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"Training African Breeders on African Crops, in Africa"

2019 Graduation

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) hosted their April graduation ceremony for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg on the 8th of April 2019.

PhD for Investigations into Groundnut Disease

Dr Eliud Kongola graduated with a PhD after doing research on breeding for durable resistance to Cercospora leaf spot diseases in groundnuts (Arachis hypogeae L) in Tanzania.

He enrolled with the ACCI to add plant breeding to his knowledge of  agronomy and plant protection, referring to them as the three pillars of  crop science.

Using various breeding techniques, Kongola identified constraints  faced and traits preferred by farmers and other stakeholders in the  groundnut value chain, and evaluated groundnut genotypes from different  sources, including the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics  (ICRISAT), the National Plant genetic resource centre of Tanzania,  local markets and smallholder farmers for yield, yield-related traits  and reaction to Cercospora leaf spot diseases. Read more...
From left: Professor Mark Laing, Dr Eluid Kongola, Rufaro Madakadze (AGRA), Caroline Adala-Oremo(AGRA) and Professor Hussein Shimelis.
From left: Sbongeleni Duma, Tamnai Naibei, Joao Antonio Pedro, Nelson Mubai, Nokwethaba Biyela, Dr Rufaro Madakadze, Ruth Magaleta, Nomathemba Majola, Venancio Salegua, Bubala Mwiinga, Prof H Shimelis, Prof Mark Laing. At the back: Prof Rob Melis, Nyasha, Viriato Cossa
PhD Graduates Investigate Threats to Staple Crops

Novel research investigating how to combat the threats of environmental stress and parasites on wheat and maize led to Dr Isack Mathew and Dr Admire Shayanowako receiving PhDs in Plant Breeding.

Mathew completed his research on the topic of pre-breeding of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) for biomass allocation and drought tolerance. Shayanowako’s research dealt with integrated management of Striga asiatica (L.) Kuntze in maize through resistance breeding and biocontrol.

PhD plant breeders Drs Admire Shayanowako (left) and Isack Mathew.
Cum Laude Master’s Graduates Conduct Novel Research on Wheat and Sugarcane

Cum laude graduates Mr Sbongeleni Duma and Mr Kwame Shamuyarira received their Master of Science in Agriculture and Master of Science degrees respectively in the Discipline of Plant Breeding.

Duma conducted his MScAgric research on the topic of optimising post-release sugarcane variety evaluation in the South African sugar industry. Shamuyarira’s MSc research involved early generation selection of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) genotypes for drought tolerance.  Read more...

Master plant breeders, Mr Sbongeleni Duma (left) and Mr Kwame Shamuyarira, conducted innovative research on sugarcane and wheat crops respectively.
Graduates told: make breeding new varieties a priority
Prof Mark Laing (ACCI) with Dr Rufaro Madakadze (AGRA)
ACCI students who graduated with post-graduate degrees in plant breeding were encouraged to use their skills to make an impact on the continent.

“We want new varieties,” said ACCI Professor Mark Laing, speaking at a function before the graduation ceremony for students in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. Four ACCI PhD candidates and three master’s students received their degrees at the ceremony.

His words were echoed by Dr Rufaro Madakadze from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), who said AGRA works with smallholder farmers and “new varieties are what they need”.

Laing said the ACCI would soon be taking on a post-doctoral student to evaluate the impact of ACCI graduates. This is part of a wider study being conducted by AGRA to determine the impact of over 700 plant-breeding graduates funded by the organisation in the past decade.“He’ll be speaking to ACCI graduates and hearing about the impact of your varieties. He’ll also be speaking to your farmers,” said Laing. “This is crucial for the ACCI. Funders like AGRA spend money and they want what the impact of ACCI graduates has been in Africa.” Laing said it was also important to determine what the impact of graduates was on the national organisations they work for.
The PhD graduates were:
• Dr Admire Shayanowako (Zimbabwe, funded by National Research Foundation & Third World Academy of Science): Management of Striga asiatica (L.) Kuntze in Maize through Resistance Breeding and Biocontrol
• Isack Mathew (Zimbabwe, Water Research Commission & National Research Foundation): Pre-Breeding of Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) for Biomass Allocation and Drought Tolerance
• Eluid Kongola (Tanzania, AGRA): Breeding for Durable Resistance to Cercospora Leaf Spot Diseases in Groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea L.) in Tanzania
• Alek Kondwakwenda (Zimbabwe, National Research Foundation): Maize and drought tolerance

Ten students received their master’s degree in plant breeding.
Visit to India cements bond with ICRISAT

The African Centre for Crop Improvement has been strengthening ties with an important international partner. Read more...

PhD student Seltene Abady (left) and Professor Hussein Shimelis at ICRISAT in Hyderabad, India

Promising results in two-fisted approach to tackling Striga on maize

The ACCI’s pioneering efforts to combat Striga, with a two-pronged approach that combines breeding and biocontrol, have yielded more encouraging results. Read more...

Admire Shayanowako
Symbiotic fungus dramatically enhances drought tolerance in maize
Increasing the level of Trichoderma, a fungus that occurs naturally in soils around the world, makes some varieties of maize more drought tolerant, as well as boosting yield and general plant health.
Boosting drought tolerance in wheat by developing the root system
Going somewhat against the grain, ACCI student Isack Mathew has spent the last three years of his life focusing on how to develop a bigger root system in wheat.

ACCI sweet sorghum varieties poised to boost biofuel industry

A breakthrough by the African Centre for Crop Improvement in the breeding of sorghum could have far-reaching implications for the biofuel and bioplastic industries in South Africa.

For the last decade, ACCI director Professor Mark Laing has been working on developing sorghum and sugar beet varieties, as part of an integrated package to provide crop material (feedstock) for these two industries. His interest in the project started about 15 years ago when the price of oil rose to $150 a barrel.
“A large plastics company couldn’t get enough ethylene to make the quantities of polythene on order, so they wanted to start their own sugar-to-polythene plant and approached me about suitable sugar crops for the interior of South Africa,” he says.
With funding from Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which is based in South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), Laing has been working on how to produce year-round feedstock on an industrial scale, by rotating sorghum and sugar beet. Read full article...

Stalwart retires after 15 years training plant breeders

Prof Rob Melis was in the first batch of staff recruited by Professor Mark Laing in 2003, a year after the centre opened its doors. Read more...

Prof Rob Melis (Left) with Prof Mark Laing
Prof Laing receives long-service award

Prof Laing recieved a long-service award from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, for his work and dedication to the university and students for the past 35 years.  Read more...

Prof Mark Laing (left) with Prof Steve Worth

ACCI Launches New Book

“An amazing journey,” was how Dr Joe DeVries described the last 15 years of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), when he spoke at the launch of the centre’s new book. Watch video

DeVries, who is vice president of programme development and innovation for Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), founded the ACCI in 2002 along with Professor Mark Laing, the centre’s current director. The ACCI has until now been funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and later AGRA.

The book, titled “The New Breed— Training the Next Generation of African Plant Breeders, in Africa,” tells the story of the ACCI’s trajectory from start-up hiccups in 2002 to prominance as a world-class training centre for African plant breeders. It describes how a new model for post-graduate education in the agricultural sciences was developed and how the centre’s Phd graduates—all 109 of them— have become sought after as scientists, leaders and innovative, independent thinkers.

Laing, ACCI graduate Dr Albert Changaya and Professor Kevin Kirkman, dean of research in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, also spoke at the launch. Kirkman said the ACCI has developed a successful model that the university would like to apply to other disciplines.

Click here to download a free digital version of “The New Breed”.

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