Blog Collaboration agreement for the development of new tropical pasture hybrids

Feed is the among the highest cost in livestock production across the tropics. Possibly the highest cost factor of all, contributing 50 to 70% of production cost. Forages are one of the most cost-efficient pathways to increase production efficiency of livestock production in the tropics. Moreso, improved forages have critical effects on efficient use of water and land resources and are critical for ecosystems services such as mitigation of climate change, efficient use of water and soil resources, reversing land degradation and maintaining biodiversity.

Breeding and mainstreaming of tropical forages are essential for improving productivity and lowering the environmental footprint, while reducing the number of hectares dedicated to livestock production and the pressure over highly valuable ecosystems. This is a not only a priority in Latin America but in Africa and Asia, where the demand for forages with high nutritional quality and with resistance to different stresses is growing.

The species Urochloa spp and Megathyrsus maximus are the most widely use forages across the tropics and increasingly the subtropic. They are also increasingly used (sometimes under irrigation) in drylands and more temperate environments. The diversity of Urochloa and Megathysrus available in genebanks does not allow to respond to new challenges as diseases, economical seed production, quality, productivity, stress tolerance, mitigation compounds, among others. To tackle these new challenges, the Alliance started breeding processes to develop novel hybrids of Urochloa and Megathysrus. The improved cultivars developed at the Alliance’s Tropical Forages breeding program have the potential to increase livestock productivity through increased biomass production and forage quality and to promote sustainable livestock systems that increase food and nutrition security and climate change adaptation and mitigation for the betterment of livelihoods.

Developing the novel hybrids will only respond to the new challenges if those hybrids are widely disseminated, to ensure their accessibility and use across the world, especially by smallholder farmers in developing countries (Alliance’s target beneficiaries). The biology of tropical forages, characterized by the need of longer days and temperature shifts to induce flowering, demands a partner who can work both in a latitude sufficiently distant from the equator for seed production and across tropical regions for commercialization and distribution. Unfortunately, with some exceptions, NARS and other public institutions and organizations do not have the capacity or mandate to allow economies of scale and reach across countries and regions and assure availability of the seeds in Central America and the Caribbean, tropical Africa and Asia. Seed production, distribution and commercialization is an elevated risk and investment activity dependent on specialized know how that requires long term commitment to reach farmers in different regions, something that may be reached by a partner as the Papalotla Group. The need for a long-term nature partnership is reinforced by the perennial characteristics of Urochloa and Megathyrsus replanting only occurring every 8 to 12 years.   

The collaboration

The Papalotla Group is a worldwide leading company in the production of improved seeds for tropical hybrid pastures. The Alliance (through CIAT) has had a long history in working with the Papalotla Group, achieving a wide dissemination of hybrid pastures developed by the Alliance and distributed by the Papalotla Group, such as Cobra, Cayman, Mulato, and Mulato II. Since the release of Mulato, the first hybrid bred and selected through this longtime partnership and launched in 2001, it is estimated that CIAT-Papalotla hybrids have been planted in more than 1200,000 hectares worldwide. To this date, the Papalotla Group has disseminated the Alliance’s hybrids in over fifty countries around the world to meet the growing demand for improved forages, technology, and knowledge that guarantee profitable and sustainable livestock production and thus improve farmers’ livelihoods.

Under the agreement signed on October 1st, 2018, the Alliance is focusing on the research of new brachiaria hybrids, while the multi-environment phase of hybrid development and livestock feeding evaluations is a joint effort between the Papalotla Group and CIAT. The research for production, final production and commercialization phases are in the hands of the Papalotla Group.  

Through this partnership, the Alliance seeks to streamline the links between the Alliance’s Tropical Forages Breeding and the end users, to guarantee delivery and adoption of the products optimizing the research’s impact. In addition to the desirable characteristics of improved forages, the work under this collaboration focuses on developing products that also reverse environmental degradation, such as higher productivity per area to use less land, and contribute to reducing greenhouse gases from livestock activity, in line with global initiatives to mitigate climate change and build sustainable food systems.

Under the collaboration between the Alliance and the Papalotla Group, an exclusive right for a large number of countries was granted to the Papalotla Group for the multiplication and commercialization of the developed hybrids of Brachiaria, while the Alliance safeguards the original accessions at the international collection, which remain available to all under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Likewise, outputs are available for non-commercial research by public sector organizations and in the case of food emergencies, while commercialization is subject to monetary benefit sharing towards the International Fund of the ITPGRFA

IP Rights

In 2018 and 2020, CIAT filed applications to obtain PVP rights over the developed varieties Brachiaria Brizantha and Brachiaria Ruziziensis respectively. This PVP rights are part of the exclusivity granted to the Papalotla Group, to secure the commercialization of the varieties in the Colombian marketplace.

The PVP protections do not limit anyone’s access - including farmers - to in-trust materials. The PVP was not filed to protect in-trust materials, but over the improved forages that were developed by the Alliance. The motivation in seeking the PVP rights is to create incentives for other organizations to partner with the Alliance and to properly scale up the use of the developed varieties, so that it has the desired impact: availability for small holder farmers. It is important to highlight that the improved forages do not rely in any way on the use of traditional knowledge of Indigenous communities.

Target beneficiaries of the collaboration

The agreement targets all farmers, from small scale to big scale, addressing livelihood (i.e., primary reason for smallholders) and environmental (i.e., primary reasons for larger areas). Sometimes these do overlap with the ecosystem’s services including mitigation of climate change, better use of water, land and biodiversity resources. 

The primary target beneficiaries may vary according to location and dissemination channels e.g., farmers direct, farmer associations, farmer cooperatives, NGOs, Development partners, SME’s, local seed producers, government, among others.

As of 2021, Urochloa hybrids were sown on 1,236,495ha globally. The main market for Urochloa hybrid commercialization is Latin America and the Caribbean (1,183,336ha), followed by the U.S. (16,489ha), Asia (15,641ha), Australia/Oceania (9,689ha), Africa (6,388ha), and Europe (1,331ha). Urochloa hybrids are now being sold in >70 countries. Detailed information on this can also be consulted here: Burkart (2022),

Pathway of the innovation to market and to smallholder farmers

The Collaboration is targeted at making the innovation available to all scales of farmers in all regions, through its commercialization by the Papalotla Group. The exclusivity of commercialization for specific regions is bound to efforts in distribution of planting material at all scales. Moreover, there is an active South-South-South-North collaboration to produce and distribute seed, to make planting material accessible across all locations and all scales. However, at smallholder level, small farmers can do vegetative propagation and farmer to farmer exchange. NARS and local seed suppliers participate in multilocational testing, release, and distribution.  

Without the agreement there would be no suitable pathway to make the innovation available particularly in Tropical Africa and Tropical Asia. The agreement on exclusivity in target regions implicitly states that there are commercialization efforts in novel markets for forage seed such as Asia and Africa. There is constant interaction between the Alliance and the Papalotla Group, and with NARS, other CGIAR centers, NGOs, and cooperatives to enhance dissemination. As of 2023, seeds for more than 100,000 ha are planted annually, with persistence for 8 to 12 years that means more than 1 million ha for a 10-year time span. Seed sales and thus access of farmers in Africa and Asia are expanding rapidly i.e., doubling in area and farmers numbers ate least every two years, with the first time since the inception of the CGIAR improved forages from CGIAR efforts going to scale in Africa due to the efforts as part of the collaboration. This has had impacts on productivity and resource use in livestock production and reversing negative environmental impact of livestock production. It is estimated that currently 50,000 farmers have adopted the improved forages in Eastern and Southern Africa, and this number is expected to double in the next 3 to 4 years. Reach through knowledge sharing and new communication methods as social media is much wider, with the anticipation that part of this will evolve in adoption. In Southeast Asia 3000 or 4000 farmers, mainly women participate in seed production, and in Mexico and Brazil seed production is often done through direct contracts with farmers.