Founder of West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement to present keynote at UGA CAES International Agriculture Day

By for CAES News

Cassava, taro, cowpea: these are the crops that are going fuel the next phase of the green revolution. Today, African researchers are working to develop improved varieties of traditional African crops to meet local food security challenges.

Much of this work got its start at the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), and the center’s founder, Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, will share the lessons he has learned from promoting Africa-centered crop science at the University of Georgia.

Danquah will give the keynote address for the Eighth Annual International Agriculture Day celebration on April 17. Hosted by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Global Programs, the event and reception are free and open to the public. The event will be held from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Danquah, a professor of plant genetics and director of the Biotechnology Centre at the University of Ghana, founded WACCI in 2007 to train plant breeders to develop improved varieties of the indigenous crops of West and Central Africa. His talk will focus on the role WACCI has played in transforming agriculture in the area and the need to modernize African higher education to train students to solve local food-security problems.

According to the WACCI website, Africa’s food-insecure and malnourished population has more than tripled in the past 35 years and now numbers more than 214 million. Because many of the plants grown in sub-Saharan Africa – such as cassava, cocoyam, taro, bambara and cowpea – are of little importance to researchers in the developed world, the majority of crops grown by farmers are unimproved, low-yielding varieties.

WACCI, a partnership between the University of Ghana and Cornell University, was originally established with funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. It has received additional funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Generation Challenge Program and the German Academic Exchange Service. It also has been recognized by the World Bank as one of 22 Africa Centers of Excellence.

Since its inception, WACCI has enrolled 128 doctoral students from 19 African countries. Students learn both classical plant breeding and the complementary molecular biology technologies needed for the efficient development of superior and adaptable crops, Danquah said. Sixty-six of those students have graduated and are now leading plant-breeding programs in national agricultural research institutions in Africa.

Four years ago, Danquah established a master’s program in seed science and technology that has attracted nearly 50 students. Under his leadership, WACCI has released three improved maize hybrids for commercialization in Ghana.

“The WACCI program is training the next generation of plant scientists from Africa,” said Danquah. He noted that African students bring their expertise back to their home countries when they complete their degrees, counteracting the “brain drain” many rural areas experience when students do not return home after their studies.

In addition to Danquah’s talk, the International Agriculture Day program will include a short presentation by an International Agriculture Certificate student about her internship experience at the UGA campus in Costa Rica, scholarship presentations, recognition of graduating International Agriculture Certificate students and the opportunity to choose the winners of the Agriculture Abroad Photo Contest. The reception will feature refreshments by Donderos' and music by Dan Nettles.

For more information on International Agriculture Day and the CAES Office of Global Programs, visit www.global.uga.edu/InternationalAgricultureDay/index.html.

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