Wisser and Meyers establish connections with African Institutions

August 16, 2011 under CANR News

Researchers from the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) visited Ghana earlier this summer to meet with plant breeders and discuss the development of a software package they are calling “The Breeders’ Toolbox.” Since 2009, a team of researchers have been fleshing out ideas, assessing demand, and identifying partners for the production of an integrated suite of software tools tailored to the meet the needs of plant breeders in developing countries.

Randy Wisser, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who serves as the group’s principal investigator, and Blake Meyers, Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, traveled to Ghana in June. They were joined by co-investigator Stefan Einarson, Director of Transnational Learning from Cornell University.

Other UD group members include Lori Pollock, professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, and Jong-Soo Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

During their visits to Ghana in October 2010 and June 2011, team members established important connections with representatives of plant breeding educational and research institutes and got feedback on the proposed software, which would help improve yields of a wide range of crops. “Plant breeders are key players in the fight for food security. Breeders produce the varities grown by practically all farmers; empowering breeders with efficient tools can have a widespread impact,” explained Wisser.

The team established collaborative relations with the West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI) located in Accra, Ghana. WACCI trains many students, offering doctoral degrees in plant breeding, and Wisser added, “We’re partnering with them because the students going there are the future plant breeders of Africa. They are the end-users of the tools we develop.”

Wisser also noted that the students attending WACCI are from all over Africa, so they represent different cultures and have had different experiences in their home countries. This gives the team the opportunity to develop tools with greater awareness of the various needs across Africa so that they are more likely to be widely adopted.

Another key partnership is with breeders at Crops Research Institute (CRI), located in Kumasi, Ghana, which is the epicenter of plant breeding in Ghana. Wisser noted that making the connection with CRI-Kumasi is important because “many of the countries breeders who specialize on different crops are stationed at one location, and that’s important for us because we are trying to develop a tool that can work for any crop.”

Wisser explained that current software at the disposal of plant breeders is not designed for plant breeding. The Breeders Toolbox the research team is seeking support to develop will be open-source and very flexible. It would simplify the design and analysis of field experiments in a more user-friendly platform for plant breeders of various skill levels.

Travel to Africa was made possible through funding from UD’s International Research Office, CANR, and the departments of Food and Resource Economics, Plant and Soil Sciences, and the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

Article by Adam Thomas