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African Centre For Crop Improvement (ACCI)

Aims, Background & Philosophy

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) is based on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. In January 2004 the University of Natal merged with the University of Durban-Westville to form the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The new university (with a combined student population of 42 000 students in 2004) is now the largest in South Africa. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, English medium university with increasing numbers of international students. The School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences within which the ACCI is located, has eleven agricultural disciplines plus a full complement of biological and physical sciences. The ACCI is expanding its activityinto a Platform, and will be training students in other discplines, including Plant Pathology.

The ACCI aims to train African plant breeders in Eastern and Southern Africa, on African crops, to breed better crops using conventional and molecular breeding tools.

The focus is on the breeding of African and African grown crops: cereals, roots and tubers, pulses, vegetable and timber crops for improved food security for all in Africa.

Crop Focus
Students breed the following crops:

Sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, rice, and maize.

Cassava, sweet potato, taro (coco-yam), yam

Dry beans, cowpea, groundnuts, faba bean.


Onion, tomato, greens, indigenous vegetables

Given Ethiopia's unique crop mix, durum wheat, barley and teff are alternative research crops to be studied.

Country Focus
The ACCI students are drawn from any African country, but especially southern and eastern Africa.

In Phase I, the ACCI was funded by the Rockefeller foundation. In Phase II, the funds come from the PASS (Programme for Africa's Seed Systems program in AGRA, (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: www.agra-alliance.org ).
In Phase III, existing students will complete their degrees and 17 new students will be training, with the objective of training plant breeders to fill gaps in plant breeding capacity in selected countries.

A New Paradigm for the ACCI Program
As of 2015,AGRA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have changed their philosophy of funding the ACCI directly. Instead, they will be funding the National Agricultural Research institutes, CGIAR Centres and the Universities to train their staff at the ACCI and other selected universities. So the big change is that the students (or their employers) need to secure their own scholarships from funders such as the BMGF, World Bank, USAID, DIFID, etc.


The philosophy of the ACCI is that:

It is vital to train African plant breeders and plant pathologists on African crops, in Africa.

Population breeding is a viable, cheap and relatively quick breeding approach for multiple criteria breeding in many crops.

Biotechnology is a powerful technology which may be useful in cases where conventional breeding techniques have failed to produce significant improvements in crops. In particular, the use of molecular marker selection may benefit breeding for single gene characters. The technology has to be integrated with an excellent knowledge of conventional genetics, and access to the appropriate laboratories, equipment and budget.

the ACCI Approach
Maintain excellent links with the NARs in many African countries, and specifically, with the national plant breeding programmes in these countries;

Ensure access to germplasm for parent populations for breeding better varieties;

  • Ensure adequate local facilities in the students' home countries for the planned research;
  • Ensure a modest running budget for each student's breeding program in-country;
  • Establish in-country co-supervisors;
  • Establish a well defined interaction between ACCI, international and
  • in-country supervisors;
  • Ensure support ACCI students during their research and afterwards;

Structure & Funding

Desirable Characteristics of ACCI graduates  
ACCI graduates should have:

Creative leadership abilities and focused on impact;
Determination to succeed;
Problem-solving ability and dynamism ;
The desire and capacity to "make a difference";
A broad knowledge and understanding of African contextual issues;
The capacity to be role models and good public speakers; 
Excellence in scientific English, both in writing and editing.

Description of Studies  
1st Year of Study at the ACCI, in Pietermaritzburg

1st Year Activities
1. Lectures
Students will take a series of advanced postgraduate courses that will to support their research and future careers. These will be given by a range of both local and international lecturers, presented on a block basis, in a workshop/tutorial format.

2. Development of Project Proposal:
Students will develop a detailed project proposal for their PhD research, together with a research budget (for funding the research at their home research station).

3. Mini-Project
Each student will undertake a mini-project to ensure that all the proposed plant breeding and evaluation techniques are feasible and familiar to the students.

4. Literature Review
Students will write a detailed literature review on their chosen crop and breeding objective, using the excellent library and database facilities available at UKZN..

2nd, 3rd, and 4th Years of Study, Field Studies

In the second, third and fourth year of studies, the students will undertake field research in plant breeding in their home countries, in their previous jobs at their own research stations. They will therefore need to ensure that they are able to return to the field station to undertake the research that will be needed to complete their PhD. Adequate but limited research funds will cover field research costs. Supervision will be provided at a distance and by visits from supervisors and in-country co-supervisors.

4th Year of Study, Completion of Write Up

At the end of the 4th year, students will return to the University of KwaZulu-Natal for a maximum of three months to complete their thesis write up. Note that students will need to have completed the bulk of their thesis writing before they return to the University of KwaZulu-Natal. So they need to complete a 1st draft of their thesis, at least, before returning to UKZN, if they are to hand in the PhD thesis on time, on December 1st.

Phase I
In Phase I, 2002 -2007, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the operations of the ACCI to train 5 cohorts of 8 students

Phase II
In Phase II, 2007-2011, the ACCI operations were funded by AGRA, a joint venture of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A further forty students with five cohorts of eight students were trained in this phase.

Phase III
In Phase III, 2012-2018, funding is being sought from AGRA. THe objectives will be to complete the training of existing students already in training, and to to train at least two more cohorts of students in a new 4 year curriculum.

The Generation Challenge Program (GCP) has also funded biotechnology training of the ACCI students for a 5 year period.

Further funding is being sought from other funding agencies for training of additional cohorts, and for long-term sustainability.

Strategic Links  
Rockefeller Foundation for initial fund and project support in-country.

AGRA for subsequent funding.

The GCP for funding biotechnology training and support of our students in genomic studies.

Cornell University for internet-based, live lectures and collaboration, and live reviews of our students' project designs.

CGIAR organisations, such as ICRISAT, CIMMYT, IITA, IRRI, WARDA, CIAT, CIP, ICARDA for genetic resources and provision of international lecturers and co-supervisors.

National agricultural research institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso. Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan.

UOFS, UCT, University of Pretoria, Dept. Science and Technology, EcoBio, PlantBio and BioAfrica.

UN FAO, IPR-Netherlands, Weizmann Institute for international lecturers.

Scholarship Details

An ACCI scholarship in Year One will cover all basic personal costs. 

1. One return airfare, economy class, to South Africa for students from outside the South African borders. Similar travel arrangements would be made for South African students.

2. Study permit application fee. Note that each student will need to pay for his or her study permit themselves but will be refunded once proof of payment is received. 

3. Registration and tuition fees. 

4. Single, self-catering accommodation in Dennison Residence. Please note: There is no capacity for spouses or children in this programme, in residence. 

5. Medical insurance from Momentum Health year to the doctor or dentist. Students will be required to use the doctor nominated by Momentum Health. Should there be any medical procedure, prescribed by the doctor, that is not covered by the medical aid, students will be required to pay 50% of the cost, and ACCI will pay the other 50%. There is also a clinic on campus that is available for students to use at a nominal cost of R5.00, which will be paid by the ACCI.

6. Access to the University Student Counselling Centre. Students are encouraged to make use of the professional services offered by the SCC.

7. A non-negotiable living allowance , which will have to be used for the purchasing of all food, entertainment, clothing and any other personal items that are required. This allowance is paid monthly into a banking account that each student will be required to open. The stipend is variable and is contingent upon funding constraints.

In the 4th year of PhD registration, the students will return to campus in Pietermaritzburg for the final phase of writing up their PhD thesis. To cover this, the ACCI will cover the following:

1. A return economy flight.
2. Accommodation for a three (3) month period.
3. The costs of printing and binding of the thesis.


The ACCI provides accommodation to the students in Dennison Residence, which is situated close to the Agricultural Faculty Building that houses the ACCI.

Please note: 
There is no capacity for spouses and children in this programme, in residence.

Pietermaritzburg Environment

Pietermaritzburg is a beautiful small city, situated halfway beween the sea (Durban) and the mountains (the Drakensberg Mountains).

It is accessible from Durban on the N3 highway to Johannesburg. From Durban to Pietermaritzburg takes about 1 hour to drive.
It takes 5 hours to drive on to Johannesburg, but there are 5 flights daily from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg during the week. The flight takes 70 minutes.

It is hot in summer, with temperatures ranging from 20'C at night to 30-35'C during the day. In winter temperatures usually range from 5'C at night up to 22'C during the day. It is in a summer rainfall area, so the months of June-September are dry, and the main rainy season is November-February.

The University campus in Pietermaritzburg is fairly small, registering about 8 000 students, about half in Science and Agriculture and half in the Humanities.
UKZN as a whole has about 40,000 students on 5 campuses.

Facilities & Eligibility


The ACCI programme is specifically for full-time, professional plant breeders who will make their careers breeding new cultivars of food crops. It is not suitable for academics or biodiversity scientists. For students to be eligible for this programme, they must already have:

An MSc in Plant Breeding, Plant Genetics, Plant Pathology, Horticulture, Crop Science, Applied Entomology and Applied Nematology or equivalent degree;

An existing position as an agricultural research scientist in a national research institute in the potential student's home country is also essential, so that the student can return to his/her home country to conduct the field research for the PhD thesis;

Applicants should be under the age of 40.
Once accepted for the programme the student will also have to provide written confirmation that they are aware of, and accept that:

The ACCI will pay a non-negotiable stipend that will cover only reasonable personal living expenses for the duration of the degree (4 years);

Neither the ACCI, nor the donor agency, is responsible for supporting the familiy of the student at any stage while he/she is studying for his/her PhD;

All students will complete one study year in South Africa.

As a University of KwaZulu-Natal student, he/she is subject to all the rules governing all students of the University of KwaZulu-Natal;

Students will not enter into correspondence with the donor organization except with the knowledge and consent of the Director of the ACCI.

Application can be made directly to the ACCI. 
You need to provide:

  • Your CV.
  • A certified copy of your passport (or identity document if you do not possess a passport). 
  • Written proof of one of the following must be sent with your application:
    • A pass in English Language in Cambridge A-level or O-level (C symbol or higher) or the International Baccalaureate or equivalent examination. (This may vary for different countries)
    • An overall band score of 7.0 on the International English Testing System (IELTS): For information on the IELTS, contact the British Council at the British Embassy or Consulate in your home country or the British Council in Johannesburg, tel:             +27 11 403 3316      , Fax: +27 11 339 7806 or Durban 031 305 735
    • A test score of at least 550 (paper test) or 213 (computer test) on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). For more information on the TOEFL test, please contact the United States Information Service. (USIS) at the USA Embassy or Consulate in your home country or contact TOEFL directly at PO Box 6155, Princeton, New Jersey, 08541.6155, U.S.A. E-mail: toefl@ets.org Website: www.toefl.org
    • A pass in an examination equivalent to English at the Higher grade (First or second language) at the South African senior certificate level (matriculation)
  • A certified copy of your school leaving or matriculation certificate.
  • A certified copy of your undergraduate academic record (what courses you took and what marks you achieved) from your university.
  • Certified copies of your MSc certificate and MSc academic record.
  • A letter from your employers in which they agree to release you for one year of study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and then upon return to your station, will continue to employ and actively support you, whilst you are carrying out dedicated full-time, research breeding for three years at your station.
  • A letter of application from you, which includes a brief outline of your previous plant breeding interests. 
  • Names, addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses of 3 references, one of which should be your supervisor for your MSc thesis.
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