/ 27 August 2010

Plant research graduates head home

An advanced studies programme in plant breeding at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Pietermaritzburg campus produced seven PhD graduates earlier this year.

The students were sponsored by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra).

The PhD programme began with two years in the African Centre for Crop Improvement at UKZN’s school of agriculture and agribusiness, followed by three years of field research in students’ home countries, which included Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi.

Plant breeding, biometry, genetics, biotechnology and plant pathology are among the fields in which the PhD programme offers training.

Agra aims to improve agricultural production for Africa’s smallholder farmers. The PhD programme requires students to conduct field research in their home countries so that after graduation they can apply their academic knowledge in their home environment with local resources.

The number of agricultural researchers in sub-Saharan Africa has declined by half in the past 20 years because of a lack of funding for agricultural education, and more than half of agricultural scientists in active service are due to retire within the next five years, the centre says.

“The programme at UKZN and its sister programme at the University of Ghana-Legon have been created to fill these gaps,” said Rufaro Madakadze, Agra’s education and training officer, at the graduation of the seven students from UKZN.