16 April 2014 Volume :2 Issue :24

ACCI Produces New Crop of PhD Graduates

ACCI Produces New Crop of PhD Graduates
The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) within UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences has produced a crop of new PhD graduates and plant breeders for Africa.

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) within UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), has produced 10 new PhD graduates. 

The programme was initiated at UKZN in 2001 to train plant breeders in Africa working specifically on African crops.  Students at the Centre who have been responsible for training have come from 13 African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

‘Because the PhD training is done in the African environment in which the students continue with their breeding programmes after Graduation, the graduates are already fully integrated into the overall agricultural system,’ said Dr Julia Sibiya, a past graduate and current Lecturer and Supervisor of the ACCI. 

‘The many social and personal links with their countries and communities prior to their PhD training remain unbroken, keeping the scientists integrated and attached to their societies thereby minimising the problems of migration out of Africa,’ said Sibiya. 

The ACCI programme currently has a 100% retention record for its students staying in Africa and continuing their work in agriculture.  To date the Centre has produced 56 UKZN PhD graduates.  Overall only 8% of all the students recruited have dropped out. This fast and efficient throughput of students at ACCI is unique in a training programme at the PhD level, especially in Plant Breeding, which is a notoriously “slow” subject to study. 

‘The ACCI at UKZN has succeeded, in part, due to adequate funding provided by the Rockefeller Foundation – Phase one and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) for Phases two and three. The Centre has succeeded in producing a highly focused academic curriculum, as well as training its own experienced and dedicated staff,’ said Sibiya. ‘Currently, UKZN has perhaps the strongest plant breeding programmes in Africa, with a critical mass of specialist staff.’ 

The efforts of the UKZN training programme, and other institutions such as the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) and The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), have improved the plant breeding capacity in government services in the national agricultural systems (NARs), in some countries in Africa for most of the important staple crops in Africa.  

The Centre’s 2014 graduates completed their PhD research in a variety of areas. A thesis by Dr Lilian Gichuru of Kenya covered “Breeding Investigations on Utility of Maize Streak Virus Resistant Germplasm for Hybrid Development in the Tropics” while Dr Lwanga Kasozi of Uganda completed his research on “Genetic Analysis and Selection for Maize Weevil Resistance in Maize”. 

Dr Benjamin Musembi Kivuva, also from Kenya researched “Breeding Sweet Potato for Drought Tolerance in Kenya”, and Dr Wende Abera Mengesha of Ethiopia researched “Genetic Diversity, Stability and Combining Ability of Maize Genotypes for Grain Yield and Resistance to NCLB in the Mid-Altitude Sub-Humid Agro-Ecologies of Ethiopia”. 

Dr Mwimali Murenga of Kenya examined “Genetic Analysis and Response to Selection for Resistance to Two Stem Borers, Busseola Fusca and Chilo Partellus, in Tropical Maize Germplasm”, and Dr Beatrice Ng’ayu-Wanjau, also of Kenya, researched “Breeding for Durable Resistance to Angular Leaf Spot Disease in Common Bean in Kenya”. 

Ugandan students Dr Lawrence Owere and Dr Godfrey Sseruwu completed their research on “Genetic Studies on Head Architecture, Adaptation and Blast Resistance of Finger Millet in Uganda and Breeding of Sweet potato for Storage Root Yield” and “Resistance to Alternaria Leaf Petiole and Stem Blight in Uganda respectively”. 

Finally, Dr Rebeka Teshome of Ethiopia completed her thesis on Integrating Sorghum Breeding and Biological Control Using Fusarium oxysporum against Striga hermonthica in Ethiopia while Dr Robooni Tumuhimbise of Uganda researched “Breeding and Evaluation of Cassava for High Storage Root Yield and Early Bulking in Uganda. 

The titles and focus of all of these theses reflect a focus on improving the resilience and yield of crops in Africa through various methods of breeding. The focus areas of these projects also reveal a focus on many of the students’ home countries, demonstrating the impact of the ACCI’s training on countries throughout Africa. 

Speaking of his choice to study at UKZN through the ACCI, Tumuhimbise said: ‘UKZN offers an exceptionally well-organised, exciting and innovative plant breeding PhD programme which broadens perspectives, fosters capacity for independent critical thinking, and provides intellectual ability to develop the student’s mind, while enhancing his/her career opportunities in the local and global marketplace.’ 

Like many of his compatriots, Tumuhimbise plans to provide professional teaching and research services to the universities and agricultural research institutes in his home country and internationally. 

-          Christine Cuénod


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