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Concepts & Principles

Principles of Demand-led Plant Variety Design

There are 10 key points underlying the Demand-led approaches

  • Understanding clients, which is central to demand-led variety design and increasing adoption of new varieties: Clarity is required on: Who are the clients? What factors influence their buying decisions? What are the needs, preferences, and problems of each client?
  • Farmer adoption: Demand-led approaches should increase the likelihood of new varieties being adopted by farmers.
  • Value chains: Demand-led approaches build on and go beyond farmer participatory breeding. They include consultations not only with farmers but with all clients and stakeholders along the whole crop value chain.
  • Urban and rural consumers: Breeders must consider needs and preferences of consumers living in both rural and urban environments. Rapid (rural and urban) appraisals can be extended to gathering information not only from farmers but also from consumers and clients who live in towns and cities.  
  • Markets and client segmentation: Breeders need to understand markets and client segmentation to be able to prioritize their breeding targets.
  • Market research and intelligence gathering:  Market research at the start of a breeding program needs to be complemented with continuing consultations with stakeholders at key decision points along with the development stage plan from new variety design to post-market release.  
  • Breeding entrepreneurship: This can contribute to economic growth, better livelihoods for smallholder farmers and increased food security. Improved varieties can change lives.
  • Market creation: To maximize market creation and nurture innovation, a balance is required between using demand-led approaches and enabling new technologies to drive innovations. Both approaches have value and complement one another.
  • Role of the plant breeder:  Plant breeders do much more than making crosses and leading selection programs. A breeder must also be an integrator of inputs and be able to assimilate information and incorporate a broad range of views, including those of non-technical experts. This requires assimilating data, looking at its implications, and making decisions based on information from diverse areas such as agricultural economics, markets, and market research as well as the core scientific functions for breeding.
  • Breeding experience: Demand-led approaches retain emphasis and put a value on the breeders’ eyes and experience in assessing germplasm.

Visioning and Foresight for Setting Breeding Goals

Visioning and foresight focus on skills and methodologies necessary to understand the changes taking place in Africa‘s food and agricultural production.

Visioning and foresight allow us to anticipate future demand and incorporate these findings into a new variety of designs. It provides a holistic approach to (i) Analysing the current agricultural landscape and challenges in Africa within a context of market supply and demand; (ii) Understanding the drivers of change and their predictability; and (iii) Using the methodology of Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental and Policy drivers (STEEP analysis) and risk mitigation to create scenarios and validate new variety designs. 

How does visioning and foresight add value to current breeding practices?

  • Future demand: Demand-led variety design focuses on understanding market requirements and predicting demand in the five to ten year period after a new variety is released.   
  • Visioning and forecasting: Best practices for visioning and forecasting applicable to demand-led variety design offer new approaches to add value to current postgraduate and professional development programs for plant breeders.
  • Risk analysis: Risk analysis considers the uncertainty of future scenarios and the effect that drivers of change can have on future demand. 


Forecasting future landscapes

  • Changing demand over time: Foresight analysis is needed to assess for whom the variety is being designed and if the clients’ needs and preferences will change over the projected timetable for varietal release to farmers.
  • Predicting the future: Using STEEP driver analysis and scenario-based methods can help to better predict the future, avoid creating redundant varieties and build confidence in plant breeding programs amongst investors, governments and R&D managers. 


Integrating foresight into a new variety of design

  • Best practices: Foresight methods are used to review existing variety of designs being
    developed or as a starting point to create new designs. Both approaches are valid. Every trait characteristic in each product profile should be analyzed and a decision taken on whether the trait and benchmark is likely to remain relevant for its intended users over the time required for variety development.
  • Risk management: Risk analysis and mitigation is an essential procedure for testing the long-term viability of demand-led designs. Decision points are required in the stage plan and spreading of risk considered (e.g. understanding the benefits and costs of maintaining many, biologically diverse germplasm lines).

Understanding Clients’ Needs

Understanding clients’ needs enable breeders to (i) Define clients and stakeholders; (ii) Understand the various categories of clients and their activities in value chains, including seed distributors, farmers, processors, traders, retailers, marketers, and consumers; (iii) Identify market segments and their importance in determining the number of new varieties required; and (iv) Understand different types and methods of market research and best practices to obtain from clients and stakeholders the information required to design new, “fit-for-purpose” varieties.

How does Understanding clients’ needs add value to current breeding practices?

  • Client focus: Breeding goals and objectives are set based on what clients want and need without bias towards either what technology can offer or a specific focus on individual trait improvement.
  • Value chains: Greater understanding is required about the structure of crop value chains and the buying and selling factors of different clients and their relative priority when setting a new variety of designs.
  • Dual-purpose varieties: A new variety not only supports farmers’ requirements for crop productivity and home consumption but also ensures that surplus crop production can enter markets with cash returns to all the value chain participants.
  • Market research: The stronger emphasis is given to gathering unbiased, reliable, independent information on clients’ needs and preferences.
  • Market and business knowledge: Breeders require greater knowledge about crop uses, markets, and the “business/economics” of breeding.  

Clients within value chains

  • Understanding clients is central to demand-led variety design, release, and adoption. It is essential to be clear on who the clients are and what affects their buying decisions.
  • Value chains: Breeders need to understand value chains and the relative importance of different clients in the chain and their requirements within each new variety design.
  • Different clients in value chains have different requirements and all requirements cannot always be satisfied with the same variety, especially when there are specialist properties required for processing.  Breeders should have regular contact with clients in all parts of the value chain and involve them in new variety design
  • Client location and scale: The geographic location of clients is important and whether the benefits and value of new varieties are also applicable for potential clients across national borders. Analysis of agro-ecological zones should be given particular attention. The more clients that can benefit from each new variety, especially when it can have a multi-country impact, the better the investment case for a breeding program.
  • Seed system development: For seed system development and improved seeds to reach farmers, especially in remote locations, distributors require portfolios of “fit-for-purpose” varieties. Portfolios of new varieties are also required for market creation, growth and business sustainability.
  • Public and private sector roles in seed supply: Public sector breeding programs are the initial source of new varieties to serve clients and value chains, for food security crops, which are currently not commercial (export) crops. In the longer term, developing the local private sector seed business is a more sustainable strategy for both food security crops and commercial (export) crops. 

New Variety Design and Product Profiling

New Variety Design and Product Profiling aims to enable breeders to design new crop varieties that will achieve high adoption rates because their varietal characteristics serve the needs and preferences of farmers, processors, consumers, and other stakeholders in the crop value chain.

How does New Variety Design and Product Profiling add value to current breeding practices?

  • Variety design and bench-marking: The stronger emphasis is placed on systematic, quantitative assessment of varietal characteristics and creating product profiles with benchmarks for varietal performance and line progression. Consumer demanded traits are recognized as being as important as production traits. This requires a greater strategic prioritization of traits amongst the many traits required by farmers, processors, seed distributors, transporters, retailers, and consumers. This may involve the development of different varieties for different segments of the value chain.
  • Competitor product profiling: This requires analysis of the characteristics of current commercial varieties and landraces as grown by farmers and their differentiating characteristics at every stage in the value chain from seed production, farmers, processors, transporters, retailers, food companies and consumers. 
  • New variety design: A detailed product profile is created that contains many traits and characteristics (typically more than 40) with performance benchmarks that are used to create breeding objectives. Current practices often focus on a much smaller number of farmer requirements that are well understood but are not discussed or agreed with other stakeholders in the value chain. Demand-led approaches put more emphasis on combining consumer-based traits with farmer requirements to drive adoption.
  • Quantitative benchmarks: For each trait, a target quantitative benchmark is set for line progression for variety release, rather than the common procedure of deciding on a defined number of years for annual selection and progressing the best performing lines at the end of the term for registration.
  • Trade-off decisions: A decision-making process is used that takes into account client needs, technical feasibility, and a range of other practical and fiscal considerations. Active and inclusive decision-making is core to demand-led breeding. A prioritized list of traits and the final new variety design that is used to set the breeding goals are discussed and agreed with clients and stakeholders before breeding work commences.

Variety design

  • Product profile: A specific product profile is required for each segment of clients that a new variety is intended to serve. Each product profile is comprised of a defined set of prioritized traits.
  • Communication: A consistent format should be used for product profiles so they are easy to compare and communicate to clients, plant breeders, scientists, managers, and other stakeholders.
  • Validation: Each new product profile should be tested with clients and assumptions about acceptability validated before major investment is made in a breeding program.
  • Market research data: Qualitative and quantitative data from early discussions with farmers and clients in the crop value chain should be used to create product profiles and make decisions on breeding objectives.
  • Adoption tracking: Breeders should consider at the variety design stage how adoption tracking will be done (e.g. phenotypic vs. genotypic markers) and build these markers into the various design.
  • Breeding goals: Validated product profiles that are comprised of a predefined, integrated, and prioritized set of traits should drive the setting of breeding goals and objectives, rather than single traits.
  • Forecasting requirements: Breeders need to decide how long it will take to develop their new variety and then use scenario-based techniques to review the applicability of their designs on this timeframe.

Setting standards

  • Breeding objectives: Clear, quantified breeding objectives with performance indicators are essential.
  • Benchmarks: Each trait in a product profile should be quantified and measurable vs. a defined performance benchmark that needs to be achieved to ensure registration and future adoption by farmers, based on the performance of a popular variety of landrace.
  • Bioassays: Performance must be measurable with “fit-for-purpose” assays.
  • Variety registration requirements: This process must be understood at the design phase and early discussions held with officials, particularly when the design includes consumer-based traits, markers for variety identification, and monitoring of trait performance assessment (e.g. nutrition, seed certification).
  • Seed production and scaling: A key design parameter is how easily can seed multiplication be scaled and what are the associated costs? This needs to be taken into consideration at the variety design stage so that future demand for seed can be satisfied. Seed production costs can make the difference between a variety being commercially viable or not.

Variety Development Strategy and Stage Plans

Variety Development Strategy and Stage Plans address the following five issues in strategy development and stage planning:

  • New variety development strategy: Ability to create a de-novo demand-led new variety of development strategy as a key communication document. 
  • Development stage plan and decision-making: Clear understanding about the key components and benefits of a demand-led development stage plan that contains critical decision points (stage gates) and lists the information needed for line progression. The stage plan includes all the required activities and timelines to create new varieties of the target crop, together with clarity on by whom, when, and how decisions will be taken online progression.
  • Timelines and critical paths: Understanding the value of organizing the activities required for developing demand-led varieties into an optimized plan and how to determine the critical path sequence and to conduct critical path analysis. 
  • Risk management: Implementation of risk mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood of delays and ensure outputs are delivered on time.
  • Variety registration: Understanding the requirements and time scale to register a new improved variety for a crop in a country or region. Engaging with a variety registration officials to ensure registration procedures are able to address market and consumer demanded traits.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning

Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning aims to enable breeders to design, integrate and implement plans that demonstrate best practices in monitoring, evaluation and learning (M&E&L) in their demand-led breeding programs, including setting targets based on key performance indicators (KPIs).  It encourages breeders to reflect on what they consider success will look like, both in terms of their demand-led breeding program and their own professional performance. It focuses on the core principles of demand-led variety design and best practices in M&E&L, involving clients in the demand-led process and the setting key performance indicators. It also covers the importance, challenges, and methods for post-release monitoring of adoption of new varieties by farmers and other value chain clients. 

Performance benchmarking

  • Monitoring and evaluation: To be successful, demand-led breeding projects require the implementation of best practices in project management including planning, monitoring, evaluation, and learning, from the new variety design and project initiation stage through to variety release, widespread use, and eventual discontinuation of the variety.
  • Demand-led strategy and stage plan: The strategy and stage plan for each new variety design provide the framework, targets, plan and assumptions for all M&E&L activities. Specifically, the stage gates provide the review points for evaluation and learning.
  • Clients and stakeholders: Engaging key clients in the value chain in the formation of the development strategy and the M&E&L process is essential. Specifically, in new variety development projects, key clients should be consulted and involved in decisions at the following stage gates: (i) Decision to invest in the new plant breeding project; (ii) Choice of lead lines to be developed and scaled up; and (iii) New variety release. This engagement will increase ownership of new varieties and ensure the longevity of demand.
  • Key performance indicators: Specifically tailored key performance indicators (KPIs) should be included in the development strategy to support and encourage the delivery of demand-led plant breeding goals and objectives. Institutional and breeder performance measures may vary and any conflict of interests should be resolved at an early stage with the institutions’ research leadership and management.


Variety adoption and performance tracking

  • Rationale and benefits: To understand the significance of variety adoption assessment and its links to breeding programs. 
  • Responsibility and funding: To be clear on how adoption will be assessed after varietal release, who is responsible for tracking adoption and if the breeding program will require additional funding to enable post-release tracking of new varieties.
  • Methods and technology: Consider using phenotypic markers or low cost, modern molecular technology to enable tracking of new varieties more effectively after release.
  • Variety adoption tracking: Government officials and investors need to support variety adoption tracking with additional finance, resources, best practices, transparency and encouragement to plant breeders and their clients in the value chain, as adoption tracking is a means to improve future performance of the breeding program.  

The Business Case for New Variety Development

The Business Case for New Variety Development describes the elements necessary for plant breeders to be able to create a compelling case for investment in demand-led plant breeding to put to R&D management, government officials, and financial investors. This includes identifying the benefits and intended beneficiaries of a proposed new breeding program or project; understanding the principles of return on investment; and clarifying whether the investment in demand-led breeding can be justified in terms of the likely economic, social and environmental benefits versus the costs of developing a new variety.

Benefits and investment cases

Greater emphasis is placed on analyzing and creating compelling business cases, by identifying and communicating the full breadth of quantitative and qualitative economic, social and environmental benefits that will become available for clients and stakeholders by investing in the proposed demand-led plant breeding program. The critical issues are:

  • Compelling business cases: It is critical to understand the clients to be served by a plant breeding program, as the basis to create new varieties that have benefits for all clients in the value chain and which deliver an attractive return on investment. A broader and deeper understanding of the range of costs necessary to develop demand-led varieties is also required. These are the essential elements to create business investment cases that are persuasive to government officials, private and public investors, and other stakeholders in order to secure and retain support for a demand-led breeding program. 
  • Investment case: Clarity is required on the rationale and justification for proceeding with a demand-led breeding program. Investment cases are always assumption-based. The quality of the case comes from detailed analysis of the benefits, performance assumptions, including questioning their probability and understanding their sensitivity to factors such as level of farmer adoption, choice of varieties available, and changing variety development costs. 
  • Communication: Creating a compelling investment case that is understandable and persuasive to government officials, investors and stakeholders is critical to be able to secure and retain support for a demand-led breeding program.
  •   Return on investment: Governments, R&D managers, and investors need to appreciate that breeding programs can provide a return on investment rather than only being seen as a budget cost. Managers need to encourage an investment decision-making culture rather than a budget spending one within breeding programs. This can be achieved by tracking adoption and benefits accrued from new varieties rather than only monitoring the number of varieties developed by the breeding teams that are registered for release.
  • The business of plant breeding: Demand-led breeding combines the best practices in market-led, new variety design with innovative breeding methods and integrates these with the best practices in business