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Breaking new ground in MARS – GCP launches Challenge Initiative on wheat in Asia (February 2010)

Breaking new ground in MARS – GCP launches Challenge Initiative on wheat in Asia

The Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) officially launched its wheat Challaenge Initiative in late February 2010, first in India then in China. Both meetings were attended by high-ranking scientists, in addition to the research teams working on the project.

Wheat in Asia is one of the seven Challenge Initiatives (CIs) that are a key priority for GCP in Phase II of the Programme (2009–2013). The wheat CI is a joint China–India research initiative led by scientists from both countries, working in close liaison with several GCP partners to breed heat- and drought-tolerant wheat. Some of the aspects of the wheat in Asia CI spring from work done by teams led by Dr Francis Ogbonnaya of ICARDA and by Dr Peter Langridge of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. Dr Ogbonnaya and Dr Langridge attended both meetings.

Dr Richard Trethowan, the wheat CI Product Delivery Coordinator, remarked, “Improved water use for drought tolerance is a contemporary and urgent issue. Researchers cannot continue doing things the same old way. I am excited about the possibilities that marker-assisted recurrent selection opens up. Let’s make it work!”

Drought is a serious concern affecting China’s food production, and is also GCP’s key focus trait. This area of research is very complex and replete with challenges and complications, but drought is undoubtedly the number one trait in international agricultural research today. Six of the seven GCP Challenge Initiatives in Phase II are on drought, including this one on wheat.

Experts are agreed that India is an extremely water-stressed country, with the water table falling at an alarming rate. In North Gujarat alone for example, it is reported to be dropping by as much as six meters per year. And in all cases, this severe groundwater depletion has largely been attributed to agricultural use, and not to climatic conditions or climate change. This situation harbours great potential to cause much human suffering and even social chaos and anarchy. At current consumption rates, the projection is that by 2025, India will be in a deep water crisis.

The five-year CI aims to assemble and integrate into breeding programmes wheat strains and genes that offer efficient water use and enhanced heat tolerance. Many of these genetic materials will be multiplied at – and provided by – the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, by its Spanish acronym), while the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Sydney, Australia, will provide technical assistance and germplasm. Precise phenotypic data underpin genotyping and much of the breeding process. Characterisation of target experimental sites will be essential to meaningfully and fully interpret data, while staff training in standardised phenotyping protocols (for measuring drought- and heat-adaptive traits) will facilitate precise characterisation in all environments, as well as enhance staff capacity.

Although marker-assisted recurrent selection (MARS) has vastly improved efficiency in the private sector, MARS has not been widely used in public-sector research, which makes this CI a groundbreaker in the public sector.

The wheat in Asia CI will benefit from GCP-funded research conducted by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and by the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. Both CIMMYT and ICARDA are CGIAR members.

In both countries, the project will result in 15–20 wheat lines with superior drought and heat tolerance, and adapted to each country’s conditions. These lines will be developed using molecular markers. In both India and China, 4–6 postgraduate students and 20 scientists will be trained in phenotyping methodologies. In addition, up to three postgraduate students (MSc or PhD) from both countries will be trained in Australia. To maximise mutual learning and ensure synergies, exchange visits between key Chinese and Indian researchers are also planned, as well as visits to CIMMYT (Mexico) and to the Plant Breeding Institute (Australia). Projects for postgraduate students will focus on the physiological and genetic dissection of stress responses in the materials develop through marker-assisted breeding, while researcher exchange visits to partner countries will be at the most critical stage of the crop cycle in the host country.

In each country, 3–5 traits and 5–8 quantitative trait loci (QTLs) will be recommended for wheat breeding. For India, an additional target is four wheat mega-varieties with improved water-use efficiency and higher heat tolerance. These super-varieties have the potential of covering about 24 million hectares and minimising yield loss from heat, or drought, or both, by up to 20–50 percent.

To facilitate achieving these goals, GCP is taking a highly structured approach, through comprehensive project delivery plans formulated by project teams with guidance from Dr Larry Butler, GCP’s new Product Delivery Leader, and also through project-specific breeding schemes jointly designed with Dr Xavier Delannay, Leader of GCP’s Subprogramme 3 on Trait capture for crop improvement. This structured approach aims at not only ensuring delivery but also long-term and sustained impact beyond the project horizon.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – GCP’s Challenge Initiative on wheat in India was officially launched on 22 February 2010 at the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences in New Delhi, India. The two-day launch meeting was hosted by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI).

“This is a welcome and important initiative for India,” remarked Dr Swapan Datta (pictured right), Deputy Director General Datta(Crop Improvement), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

“This CI will spur increased collaboration,” observed Dr Jean-Marcel Ribaut, GCP Director. He continued, “India has a community of outstanding scientists and Indian partners are critical for GCP’s success in Phase II. We are counting on this support and are privileged to have ICAR as one of the founding members of the GCP Consortium.”

The promises of Phase II
He explained that GCP Phase II will see more and more projects led by country programme partners, with CGIAR Centres and developed country partners taking a back seat as mentors and collaborators, and not direct project leaders. For the wheat CI in India, this redefined partnership – which also includes the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Sydney, Australia, and CIMMYT – is also reflected in the project budget, with 80–90 percent of the funds going directly to partners in India.

GCP Phase II promises to be much more exciting and engaging for country programmes, Dr Datta noted. He added that the greater focus and independence in Phase II and the Programme’s investments in molecular breeding, all provide fertile ground for more rewarding partnerships based on mutual interests. Looking at the seven CIs as a whole, GCP Phase II prioritises crops that are also important for India, and ICAR is actively seeking alliances in international agriculture, particularly in molecular breeding.

New wind
Dr NK Singh, Principal Scientist at the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology agreed. “A new wind is blowing at ICAR, and this wheat project is very timely. We are very interested in partnerships with international players.”

Prof GK Gupta stressed the importance of coordination and collaboration. “A coordination mechanism is needed in India, to maximise complementarities and synergies,” he said. Prof Gupta is a veteran in the field, and has worked on wheat for 40 years now. Prof Gupta is leading a complementary initiative on drought improvement for wheat supported by India’s Department of Biotechnology.

Dr HS Gupta (pictured right), Director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), concurred on the need to avoid duplication andGupta therefore make the best use of the scarce resources available. He stressed the importance of breeding for drought, and for cooperation: “We must coordinate, communicate and complement one another. Researchers should not work in isolation. Drought is a great problem, further compounded by a rise in temperature, and this is a much-needed research initiative.” he said. He also re-affirmed IARI’s full cooperation: “We have committed our best scientists for this work and they will deliver their best,” he added.

Multi-institutional partnershipsDr-Prabhu
The project plan will be revisited to clarify the roles and expectations of the different partners working on GCP’s wheat Challenge Initiative in India. This wheat CI brings together five institutes in India, with Dr KV Prabhu of IARI (pictured left) as the project leader. As a result of discussions on the first day of the workshop, the Agharkar Research Institute in Pune is the newest partner. Located in a hotter region than the other research sites, Pune brings an additional seven degrees of cropping season temperature, which will enrich the heat tolerance study and database. Other partners are Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology and Punjab Agricultural University.

All the CIs will have a strong molecular breeding component which will be supported by GCP’s Molecular Breeding Platform (MBP) and Genetic Resources Support Service (GRSS). “Each CI is different in terms of the opportunities, risks and impact,” clarified Dr Ribaut. For India, given the local support, infrastructure and competencies, he was optimistic that the wheat CI would succeed and have great impact on the numerous smallholder wheat farmers. “This project presents a rare mix of low risk and high-potential impact” he added.

In his closing remarks, Dr Ribaut said that this was an important initiative for GCP to demonstrate that molecular breeding can increase the efficiency of breeding and have impact on crop productivity in developing countries. The GCP management has high expectations and is committed to help the initiative succeed. He commended and thanked the India team for taking on the challenge and urged the team to communicate constantly with GCP management – not just on the good news, but also the bad news for prompt remedial action.

“GCP will not be disappointed and we will deliver on expectations,” assured Dr Prabhu, reiterating the support and commitment of both IARI and ICAR to this project.


The India wheat CI team, pictured here with Dr Swapan Datta, Deputy Director General (Crop Improvement), ICAR, (2nd row 4th left), and Dr HS Gupta, Director, IARI (1st row, 3rd left).

BEIJING, CHINA – The next stop was Beijing, China, where the wheat CI launch meeting from 25–27 February 2010, was hosted by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS).

Like ICAR in India, CAAS is a founding GCP Consortium member. “China has been a good GCP partner and friend right from the Programme’s beginnings, and the country has an impressive team of scientists,” observed Dr Ribaut. “There’s absolutely no doubt that this good relationship will be strengthened further.”

In his welcoming remarks, Dr Tang Huajan, Vice-President, CAAS, observed that the launch meeting was in the festive season of the Chinese new year. “This is the Year of the Tiger, so there are indeed even stronger collaborations ahead,” he said.

Food first
With a population of 1.4 billion projected to rise to 1.6 billion within the next two decades, providing adequate quality food to the population is very high on China’s agenda. Noting that CAAS is keenly pursuing international collaborations in agriculture, Dr Tang (pictured left) said CAAS has memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with most of the CGIAR Centres and hosts seven on its campus. A vast number of Chinese scientists have also been trained at and by CG Centres, and this has greatly benefited the country. For instance, as the first step in this new project, researchers in the Chinese wheat CI underwent training in phenotyping in late 2009 at CIMMYT. The next step will be for the trainees to formulate phenotyping protocols, by adapting those already designed by the wheat CI team in India.

China and GCP are also united by another common priority: “Drought affects many crops in China,” said Dr Tang (pictured left). Southwest China is currently afflicted by drought, affecting a population of 15m people. In Northern China which is a maize- and wheat-growing area, drought is a problem. Drought-tolerant crops are therefore important to guarantee productivity and also improve quality.” He added that China was pleased to join hands with international partners to address productivity under drought.

The purpose of the meeting was to share experiences and report on progress in solving the problems that will lead to better varieties to improve wheat production.

In his opening remarks, Dr Wang Shumin (pictured right) Deputy Director General of the Institute of Crop Science, CAAS, revealed thatWang-1 60 percent of the institute’s scientists work on wheat. This, he said, reflects the importance of wheat in China, and further underscores why research on wheat water-use efficiency and drought tolerance is a priority. He also observed that collaboration with CGIAR institutes had increased as a result of engagement with GCP, citing ICARDA as an example.

Walking the talk – China leads
In Phase I, GCP’s interaction with China was more limited and at micro or project level, mostly on germplasm characterisation and exchange, and with project leadership by the CGIAR and developed country partners. Phase II will be focused on broader, macro, large-impact issues, and will also see a fundamental shift in partner roles. “We want developing countries to take the lead in Phase II, with the CGIAR Centres and partners in developed countries supporting the work as mentors,” said Dr Ribaut.

The Chinese wheat CI is led by Dr Ruilian Jing (pictured right) of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). All in all, six institutes are working on this initiative. Four are in China: CAAS (incorporating the Institute of Crop Science and National Key Facility for Crop GeneRuilian-Jing Resources and Genetic Improvement), the Hebei Academy of Agricultural Sciences (HAAS), Shanxi Academy of Agricultural Sciences (SAAS) and the Xinjiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences (XAAS), with the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Sydney, Australia and CIMMYT in a mentoring and support role. CAAS is also investing both funds and in-kind contributions to this initiative. Several postgraduate students who will be working on the project also attended the meeting. Altogether, CAAS has about 3,000 postgraduate students.

At the close of the meeting, Dr Carmen de Vicente, GCP’s Leader for Capacity building and enabling delivery, expressed GCP’s confidence in the Chinese team: “This is the right project, in the right place with the right people. The project is in good hands. It is particularly encouraging to see the strong institutional support from the Chinese government.” The team includes several distinguished scientists who in December 2009 received the National Science and Technology Progress Award from the Chinese government in recognition of their work on germplasm enhancement, breeding and application of winter wheat with drought resistance and high water-use efficiency in northern China. The award was to – among others – Ruilian Jing, Meirong Sun, Xiumin Chen and Pingxiao Chang.

Dr de Vicente stressed GCP’s role as a project partner, and not simply a funder, “We are committed to see this project succeed, and GCP will provide all the necessary technical backstopping, support, tools and guidance.”

Bringing the ‘Top Two’ together and banking in the future
Reiterating the importance of the wheat in Asia Challenge Initiative, Dr Ribaut noted that the wheat CI was the flagship of GRichard-T_CI-wheat-launchCP’s CI approach, given the population in India and China, the capacity and infrastructure in both nations, and therefore the great impact the work would have, especially with the ‘Big Two’ in Asia working together as the project envisioned. However, he was quick to add that GCP’s CI approach is not about large impacts in the short term. Rather, what GCP hopes to demonstrate is definitive proof-of-concept of the power of molecular breeding to increase crop productivity, thereby improving food security. Other agencies can then upscale and outscale the proven concept at the national, or even at the regional level.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Ribaut stressed the critical importance of germplasm exchange and good data management, and reminded participants to use the MBP, whose clients will include all the seven CIs. “This is your platform,” he emphasised. The project’s genotyping and data management components will be conducted through the MBP.

The project timelines and milestones will be adjusted based on consultations during the launch meetings. “Now we all know and understand what we need to do. Let’s go out and do it!” concluded Dr Trethowan (pictured above).

China Wheat CI Launch Workshop participants


Back row (from left to right): Chai Yongfeng, Li Xiurong, Chen Xinmin, Larry Bulter, Qiao Wenchen, Chen Xiumin, Li Kejiang, Antonia Okono, Jing Ruilian, He Zhonghu, Sun Meirong, Wu Zhenlu, Han Nanping, Mao xinguo, Zhang Yueqiang and Chang Xiaoping
Middle row (from left to right): Francis Ogbonnaya, Peter Langridge, Carmen de Vicente, Feng Dongxin, Jean-Marcel Ribaut, Wang Shumin, Xavier Delannay and Richard Trethowan
Front row (from left to right): Zhang Junling, Li Ang, Shi Wei, Wang Zhenghang, Wang Zhilan, Liu Xiulin and Chang Jianzhong

Photo by Zhang Jianan

About the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP)

Created by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 2003 as a time-bound 10-year Programme, the mission of the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) is to use genetic diversity and advanced plant science to improve crops by adding value to breeding for drought-prone and harsh environments. This is achieved through a network of more than 200 partners (as of 2009) drawn from CGIAR Centres, academia, regional and national research programmes, and capacity enhancement to assist developing world researchers to tap into a broader and richer pool of plant genetic diversity. In this way, GCP strives to ensure that crops improved by cutting-edge research will reach farmers in the developing world. In Phase I (2004-2008), GCP worked on 18 crops, while in Phase II (2009-2013), the main focus is on improving seven key crops for drought-tolerance. GCP has an annual budget of about USD 15 million, through the generosity of various funders, and primarily sources funding through the CGIAR. GCP's major funders are the European Commission (EC), the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Bank - they jointly contribute about 90 percent of our total income.

GCP Drought Phenotyping Workshop

GCP Drought Phenotyping Workshop

From 28–30 January 2008, GCP lived up to its middle name and organised a workshop on an intricate challenge—drought phenotyping. Held at GCP’s Headquarters at CIMMYT, the workshop brought together specialists from diverse disciplines such as crop physiologists, GIS specialists and model developers, to more effectively address the increasing phenotyping needs from genomic studies and breeding programmes, through an interdisciplinary lens.

Participants in the workshop were Gregory Edmeades (Consultant), Abraham Blum (Consultant), Glenn Hyman (CIAT), Sam Geerts (Gent University, Belgium), Robert Koebner (Consultant), Paul Brennan (Consultant), Reinaldo Gomide (EMBRAPA), John O’Toole (Consultant), Guy Davenport (CRIL-CIMMYT), Rosemary Shrestha (CRIL-CIMMYT), Eduardo Hernández (CRIL-CIMMYT), Humberto Gómez (Genotyping Support Service Coordinator, GCP), Jean-Marcel Ribaut (Director, GCP) and Philippe Monneveux (Subprogramme 3 Leader, GCP).

Participants discussed several options for tackling the complexity of drought phenotyping in GCP projects, mainly centering on:

  • better characterisation of environmental conditions and capacities in experimental stations involved in GCP drought phenotyping, and selecting potential hubs, based on climatic representativeness and existing facilities and expertise (component 1)
  • improving environmental characterisation, based on GIS, water balance models and their combination (component 2)
  • improving phenotypic data collection by customising templates and improving data capture (component 3
  • Common activities were agreed upon by the participants who developed a workplan to be further refined and implemented over the months to follow.
    Expected outputs from the actions proposed at the workshop include:

Component 1:

  • Identify sites and develop a phenotyping network comprising 10–12 hubs (reliable and homogenous sites, and with the capacity for drought phenotyping of at least two crops). Sites will be identified through on-site visits to Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, along with a detailed list of their characteristics, suitability for specific crops, equipment and personnel needs.
  • Identifying 3–8 candidate local phenotyping sites per crop, each hosted by a national research programme, as well as conducting commensurate needs assessments.

Component 2:

  • Geographic and agro-climatic appraisals to support the selection of hub sites, including attributing information using spatial overlay analysis with geographic information system (GIS) software. Soil constraint mapping will also be conducted using tables, graphs, maps and software, and outputs disseminated through CDs to other teams working on establishing phenotyping networks
  • Characterisation of selected hubs to ensure adequate representaiton and future field trial planning (map homologues using Homologue and CLIMEX software to identify environments similar to the site; characterisation of drought stress for the site using the soil water balance model Budget).
  • Understanding relationships between test sites for improved deployment of GCP genotypes (measures of similarity and dissimilarity among locations, grouping of locations to support future decisions on deployment of GCP materials, calculation of drought stress indicators, establishment of broad area maps of water balance and detailed mapping of drought stress in GCP priority areas).

Component 3:

  • Development and implementation of phenotyping templates to ensure that all the required information for projects is housed not only in the GCP Central Registry, but also in a database which will allow data set cross-searches for meta analyses and other comparative data mining.
  • Production of a help manual as a companion to the phenotyping template to ensure that project partners are fully aware of expectations on phenotyping data before they embark on data collection.
  • Compliance monitoring of data storage to ensure that data have been submitted in an acceptable and complete form.
  • Development and implementation of electronic data capture technology (after understanding and documenting the availability of compatible hardware and software, and assuring a sufficient level of user computer literacy).

Energy levels at the end of the workshop were high, with several participants commenting that the event came as a welcomed opportunity to interact with colleagues and more easily exchange ideas on the complex issue of drought phenotyping. The outlook for the steps ahead and the future network was also positive, as captured by GIS specialist Glenn Hymann: “The phenotyping network and all the work that will be carried out in the network sites is where we will really see how the wonders of genetics and bioinformatics research play themselves out on the ground. So, in the coming years it well be exciting to see the results of GCP research in the crop plants”.

For further information on this workshop, please contact Subprogramme 3 Leader Philippe Monneveux.

Mining more out of data: Participant experiences from the Genotyping Support Service trial phase

Mining more out of data: Participant experiences from the Genotyping Support Service trial phase
24–28 September 2007
Zaragoza, Spain

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , GCP GSS Coordinator and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , SP5 Programme Assistant

During September 24 to 28, 2007, a workshop took place in Zaragoza, Spain to support the analysis and interpretation of data of the Genotyping Support Service. Seven researchers from around the world were invited to attend: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Philippines, Tanzania, and Nigeria. Fred van Eeuwijk, Hans Jansen and Marcos Malosetti from Wageningen University acted as facilitators. The meeting, which was organised by GCP in collaboration with the Instituto Agronómico Mediterráneao de Zaragoza (IAMZ), achieved successfully its purpose.

The first day participants presented their research objectives, as well as the data available, obtained both from the GSS exercise and from other sources. Also, they were asked to comment on expectations of the workshop. Instructors provided individualised comments, emphasising the need to have the data properly structured and the relevance of properly formulating the research questions before starting with the analysis. The importance of the outline and structure of the statistical models was also highlighted in the group discussion. As a result of the initial presentations, participants were asked to re-define and outline their models of statistical analysis for their projects considering the phenotypic and genotypic information.

Participants worked on setting up their data in the right format. Then, Drs. Janzen and Malosetti showed how to access and install free statistical software, so that they could analyze their data, which had been prepared the day before in spreadsheets.

Emma Sales and Alberto Vilarinhos studied the population structure of their Musa data. Dr. Sales successfully explored the possibility of finding evidence to support a novel botanical classification for some of her Musa accessions. She also found indications that the morphological classifications of some of her germplasm need to be redone. Alberto Vilarinhos looked for the identification of duplicates in his germplasm, and algorithms to find small sets of markers able to discriminate the largest number of accessions. Emmanuel Okogbenin studied his hypothesis of having found a new genetic source of resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease, he concluded that he has two markers significantly associated with new sources of CMD resistance and was able to determine TMS30555 and NR8083 as the likely sources. Heneriko Kulembeka, together with Cesar Ospina, studied the results of Marker Assisted Breeding data for sets of Tanzanian Cassava germplasm. They were able to identify good combination of parents for CMD resistance and to learn the use of statistical software for that purpose. This team concluded that the 1st year of MAS in the field allowed spotting resistant parents much faster than with conventional approaches. Also, Dr. Kulumbeka realized the need to ensure good layout in future trials for more efficient collection of phenotypic data and for improved statistical analysis. He found supporting evidence to modify their breeding program by making more crosses from parents that combine both CMD and CBSD resistance (egAR30-3 x Namikonga, AR42-4 x Namikonga).

Boris Sagredo was interested in mapping insect resistance traits in potato segregating populations. He found more effective statistical means to handle phenotypic data from experiments of force feeding larvae in potatoes, generated in different assays. He found different responses of insect resistance in the different populations, and was able to map these quantitative responses.

Jorge Rojas analysed the population structure of a Bolivian potato collection, was able to determine the genetic structure of the collection and concluded that the genetic structure did not seem to be associated to geographical distribution. These findings are helping Dr. Rojas to refine his plans to design core collections, which is a major institutional goal. Some accessions did not fall inside their expected species group, so their taxonomic discrimination will be revised. In addition, Jorge located two potential duplicates in their germplasm. He also analysed a data set of groundnut germplasm collected in Bolivia and was able to detect relatively large genetic variation and to determine their genetic structure. Thanks to the genotyping data and its analysis, he expects to be able to offer a more effective support to the groundnut and potato breeding efforts of his institution.

The last day of the workshop, all participants presented an outline of the information and results of the analysis performed during the workshop. They concurred that the course was very fruitful not only to acquire knowledge on how to implement and perform correct statistical analyses but also highlighted the performance of the instructors as remarkable. Most of the participants believe that they will be able to generate peer review publications from these works.

During the evenings, the group visited some historical sites in Zaragoza such as the Roman Theatre ruins found some 40 years ago in the city centre and the Alfajería Palace, an outstanding palace built by the Moors during their occupation of Spain and that has always played important roles in history. The event was closed with a nice dinner, with a typical offer of gastronomy from the Aragon province.

Strengthening the foundations of a nascent network: GCP collaborators gather for a workshop on products management and delivery in GCP rice research in Asia (Bangkok, Thailand, 6 and 8 November 2007)

Strengthening the foundations of a nascent network: GCP collaborators gather for a workshop on products management and delivery in GCP rice research in Asia (Bangkok, Thailand, 6 and 8 November 2007)

For two days in November 2007 selected collaborators of GCP projects on rice in Asia came together for a Subprogramme 3Subprogramme 5-organised workshop on Products management and delivery in GCP rice research in Asia. The workshop was held on 6th and 8th November in the frame of the 6th Asian Crop Science Association Conference and the 2nd International Conference on Rice for the Future, organised by BioAsia in Bangkok, Thailand.

Taking advantage of the location and high presence of GCP partners due to attend the 2007 ‘BioAsia’ event, the opportunity to gather key National Research Systems and Principal Investigators working on GCP rice projects in Asia was too great to miss. The workshop, coordinated by GCP SP5 Leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and SP3 Leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and attended by 24 participants hailing from nine countries in Asia, opened with an introduction to the concept of Product Management and Delivery in GCP, followed by an open discussion. Teams presented ongoing activities of their GCP rice projects in Asia, laying particular emphasis on already available or soon-to-be available products, product validation plans and product transfer proposals. Products listed were numerous and varied, including, among others, populations, germplasm, molecular markers and protocols and methods.

Day two of the event saw some lively and animated discussions, focusing mainly on the analysis of user interests, needs and constraints. User demands revealed a wide array of interests. The Subprogramme 2-funded Competitive project G3005.02: Revitalising marginal lands: Discovery of genes for tolerance of saline and phosphorus deficient soils to enhance and sustain productivity, led by IRRI’s Ismail Abdelbagi, induced various requests from GCP partners, including, among others, a need for salinity-tolerant germplasm and access to phenotyping facilities from Myanmar, P-deficiency tolerant germplasm from Thailand and Bangalore, India, and P-deficiency tolerant markers from Indonesia. Similarly, the SP3-supported Commissioned project G4005.18: Development of low-cost gene-based trait assay technologies in cereals, also led by IRRI, generated demands from Laos and Myanmar for MAS training and resistant germplasm, as well as for blast markers from Bangladesh and Thailand, SNPs and RILs from Bangalore, India, and MAS technologies from Tamil Nadu, India. All Mekong countries expressed a strong desire for cooking quality (glutinous) and for submergence tolerance and blast.

One key result of the debates was the identification of common constraints between projects, as well as common activities that might serve to complement other teams’ projects. Consequently, synergies within the GCP rice Asian community were identified, and informal links between projects created. For SP5 Leader Carmen de Vicente, the most rewarding element of the event was evident: “The chance for so many developing country partners to come together and exchange ideas is rare”, she explains. “In providing such an array of partners with a forum to share experiences and information, we witnessed a real consolidation of a network. Participants present were clearly open to change and recognised that what’s useful for one group can also be helpful to another. Our community of users is expanding, and with it, so will the use of our products and resources”.

Reflecting on the successful outcomes and potential future impact of the meeting, and recognising the need to help fasten the ties amongst this nascent Asian network, GCP is now considering the possibility of introducing a coordinator figure to the enthusiastic team. Through regular interaction with the various players, the assigned coordinator would play a central role in identifying the product developments and user needs of the GCP rice community in Asia, ensuring that voices are heard and that the necessary support is delivered effectively and efficiently.

Whilst GCP will monitor the progress of the community and will remain actively involved in supporting and encouraging the ongoing activities, the idea, as highlighted by de Vicente, is that the network will eventually become strong enough to go it alone: “Right now”, she explains, “our role is to support, animate and activate the network. As time goes on though, our expectation is that the foundation will become solid enough to continue without our support, acting, instead, as an all-essential avenue for sustaining GCP research, even after the day when GCP, as a time-bound, 10 year-long programme, ceases to exist”.

The Rice in Asia network can be considered as the first in a series of GCP Crop and Regional Platforms which are set to develop over the coming months. More information on these platforms will be made available in due course.

Presentations and other supporting documents from the workshop are available online

Project kick-off meeting for new Competitive Projects awarded in 2006

SP5 Leader Carmen de Vicente together with the 16 participants - the event marked a great start to the second round of GCP Competitive Projects. Photo credit: Anita Sanchez

August 2007

A major highlight on GCP's calendar this month was the Project kick-off meeting for new Competitive Projects awarded in 2006. The meeting was organised by Subprogramme 5 and held on 6–8 August 2007 at CIMMYT Headquarters, Mexico. It brought together 31 scientists from 16 different countries, among them Principal Investigators, Co-Principal Investigators and the primary users of the proposed research products—representatives of national research programmes in the South.

The purpose of the workshop was to prepare a delivery plan for each of the competitive projects, in alignment with the GCP Delivery Strategy which requires that all new projects have a clear delivery plan right from the start. After intense training sessions bringing together—for the first time—both project team members and potential product users, strategies were mapped to operationalise GCP’s renewed focus on product development and delivery. GCP scientists working on the six new projects now have a clearer understanding of two basic concepts along which to conduct their research: (i) the products to be created, and, (ii) the primary and secondary users of these products. “It’s important that everyone is engaged,” says Carmen de Vicente, the Subprogramme 5 Leader. “By integrating delivery into the planning, our national partners share in the feeling of ownership of the project and its outcomes.”

Another outcome of the workshop, which is also a major part of the delivery plan, was identifying and proposing solutions to potential problems or constraints that could occur along the product delivery chain. In this way, capacity-building can be undertaken to ensure products pass on to the intended users.

Participants will now finalise preliminary versions of their project delivery plan, and selected results will be presented at GCP's Annual Research Meeting in September 2007.

For their hard work in the day sessions, participants relaxed with social events in the evenings, where they sampled the rich Mexican cuisine, interacted, and talked about…GCP Competitive Projects!

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