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Germinating ideas

Amazing things happen when private seed companies interact with public sector scientists to expand research horizons and explore joint opportunities for growth.

The Asia & Pacific Seed Association (APSA)-World Vegetable Center Vegetable Breeding Consortium held its annual workshop on 15-16 May 2019 at WorldVeg headquarters in Shanhua, Taiwan. Fifty-eight participants from 39 companies across the region joined 46 WorldVeg staff for discussions, intensive seminars on the Center’s breeding work and other research, and in-field evaluations of tomato, pepper, and cucurbit crops.

“This is the third edition of the annual workshop, and it has grown from strength to strength,” said WorldVeg Director General Marco Wopereis. “When the consortium was launched in 2016, it was the brainchild of eight seed companies. We now count 40 member companies, which demonstrates the interest in this type of public-private partnership.”

He also recognized Anthony Tse of Clover Seed Co. Ltd. for his perseverance and effort in helping to bring the consortium together. “The consortium is an essential scaling tool for WorldVeg,” Wopereis said. “With the feedback companies provide on performance of our breeding materials, the feedback you share with us directly from farmers, you keep us on our toes.”

“I can see how much APSA seed companies benefit from WorldVeg breeding programs,” said Kanokwan (May) Chodchoey, APSA Executive Director. “The consortium helps our members keep feeding new improved varieties to smallholder farmers in Asia, and brings value to the seed industry.” She noted the opportunities the consortium provides for members to learn from WorldVeg and each other, and encouraged all to share their comments on issues of interest to develop meaningful programs and activities for future meetings.

The consortium is designed to provide what its members most need: Participating seed companies get early access to new breeding lines and the opportunity to interact with WorldVeg experts on upstream research. In return, WorldVeg receives feedback about the performance of its material in various locations and in commercial seed production—vital information that can help the Center demonstrate its value to donors.

Farmers–seed company customers–benefit most of all: they have access to more and better quality vegetable varieties to produce on their farms.

For WorldVeg Deputy Director General – Research David Johnson, the annual consortium meeting is a highlight of the year. “It’s our most exciting week, to spend time with our scaling partners,” he told the seed company delegates. “WorldVeg is part of your R&D program, and during this meeting we learn so much about the needs in your companies, your country, and across Asia. You help us set the research agenda to benefit farmers.”

Research: Breeding, plant protection, intellectual property rights

In the morning session, Pepijn Schreinemachers, Flagship Leader – Enabling Impact, gave an update on the use of WorldVeg breeding lines by consortium members, who agree to provide data on sales volume and distribution. Data collection tools have been simplified based on member feedback.

Flagship leader for Vegetable Diversity and Improvement Roland Schafleitner discussed the global inventory of solanaceous genetic resources for breeding through the G2P-SOL Project. Tomato Breeder Peter Hanson updated participants on the WorldVeg breeding program for dual-purpose tropical tomato and ongoing work to identify molecular markers for heat-tolerant tomato with good fruit set. “Drivers like urbanization, changing consumer demand, and climate change dictate what we need to be working on now to produce the varieties we will need in the future,” he said. As more young people move to cities less field labor is available in the countryside, meaning we’ll need varieties that require fewer harvests. More off-season production will be needed to meet demand from a growing middle class for high quality tomatoes year-round. And as the climate warms, varieties with increased heat tolerance will be essential for future food security.

WorldVeg Vegetable Breeders reported on their research activities in 2018: Derek Barchenger (genic male sterility [GMS] and cytoplasmic male sterility [CMS] pepper lines), Sanjeet Kumar (review of the Center’s okra breeding work and a way forward for increasing commercialization), and Narinder Dhillon (virus-resistant pumpkin and improved bitter gourd hybrids). With ample examples from the WorldVeg bitter gourd program, Dhillon discussed the successful discovery – piloting – scaling approach he and other WorldVeg breeders follow. All breeders emphasized the importance of consortium members’ input to help shape the direction of WorldVeg breeding programs.

The afternoon session covered plant protection issues. Breeder Mohamed Rakha updated participants on the Center’s breeding work for insect resistance in tomato, noting that close wild relatives of tomato in the WorldVeg Genebank have resistance to whitefly, spider mite, fruit worm and Tuta absoluta, offering exciting options for breeders. Virologist Lawrence Kenyon shared information from a survey of tomato viruses in Taiwan, and confirmed bacterial wilt resistance in some eggplant lines for rootstocks.

Genebank Manager Maarten can Zonneveld gave figures on current germplasm holdings (62,620 accessions of 439 species) and provided participants with links to important datasets, including the Genesys platform (https://www.genesys-pgr.org) and WorldVeg’s AVGRIS (http://seed.worldveg.org/). “Partnerships with seed users of all types are crucial to maintain vegetable diversity and will help genebanks remain relevant,” he said.

Legal Consultant Guat Hong Teh examined intellectual asset management of WorldVeg genebank accessions and improved lines in light of material transfer agreements and the Center’s mission to keep the results and outputs of its research activities as international public goods.

Ideas for multilateral project funding were presented by Derek Barchenger, Mohamed Rakha and Lawrence Kenyon for discussion and review among consortium members.

Roland Schafleitner concluded the first day by leading a discussion on future research topics, encouraging participants to think broadly about the application of new breeding technologies to advance the development of improved varieties. Foliar disease resistance, “tropicalizing” sweet pepper, and breeding hot pepper with seed clustered toward the top of the fruit were among the ideas discussed.

In the field: Performance and evaluation

On the second day of the workshop, field tours gave participants a closer look at the performance of WorldVeg breeding material. The tomato team—Peter Hanson, Grace Hsu, and Shu-fen Lu—showed preliminary yield trials of tomato hybrids. Pepper experts Derek Barchenger, Susan Lin and Vivian Wang demonstrated newly developed GMS and CMS lines. The cucurbit crew—Narinder Dhillon and Vicky Cheng—displayed pumpkin lines with multiple disease resistance. Yuan-li Chan demonstrated screening methods for pumpkin resistance to Squash leaf curl Philippine virus (SLCuVP). Mohamed Rakha showed insect-resistant tomatoes in field #44.

Participants blushed when entomologists Paola Cardona, Mei-ying Lin and Srinivasan Ramasamy opened the pink net house, where the manipulation of the light spectrum is having fascinating effects on plant development and yield of tomato and other crops. Roland Schafleitner once again wrapped the day with a demonstration of WorldVeg’s newly installed FieldScan High-throughput Field Phenotyping System in field #35.

Consortium members engaged in lively discussions on topics from genetics to harvesting and postharvest shelf-life with WorldVeg researchers, and walked the fields to carefully examine breeding trials and consider how the lines on display might be of use to enhance and strengthen their own breeding programs.

“It’s so important for seed companies to have access to the germplasm and especially to the WorldVeg breeders,” said Shreeshail Basappa Hadapad, a new member representing Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (India) Pvt. Ltd. “Seed companies don’t often share information among themselves, as we are competitors after all. But we have many common interests and coming together in this workshop helps us help each other.”

The consortium is a prime vehicle for WorldVeg to achieve its mission of healthier lives and more resilient livelihoods for farmers and their families through improvements in vegetable production, and a great way for consortium members to grow their businesses with quality products. “The depth and breadth of the discussions gets better each year,” said Marco Wopereis. “We’re all looking forward to our next meeting in 2020.”

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KEY IMPACT PARTNERS

The following consortium members were recognized for their contribution to helping WorldVeg create impact through data sharing:

PT East West Seed Indonesia 
JK Agri Genetics Ltd. 
PT BISI International Tbk. 
I&B Seeds Pvt. Ltd. 
East-West Seed International 
Clover Seed Co. Ltd. 
Takii & Company Ltd.

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