SIL Plant Breeding Master's Degree Provides Opportunity for Students, Promotes Collaboration Between Universities
With over one billion individuals suffering chronic hunger and malnutrition across the globe, food security is a primary goal. In Africa, one third of all children suffer irreversible debilitating neurological effects, including stunting, due to malnutrition. This challenge can be addressed through plant breeding to improve crop yields as well as crop nutrition.
Nowhere is the need to train the next generation of plant breeders more urgent than in Africa, where there is a deficit of plant breeders across the continent and not enough scientists to make a significant impact on food security. In addition, with the pace of scientific advancement, there is a need to improve regional education to include training in modern technologies and associated approaches that can substantially increase the rate of genetic gain and decrease the overall development time involved to bring improved varieties to market.
Traditionally, African students have accessed graduate education in plant breeding outside of Africa. Unfortunately, a large portion of these students do not return to practice their profession in their home country, creating an educational gap and a limited pool of qualified individuals to fill key job positions.
To address this issue, the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign has partnered with the University of Ghana (UG), Legon and the West Africa Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI) to establish a high-caliber Master of Science degree program in Genetics and Plant Breeding. The program is specifically designed for African students interested in work with the seed industry and national programs in sub-Saharan Africa. The program focuses on mentoring UG/WACCI faculty to strengthen graduate curriculum and fundamental research. In addition, it offers students the opportunity for an internship in the United States. Interns interface with seed companies in the United States to see the scale of plant breeding and the application of genetic technologies in an industrial setting with the aim to inspire creative solutions to agricultural problems.
“Training Africa’s next generation of plant breeders is imperative to improve the continent’s crop yields and crop nutrition towards the ultimate goal of food and nutritional security,” says Dr. Rita Mumm, the education and training lead for SIL. “We are investing in teachers as well as students to build vital capacity and foster innovative solutions in crop improvement.”