ACCI Graduates Build Capacity in Africa
UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) on the Pietermaritzburg campus produced a bumper crop of doctoral candidates with eleven receiving PhDs for their Plant Breeding research.
Each of the graduates, all from African countries, focused on developing new varieties of the crops they had studied and, thanks to the ACCI’s doctoral training programme, were equipped with skills they needed to investigate crops and improve on their resilience in their home countries.
This study direction of the ACCI allows students to improve crops for an African environment in order to contribute towards improved food security.
The graduates all spoke highly of the ACCI training programme, describing how the initial coursework element, undertaken at UKZN before they began fieldwork in their home countries, enabled them to approach their research with the necessary tools to complete their degree successfully.
Dr Fekadu Balcha received his PhD for research on the breeding of sweet potato for improvement of root dry matter and beta-carotene contents in Ethiopia. His work is aimed at combatting widespread Vitamin A deficiencies in Ethiopia and other countries by developing sweet potato clones with high vitamin and mineral levels, and increased proteins and soluble sugars.
Dr Hirut Betaw’s research was focused on genetic analyses of drought tolerance and resistance to late blight among potato genotypes, in response to drought and blight affecting productivity of potato in Ethiopia. Promising experimental potato clones were developed in this study.
Dr Ermias Desta’s work involved the pre-breeding of tef, the most widely-grown, gluten-free cereal crop in Ethiopia, for tolerance to aluminium toxicity, the first study of its kind. Desta developed a hydroponic facility to assess for aluminium tolerance.
South African Dr Alina Mofokeng conducted an extensive diversity analysis of South African sorghum genotypes using agronomic traits, sequence markers and protein content, and amino acid composition. Sorghum genetic resources in South Africa have not previously been fully characterised for breeding or strategic conservation.
Dr Quaqua Mulbah of Liberia examined integrating genetic resistance with biocontrol against rice blast and drought, having to overcome tremendous challenges in the achievement of his degree. He developed new, high yielding rice genotypes with durable resistance to rice blast and tolerance to drought.
Dr Stephan Ngailo’s PhD was awarded for research on breeding sweet potato for improved yield and related traits, and resistance to disease in Eastern Tanzania. This staple crop is severely affected by the sweet potato virus disease, causing significant yield losses.
Dr Placide Rukundo undertook his PhD study on the breeding of sweet potato for drought tolerance and high dry matter content in Rwanda, to contribute to combatting yield losses. The selected clones are novel genetic resources that could one day be released as new cultivars.
Dr Rose Mongi received her PhD for breeding for resistance against angular leaf spot disease of common bean in the southern highlands of Tanzania, developing resistant and high-yielding common breeding populations.
Dr Nathan Phiri conducted his PhD research on genetic analysis of common bean genotypes for tolerance to drought and heat stress in Zambia. He used participatory rural appraisal studies to identify farmers' preferences, and identified drought-and heat-tolerant agronomic phenotypes.
Dr Ruth Musila analysed rice germplasm for drought tolerance and yield stability in Kenya, working on one of Kenya’s main staple crops.
Dr Batiseba Tembo’s research involved breeding investigations and validation of molecular markers linked with spot blotch disease resistance in wheat germplasm for the rain-fed conditions of Zambia.