/ 19 September 2007

Programme aims to keep crop specialists at home

Scores of African scientists will be trained to develop crops for Africa’s conditions under a programme launched on Wednesday which is also aimed at keeping their expertise at home.

The programme, set up by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), will help crop specialists at national research institutions obtain their PhDs and stay in Africa to work.

Most African crop scientists have been educated at European or United States universities, and many stay there after graduation.

Agra has partnered with the University of Ghana, Legon, and strengthened a programme piloted at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal to train about 120 plant breeders over the decade.

It will recruit students who work as scientists at national research institutions and they will return to those institutions after completing their PhDs.

”These programmes will bridge a wide gap in African scientific capacity, by training African plant breeders in African universities to improve and adapt the indigenous and orphan crops needed to meet Africa’s food needs,” Joseph DeVries, a senior Agra official, said in a statement.

Agra said the world’s poorest continent needed skilled crop breeders to develop high-yield, hardy and nutritious varieties of crops for African conditions.

More than 200-million Africans are malnourished and hungry but most crops important to Africa — cassava, sorghum, millet, plantain or cowpea — are not important to Western researchers.

As a result, Agra said, there is a serious shortage of breeders of those crops.

There are, for example, fewer than a dozen millet breeders in Africa, yet millions of sub-Saharan Africans depend on millet as an important part of their diet.

Agra is giving $4,9-million to the University of Ghana for students from West and Central Africa, and $8,1-million to KwaZulu-Natal University for students from the south and east.

”By training students in Africa rather than requiring them to leave the continent, the programmes will help to stem a ‘brain drain’ of Africa’s agricultural scientists,” Agra said. – Reuters