Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Addressing the reduced numbers of African plant breeders

The first African Plant Breeding Academy class.
The first African Plant Breeding Academy class.

The Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis has organized a professional development course to teach the principles of plant breeding to seed industry personnel. This 13-month course addresses the reduced numbers of plant breeders being trained in academic programs. Participants meet for multiple sessions over thirteen months. Readings and exercises continue between sessions via internet to allow participants to maintain their current positions while being involved in the course.
NEPAD logo3
In collaboration with NEPAD (The New Partnership for Africa's Development) and the African Orphan Crops Consortium, the UC Davis African Plant Breeding Academy launched the first session in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2013.

Week 1 & 2:   December 2-14, 2013                
Location:  Nairobi, Kenya
Week 3 & 4:   June 16-28, 2014                    
Location:  Nairobi, Kenya
Week 5 & 6:   December 1-13, 2014                      
Location:  Nairobi, Kenya
More information about the Africa's orphan crops in a December 3, 2013 interview with Dr. Howard-Yana Sharpio.

Breeding for African Crops
An innovative and integrated program including genomics, breeding, and practical training will enable breeding of crops for Africa by Africans using the most advanced technologies. Due to the diverse nature of the crops grown in Africa, including cassava, cacao, cocoyam, millet, sorghum, and legumes, there is a need to adapt the latest breeding strategies and innovate new ones appropriate for these crops. In the past, little genotypic information was available, so selection focused on extensive phenotyping trials. 

Traditional breeding strategies were based predominantly on annual grain crops with rapid generation turnaround and simple harvesting and storage of seeds for propagation. In contrast, vegetatively propagated perennial crops require different strategies to evaluate, recombine, objectively evaluate and advance materials. Fortunately, modern technologies such as micro-propagation and meristem culture to avoid disease, production of doubled haploids to reduce breeding cycles, and advanced trial designs and statistical analyses to account for spatial and temporal variation can efficiently integrate genotyping and marker-assisted selection into breeding programs for perennial crops. Breeders must work with a team of skilled individuals to be able to access genotypic and phenotypic information relevant to the crop and apply these selection and propagation methods to create improved varieties.

Established in 2007 to train plant breeders over a 10-year period following a grant from AGRA, WACCI is aiming to become the foremost centre for the training of plant breeders for Africa. It may not be far from its goal, having made history by graduating eight PhD students in a single discipline - plant breeding - on the same day in July 2013. Currently, 54 students are at various stages of PhD training in plant breeding.

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