What We Do - ACCI - African Centre for Crop Improvement

African Centre for Crop Improvement
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PhD and MSc Training in Plant Breeding

We train students in plant breeding, providing them with a spectrum of hard science tools, and soft skills so that they can work independently in an African context. Students work mainly on African food crops including underexploited crops such as Bambara groundnut, tef and finger millet. The overall strategy is to integrate a conventional breeding approach with biotechnology tools, such as genomic diversity studies, and mutation breeding.


We have excellent resources at UKZN for training plant breeders, including biotechnology labs, plant pathology and entomology facilities, greenhouses and a farm with 18ha of irrigated lands available.

Sequence showing process of propagating cassava from cuttings taken from parent plants. These cuttings are planted in seedling trays after being dipped in hormone powder to promote the growth of roots. Figure 9 shows a cutting that has grown into a flourishing cassava plant.

Ongoing Research Projects at UKZN

Professor Mark Laing, Professor Hussein Shimelis, Professor Rob Melis and Dr Julia Sibiya have their own research projects operating at UKZN on the breeding of tomato, sweet pepper, chili, beans, maize, sorghum, cassava and wheat. Prior projects at UKZN have tackled aspects of breeding of tef, rice and Bambara groundnut. In some cases, students will work on a component of one of these projects as a basis of their thesis research. These are all externally funded projects, from a variety of funders.

Short Course Training

In 2018 we began a programme of short courses and workshops to provide specialist training to professional plant breeders and post-graduates. The three workshops run so far include two on Demand-led Plant Breeding, and one on Programming in R for Multivariate Analyses.

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.

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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