Regulations - ACCI - African Centre for Crop Improvement

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Aims, Background & Philosophy

Location    
The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) is based on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. In January 2004 the University of Natal merged with the University of Durban-Westville to form the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The new university (with a combined student population of 42 000 students in 2004) is now the largest in South Africa. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, English medium university with increasing numbers of international students. The School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences within which the ACCI is located, has eleven agricultural disciplines plus a full complement of biological and physical sciences. The ACCI is expanding its activityinto a Platform, and will be training students in other discplines, including Plant Pathology.

Aims    
The ACCI aims to train African plant breeders in Eastern and Southern Africa, on African crops, to breed better crops using conventional and molecular breeding tools.

Focus    
The focus is on the breeding of African and African grown crops: cereals, roots and tubers, pulses, vegetable and timber crops for improved food security for all in Africa.

Crop Focus
Students breed the following crops:

Cereals:
Sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, rice, and maize.

Roots:
Cassava, sweet potato, taro (coco-yam), yam

Pulses:
Dry beans, cowpea, groundnuts, faba bean.

Vegetables:
Onion, tomato, greens, indigenous vegetables

Given Ethiopia's unique crop mix, durum wheat, barley and teff are alternative research crops to be studied.

Country Focus
The ACCI students are drawn from any African country, but especially southern and eastern Africa.

Background    
In Phase I, the ACCI was funded by the Rockefeller foundation. In Phase II, the funds come from the PASS (Programme for Africa's Seed Systems program in AGRA, (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: www.agra-alliance.org ).
In Phase III, existing students will complete their degrees and 17 new students will be training, with the objective of training plant breeders to fill gaps in plant breeding capacity in selected countries.

A New Paradigm for the ACCI Program
As of 2015,AGRA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have changed their philosophy of funding the ACCI directly. Instead, they will be funding the National Agricultural Research institutes, CGIAR Centres and the Universities to train their staff at the ACCI and other selected universities. So the big change is that the students (or their employers) need to secure their own scholarships from funders such as the BMGF, World Bank, USAID, DIFID, etc.

Philosophy     

The philosophy of the ACCI is that:

It is vital to train African plant breeders and plant pathologists on African crops, in Africa.

Population breeding is a viable, cheap and relatively quick breeding approach for multiple criteria breeding in many crops.

Biotechnology is a powerful technology which may be useful in cases where conventional breeding techniques have failed to produce significant improvements in crops. In particular, the use of molecular marker selection may benefit breeding for single gene characters. The technology has to be integrated with an excellent knowledge of conventional genetics, and access to the appropriate laboratories, equipment and budget.

the ACCI Approach
Maintain excellent links with the NARs in many African countries, and specifically, with the national plant breeding programmes in these countries;

Ensure access to germplasm for parent populations for breeding better varieties;

   Ensure adequate local facilities in the students' home countries for the planned research;
   Ensure a modest running budget for each student's breeding program in-country;
   Establish in-country co-supervisors;
   Establish a well defined interaction between ACCI, international and
   in-country supervisors;
   Ensure support ACCI students during their research and afterwards.
Structure & Funding

Desirable Characteristics of ACCI graduates
ACCI graduates should have:

Creative leadership abilities and focused on impact;
Determination to succeed;
Problem-solving ability and dynamism ;
The desire and capacity to "make a difference";
A broad knowledge and understanding of African contextual issues;
The capacity to be role models and good public speakers;
Excellence in scientific English, both in writing and editing.

Description of Studies
1st Year of Study at the ACCI, in Pietermaritzburg

1st Year Activities
1. Lectures
Students  will take a series of advanced postgraduate courses that will to  support their research and future careers. These will be given by a  range of both local and international lecturers, presented on a block  basis, in a workshop/tutorial format.

2. Development of Project Proposal:
Students  will develop a detailed project proposal for their PhD research,  together with a research budget (for funding the research at their home  research station).

3. Mini-Project
Each  student will undertake a mini-project to ensure that all the proposed  plant breeding and evaluation techniques are feasible and familiar to  the students.

4. Literature Review
Students  will write a detailed literature review on their chosen crop and  breeding objective, using the excellent library and database facilities  available at UKZN..

2nd, 3rd, and 4th Years of Study, Field Studies

In  the second, third and fourth year of studies, the students will  undertake field research in plant breeding in their home countries, in  their previous jobs at their own research stations. They will therefore  need to ensure that they are able to return to the field station to  undertake the research that will be needed to complete their PhD.  Adequate but limited research funds will cover field research costs.  Supervision will be provided at a distance and by visits from  supervisors and in-country co-supervisors.

4th Year of Study, Completion of Write Up

At  the end of the 4th year, students will return to the University of  KwaZulu-Natal for a maximum of three months to complete their thesis  write up. Note that students will need to have completed the bulk of  their thesis writing before they return to the University of  KwaZulu-Natal. So they need to complete a 1st draft of their thesis, at  least, before returning to UKZN, if they are to hand in the PhD thesis  on time, on December 1st.


Funding
Phase I
In Phase I, 2002 -2007, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the operations of the ACCI to train 5 cohorts of 8 students

Phase II
In  Phase II, 2007-2011, the ACCI operations were funded by AGRA, a joint  venture of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates  Foundation. A further forty students with five cohorts of eight students  were trained in this phase.

Phase III
In  Phase III, 2012-2018, funding is being sought from AGRA. THe objectives  will be to complete the training of existing students already in  training, and to to train at least two more cohorts of students in a new  4 year curriculum.

The Generation Challenge Program (GCP) has also funded biotechnology training of the ACCI students for a 5 year period.

Further  funding is being sought from other funding agencies for training of  additional cohorts, and for long-term sustainability.


Strategic Links
Rockefeller Foundation for initial fund and project support in-country.

AGRA for subsequent funding.

The GCP for funding biotechnology training and support of our students in genomic studies.

Cornell University for internet-based, live lectures and collaboration, and live reviews of our students' project designs.

CGIAR  organisations, such as ICRISAT, CIMMYT, IITA, IRRI, WARDA, CIAT, CIP,  ICARDA for genetic resources and provision of international lecturers  and co-supervisors.

National agricultural  research institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique,  Zambia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso. Ethiopia, Tanzania, South  Sudan.

UOFS, UCT, University of Pretoria, Dept. Science and Technology, EcoBio, PlantBio and BioAfrica.

UN FAO, IPR-Netherlands, Weizmann Institute for international lecturers.
 
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