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.
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.
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;