ACCI staff, Plant Breeding graduates and representatives from AGRA gather after the Graduation ceremony.

Rich Skills Harvest for Africa

Eight students in UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) have graduated with doctorates in a rich skills harvest for the continent.

This class of graduates, working to achieve food security in their home countries of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, South Sudan and Rwanda, are the latest among the ranks of the ACCI whose mission is to train African breeders on African crops in Africa.

ACCI staff congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to aim for significance in their careers. Representatives from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which funded their studies, encouraged graduates to prioritise looking for funding for their work, to network to further their careers and to ask for input and collaboration from connections already made.

The graduates are:

Dr Maurice Nyombe, an Associate Programme Officer with AGRA-South Sudan. His research involved investigating factors that contribute to enhanced yield and grain quality traits as a basis for breeding and selection strategies in rice germplasm for South Sudan.

Dr Solomon Derese of Ethiopia works at Sirinka Agricultural Research Center in northern Ethiopia as a crop research co-ordinator on sorghum, tef, maize, rice and millet, as well as integrated Striga management projects. Derese, whose research involved breeding sorghum for drought tolerance and medium-maturity, overcame ill health to complete his PhD and has published two papers.

Dr Emmanuel Mrema researched integrated Striga management in sorghum through resistance breeding and biocontrol in the semi-arid regions of Tanzania. He has so far published four of his six chapters.

Striga species are parasitic plants that infect the roots of maize and sorghum plants, and then quietly remove nutrients from the plants, reducing crop yields by up to 100%.

Mrema identified Striga infestation as one of many major constraints affecting sorghum production in Tanzania. He evaluated 60 sorghum genotypes to identify resistant lines for future cultivar development. Mrema’s work on breeding Striga-resistant sorghum has already attracted interest, with funds secured for the next phase of his research from South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency.

Dr Tigist Shiferaw Girsil works at the Melkassa Agricultural Research Centre at the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR) as a lowland pulse breeder. She concentrated on genetic studies of host plant resistance to Mexican bean weevil in Ethiopian common bean germplasms; the pest is a significant threat to Ethiopia’s production of common beans, which is an export crop and an important source of dietary protein for Ethiopians.

Dr Eduardo Mulima of Mozambique works at the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique’s Sussundenga Research Station, His PhD studies involved investigating the genetic diversity of sorghum germplasm and hybrid potential under contrasting environments in Mozambique. He overcame language barriers, the challenge of leaving his family at home to pursue his studies, and changes in supervisors, to achieve his PhD.

Dr Filson Kagimbo is a Senior Agricultural Research Officer at the Tumbi Agricultural Research Institute in Tanzania. His research has produced purple – orange – and mixed-flesh colour sweet potato genotypes that are resistant to weevils, high yielding, and high in dry matter. The genotypes have been submitted for registration for release to farmers. He also published two papers thus far.

Dr Ronald Kakeeto is a research scientist at the National Agricultural Research Organisation in Uganda. During his PhD research, he received an African Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship to conduct molecular studies at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya. His research on developing drought tolerant groundnut genotypes with better agronomic and seed physical quality traits in Uganda has resulted in four papers under review for publication.

Dr Damien Shumbusha is an Associate Research Fellow in the root and tubers programme at the Rwanda Agriculture Board. He conducted his PhD research on the breeding of dual-purpose sweet potato varieties for human consumption of tubers and biomass use for animal feed. He received a PhD scholarship after releasing six new high yielding sweet potato varieties in 2013. He has published several papers and received further training in Africa and Europe.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Corrette de Jager