The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is to fund a new initiative to train the next generation of African crop scientists, aiming to improve agricultural productivity and food security in the region.
The funding, which will allow African PhD students to study staple African crops, was announced today (19 September).
AGRA will provide US$8.1 million and US$4.9 million respectively to the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) at the University of Ghana.
ACCI's programme, started in 2002, currently has 46 students from southern and eastern Africa studying 13 crops.
"The new funding from AGRA allows us another five intakes of eight students a year, starting this year," says Pangirayi Tongoona, deputy-director of ACCI.
"Students focus on different crops, depending on what is more pressing in their countries," Tongoona adds. Crops include sorghum, millet, cassava, groundnut and pigeon pea.
From January WACCI will admit eight students a year from western and central Africa. Eric Danquah, director of WACCI, said they were in the process of making the final selection for this first intake.
Students will spend the first two years of their five-year programme studying at one of the universities, before returning to their local research institutions to complete their thesis.
"AGRA has committed itself to continued funding of the research programmes of our graduates after they get a PhD. So they are not abandoned after graduating, but instead get the funding they need to continue their plant breeding projects," says Mark Laing, director of ACCI.
He adds that the centre is confident that the academic and practical training the students receive will equip them to successfully breed new crop varieties, addressing the specific needs of the local environment. Some ACCI graduates have already started to release new varieties.
AGRA will also give US$1.7 million to the US-based Cornell University, which will provide services and resources such as assessing students' doctoral proposals, distance learning opportunities and library access.
AGRA was founded in 2006 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.