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African Centre For Crop Improvement (ACCI)


Professor Mark Laing

PhD (Natal)
Plant Pathologist

 Plant Pathology: Lectured for 30 years on breeding for disease resistance, disease control and epidemiology (how to measure disease progress). Current research is primarily on biological control of pests, diseases and weeds (Striga), from discovery to commercialization.

Plant Breeding: Cabbage breeding for 10 years, ornamentals for about 25 years. Current projects are on: biofuel crops, mutation breeding of cereal crops, making sorghum protein digestible; breeding African rice for drought tolerance and blast resistance, characterizing Bamabra groundnut landraces; and starting on tef mutagenesis and polyploidy studies.

Contact details:

Tel: +27 (0)33 260 5524

Fax: +27 (0)33 260 6465

Email: laing@ukzn.ac.za


Professor Pangirayi Tongoona (Honorary)

PhD (Zimbabwe)

Maize Breeder

  • Major research areas:

    • * Breeding maize for improved nutritional qualities - low phytic acid maize
    • * Breeding sorghum for resistance to Striga asiatica.


    Email: tongoona@ukzn.ac.za





Professor Rob Melis

PhD (Natal)

Plant Breeder

Senior Lecturer

Director of Pro-Seed ( plant breeding business)

 Major research areas:

 *Plant breeding of legumes and vegetables

 * Seed production

 * Small scale farm research


 Contact details:

Tel: +27 (0)33 260 6029

 Fax: +27 (0)33 260 6036

 Email: melisr@ukzn.ac.za





Professor H.A.Shimelis


  • Breeding Experience

    • * Wheat

      * Vernonia

      * Potato

      * Cabbage

      Contact details:

      • Tel: +27 (0)33 260 6474   
        Fax: +27 (0)33 260 6474

        Email: Shimelis@ukzn.ac.za

        • Major research areas:
          Development of improved crop genetic resources for yield, industrial use, biotic and abiotic resistance or tolerance. Multidisciplinary research approach is followed involving Plant Breeding, Plant Pathology and Plant Genetics. Crops of interest include sorghum, wheat and vernonia. Detailed phenotypic characterizations, genetic analysis and molecular marker assisted selections are practiced on these crops to develop suitable germplasm with wide adaption and yield stability.

Dr Julia Sibiya

 Dr Julia Sibiya graduated from ACCI in 2010 and was appointed as a Post Doctoral Fellow in the ACCI. In 2011 she was formally appointed to the staff of the ACCI as a Lecturer, once her work permit was secured.  She has considerable Plant Pathology experience working with diseases of various crops, and more than 10 years teaching experience from the University of Zimbabwe. Her PhD research focused on breeding for disease resistance in maize 

Qualifications: BSc. Agric. Hons (Crop Science; Master of Science (MS) (Plant Pathology).  Ohio State University; PhD (Plant Breeding), University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Current Teaching / courses and student supervision

PLBR901: Topics in Advanced Plant Breeding : Scientific Communication – PhD throughput management in ACCI (research proposal development, literature reviews, accessing library databases, use of endnote for reference management). 

Special topics in plant breeding, GxE analysis,

AGPS701 Principles of Agricultural Research – Information presentation methods

Currently co-supervising 12 PhD students in ACCI and 2 others (SeedCo-Zim and Tanzania) working on various crops (sweet potato, cassava, wheat, Irish potato, common bean, faba bean, maize and pigeon pea) and traits (mainly drought and disease resistance)

Current Research Projects

* Breeding for resistance to Phaeosphaeria leaf spot (PLS) & yield stability in African maize germplasm (UKZN, Competitive Grant Research Grant from the University Research Office)

* Development of unique maize source germplasm for African Ecosystems (AGRA funded), collaborating with Prof. J. Derera

* Improvement of African germplasm by introgressing temperate genes to enhance nutritional quality and adaptability to climate change. (FAO/Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity (GIPB), Global Crop diversity Trust. Collaborating with Prof. J. Derera

Contact details:  

Tel: +27(0)33 2606246;

Fax: +27(0)33 2605580;

Email: sibiyaj@ukzn.ac.za



Professor John Derera

DipMkt (LCCI). BScHons. MPhil. (Zimbabwe). PhD  (UKZN)     

Associate Professor of Plant Breeding, African Centre for crop Improvement, 

School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal South Africa.  

 A native of Zimbabwe and permanent resident in South Africa, John Derera is a specialist in Seed Technology, Maize Germplasm Development, Integrated Plant Breeding and Genetics Data Management. 

 He has contributed to plant breeding capacity building in Africa by graduating 33 PhDs and 5 MSc students and publishing more than 100 research articles during the past 7 years. Additionally he runs a maize breeding and research program that emphasizes adaptation and end-user quality traits.

Current Research Interests:

A special focus on plant breeding capacity building through innovation in Africa. This is achieved through:

a) Development of new and unique maize germplasm lines; 

b) Plant breeding design and management; 

c) Training of world-class postgraduate students at MSc and PhD level within and alongside plant breeding programs at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and via shuttle programs across Africa;

d) Outreach to other African institutions;

e) Collaboration with industry partners, and national agricultural institutions.

Current Research Projects:

* Enhancement of Maize Adaptation to Climate Change, including abiotic stress conditions of drought and heat, and other environmental challenges. Among other processes, this entails introgression of temperate germplasm into tropical and subtropical materials using both conventional and molecular marker-aided techniques. Breeding operations are conducted in shuttle programs between Zimbabwe and South Africa, and between Mozambique and South Africa.

* Incorporation of Maize Streak Virus (MSV) and Downy Mildew disease resistance in lowland maize varieties for the African East Coast areas: Both MSV and Downy Mildew diseases can cause devastating yield losses in maize leading to zero yield with implications for food security. Breeding operations using both classical and marker-assisted selection tools are being conducted in a shuttle programs between Mozambique and South Africa. 

* Specialty Maize Germplasm Development:  Incorporation of nutritional and popping traits in maize inbred lines. Key activities include enhancement of pro-Vitamin content; breeding Low Phytic Acid (LPA) genes in tropical maize; enhancing popping ability and green maize traits in locally adapted inbred lines. Tropical adapted maize lines are being improved for Vitamin A content which is crucial given that more than 250 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency worldwide. Research also includes Vitamin A retention studies in popular foods in South Africa and Zambia; strategies for deploying yellow/orange Vitamin A maize-based food products in rural communities. Stacking Vitamin A and high protein content traits in maize inbred lines. Using temperate lines as donor parents, the Low Phytic Acid genes have been successfully bred into tropical adapted backgrounds. This has been achieved using both classical and biotechnology techniques. 

Subject Areas of Interest & Specialization:

* Biometrical Genetics

* Population and Quantitative Genetics

* Seed Science and Seed Technology

* Plant Breeding Design and Management 

* Molecular Plant Breeding

* Principles of Agricultural Research


          Contact details

 Tel: +27(0)33 2606034;

Fax: +27(0)33 260 5591 ;

Email: dereraj@ukzn.ac.za




Mrs Rowelda Donnelly

Assistant Administrative officer

Contact details:

African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences,  University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg 3209, South Africa.

Tel: +27(0)33 260 6288; Fax: +27(0)33 260 5591 ; Email: donnelly@ukzn.ac.za

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