Aims, Background & Philosophy

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) is based on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. In January 2004 the University of Natal merged with the University of Durban-Westville to form the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The new university (with a combined student population of 42 000 students in 2004) is now the largest in South Africa. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, English medium university with increasing numbers of international students. The Faculty of Science and Agriculture, within which the ACCI is located, has eleven agricultural disciplines plus a full complement of biological and physical sciences.


The ACCI aims to train African plant breeders in Eastern and Southern Africa, on African crops, to breed better crops using conventional and molecular breeding tools.

The focus is on the breeding of African and African grown Crops (cereals, roots and tubers and pulses) for increased drought tolerance and improved food security for the poor in Africa.

Crop Focus
Students breed the following crops:

Cereals: sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, rice and maize.

Roots: Cassava, sweet potato.

Pulses: dry beans, cowpea, pigeon pea, groundnuts, soybean.

Given Ethiopia's unique crop mix, durum wheat, barley and teff are alternative research crops for this country only.

Country Focus
The ACCI students are drawn from African countries where their research can be expected to lead to impact, e.g. Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Plant Breeders from West Africa should apply to the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) at, where a parallel centre has been established at the University of Ghana, Lagon. Their goals, objectives and operations are very similar to those of the ACCI. Their focus countries are initially Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Mali and Nigeria.

In Phase I, the ACCI was funded by the Rockefeller foundation. In Phase II, the funds come from the PASS (Programme for Africa's Seed Systems program in AGRA, (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: )
One of the objectives of AGRA is to train numerous plant breeders in Africa, working on developing and releasing new and improved cultivars of adapted food crops.

The philosophy of the ACCI is that:

It is vital to train African plant breeders on African crops, in Africa.

Population breeding is a viable, cheap and relatively quick breeding approach for multiple criteria breeding in many crops.

Horizontal Resistance breeding is often the best option in breeding for resistance against many diseases and pests, in many crops. Other breeding approaches consistently create boom-and-bust cycles of resistance and susceptibility.

Biotechnology is a powerful technology which may be useful in cases where conventional breeding techniques have failed to produce significant improvements in crops. In particular, the use of molecular marker selection may benefit breeding for single gene characters. The technology has to be integrated with an excellent knowledge of conventional genetics, and access to the appropriate laboratories, equipment and budget. The ACCI is working with the GCP to create a regional access to biotechnology for plant breeders, using DNA and RNA storage techniques.

Challenges faceing the ACCI
Additional Challenges:
  • Maintain excellent links with national plant breeding programmes in 10 countries
  • Ensure access to germplasm for parent populations
  • Ensure adequate local facilities in the students' home countries for the planned research
  • Ensure a modest running budget for each student's breeding programme in-country
  • Establish local co-supervisors
  • Establish a well defined interaction between ACCI, international and local supervisors
  • Ensure support ACCI students during their research and afterwards

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