Grant Trains African Scientists to Improve Regionally Important Crops
Africa’s population is projected to quadruple this century, making food security a pressing need for the continent. While Africa is abundant with crops, African farmers need crop breeding tools and training to be self-sustainable and achieve nutritional security. To advance crop breeding and mobilize innovation for regional crops, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding a $1 million grant to University of California, Davis (UC Davis) to create and deliver a CRISPR Course on gene editing through UC Davis’ African Plant Breeding Academy, an initiative of the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC). The Course is training 80 African scientists to develop improved regional crop varieties with the characteristics required for successful crop production and nutrition. UC Davis, Bayer Crop Sciences and Syngenta Seeds are providing matching funds for a total $2 million investment.
Africa is rich with local crops that have the potential to provide accessible, affordable nutritional security for millions. This research helps ensure food security by advancing the nutritional value and other desired traits in local crops, while also bolstering the scientific workforce across Africa. This project is a win-win for local communities across the continent.
CRISPR, which enables targeted gene edits to promote desired traits in crops, is an efficient process that is democratizing crop breeding around the world. UC Davis, in partnership with Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI, UC Berkeley), CIFOR-World Agroforestry and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), seeks to broaden the acceptance of the technology in Africa and expand its application to the continent’s regional crops. UC Davis has recruited 11 scientists from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria and Sudan to participate in an intensive five-year program that enhances knowledge and skills to fast-track development of new sources of vital traits in food crops using CRISPR technology. The first of five classes began in January 2023 and will graduate in October 2023.
The Course is led by Director of Capacity Development and Mobilization for the AOCC, Dr. Rita Mumm, with key instructors Dr. David Savage of IGI and Dr. Leena Tripathi of IITA. Through interactive classroom instruction and hands-on laboratory training delivered by world-class experts and practitioners, participants receive the knowledge and skills needed to successfully promote desired traits – such as disease resistance, stress tolerance, added nutrition and prolonged shelf life – in regionally relevant crops. The Course encourages participants to work with a crop aligned to their national and institutional priorities. Furthermore, the Course is also a “train the trainer” program, preparing participants to teach others with the goal of developing a community of practice across the continent.
Recruitment outreach aimed at representing and providing benefit to as many African countries as possible and equal gender representation. Graduates of the program will receive up to $15,000 to enhance their current labs with equipment to jumpstart gene editing in their programs. They will also receive postgraduation mentorship for at least one year.
“CRISPR can be a powerful tool for improving regional crops and making them more resilient to diseases and a changing climate. Programs like this ensure that these new approaches can be accessed by plant breeders and farmers where they are needed most,” said Dr. Jennifer Doudna, 2020 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Professor at UC Berkeley and founder of IGI.
Dr. Allen Van Deynze, Director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center and Scientific Director for the AOCC commented, “This course directly complements our African Plant Breeding Academy that has trained now 153 African Plant Breeders. CRISPR graduates are connected to these plant breeders from National Agricultural Research System programs (NARS) to create an international community of practice on plant breeding that amplifies their impact”
Building a network of scientists skilled in CRISPR editing will help position Africa as a key contributor on the global stage in this frontier of crop development. In turn, U.S. scientists, plant breeders, growers and consumers will benefit from access to improved germplasm, new trait sources and enhanced technologies for a diverse set of crops to broaden American diets.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.