WACCI: Training the Next Generation of Plant Breeders in West Africa to spark the African Green Revolution
The West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) was established at the University of Ghana (UG) as a partnership between UG and Cornell University, USA in June 2007, with initial funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), to train Plant Breeders in Africa. The vision of WACCI is to be the foremost Centre for the training of Plant Breeders for West and Central Africa and its mission is to equip plant breeders with knowledge and field experience to lead the conversion of genetic and molecular discoveries into innovative solutions that will benefit agriculture in West and Central Africa.
The WACCI concept is based on the successful model of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. This model is based on the premise that plant breeders can be trained in Africa to work on African crops in African environments.
Today, WACCI partners with over 20 organizations and institutions to train a critical mass of scientists to solve the problem of food insecurity in West and Central Africa. These partners include: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Generation Challenge Programme (GCP), Kirkhouse Trust, VW Foundation, Cornell University, Purdue University, University of Queensland, University of Jos, Nigeria, the National Agricultural Research Institutes in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria and the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programmes (WAAPP) in Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Biosciences for Eastern and Central Africa (BecA), Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD), Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Premium Foods Limited and, the World Bank and the Association of African Universities.
WACCI achievements under the African Centers of Excellence Project
Recently, following an open, competitive and merit based process, WACCI was selected as one of 19 African Centres of Excellence (ACE) to receive USD 8 million from the World Bank as a project support grant from 2015 – 2018. Under this World Bank-ACE project, WACCI in collaboration with the Seed Science Centre at Iowa State University, USA has launched an innovative MPhil programme in Seed Science and Technology starting in the 2015/2016 academic year. Currently, there are 11 students from West African countries enrolled into the programme. The training is to equip students with knowledge and skills needed to ensure the development of a well structured seed industry in the sub-region to ensure that the end products of crop improvement programmes are delivered to the farmers.
The Centre has also established a Vegetable Innovation Lab (VIL) with the goal of improving food and nutritional security in West and Central Africa through increased utilization of major cultivated vegetables. The main objectives of the VIL are to increase productivity, adaptability and quality of selected cultivated vegetables in West and Central Africa through modern breeding approaches, increase farmers’ access to quality vegetable seeds in West and Central Africa, enhance human capacity in vegetable breeding, production, processing and marketing, create a platform for engaging the drivers of the value chain, both public and private stakeholders in discussions for sustainable production and marketing of vegetables, establish an electronic knowledge based platform for sharing information and resources and finally, influence policy for research and development of vegetables in the sub-region.
- Since inception, WACCI has enrolled 82 PhD students from 12 West, East and Central African countries (namely Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon) and has graduated 28 highly qualified and competent plant breeders. As a result of the outcome of students PhD research projects, national crop improvement programmes have been revived in the sub-region.
- WACCI graduates have demonstrated the value of quality plant breeding education in the region and made the WACCI PhD training programme a model for sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. For example:
- Maxwell Asante, a former student of WACCI has developed a BC1F2 rice population following a cross between Digang (a local variety with tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses) and Jasmine 85 (an improved Asian quality rice variety) varieties and used a genotyping by sequencing platform to determine the efficiency of SNP markers for selecting for grain quality loci. His research has led to the identification of molecular markers that could be used effectively and efficiently to improve quality characteristics in rice.This will allow the incorporation of traits that farmers and consumers prefer into varieties with high yields and tolerance to biotic and abiotic constraints.
- Ahmadou Issaka, also a former student of WACCI has developed downy mildew CMS lines, which would be used to produces the first F1 hybrid millet varieties in Africa. Many other graduates are making outstanding contributions to their national breeding programmes.
- WACCI has grown from a single donor supported project into a multi-donor funded programme. The Centre has attracted about USD 4.1 million from multiple donors in addition to the initial grant of USD 11 million from AGRA. WACCI was selected as one of 19 African Centres of Excellence (ACE) to receive USD 8 million from the World Bank as a project support grant from 2015 – 2018. In total, WACCI has attracted over USD 24 million funding from multiple donors since its inception.
- WACCI has gained visibility in the world and is presently the largest institution for PhD education in plant breeding in Africa by current enrollment.
- An External Review Panel recently commissioned to evaluate the initial 10-year phase of the AGRA-funded project has concluded that given WACCI’s evolution, strategic plans for further expansion, as well as its record of success to date, WACCI is an institution poised to have a tremendous impact on food security for Africa in the decade ahead and beyond.
Lessons Learned by WACCI
- WACCI has shown in eight years that quality plant breeding education is undoubtedly, a smart development investment – the financial obligations for quality plant breeding education are enormous but the potential benefits to present and future generations far outweigh the investments.
- Strategic partnerships have been key for the success of WACCI.
- The WACCI Resource Mobilization Strategy has been useful and is serving as an active policy document for gathering institutional, technical, financial and human resources as well as strengthening existing collaborations whilst forging new alliances for
- The WACCI 10-year strategic plan that is being developed is an important roadmap for the Center. It aims at transforming WACCI into a sustainable World Class Centre for training plant breeders and will be implemented from January 2018.
The Centre intends to host a major international conference on ‘Reaping the benefits: 10 Years of quality plant breeding education at WACCI, University of Ghana in June 2017” during which an endowment fund aimed at raising USD 35 million will be launched.
Partnerships are sought with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation, the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research Consortium, and the private multinational companies e.g. Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and Syngenta and the non-agricultural private institutions through their Corporate Social Responsibility drive to work together to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Goal #2 “End hunger, Achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030 in all of Africa.
For more information about WACCI visit this website: http://www.wacci.edu.gh/
Contributed By Prof Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, Director – West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement, University of Ghana