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UC Davis launches African Plant Breeding Academy

June 20, 2013

A new African Plant Breeding Academy, designed to train a generation of plant breeders who will help improve the nutritional value of indigenous African crops, has been launched by the University of California, Davis, in collaboration with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Orphan Crops Consortium.

“We are honored to be part of this new venture,” said UC Davis plant scientist Allen Van Deynze, co-founder of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy, which has trained 114 crop breeders from 26 countries since 2006.

“We believe that the new plant breeding academy will produce important benefits for the daily lives of many Africans,” said Van Deynze, who is also the research director for the University of California Seed Biotechnology Center.

The new academy is part of the African Orphan Crops Consortium, which aims to sequence the genomes of 96 indigenous orphan crops that are important for African diets. The term “orphan crops” refers to African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers because they are not economically important on the global market. The 96 crops being sequenced by the consortium include African eggplant and potato, cocoyam and Ethiopian mustard, as well as more commonly known crops such as cassava, cacao, millet, sorghum and legumes.

The African Plant Breeding Academy will enable plant breeders to enhance the nutritional value of these key crops through breeding and application of genomic tools.

Partners in the consortium are the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Beijing Genomics Institute, Life Technologies, World Wildlife Fund, University of California Seed Biotechnology Center, iPlant, Integrated Breeding Platform Initiative and Mars Incorporated. More information on the consortium is available online.

"Getting opportunities to grow nutritious food and put it into the hands of those who need it most has been the ambition of the African Orphan Crops Consortium since its inception,” said Howard Yana-Shapiro, chief agricultural officer for Mars Inc. and a senior fellow in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

"It is hugely exciting to realize that, through the pursuit of fundamental science, the consortium is playing its role in fighting chronic hunger and malnutrition, and Mars is proud to be a part of this effort,” he said.

The new academy, a six-week program, will be delivered in three two-week classes, beginning Dec. 2 at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi. Closing date for applications is July 15.

Participating African plant breeders will be trained in the most advanced theory and technologies for plant breeding, in support of critical decisions for crop improvement. The curriculum will cover the latest concepts in plant breeding, quantitative genetics, statistics and experimental design.

The program also covers accurate and precise trait evaluations, strategies to integrate genomics into breeding programs, and identification and use of genomic data and DNA-based markers in breeding programs.

The instructors are internationally recognized experts in plant breeding and seed technology.

With significant contributions from Life Technologies and the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, the African Orphan Crop Consortium is developing state-of-the art laboratories to apply the technologies being developed for Africa.

The African Plant Breeding Academy is the latest offering of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy, a premium professional certificate program, offered since 2006 in the United States, Europe and Asia. 

For more information on the African Plant Breeding Academy’s course curriculum, dates, application process and scholarships, please visit http://pba.ucdavis.edu/ or http://www.nepad.org.

About the New Partnership for Africa’s Development

The partnership is a program of the African Union, with the mandate to eradicate poverty through sustainable growth and development. The key priority areas of the agency include, among others: facilitating implementation of the food security and agricultural development program in all sub-regions; and monitoring and intervening as appropriate to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals in the areas of agriculture/food nutrition, health and education are met.

About UC Davis

In May, UC Davis was ranked No. 1 in the world for teaching and research in agriculture and forestry by QS World University Rankings. For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 33,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget of nearly $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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