Centre trains PhD students to ensure food security in Africa

cassavaThe West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana is making strides in the training of plant breeders in PhD programmes to  help Africa to solve food insecurity, especially, in the sub- region.

Food insecurity which has become the most important problem for West Africa due to climate change effects like increased droughts and changing rainfall patterns continue to be a major concern for the more than 300 million people of the 16 states in the region.

Seventeen (17) per cent of people in West Africa are facing food insecurity, while 30 per cent of the people live below the poverty line while 10 per cent of food is wasted.

The situation is more compounded with low breeding capacity and low productivity of crops and plants in the region.

WACCI, a brain-child of Professor Eric Danquah, Director of the Centre, was re established in Ghana in 2007 with funding from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to equip plant breeders with knowledge and considerable field experience to lead the conversion of genetic and molecular discoveries into innovative solutions that would benefit agriculture in West and Central Africa.

Briefing Pan African media personnel who are in Ghana to study the assistance of AGRA to WACCI in Accra on Tuesday, Prof Danquah said currently the training programme has students from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal.

The first batch of eight PhD students graduated in June.

He explained that WACCI programme, a partnership with University of Ghana and Cornell University of the US, offers four-year training with foundation courses and modules in plant breeding, genetics, biotechnology and related subjects.

After that the students are made to return to their home institutions to conduct thesis research into local breeds like drought tolerant cereals including maize, cowpea, sorghum, rice, and cassava, as well as any plant or crops consumed by Africans.

“Students return to University of Ghana four months of their final four- year to finish their write up and submit dissertation,” he said.

Prof Danquah indicated that since yields are getting lower, especially for cereals which most people depend on, the programme is enabling the adoption of new crop varieties, and high yielding, good quality with resistance to harsh weather conditions.

He said the current enrolment of 54 PhD students, the biggest so for any such a programme has 19 females, with 27 Anglophone and 27 Francophone students and had brought about the biggest collaboration in the sub-region.

On the way forward, Dr Danquah said the Centre intends to admit more qualified students who would be trained to join the success story of saving Africa from hunger in the medium to long term, and also would develop a new curriculum with a seed science and technology centre while attracting more scientists.

He announced that a 30 million- dollar endowment fund is to be launched soon to help provide sponsorships for the training of more plant breeders, saying: “Any commitment to agriculture without investing in science and technology and research will fail.”

He therefore urged governments in Africa to put in place a long term planning, political will, compelling vision and a non-partisan approach as well as the right partnerships in science and technology to address agriculture and food insecurity in the region.

Ms Sylvia Mwichuli, Communications Director, AGRA said her organisation decided to support and sponsor WACCI because it noticed various governments had forgotten about making the right investment in agriculture to ensure enough food for the people of Africa.

“These local breeders would know and understand what the local Africans like to eat and they would therefore breed plants and crops that would directly be consumed by the people,” she said.

She urged Africans and journalists in particular to put the right pressure on their governments to ensure that they prioritise agriculture production to ensure food security.

AGRA works to achieve a food secured and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers, particularly, women farmers majority of who produce most of Africa’s food with minimal resources and little government support.

AGRA also want to ensure that such smallholders have access to seeds and healthy soils; access to markets, information, financing, storage and transport; and policies that provide them with comprehensive support.

Source: GNA

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