b"Lessons LearnedDavid De Koeyer spent three years doing research work in Africa which gave him a fresh perspective on plant breeding and is helping him with his current work as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canadas potato breeder. BY: MARK HALSALLTWO YEARS AGO, David De Koeyer was named the lead potato breeder forAs De Koeyer tells it, the good match turned out to be transformative for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). Under his direction, the nation- the long-time potato breeder, who has worked as a geneticist combining plant al potato breeding program has shifted slightly to become more responsivebiotechnology and potato breeding for nearly 20 years.to the needs and wants of potato growers and consumersthis was partlyMy experience in Africa was life-changing, he says, noting his time shaped by the three years he spent in Africa helping to breed better yams forspent there has been instrumental in shaping some of his decisions as AAFCs West African farmers. potato breeder as it was a great learning experience. He has been trying to In May 2015, just after turning 50, De Koeyer left the AAFC Frederictontransfer some of his knowledge learned there to his current position.Research and Development Centre on extended leave for a term position atSomething I learned in Africa was that to develop new varieties, you the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria need to be very focused and clearly define what your priorities are, he adds. 8,000 kilometres away in a whole different world.Thats an idea we're trying to implement into our potato breeding program I knew that Africa is a continent where agriculture is very important, buthere, to really make it as efficient as possible given the limited resources that there are major challenges in feeding the populations and applying technologywe have. We can't do everything.advances to help the agricultural system there, he says.De Koeyer says he found it useful to view AAFCs potato breeding efforts Ive always been interested infrom the perspective of a private breeding company as he realized the same development work, and I hoped thatefficiencies and focus need to be considered in order to have the new varieties this opportunity would have anfarmers want. impact on alleviating poverty in West Africa, De KoeyerPASSION FOR PLANT BREEDINGadds. I thought it was aFor De Koeyer, theres another, more personal reason why hes grateful for good match. his time in Africa, as it allowed him to reconnect with his passion for plant breeding.Keeping that connection to the applied work is something that's very impor-David De Koeyer,tant to me, De Koeyer says. I think over time my work had become a bit more lead potato breeder atdisconnected from applied plant breeding than I would have liked it to be.Agriculture andAgri-Food Canada.I saw this opportunity in Africa as something that would allow me to PHOTO: AAFC. combine my interests in plant breeding with my expertise in bioinformatics and genomics and different aspects of technology.While in Africa, De Koeyer served as project leader for AfricaYam, an international development program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at boosting yam productivity and providing West Afri-Fredericton, can farmers with improved yam varieties. He helped establish successful New Brunswick yam breeding programs not just in Nigeria but also in Ghana, Cte DIvoire and Benin.We improved procedures, provided training to scientists, and released five new varieties, says De Koeyer. We saw increased polli-Ibadan, Nigeria nation success, better seedling establishment, and created a stable breeding pipeline generating new yam variety candidates.During his stint with IITA, De Koeyer was able to meet and work with many different people from around the worldsomething which he really enjoyed.What I actually liked the most was the interactions with the Nige-rians who were part of my team and those who were actually doing the work that was needed to support the project, he says.14 SPUDSMART.COM SUMMER 2020"