Developing capacity for participatory and marker assisted plant breeding to mitigate low crop productivity and poor food security

In East Africa, poverty and decreasing food security are major problems that will be further exacerbated by climate change. Current agricultural research in East Africa does not translate into improved yields for sustained food security, and agricultural production is falling. 

Project Templates

The project will increase the capacity of crop research in East Africa in order to produce improved, well-adapted, farmer-acceptable crop varieties and enhance food security. More specifically, the project will:

  • Develop the capacity for improved breeding methods, in particular using a few cross-strategy and client-oriented methods, to be applied in plant breeding programmes.
  • Encourage the appropriate use of molecular marker technology to augment these breeding programmes.

Farmers lack the ability to adapt to climate change. One way to address the problems posed by climate change is to develop new crop varieties that are adapted to earlier or later sowing, or to drought or heat stress. However, there is a poor standard of agricultural research, low spending on research and development and inefficiency of research outputs in reaching farmers. Reform is essential to develop more sustainable research with the appropriate integration of technology adaptation, and to strengthen institutional capacity to do successful research and extension. Current research does notfocus on crop varieties adapted to farmer needs, and there is no promotion of underutilised crop biodiversity as alternative food crops. Plant breeders are unfamiliar with new techniques which have been shown elsewhere to be highly effective in accelerating variety development and increasing the uptake of new varieties by poor farmers in marginal environments. It is important to accelerate the adoption of new farming technologies and to quickly bring innovations to farmers and agribusinesses. The adoption of client-oriented plant breeding methodologies, augmented with modern biotechnology tools where appropriate, would exactly meet these needs. Major constraints to the optimal use of biosciences in Africa include the lack of a critical mass of adequate laboratory facilities and equipment, of suitably trained scientists to operate them, and of the financial resources essential to operate, maintain and sustain them.

The project will focus on participatory methods where ownership of results includes all stakeholders, such as consumers, farmers, seed companies, extension workers, policy makers and researchers. In plant breeding, participatory approaches result in a better orientation to the needs of the client farmers. The term Client-Oriented Breeding (COB) explains the purpose of involving farmers at each stage of breeding to take account of the clients’ needs. Through training programmes, farmers, national scientists, researchers and teachers and extension workers will gain knowledge of appropriate methods for the identification and breeding of locally-adapted modern varieties. The project shall contribute to improving research and research grant capture through reinforcement of research quality and the management of research activities, the improvement of proposal formulation, and the consolidation and strengthening of existing research networks between partner institutions and their other associated networks, which have focus on participatory improving or exploiting improved crop breeds.

Client-oriented breeding (COB) activities
Key members of the community, namely smallholder farmers, seed producers, consumers, extension workers and breeders will participate in the development of suitable crop breeds:

  • Awareness raising programmes and training courses for plant breeders in the design, operation and analysis of COB trials.
  • Practical training in participatory methods for breeders, NGO staff and extension workers.
  • Statistics workshops for breeders and scientists.

Molecular breeding activities
This technique applies biotechnological means at gene level to determine crop parents used to breed for better crop traits such as resistance to diseases and drought tolerance:

  • Task group to identify gaps in laboratory requirements of partners to seek funding.
  • Hands-on training in marker-assisted breeding.
  • Short training courses for plant breeders in the application of molecular techniques.

Networking and project management training activities
Networking is the interactive and participatory implementation of activities based on common interest and harmonious planning and co-ordination by two or more members:

  • Training in networking and network management.
  • Training in project management.
  • Training in scientific writing for five scientists.


  • A self-sustaining international network of stakeholders, research partners and associates in especially East Africa and Europe.
  • Molecular breeding methods and Client Oriented Breeding (COB) techniques mainstreamed in curricula of at least three partner universities.
  • At least two research proposals submitted to relevant funders.
  • Research outputs from partner institutes disseminated through client-oriented and marker-assisted breeding and networking training of East African scientists and farmers, as well as through publishing project reports on the project website to serve both the local and the international audience.


  • Teaching of breeding methods strengthened in the three partner universities in East Africa.
  • COB and related techniques applied in partner breeding programmes.
  • Research in crop breeding strengthened among scientists in the East African region, especially at the three partner universities.
  • Research in molecular markers strengthened among scientists in the East African region, especially at the three partner universities.
  • ‘Training-of-Trainers’ approach adopted in the capacity building activities for staff of research, training and outreach institutions in the East African region.
  • Seven staff trained in Project Cycle Management (PCM).
  • At least 20 institutions stakeholders, which include farmers, scientists, researchers, and NGOs in East Africa made aware of COB methods.
  • At least 20 scientists trained in participatory plant breeding and able to teach others within their institutions.
  • 30 plant breeders from the East African region made aware of the application of molecular breeding, and able to use marker-assisted breeding technologies in their work.
  • 4 postgraduates from the three East African partner institutes gained experience in the application of molecular breeding, and able to apply the knowledge and skills in their breeding programmes.
  • 30 breeders trained in COB and molecular breeding methods: they will be involved in training of at least 180 graduate and five postgraduate students at the partner universities in East Africa.
  • Extension workers in focus areas and target farmers gained knowledge and skills on COB.
Grant: FED/2009/218788
Project duration: 36 months (from 10/11/2009 to 09/11/2012)- CLOSED
EC funding: EUR 785,071.81
Total budget: EUR 923,613.89
Project contact:

Dr. Charles Ssekyema
Uganda Martyrs University
P.O Box 5498
Tel: +256-382-410.611
Fax: +256-382-410.100
E-mail: cssekyewa [at]; researchdirectorate [at]