Official Launch of Master’s Programme in Plant Breeding

On Thursday the 23rd of April 2015, the new Master’s Programme in Plant Breeding in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science (SAEES) was officially launched in the presence of representatives from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) and staff members of SAEES.



Staff from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science with representatives from AGRA and the students on the Masters Plant Breeding Programme at the launch


UKZN’s SAEES was selected to pioneer this programme to train plant breeders for Africa because of its high concentration of plant breeders, and because of the success it has seen in the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), a centre in the School supported by AGRA which has been training PhD students in plant breeding on a similar model for almost thirteen years.



 MSc staff and students


Professor Albert Modi, Dean and Head of SAEES, where the programme is situated, opened the launch and congratulated the students for making it into the programme and spoke about the significance of plant breeding in Africa. He thanked AGRA for its work into ensuring food security in Africa in the context of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which it achieves by funding initiatives such as the Master’s Plant Breeding Programme with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

“Africa must lead the charge in changing its own situation,” emphasised Modi.

He also welcomed Dr Rufaro Madakadze, the Program Officer for Education and Training at AGRA, and her two colleagues, Associate Programme Officers Ms Caroline Adala-Oremo and Ms Judith Naibei-Kembe. He thanked representatives from the College of AES for attending, and remarked that the Masters programme falls in line with the University’s business plan in terms of colleagues in Schools and Colleges supporting one another.

Madakadze expressed confidence in UKZN, and highlighted the programme as being a response to the need for an approach in Africa that is intentional about problem-solving. She spoke about Africa’s varied agro-ecology and the need to produce unique solutions to challenges in each area, and mentioned that, despite AGRA having trained and funded 800 people throughout the continent already, there is still a need for more skilled individuals whose impact on plant breeding in their countries can be measured. She expressed hope that programmes like this will increase capacity and train Africans in Africa to contribute to the public and private sectors.

Professor John Derera, the project manager for the programme, outlined the project and its aims of training a total of 30 industry-ready, modern plant breeders from at least 6 Southern African countries. According to the programme’s directives, the new breeders will impact positively on delivering the technology needs of the smallholder farming sector, which dominates agricultural production in Africa.

The programme is a collaboration between UKZN, AGRA, Makerere University in Uganda, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and Iowa State University in the USA, with teaching staff coming from SAEES, the United States of America and other institutions in the region. According to Derera, the teaching on the course will emphasise technical subjects as well as soft skills and teaching the students to work with people. Emphasis in the programme is placed on collaboration between the private sector and public sector, with representatives from each involved in the students’ training. Public entities such as the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) are involved in training the students and private companies like Pannar, Pioneer Seeds, Monsanto, Capstone Seeds and United Seeds will accept the students for the 6 month internship portion of their programme.

Derera drew attention to the transdiciplinary nature of the programme, pointing out that staff from disciplines like Food Security, Plant Pathology and Nutrition would be involved in lecturing the students.

The curriculum was developed in partnership with Iowa State University in the USA and includes application of modern teaching technologies and applied research to improve crop varieties.

Professor Theresa Coetzer, Acting Dean of Research for CAES and Professor Bala Pillay, Dean of Teaching and Learning, spoke at the event. Coetzer emphasised the standard that had been set by SAEES in its work on food security and sustainable development that led to its being selected by funders as the leading African university to pioneer this programme, and reiterated the College’s support for the initiative. She mentioned the programmes that the students would be involved in to contribute to their studies, including the Mastering Masters workshops if needed and trials at Cedara, Ukulinga Research Farm and Jozini.

Pillay added that the initiative fits into the University’s objective of being a leading university for African scholarship and highlighted the institution’s commitment to teaching and learning and holistic approach to teaching the programme. He gave a vote of thanks to all involved and wished the students luck with their endeavours, also saying that he hoped the programme would contribute to understanding of and interest in plant breeding in Africa.

The event was attended by the ten students enrolled in the Master’s programme, who began their training three months ago. The students, who come from Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, had a class representative, Ms Mwila Chibanda, speak at the launch. Chibanda described some of the training the group had already benefited from, emphasising how vital this training is to supply them with the skills they need to contribute to the production of more food in their countries to decrease malnutrition and increase income in the sector.

“We are so fortunate to be at the receiving end of knowledge being passed on by professionals here,” said Chibanda.

Chibanda, on behalf of her classmates, thanked AGRA for their support as well as UKZN for its facilities and staff, and promised to uphold the values of the institution in return for its hospitality and generosity.


By Christine Cuénod

033 260 6557

Contact Details:

Prof John Derera

033 260 6034


Dr Julia Sibiya

033 260 6246


Ms Jayshree Singh

033 260 6035

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