IITA’s Integrated Molecular and Conventional Breeding Scheme for Enhancing Genetic Gain in Maize.

Mpofu Taddias Prince

Shortly after completing my MSc. studies at Gulu University, I was offered an opportunity for internship at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Ibadan, Nigeria under a research program entitled “Integrated Molecular and Conventional Breeding Scheme for Enhancing Genetic Gain in Maize in Africa”. The program is under Dr. Abebe Menkir who is the team leader for Maize Improvement Research. The program’s emphasis is on breeding for high yield potential and multiple stresses like resistance to pests, diseases and striga, drought tolerance, enhanced nutritional quality, and resistance to mycotoxin contamination in maize. A recently-published op-ed by IITA Director General, Nteranya Sanginga and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Director General, Martin Kropff, talks about CGIAR centers’ investment in long-term breeding to increase genetic gains in a vital food crop like maize using many new tools and technologies. Sanginga and Kropff make a case for increasing investments in crop improvement and seed systems innovation to tackle the climate variability crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. They contend that “It is not enough to lower carbon emissions. African farmers need to adapt quickly to rising temperatures, drawn-out droughts, and sharp, devastating floods.” They note that higher yielding, multiple-stress-tolerant maize varieties allow smallholder farmers the opportunity not only to combat climatic variabilities, diseases, and pests but also effectively diversify their farms. “This will enable them in turn to have a better adaptation to the changing climates and access to well-balanced and affordable diets,” they continue. This vindicates why research on maize improvement at IITA is a priority and my involvement in such contributes to a greater cause.    

Within this first month of my internship program at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), I was actively involved in the setting up and planting of different trials which included the following among others; Fall armyworm resistance, Provitamin A fortification and, Drought resistance trials. From this engagement, I learned how to design and use a field-book in setting up trials utilizing different experimental designs. Within the same period, I participated in a number of conventional breeding exercises carried out at IITA maize breeding unit. I was practically involved in crossing maize lines using the following methods; bulk selection, recurrent selection, family selection and synthetics. Quality control measures like detasseling, ear and tassel bagging and rouging of off-types have also been conducted under my supervision. In addition, I have been involved in the screening of 48 maize genotypes (IITA inbred lines and hybrids) for Fall Armyworm (FAW) resistance under controlled (laboratory and greenhouses) and uncontrolled environments.

I am grateful to the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) for the continued support, both financially and career-wise. I also thank the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture for providing this learning platform for my continued growth.  

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