WACCI holds workshop for African Centres’ of Excellence

The West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) of the University of Ghana (UG) has organised a two-day workshop for the five World Bank Africa Centres of Excellence (ACEs) in agriculture.

The workshop dubbed: “Workshop for the Agriculture Education Front-runners in West Africa: ACEs Learning Experience at WACCI” was on the theme: “The march towards food security in Africa.”

The workshop drew 52 participants, including scientists, researchers, Centre and Management staff from West and Central Africa.

Its purpose was to allow the ACEs draw on lessons from the experiences of WACCI and also exchange institutional best practices.

The WACCI is a partnership between the UG and Cornell University, United States that was established in June 2007 with funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa at the UG to train Plant Breeders in Africa working on the improvement of African crops in local environments for farmers in Africa.

Prof John Gyapong, the Pro-Vice Chancellor, UG in-charge of Research, Innovation and Development charged the ACEs to help address the problem of food insecurity in West Africa through the training of plant breeders who would develop superior crop varieties of the staple crops.

He said the West African sub-region is looking up to WACCI to train a critical mass of quality PhD graduates.

Prof Daniel K. Asiedu, Acting Provost, College of Basic and Applied Sciences, UG, in a welcome address said that the College consists of six departments, including WACCI.

He said 10 out of the 31 PhD graduates were from the WACCI programme.

The Director of WACCI, Professor Eric Yirenkyi Danquah said WACCI is an emerging centre of excellence for training plant breeders in Africa.

“The WACCI project is based on the premise that African Plant Breeders can be trained in an African environment to work on African crops for Africa,” he said.

He added that since its inception, WACCI had enrolled 82 PhD students from West, East and Central African countries and had graduated 28 highly qualified and competent plant breeders.

He observed that currently, WACCI had enrolled students from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.

He noted that the graduates had demonstrated the value of quality plant breeding education in the region and that the success stories of the Centre had made the WACCI PhD programme a model for Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

He intimated that national crop improvement programmes have been revived in the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) across the West and Central African sub-region as a result of the outcome of students’ PhD research projects.

He said that a network of well-trained, committed and hardworking plant breeders would fast-track attainment of food security in the sub-region.

Prof Danquah recounted that in 2013, after a rigorous, transparent and merit-based evaluation, WACCI together with four other ACEs were selected to receive eight million dollars each as a project grant from the World Bank under the agriculture category.

At an ACE workshop in Abuja in 2014, Centre leaders for the other ACEs unanimously elected t WACCI as the front runner of the Agricultural ACEs and recommended that WACCI shares the secret behind its success over the years. It is for this reason that the ACE workshop had been organised.

He talked about some of the achievements of the Centre such as the newly established Vegetable Innovation Laboratory (VIL) as part of efforts to promote vegetable production and food security in Ghana and the sub-region.

The VIL thematic areas include genetic improvement; vegetable production and quality control; processing; value chains and socio-economic research; policy research and knowledge management systems.

He advised the other ACEs to be transparent in their financial transactions and open up their books for external review if they desired to progress.

There was a panel discussion led by Dr John Eleblu, Coordinator for Research Programmes of Francophone West Africa, WACCI on “Partnerships, Resource Mobilisation and Research for Development and Innovation”. After deliberations, the five ACE Centre Leaders agreed that WACCI should lead efforts to establish a consortium of Agricultural ACEs to leverage and boost their ability to attract funding for research, development and innovation aimed at solving key problems in the agricultural value chain.

There were presentations by a WACCI graduate, a current student, an Associate Faculty and representatives from NARS and CGIAR about their experiences working with WACCI. The Centre Leaders of visiting ACEs also delivered presentations on strategies for developing the ACEs.

In attendance at this workshop were participants from the ACE for Training Plant Breeders and Seed Scientists, UG; ACE in Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University, Kano; ACE for Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; ACE for Food Technology and Research, Benue State University, Makurdi and ACE in Poultry Sciences, University of Lome.

Prof Jibrin M. Jibrin, the Centre Leader, ACE in Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University, Kano, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency lauded WACCI for its success story, stating that “we are here to learn from WACCI and to share experiences”. GNA

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