, and the adoption of new designs, tools and approaches. Important structural changes will involve the centralization of breeding programs and establishing four modern Regional Crop Improvement Hubs (RCIHs), with a critical mass of scientific and technical expertise and shared services. Strong leadership at the RCIH and Center levels will be in place to drive improvements to best-practice commercial standards, including the use of modern tools that shorten breeding cycles and other resources offered under the Excellence in Breeding (EiB) Platform. Improved breeding proficiency and quality trial data will position the breeding programs to adopt and fully leverage future opportunities that modern genomics tools now offer to plant breeding. A concerted multi-pronged communication approach will facilitate increased adoption of new tools and approaches. NARS partners will be supported in product profile development, program design, trial quality execution and data information management and analyses.

Primary Outcome 2 (PO 2): Integrated CGIAR/NARS Program anchored by an integrated breeding decision and informatics support system. To realize PO 2, CGIAR and NARS partners will work collaboratively to establish robust testing networks for each crop. The networks will be underpinned by an information system that will be built to display and combine information across locations and NARS partners, who will be trained and empowered to use the system. To make data-driven decisions, it is pivotal to summarize and aggregate information in a data visualization application. Effective advocacy for these systems would be facilitated through innovative communication approaches. This integrated information management system will drive breeding and trialing operations and data collection for CGIAR centers and NARS alike. Such systems are at the heart of modern private sector crop breeding and lay the foundation for quicker and better decisions, including implementing rapid cycle breeding, assessing reliable performance of products and to provide feedback for the development of data-driven Product Profiles (PPs). The system will also facilitate project and personnel performance management.

Primary Outcome 3 (PO 3): Legume and cereal crop improvement, seed production and delivery systems aligned for gender- responsiveness and end-user demands and preferences. To realize PO 3, sophisticated market, nutrition and gender-informed PPs will be developed to prioritize traits and direct each breeding program. A feedback system for monitoring and updating the PPs will be implemented to ensure that breeding programs continue to meet the needs of women and men smallholders and have suites of traits with the greatest potential impact on livelihoods within a given production context. Production areas, foresight analysis conducted to estimate demand and the geographical distribution of future grain and seed demand, market requirements and socio-economic environments will be characterized to help define and refine PPs.

Primary Outcome 4 (PO 4): Increased and equitable rate of varietal turnover. To realize PO 4, a robust framework will be put in place for the handover of new varieties from the research system to public and/or private EGS multipliers. In this framework, processes and systems will be implemented to collect, archive and summarize performance data substantiating varieties’ advantages. Such a scheme will strengthen the technical and business acumen of the public EGS system actors, enabling EGS players to provide greater volume and dependable EGS stock availability. Information from TL-III and HOPE-II projects will be used to generate baselines to gauge the impact of AVISA. The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is an important experienced partner that will play a key role in developing public-private seed opportunities. Women seed entrepreneurs and women-led seed companies will garner special attention for capacity development in seed business and technical areas as well as focusing on enhanced inter-personal communication and marketing skills, for facilitating greater demand. By the end of the grant, we aspire to see national institutions equipped with the technical capacity to fulfill their responsibilities with respect to ensuring all classes of EGS supplies are available in amounts consisted with demand, and take on the responsibility of ensuring adequate EGS supplies of these crops. We believe these systems changes will accelerate the trajectory of adoption and delivery of modern varieties of these crops and significantly reduce the varieties’ area-weighted average lifespan on a national scale over the course of the project.

Primary Outcome 5 (PO 5): Efficient project management and reporting. To realize PO 5, a closely governed team will implement project oversight and direction to actuate results-based management approaches, to assure efficient planning, monitoring, evaluation, accountability, learning and scalability of the AVISA initiative.

The AVISA project represents a consolidation of two key CGIAR breeding and seed delivery investments managed by ICRISAT, Tropical Legumes (TL) – III and Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement for Sorghum and Millets (HOPE) – II, supporting breeding and seed delivery of dryland cereals and grain legumes. Additionally, it mainstreams the development of high iron (Fe)/zinc (Zn) beans and pearl millet presently conducted as part of our investment in HarvestPlus. HarvestPlus supports the development of high iron/zinc common bean and pearl millet through CIAT and ICRISAT, respectively. Thus, this project represents a consolidation of breeding pipelines across projects that will yield greater efficiency. Consolidation of crop programs in the two current investments (TL-III and HOPE-II) provides substantial technical and operational opportunities for efficiency gains in implementing key modernization elements that are crop generic, pertaining to sharing skills, testing sites and services.

The Tropical Legumes-III project is wrapping up in April 2019, HarvestPlus at the end of 2018, while HOPE-II will be active for another 2 years. In order to commence institutional modernization efforts funded under this project, it is imperative that we align the remaining two years of HOPE-II to the agenda proposed under AVISA. Thus, the final two years of HOPE-II will involve its responsible disengagement from other areas of focus (primarily delivery of an agronomic package of seed and fertilizer that will be turned over to the NARS), and a reconfiguration of its activities to align with the modernization and seed delivery agenda of AVISA. The Program Officer of HOPE-II and AVISA supports this way forward. The HOPE-II team will be asked to reorganize their plans of work and budget (POWB) to align with AVISA, eliminating and ramping down any non-aligned activities and forming a common body of work to avoid the possibility of duplication or redundancy. The initial emphasis for the combined programs will be to develop and implement program improvement plans (PIPs) based on the recommendations of the BPAT assessments and in consultation with the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The proposed start date of AVISA is January 2019, at which date AVISA will provide uninterrupted support for the biofortification breeding presently funded by HarvestPlus. While AVISA takes on the responsibility for breeding biofortified beans and pearl millet, it will maintain close linkages to HarvestPlus as this project transitions to focus on advocacy and nutritional issues. These close linkages are key to aligning activities and outcomes and remaining aware of the latest developments in nutrition and biofortified crops. The three overlapping months from the start of AVISA and end of TL-III will allow ICRISAT, IITA and CIAT to initiate and complete planning, and undertake critical hiring and capital improvements for a rapid ramp-up of project activities. Any TL-III budgetary carry-over at the conclusion of the project will roll into AVISA, rather than transitioning to a no-cost extension.

This BMGF initiative is supported by the institutional leadership of ICRISAT, IITA and CIAT and will leverage internal investments by these Centers through their own modernization agendas. Further investment backing will ensue through the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) which shares the AVISA modernization imperative. This investment also leverages the final 10 months’ support ($500k/yr) BMGF is providing the IITA cowpea program for modernization in a collaborative effort with Bayer Crop Sciences (formerly Monsanto). The AVISA project will heavily leverage the resources of the EiB Program; in-depth conversations between all the three CGIAR partners of this project and the leadership of EiB have agreed on the ‘first steps’. AGRA will be a key downstream partner through their Village-Based Advisor (VBA) seed delivery program. This project and AGRA have both funded partnerships with the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), providing an ideal 3-way relationship to develop seed sector capacity in both our primary (Nigeria and Tanzania) and secondary (Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana) target geographies, as well as in the broader set of AGRA focus geographies. AVISA is also committed to a close partnership with an EU-funded climate change CORAF initiative that is involved in NARS breeding program capacity building of dryland cereal and legume crops across the G5 Sahel countries. Our NARS capacity building and testing activities in West Africa will be jointly planned and executed with this project where feasible and where synergies exist. We also pledge to work with any new BMGF or other major donor or government seed sector development initiatives, such as the proposal in Tanzania, focused on enabling public certification and EGS production, and one funded by USAID to Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Given the relatively robust support for breeding modernization and seed delivery of sorghum in Ethiopia through the MERCI grant to EIAR and the Integrated Striga Control project managed by Purdue University, the AVISA project will provide only limited funding for coordination support to ensure the Ethiopian NARS remains part of the CGIAR/NARS sorghum breeding networks the project will develop.

About 75% of the project budget supports PO 1 and 2 and the remainder is evenly split between PO 3 and 4, while the costs of PO 5 are embedded in all POs to help administer, record and report on the whole project.

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Field days conducted



Demonstrations conducted



Certified and QDS seed produced



Small seed packs distributed