10 AGRA sponsored students graduate with PhD

Ten West African students sponsored by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have graduated with Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in Plant Breeding. They were trained at the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana. They include Vivian Oduro, Allen Oppong and Ruth Thompson (Ghana), Alhassan Usman and Beatrice Elohor Ifie (Nigeria), and Adama Coulibaly (Niger). Others are Abdalla Dao and Traore Edgar (Burkina Faso) and Sako Dramane and Goita Oumarou of Mali. They are part of the post-graduate students of the University of Ghana, who graduated, at a congregation held on Saturday in Accra. The graduants specialised on breeding African crops that are of great importance to the African people. The new breeders are; Gichuru, Lilian Njeri (Maize Streak Virus Resistance); Kasozi, Lwanga Charles (Maize Weevil Resistance); Kivuva, Benjamin Musembi (Sweet Potato); Mengesha, Wende Abera (Maize for Grain yield); Murenga, Mwimali Geoffrey (Maize resistance to Two Stem Borers); Ng’ayu-Wanjau, Beatrice Njoki (Bean); Owere, Lawrence (Finger Millet); Sseruwu, Godfrey (Sweet Potato); Teshome, Rebeka Gebretsadik (Fusarium Oxysporum Against Striga Hermonthica) and Tumuhimbise, Robooni (Cassava). Professor Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, Director of WACCI, said the centre was established at the University of Ghana in June 2007, with funding from the AGRA to train 40 students in plant breeders in the West African sub-region at the PhD level. Prof Danquah said WACCI was conceived from a partnership between the University of Ghana and the Cornell University based on the model of the African Centre for Crop Improvement and the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. WACCI is one of the two institutions in Africa where the Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiated doctoral training programmes for African crop breeders with the aim of strengthening Africa’s seed systems. He said the model objective is to train African plant Breeders working on African crops in an African environment. Prof Danquah said the need to establish the centre came as a result of Africa’s lack of capacity to develop improved varieties necessary to bolster its food security, due to the inadequate financial investment and scarcity of well-trained plant breeders. Prof Danquah said the WACCI's programme involves two years of course work plus three years of field research, adding that, the first year course work included plant genetics, crop improvement, biometry, quantitative genetics, molecular genetics and biotechnology in plant breeding, plant microbial interactions and disease control and plant stress physiology. Dr Rufaro M.Madakadze, Programme Officer in charge of Education and Training at AGRA, said the cost of the establishment of WACCI in Ghana is 12 million dollars, while the programme has so far trained 117 PhD students in Africa. She said there has been a great improvement in plant breeding within the beneficiary countries that have benefited from the scholarship because the students were equipped with the needed knowledge in crop improvement. Some of the students who spoke with Ghana News Agency said they would use the knowledge acquired to assist in developing and fostering the private seed sector in Africa, to provide improved seeds to small scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa on a sustainable scale. Prof Ernest Aryeetey, Vice- Chancellor of University of Ghana, said coming at a time when African farmers are fighting challenges posed by the various unpredictable climatic conditions, the graduates would offer a very timely solution, as they would help develop crops that could thrive in the African climate. Professor Aryeetey challenged the graduates to go out there and put what they have learnt into practice.