Research projects

Strategies for Organic and Low-input Integrated Breeding and Management

Acronym : SOLIBAM

Code : FP7 KBBE-245058

Contract Period : 01/03/2010 - 01/09/2014

Project Webpage :

Main Funder : EU FP7

ORC Staff Contact : Sally Howlett

Develop specific and novel breeding approaches integrated with management practices to improve performance, quality, sustainability and stability of crops adapted to organic and low-input systems in Europe and small-scale farms in Africa.

Project Aims:

SOLIBAM objectives include the following:

  • Identify key traits that help crops perform better in low-input or organic conditions across a range of environments. Rapid establishment (for outcompeting weeds), for example, is one trait which might be more important for organically grown crops than it is for the most-used conventional varieties of today. Many different crop types will be investigated, including wheat, barley, beans, broccoli, tomatoes and maize.
  • Establish the genetic basis for key traits and thereby improve the accuracy and efficiency of breeding programmes using molecular genetics.
  • Investigate the effects of increasing within-crop genetic diversity, particularly with respect to stability of crop performance. Diverse populations will be compared with monocultures in both arable and horticultural production across a range of environments.
  • Investigate breeding strategies incorporating different degrees of diversity. Genetically diverse populations or varieties will be created and compared with less diverse ones in breeding programmes, and assessed both in terms of agronomic performance and genetic evolution over generations in the field. This will tell us what sort of breeding strategies can provide germplasm useful to organic and low-input agriculture.
  • Compare the effectiveness of each breeding strategy under a range of management conditions, including high-input, low-input and organic.
  • Engage farmers in participatory research. This is an important part of the project, allowing farmers to contribute to the breeding and seed production process. It will involve both on-farm multiplication trials and gathering direct feedback from farmers regarding what they consider to be agronomically useful traits.

SOLIBAM’s plant breeding and management activities will be accompanied by socio-economic and environmental assessments, which will deliver a multi-perspective picture of what impact their wider uptake might have. There is also emphasis on disseminating the results so that they can be of immediate use to farmers and extension services, seed companies, policymakers, national offices for registration and seed control, the food industry and consumers.

ORC's Role:

The ORC is involved with a wide range of the research activities in SOLIBAM, but its main contribution is to lead a group of trials which focus on the exploitation of diversity in plant breeding.

Novel approaches to breeding which it is hoped will maximise the potential offered by within-crop diversity and enable local adaptation include so-called evolutionary variety mixtures and composite cross populations (CCPs). Evolutionary variety mixtures are physical mixes of seed that are harvested and re-sown each season. Composite cross populations are created by intercrossing pure varieties, sowing the progeny in the field. These two breeding approaches will be compared with results gained from using landraces (wild-type varieties adapted to local pedo-climatic conditions), reconstituted variety mixtures (mixtures made up from new seed each season) and pedigree line varieties. Comparisons will take place for a large number of species – including cereals, tomatoes, beans and brassicas – over a broad range of geographical locations and climatic conditions.

The ORC will draw on expertise gained from a long history of working with wheat populations. It will coordinate international field trials, implement trials on its own field sites, and take part in the breeding of populations for the trials.

Current progress highlights:

  1. Development of methodological objectives to identify relevant approaches and start investigating their usefulness.
  2. Collection of initial datasets generated by some WPs, including winter wheat, barley, maize beans, sprouting broccoli, cabbage and tomato.
  3. Dissemination of SOLIBAM strategies to inform a large public of the existence of the SOLIBAM via a new website, a project brochure produced in several languages and a newsletter highlighting key results.
  4. SOLIBAM final congress: 7-9th July 2014 in Nantes-France

Key Achievements:

  • Cross-partner collaborations to ensure integration and coordination of tasks between countries
  • Recruitment of participatory farmers in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa
  • First year trials of many crops completed and second year trials in preparation.
  • National surveys to define context and expectations of stakeholder in partner countries.

Project leader and partners:

Project is coordinated by INRA transfert. The 22 project partners are from the private and public sectors, based in ten different European countries and two African countries. One international research centre is also involved. These are listed below:


There will be a wide range of deliverables, drawing on the various disciplines and expertise represented by the project partners. These include:

  • Development of novel plant populations and methodologies for measuring plant characteristics specific to organic and low-input breeding.
  • Comparative field trials across range of partner countries
  • Characterising molecular markers associated with different selective pressures and traits
  • Evaluation of different breeding and crop management systems
  • Analysis of participatory plant breeding experiences worldwide.
  • Assessment of organoleptic, end-use and nutritional qualities of crops developed during project</.i>
  • Integrated assessment of environmental, resource use efficiency and economic analysis of a range of food supply systems, with policy recommendations based on the results
  • Summary of legal situation concerning seed from diverse genotypes, e.g. landraces & populations

Project Output:

  • Field Days, e.g. Wakelyns Annual Open Day
  • Presentations at national and international conferences, e.g. The Organic Producer Conference, ECOPB, EUCARPIA.
  • Various workshops at intervals throughout project

Previous Relevant Work:

Wheat Breeding LINK (LK0999); Wheat LINK (LK0974); Wheat breeding (AR0914)

All sources of funding:

Fully funded by EU FP7 (7th Framework Programme for research and Development).

“The SOLIBAM project is supported by The European Commission through the Seveth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development under the Grant Agreement no 245058”