The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), located within the Faculty of Science and Agriculture, was established in 2001 to train African plant breeders, in Africa, in the area of African food security crops. Its vision: African scientists solving Africa’s food problems.
The ACCI was initially funded solely by the Rockefeller Foundation but in 2007 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came on board through a consortium known as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is funding a second round of five cohorts of 10 students. This brings to more than 80 the number of PhDs in plant breeding that the ACCI aims to train.
The ACCI students undertake academic studies for two years in Pietermaritzburg before returning to their home countries to conduct three years of field research breeding African food security crops, primarily using conventional plant breeding methods in the environments in which the new crop cultivars will be grown by small-scale farmers.
The focus of the PhD theses is on the applied breeding of key food crops such as sorghum, cassava and cowpeas for increased disease and drought tolerance, and improved yields and quality, with the aim of improving food security in 12 African countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi.
A key feature of the project is that AGRA has committed itself to ongoing funding of ACCI graduates who continue to breed their chosen food crop, aiming to deliver registered cultivars to farmers. Graduates have started to register a range of new crop cultivars in their home countries.
The staff of the ACCI each has their own plant breeding projects including mutagenesis of sorghum and wheat, development of low phytic and maize using molecular markers, breeding for high beta-carotene maize and the development of biofuel crops.
Aware of the growing food security crisis in Africa, the School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness established the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) in 2006 to contribute to building and sustaining the critical mass of African expertise required to alleviate hunger on the continent.
The ACFS, one of very few institutions internationally providing accredited capacity development for food security research and policy analysis, aims to contribute towards eradicating food deprivation and enhance sustainable livelihoods among people and nations of sub-Saharan Africa. Its achievements have been remarkable and include: endorsement by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as the lead agency in the food security activities of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and formal recognition as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Centre of Excellence for Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA), including VAA training and co-ordination. It is one of the few established Food Security Centres in the world to offer transdisciplinary training, and through UKZN, named degrees in food security. Through its representatives, the Centre played a leading role in the development of the Framework for Agricultural Food Security (FAFS).
The FAFS continues to be a reference food security document for NEPAD. The ACFS has also continued to play key roles in CAADP processes, including in the review of the agricultural investment plan and strategy for various African countries. The CAADP asserts that country-driven planning and programming is crucial for ensuring food security in Africa through agriculture-driven economic development.
The CAADP seeks to shift the development agenda away from donor-driven projects to comprehensive growth strategies that replace structural adjustment projects with a new way of doing business in Africa and through a radical African-owned initiative which broadens and improves sector-wide approaches and poverty reduction strategies.
In 2008 the Centre saw the graduation of its first PhD students.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) boasts a strong Agricultural Economics department with a proud reputation for excellence in agricultural policy research, stemming in part from the success of Prof Lieb Nieuwoudt’s Human Sciences Research Council-funded Agricultural Policy Research Unit (APRU) at the University of Natal from 1984 to 2003. Agricultural economists at UKZN have subsequently built on this foundation, perhaps most visibly through a five-year National Research Foundation-funded project that focused on improving the competitiveness of South African agriculture.
A new Agricultural Policy Research Unit has more recently been established in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at the Pietermaritzburg campus of UKZN. The new APRU was initiated by Mr Duncan Stewart, a UKZN Agricultural Economics alumni and Lima’s co-founder and Managing Director. Lima places considerable value on the role of academic research in influencing policy dialogue, and Duncan proposed a strategic research unit that would leverage UKZN’s considerable academic clout with Lima’s rural development expertise. Duncan’s ideas were enthusiastically received by Prof Albert Modi, Dean and Head of the SAEES, and Prof Gerald Ortmann, Senior Professor in Agricultural Economics, and during 2013, a collaborative agreement between UKZN and Lima evolved, through which Lima provided seed funding to establish the Unit.
Dr Stuart Ferrer was appointed as the inaugural director of the new ARPU, with Prof Nieuwoudt (who supervised Dr Ferrer’s doctoral work) serving as the Unit’s patron. Dr Ferrer was a lecturer in Agricultural Economics on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus from 2001 to 2008, and a Senior Lecturer in Economics on the Westville Campus in 2009. Subsequently, Dr Ferrer was employed by the South African Cane Growers’ Association as manager of their Economic Research Department, before returning to UKZN to head the APRU.
Areas of Focus
The Agricultural Policy Research Unit engages in applied research to produce highly relevant, evidence-based discussion documents that constructively contribute to the debate on agricultural policy in South Africa. The initial foci of the APRU have been identified as land reform and agricultural labour markets, but the Unit’s research activities are likely to span a number of disciplines within the SAEES at UKZN. Research initiatives involve a range of interdisciplinary academic faculty, including honorary academic staff, and postgraduate student participation is integral to ARPU’s research output.
Kruger, E. And Gilles, J.L. (2014). A Review of Participatory Agricultural Research and Development in South Africa and KwaZulu Natal. Missouri University of Science and technology. Rolla, Missouri, USA. Available at: www.communitycommons.org
Thom, A. and Jonas, N. (2014). “Assessing the Impacts of a Donor-Funded Agricultural Extension Service on Smallholders in Umzimkhulu, South Africa.” Paper presented at the International Horticultural Conference, Brisbane, 17 – 22 Aug 2014.
For more information contact:
Mr Stuart Ferrer
+27 (0)33 260 6989
Farmer Support Group (FSG) is a research, community development and outreach unit within the School of Agricultural Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. FSG places emphasis on addressing the needs of resource-poor farmers, other land users and development practitioners in sustainable agriculture, food security, natural resource management, institutional development and entrepreneurship. The unit is recognized internationally for its expertise in community participatory approaches, appropriate technology and indigenous knowledge creation. In this capacity, it facilitates networking and capacity-building, sustainable land management and improvement of the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. FSG’s projects focus on issues of food security, innovation, natural resource management, and entrepreneurship development (business and marketing).
FSG staff members participate in offering academic programmes at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. They give guest lectures in Rural Resource Management where they impact their knowledge to University students. Students are equipped with professional and individual skills and experience to participate and contribute to working with rural communities.
FSG uses its vantage position of interacting with rural communities to facilitate the entry of SAEES academics to rural communities for research. University students are placed in rural communities to conduct research or internship.