The West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement has launched a seminar series dubbed “the Food Security Seminars” aimed at presenting a platform to discuss issues and emerging trends in the area of plant breeding and its socio-economic impact on food and nutrition security in Africa.
The series, part of a year-long sequence of activities to mark the 10th anniversary of the Centre, is expected to provide an informal platform for researchers and scientists to present their work to an audience which is not predominantly science based. It is also expected to give PhD Plant Breeding students the opportunity to discuss their areas of interest with renowned crop scientists as they prepare to begin their research.
Four presenters namely Sandra Esi Odonkor, Dr. Maxwell Asante, Atanda Sikiru Adeniyi and Uchendu Kelechi Ugochukwu have so far given talks since the start of the series.
Sandra Esi Odonkor (Phd student, WACCI) gave a talk on Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) Analysis of Seed Shattering in Setaria. In her presentation she explained that while the seed shattering gene is found intact in the wild type Setaria (Setaria viridis), the domesticated line i.e. foxtail millet has a gene hampering shattering in it. Seed shattering is the voluntary dispersal of a crop's seeds upon their becoming ripe. Agricultural scientists and farmers have regarded seed shattering as an unwelcome attribute in crops as it is a major contributor to seed loss. Research efforts have over the years aimed at and produced crop varieties through gene mutation which have removed shattering. The impact to food security, she added, would be enormous as other wild varieties of crops could be domesticated through the removal of the seed shattering gene. Additional benefits would also be the ability for farmers to store and reuse seeds.
Dr. Maxwell Asante (Rice Breeder, Crop Research Institute, Ghana) was the second speaker in the series and his talk was titled Achieving Rice Self-Sufficiency in Ghana: The Role of Rice Breeding. In his presentation, Dr. Asante argued that Ghana was capable of reaching the two million metric tonnes of paddy every year to achieve full rice self-sufficiency. He said rice breeding had produced superior varieties which had already doubled rice production in the last decade to about six hundred and fifty thousand metric tonnes, even though it was still below the one million metric tonnes of rice consumed by Ghanaians. He added further that a strong political will was needed to tie demand-led breeding, excellent packaging, investments in equipment, improved fertilizer supply and efficient land and water management together to position rice a food security crop in Ghana.
Atanda Sikiru Adeniyi gave a presentation on the Evaluation of Maize Inbred Lines for Drought, Heat and a Combination of Drought and Heat Tolerance. He stated that recent changes in climatic variables which often manifest in unpredictable weather conditions have negatively impacted crop productivity, especially in the drought-prone ecologies of West and Central Africa. His view was that since drought and heat occurred simultaneously on farmers’ fields, there was a need to evaluate drought tolerance lines at elevated temperatures in order to offset projected yield losses as a result of climatic changes. He opined that achieving food security in Africa will be boosted if the almost 20% reduction in yield due to drought and heat, even on drought-tolerant lines, is addressed with immediacy.
Uchendu Kelechi Ugochukwu (Phd student, WACCI) also spoke on Phenotypic Evaluation of Thirty Genotypes in a Multi-Location Cassava Breeding Trial to improve a Genomic Selection Training Population. He said that in spite of the economic importance of cassava and its food security implications on the African continent, cassava had received relatively little research and development attention as compared to other staples. He suggested that food security in Africa will be greatly enhanced if varieties from Latin America and East Africa, which research has shown do better in West Africa, are introduced to farmers. He added further that research into cassava should focus on introducing the qualities found in the Latin America and East Africa varieties into farmer preferred varieties in West Africa.
WACCI continues to be at the forefront of the campaign for food and nutrition security in Africa. The Centre, which will launch its 10th anniversary celebration on June 7, 2017, aims at becoming the preferred institution globally for Plant Breeding and seed science education.