African Centre for Crop Improvement

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African Centre for Crop Improvement

“Training African Breeders on African Crops, in Africa”


ACCI Prof in Demand as Regional Expert

ACCI deputy-director Prof Hussein Shimelis has been busy in the SADC region as an expert, visiting Namibia and Mauritius to advise on regional plant breeding and project collaborations.

In April he went to Namibia to advise the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) about procedures for releasing new crop varieties and guidelines and formulation of plant breeder rights (PBR), as the country does not have protocols and PBR for these issues.
Professor Hussein Shimelis, Percy Misika (permanent secretary of MAWF Namibia) and Maliata Wanga (principal researcher and current coordinator of the mutation breeding project, MAWF)
“We adopted the South African releasing system, drafting one for Namibia, and a bill on plant breeder rights is to be presented to the parliament to be passed,” he says.
Shimelis’ connection with Namibia was forged when he supervised the PhD research of Namibian ACCI graduate Lydia Horn. Her research on developing drought tolerance in cowpea using gamma irradiation was funded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
It was part of a collaboration with the Namibian government to use nuclear science and technology to develop new varieties of crops, especially drought-tolerant and high-yielding cowpea, sorghum and pearl millet.
Horn is currently a researcher at the University of Namibia and co-coordinator of this breeding project, which, in collaboration with the ACCI, has developed four new varieties of drought-tolerant sorghum and six of cowpea, that have all been released.
“We helped them develop new varieties,” says Shimelis. “Seeds of those varieties now need to be developed and multiplied to develop foundation seed. This should be ready in the second half of 2019.” Once two to three tonnes of seed has been produced it will be distributed to farmers.
“In terms of developing and releasing new varieties, this is excellent for us, especially the collaboration with other organisations,” says Shimelis, who has been running regional training workshops on mutation breeding since 2013 as a result of this connection.
Mutation breeding is a method where a breeder can enhance the genetic variation of a population to select genetically unique individuals.
Shimelis says a spin-off of working with the project has been regional collaboration. “It makes me a regional expert and all the partners are very happy. Zimbabwe is also planning to release varieties though mutation breeding and in Ethiopia they are planning to do it on tef to improve nutritional value.”
Because of his training work Shimelis also went to Mauritius for a regional meeting in March. “I went to help formulate an African regional co-operation agreement for research, development and training.  This will look at what the research priorities in Africa through mutation breeding and nuclear science technology should be,” he says.
This agreement was between the more than 20 member states of the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA), who are working in collaboration with the IAEA.
Shelagh McLoughlin
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