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$3.8m Bill Gates grant for UQ plant breeding project

Grain Central, June 30, 2016
Ethiopa

Ethiopian technicians at the Melkassa Research Station making breeding crosses between sorghum lines. Photo: Professor David Jordan.

The University of Queensland has received a $3.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to evaluate and improve breeding programs in developing countries.

UQ said it was selected to implement the Breeding Program Analysis Tool because of its international reputation for excellence in plant breeding, particularly in tropical crops, and its experience in improving sorghum breeding in Ethiopia.

UQ School of Agriculture and Food Sciences project leader Dr Chris Lambrides said the project would identify ways of improving breeding programs, leading to greater genetic gains and on-farm profitability.

“This is a very exciting project because it will contribute to making a real difference to millions of resource-poor farmers worldwide,” Dr Lambrides said.

“We will be using the Breeding Program Analysis Tool developed by the Gates Foundation across key public sector plant breeding programs in Africa and Asia for sorghum, rice, maize, wheat, cowpea, chickpea, common bean, groundnut, yam, sweet potato, cassava, and banana.”

Project co-leader and UQ Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation researcher Professor David Jordan said very few organisations possessed the range of technical and applied breeding expertise of UQ and its partner, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Professor Jordan leads Australia’s sorghum pre-breeding program funded by the Grains Research Development Corporation.

“Sorghum is a great example of the gains that can be achieved by effective plant breeding even in difficult dryland cropping environments,” Professor Jordan said.

“Productivity gains from sorghum in Australia are the highest in the world.”

The Gates Foundation’s project involves developing a website to act as an information hub and encourage organisations to conduct self-assessments using the tools available online.

The project will review breeding programs in 11 key African and Asian geographic regions – Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Bangladesh and the Indian states Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh.

“We are investigating the possibility that in the future the tool will be made available to other donors and or interested parties at a reasonable cost,” Dr Lambrides said.

“Effective plant breeding is fundamental to improving farmer profitability and reducing risk.”

Source: University of Queensland

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