African Centre for Crop Improvement

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African Centre for Crop Improvement

“Training African Breeders on African Crops, in Africa”


UKZN appoints new ACCI director

Professor Hussein Shimelis has been appointed director of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), effective 1 July 2023. He replaces Professor Mark Laing, who founded the centre in 2002.

Professor Hussein Shimelis

Shimelis has been the deputy director of the ACCI since 2015, and has been significant in steering the ACCI onto a new funding path. With financial support from large international donors dwindling, he has acquired novel student-linked funding sources, including national governments, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)s, the Private Seed Sector Development project (PSSD) and NGOs.

“I intend to maintain the link with past and potential funders and sources of students across Africa. I have established regional and international collaboration with government officials and senior academics at universities in Africa and international,” he said.

Shimelis has supervised 52 doctoral, 38 Masters and 11 Honours students in plant breeding, who came from eastern, southern and West African countries.

“My graduates from the ACCI are recognized as experts in the breeding of several crops. They are dedicated to developing superior crops to enhance food production, nutrition, resilience and economic development in some 20 countries of Africa,” he said.

“I continue to be a research collaborator with ACCI alumni as they assume leadership roles in plant breeding programmes within their home countries. I am actively collaborator with plant breeders in various national agricultural research systems (NARS) and universities in Africa,” he said.

Shimelis is a founding member and leader within the Pan Africa Demand‐led Breeding (DLB) initiative, (,. This initiative is introducing the concepts of demand-led breeding to a new generation of plant breeders in Africa. The DLB aims to increase the rates of adoption and cultivation of new crop varieties in Africa which better respond to farmer preferences and market demands. 

The DLB initiative involves some 400 plant breeders and educators in more than 20 countries across Africa. It promotes the business of plant breeding, using market‐led approaches and product profiles to design new varieties of food crops important to the continent.

“These include ‘orphan crops’ that often do not receive high priority within more global breeding programmes but are essential for food and nutritional security within Africa,” said Shimelis.

The DLB initiative is co-sponsored by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Crawford Fund and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA). 

Shimelis also has an excellent publication and supervision record . Over the past decade, he and his research team have generated over 350 peer-reviewed scientific publications and book chapters. He has achieved a Google Scholar h-index of 43 with over 7500 citations.

He is a full professor, a C1-rated scientist, and a prolific research publisher. He has been listed among the top 30 published researcher at UKZN  for the last six years. He has also been recognised as one of Africa’s 20 most influential plant breeders, as awarded by the Southern Africa Plant Breeders Association (SAPBA) in 2020.

Professor Shimelis received his BSc degree in Agriculture/Plant Science from Haromaya University, Ethiopia in 1991. and a Master’s degree in Plant Breeding from Wageningen University in the Netherlands in 1996. Thereafter he was awarded a Doctorate in Plant Breeding from the University of the Free State, South Africa in 2003.

Shimelis thanks the outgoing director, Professor Mark Laing, for his enormous contributions as the founding director of the ACCI, as well as his contribution to plant breeding education in Africa. Based on the ACCI model, two other centres were replicated in Ghana in 2007 and Uganda in 2017 to service West and East Africa. Laing retired from UKZN on 31 December 2022 and was appointed Prof. Emeritus in Plant Pathology. He will continue to share his knowledge with the ACCI and provide mentorship to young academics in Plant Pathology and Plant Breeding. He will also continue in some of his research activities as a Prof. Emeritus.

Since 2002 the ACCI has trained and deployed 150 PhD- and MSc-levels plant breeders in Africa. It has developed and released more than 200 new varieties of food security crops across 20 African countries, and it has published over 400 articles in high-impact and peer-reviewed journals and over 250 abstracts in regional and international conference proceedings. Its training has enhanced public-private sector partnerships in plant breeding in Africa and internationally, and transformed the public and private sector-plant breeding and seed sectors in Southern, Western and Eastern African countries.

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