Business News of 2014-05-22

Ensure food security - Prof Danquah urges ECOWAS countries

Professor Eric Y. Danquah, Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana, has urged ECOWAS countries to address the issue of food insecurity through research funding.

He said the sub-region needs a critical mass of scientists orientated towards working in national breeding programmes, and the private sector in their home countries to develop improved varieties of staple crops needed for food security, sustainability, and economic development.

Prof Danquah made the appeal during a presentation at the on-going World Bank’s Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Project meeting in the Nigerian Capital Abuja, which had brought together over 100 renowned academicians and researchers from the sub-region.

He said food security is a major challenge in West and Central Africa, due to a number of constraints resulting in low breeding capacity, low productivity, and a convergence of factors, including high population growth rates, deteriorating soils, land grabs, water scarcity and climate change, which are putting pressure on global food supply systems.

The Director said from all indications, it is clear that the food insecurity situation is a chronic problem that is likely to worsen in the coming decades. He said, there is limited human capacity in plant breeding and seed science and technology, with the requisite skills and expertise to develop the improved varieties urgently needed in farmers’ fields.

Prof Danquah, who is also the Team Leader of the WACCI ACE Project, said consequently, the majority of farmers rely on their own varieties, which are low yielding and susceptible to a-biotic and biotic stresses.

He said to contribute towards addressing the apparent shortage of plant breeders in the sub-region, the WACCI was established, with initial funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, at the University of Ghana to train plant breeders, at the PhD level, to improve the indigenous crops of the sub-region.

He said plant breeding is widely recognized as a means by which agricultural productivity could be enhanced through the genetic improvement of crops. The Director said the Centre in 2013 graduate the first batch of eight PhD students and would be graduating another 10 this year in July, which no university in Africa had done before in planting breeding.

He said an additional 59 students are currently at various stages of PhD training. Prof Danquah observed that the ACE funding would provide the springboard for transforming WACCI into a sustainable African Centre of Excellence for training Plant Breeders and Seed Scientists and Technologists.

He said it is expected that WACCI would graduate highly qualified, competent and motivated plant breeders, applying the full scope of plant breeding methodologies to develop superior, climate-smart and resilient varieties of the staple crops to increase productivity.

This Prof Danquah said, would enhance regional food security through the development, multiplication and supply of superior crop varieties and hybrids that meet the needs of farmers.

“The WACCI programme addresses not only the brain drain syndrome, which is characteristic of training African scientists abroad, but also ensures that home trained graduates get a jump-start in their home institutions, by continuing their research immediately after graduation,” he stated.