The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is to fund a new initiative to train the next generation of African crop scientists, to improve agricultural productivity and food security in the region.

The funding, which will allow African PhD students to study staple African crops, was announced today (19 September).

AGRA will provide US$8.1 million and US$4.9 million respectively to the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) at the University of Ghana, Legon.

ACCI's programme started in 2002 and currently has 46 students from southern and eastern Africa studying 13 crops.

"The new funding from AGRA allows us another five intakes of eight students a year, starting this year," said Pangirayi Tongoona, deputy-director of ACCI. "Students focus on different crops, depending on what is more pressing in their countries." Crops include sorghum, millet, cassava, groundnuts and pigeon peas.

In January WACCI will admit eight students a year from western and central Africa. Eric Danquah, director of the WACCI, said they were in the process of making the final selection for the first intake of students.

Students will spend the first two years of their five-year programme studying at one of the universities, before returning to their local research institutions to complete their thesis research.

"AGRA has committed themselves to continued funding of the research programs of our graduates after they get a PhD. So our graduates are not abandoned after graduating, but instead, they get the funding they need to continue their plant breeding projects. This is a new and very, very important innovation by AGRA," said Mark Laing, ACCI director

"We are confident that the academic and practical training which our students get will equip them to successfully breed new crop varieties which tackle and solve the major problems these crops face in each local environment. And the proof is now in the new varieties which the ACCI graduates have started to release," said Laing.

AGRA will also give US$1.71 to the US-based Cornell University, which will assess the students' doctoral work and provide further resources.

AGRA was founded in 2006 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


This article was published by SciDev.Net.