School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Julia Sibiya.

UKZN Plant Breeding Academic First Vice-President of New African Plant Breeders’ Association

Dr Julia Sibiya of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) has been selected as the first Vice-President of the African Plant Breeders’ Association (APBA) at its maiden conference held at the University of Ghana in Accra from October 23-25.

A total of 421 professionals, researchers and students attended the launch from both public and private sectors in the fields of plant breeding and seed science in 30 countries. Forty percent of them were female scientists.

The conference theme was on advances in classical breeding and the application of modern breeding tools for food and nutrition security in Africa. Delegates discussed current research outputs and outcomes in plant breeding and seed systems as well as future prospects in these fields. The event presented an opportunity to establish networks and future collaborations to advance the fields of plant breeding and seed systems.

The APBA has its origins in the establishment of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at UKZN and the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) at the University of Ghana through the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the University of California Davis African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), which have trained hundreds of plant breeders across the African continent. With the increased capacity of plant breeders in Africa thanks to these centres, scientists in Africa from Higher Education Institutions, research organisations and private companies identified the need for a forum such as the APBA.

The association fills the need for capacity-building, problem solving, resource mobilisation, and long-term strategic development of the agricultural sector in Africa through effective plant breeding programmes and the provision of tangible solutions to governments, seed companies, non-governmental organisations, and individual growers. Its activities will encompass sponsorship of events where members can connect with peers and the provision of access to resource information to members who will contribute towards realising the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 2 of zero hunger.

‘We want the APBA to be a recognised association where we can publicise the plant breeding we are doing in Africa,’ said Sibiya.

Sibiya spoke about the value of bringing plant breeders out of isolation so that they can work together, share ideas to avoid unnecessary repetition, collaborate, and encourage one another.

‘I’ve seen how it works to bring plant breeders together,’ said Sibiya of her passion for establishing the association. ‘For the rest of Africa, where we have the same vision of achieving food security and improving the crops we have in our country, it’s very important for us as breeders to come together.’

Sibiya, a senior lecturer in the Discipline of Plant Breeding at UKZN, was one of the early graduates from the ACCI, where she began her PhD in Plant Breeding in 2005. She completed her BSc Honours degree in Crop Science at the University of Zimbabwe and her Masters in Plant Pathology at Ohio State University in the United States.

She was a lecturer in Plant Pathology at the University of Zimbabwe before joining the ACCI as a PhD student, and then a lecturer from 2011. She is currently the project manager for the AGRA-funded Improved Masters in Cultivar Development for Africa programme at UKZN, and local co-ordinator of the EU-Intra Africa Academic Mobility (Mobreed) project focusing on breeding of underutilised crops.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied