Africa remains food insecure, despite remedial measures delineated in several conferences, resolutions and publications. Africa’s hungry and malnourished population, which was just about 80 million in the early 1970s, has more than trippled over the past three and a half decades to more than 214 million. Persistent low productivity and incomes have hindered access to food. It has also been estimated that most of the crops, which feed and clothe the people of the region are realising only 20% of their yield potential. The region therefore needs to increase crop production to help ensure food security as well as increase income in the agricultural sector.
Plant breeding programmes are needed to utilise all available tools to address these problems. However, a major limitation to plant breeding in sub-Saharan Africa is that most of Africa’s indigenous crops such as sorghum, millet, cassava, yam, plantain, cocoyam, taro, bambara, groundnut and cowpea are of little or no importance to researchers in the developed world and so have been research-neglected (and are therefore called ‘‘orphan crops’’)
It is against this background, and in view of the existing need to train plant breeders in West and Central Africa, that the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) was established at the University of Ghana, Legon in the year 2007 to be a parallel Centre to the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), a regional Centre located at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa that trains African plant breeders on African crops in Africa. The establishment of WACCI is important because the West and Central African sub-region is critically short of plant breeders and most of the crops grown in the region are common to the various countries and relatively unimproved. Moreover, the logistics and cost of travelling between West African countries is relatively low and the region has a common culture, which is different from those of East and Southern Africa. Therefore, unique solutions will be required because the limits and constraints of operating a similar Centre in Ghana are different from those faced in South Africa.
The West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) has been established to train plant breeders with expertise to improve the indigenous crops that feed the people of the West and Central African sub-region. The WACCI plant breeding training programme will produce skilled, knowledgeable and properly resourced breeders to breed locally important crops to meet local needs and preferences.
The goal of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) is to improve food security in Africa. The approach is to equip plant breeders with the knowledge and skills to develop superior varieties of indigenous crops, using both conventional and modern technologies.
The overall purpose of WACCI is to train the next generation of West and Central African plant breeders in an African university, to breed crops in national agricultural research stations for production systems in the two sub-regions. The objectives are to:
- significantly improve the quality of PhD level training in plant breeding offered to students from universities in West and Central Africa
- create opportunities to develop improved local varieties of the staples grown by smallholders in the sub-regions, using the advances in plant breeding science and molecular biology, and informed by farmers' stated preferenc
- provide the necessary skills to direct and manage local plant breeding programmes to meet local needs, and to respond to indigenous demands
- develop breeding techniques appropriate to address some of the unique breeding/crop improvement objectives for the sub-regions
- create a de facto network of functioning plant breeders and their local co-supervisors from the sub-regions