African Centre For Crop Improvement

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Healthy New Crop of PhDs for ACCI

2015 Graduates

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN saw eight of its PhD students graduate with their Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding at UKZN's 2015 graduation ceremonies in April. 

Each of the students who graduated, all from countries around Africa, focused on developing new varieties of the crops they each studied, and through the ACCI’s PhD training programme, were equipped with the skills they needed to investigate their crops and improve on their resilience in their home countries. This focus of the ACCI allows students to improve crops for an African environment in order to contribute towards improved Food Security in their home countries.

The graduates all spoke highly of the ACCI training programme, describing how the initial coursework element, undertaken at UKZN before they began fieldwork in the field in their home countries, enabled them to approach their research with the necessary tools to successfully complete their PhD. Many of the graduates are mid-career professionals, and spoke highly of the ACCI administrative support as well as their supervisors, who they said followed up with them diligently and visited them in the field to ensure that they had the assistance they needed to finish their degrees on time.

Dr Demissew Ababulgu, a plant breeder from the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), completed his research on Genetic Diversity and Combining Ability of Selected Quality Protein Maize (QPM) Inbred Lines Adapted to the Highland Agro-Ecology of Ethiopia. His work has resulted in the publication of three papers, which he says was facilitated by the push the students received from the ACCI to have their work published.

Dr Asnakech Beyene, a plant pathologist researcher from the EIAR, completed her research on the topic of Genetic Analysis and Characterization of Faba Bean (Vicia faba) for Chocolate Spot (Botrytis fabae) Disease Resistance and Yield in the Ethiopian Highlands. Her research, which she hopes will contribute to the body of knowledge on this disease affecting a crop that it vital for Food Security in Ethiopia, provided information about the inheritance of diseases and yielded three publications, with seven more in the pipeline.

Dr Netsanet Hei, also a plant pathologist with the EIAR, completed her PhD on the topic of Genetic Analysis of Stem Rust Resistance among Ethiopian Grown Wheat Lines. The wheat crop is a vital crop in Ethiopia, and it is vital for the crop that varieties are developed that will ensure increased food security in the country. Hei has had one paper from her research published already, and hopes to work on releasing a disease-resistant cultivar as she continues in her plant breeding work.

Dr Geofrey Lubadde, a plant pathologist from the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Uganda, sought to diversify his qualifications and improve the crops he was working with in his home country. His research focused on Genetic Analysis and Improvement of Pearl Millet for Rust Resistance and Grain Yield in Uganda. Lubadde has produced one publication from his research so far, with another two accepted for publication, two that have yet to be submitted for publication and one book published, which focuses on the socio-economic aspect of growing pearl millet.

Dr Macpherson Matewele, a plant pathologist at the National Research Council of Malawi, focused his work on Diversity Analysis and Breeding for Maize Weevil (Sitophilus zeamais Motschulsky) and Larger Grain Borer (Prostephanus truncatus Horn) Resistance in Productive Maize Germplasm in Malawi, research aimed at breeding maize for resistance to pests. According to Matewele, there are not enough plant breeders in Malawi, a problem he aims to contribute to solving through acquiring this qualification. Matewele has been working on ten varieties, which are in their early stages but which he believes have potential to be adopted as cultivars in the future. He is planning to submit seven papers from his research, and spoke of the benefit the ACCI programme had been to him, particularly in teaching him to use tools for analysis, such as Biometry, an area in which he had some experience but had never fully explored.

Dr Jane Mbugua, an agronomist and research officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), completed her thesis on the topic of Development of High Yielding Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) Genotypes with Resistance to Bacterial Wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) for the Kenyan Highlands. Mbugua’s research produced a remarkable twelve published papers and a book chapter, and has contributed to what she sees as her career progression as a scientist, where a PhD degree is almost a necessity. She pursued plant breeding due to the lack of breeders in Kenya, and expressed gratitude to her former director and centre director at KARI for their support. Mbugua, who has been breeding for heat-tolerance and increased yield, has 100 clones in advanced trials looking at the chipping, crisping and high yield qualities of the potato clones.

Dr Lameck Nyaligwa, a senior crop research officer at the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Tanzania conducted his research on Genetic Analysis, Combining Ability and Yield Stability of Maize Genotypes Under Maize Streak Virus Prone Environments. He aims to breed cultivars for disease resistance, drought tolerance, Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and low-N qualities. Nyaligwa has prepared four papers for publication, and undertook his PhD to add capacity to his work. He mentioned his choice of the ACCI because of its efficient output of researchers when compared to other institutes offering plant breeding in Africa.

The only graduate of the eight who unfortunately was not able to attend the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Pietermaritzburg graduation ceremony in person, was Dr Jean-Baptiste Muhinyuza from Rwanda.  He completed his research on Breeding Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) for High Yield and Resistance to Late Blight in Rwanda, and aims to work on new cultivars which are resistant to disease in Rwanda.

All the graduates made special mention of the ACCI’s programme and thanked their supervisors, Professor Mark Laing, Professor Hussein Shimelis, Professor Rob Melis, Professor John Derera and Dr Julia Sibiya for their invaluable support. Many emphasised that they hoped that the programme would continue to produce the capable and highly-skilled graduates it has been able to send into Africa in its more than ten years of existence. Each graduate also looked forward to spending more time with their families now that their PhDs are behind them, and were excited at the prospect of continuing their work in their home countries to contribute to the prosperity of the continent.

Call for applications: - Scholarships for Master of Science in Agriculture, Plant Breeding

The School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa invites potential candidates with an Honours or a 4 year BSc Agriculture degree in Plant Breeding or Crop Science or Agronomy or Horticulture to apply for the scholarship. This is a 2-year programme incorporating coursework modules, an internship and a research dissertation.  The programme will commence in January 2015.

Applicants from southern African countries should send electronic copies of their CV, Honours or BScAgric graduation certificate and certified University Academic Records, and a motivation statement (maximum 1 page) to Jayshree Singh at by the 31st of July 2014.

E-mail further enquiries to Prof. John Derera at

September 2006

Bill & Melinda Gates, Rockefeller Foundations
form alliance to spur “Green Revolution" in Africa

Major Effort to Move Millions of People out of Poverty and Hunger
Begins with a $150 Million Investment to Improve Africa’s Seed Systems

SEATTLE, NEW YORK – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation announced today that they will form an alliance to contribute to a “Green Revolution” in Africa that will dramatically increase the productivity of small farms, moving tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty and significantly reducing hunger.

This joint effort builds on the work of the Rockefeller Foundation between the 1940s and 1960s to launch what is known as the “Green Revolution,” an effort that pioneered the historic transformation of farming methods in Latin America and South and Southeast Asia, helping to double food production and stave off widespread famine. Among the pioneers in this effort was plant pathologist Norman Borlaug, a Rockefeller Foundation scientist for 39 years, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work developing improved crop varieties and farm management practices and promoting their widespread use around the world.

“The original Green Revolution was a huge success in many parts of the world,” said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “Unfortunately, in Africa, while there are many positive efforts, momentum is going the other way. Over the past 15 years, the number of Africans living on less than a dollar a day has increased by 50 percent. Working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and with African leaders, farmers and scientists, we’re committed to launching an African Green Revolution that will help tens of millions of people who are living on the brink of starvation in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Over the long term, the partnership, called Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), intends to improve agricultural development in Africa by addressing both farming and relevant economic issues, including soil fertility and irrigation, farmer management practices, and farmer access to markets and financing. Almost three-quarters of Africa’s land area is being farmed without improved inputs such as fertilizer and advanced seeds.

“No major region around the world has been able to make sustained economic gains without first making significant improvements in agricultural productivity,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “In Africa today, the great majority of poor people, many of them women with young children, depend on agriculture for food and income and remain impoverished and even go hungry. Yet, Melinda and I also have seen reason for hope – African plant scientists developing higher-yielding crops, African entrepreneurs starting seed companies to reach small farmers, and agrodealers reaching more and more small farmers with improved farm inputs and farm management practices. These strategies have the potential to transform the lives and health of millions of families. Working together with African leaders and the Rockefeller Foundation, we are embarking on a long-term effort focused on agricultural productivity, which will build on and extend this important work.”

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s first investment of $150 million ($100 million from the Gates Foundation and $50 million from the Rockefeller Foundation) will support the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS). PASS will mount an across-the-board effort to improve the availability and variety of seeds that can produce higher yields in the often harsh conditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, PASS will help:

African agricultural environments are highly diverse with significant differences in local pests, diseases, rainfall patterns, soil properties and the desired attributes demanded by local small farm communities. PASS will fund around 40 national breeding programs a year that will use local participatory crop breeding to address these barriers and provide more robust, higher-yielding crops for small farmers. PASS will invest $43 million with a five-year goal of developing 100 new and improved crop varieties suitable for the ecologically varied agricultural environments in Africa.

Accelerating a new Green Revolution for Africa is a multi-layered challenge. While it starts with improved crop varieties at the most fundamental level, it also requires the development of new generations of trained African agricultural scientists. That is why PASS will invest $20 million to provide graduate level training in African universities for the next generation of African crop breeders and agricultural scientists upon which the seed system depends for growth and productivity.

Africa has the lowest levels of improved seed utilization of any region in the world, mostly because such seeds are not physically or financially available to the majority of farmers. The poor state of rural transportation infrastructure, a lack of effective points of seed delivery to small farmers, and inadequate access to financial services all contribute to low utilization and inadequate agricultural productivity. PASS will invest $24 million to ensure that improved crop varieties are produced and distributed through private and public channels (including seed companies, public community seed systems and public extension) so farmers can adopt these varieties.

Another challenge particular to Africa is the lack of a robust market for bringing new products to farmers. PASS hopes to address this by providing training, capital and credit to establish at least 10,000 small agro-dealers who can serve as conduits of seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and knowledge to smallholder farmers, and in doing so help increase their productivity and incomes. This will be a $37 million investment.

A new organization, based in Nairobi, Kenya will be created to ensure learning takes place and projects are well managed. The organization will conduct monitoring and evaluation of PASS projects, oversee sub-granting and implementation of all PASS activities and carry out financial management activities. A total of $26 million will be allocated for these activities.

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