Soybean Innovation Lab implements M.S. degree in Crop Improvement in West Africa

The Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) at the University of Illinois at 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.

“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 security,” said Dr. Rita Mumm, who led the effort to establish the new master’s degree program together with Prof. Eric Danquah, Director of WACCI, and Prof. Christiana Amoatey, Head of the Crop Science Department at UG.  

Mumm, a professor emerita of crop sciences at the University of Illinois, serves as Education and Training Lead for SIL, a five-year program to establish sustainable production and utilization of the soybean in Africa funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Through its International Seed Grant Program, the Office of International Programs helped fund Dr. Mumm’s travel to Ghana and related supplies during 2015. 

The new M.S. program complements WACCI’s existing Ph.D. program in Plant Breeding.

“This Master’s degree program is for African students in Africa,” said Pete Goldsmith, principal investigator for SIL. “Traditionally many Africans have pursued degrees in the USA or Europe but have not returned home to practice their profession. Also, it is important to fill the gap at the Masters or technical level because there were not enough well-trained people managing the research plots at the research stations. The existing Ph.D. degree was essentially a teaching degree because not much research was going on,” he said.

The first five M.S. students were seated during fall 2015. This cohort includes four students from Ghana and one student from Ethiopia. The core courses include statistics, experimental design, population genetics, molecular genetics, and genomic applications to crop improvement. Though based out of Ghana, the program includes a summer mentoring and internship program in the U.S. where there students will visit participating universities and work with the private sector, particularly the U.S. seed industry.

Initial funding from the College of ACES Office of International Programs served to seed additional funding from the USAID Office in Ghana, evidencing the value of this new program for training West African scientists. 

Organized into 10 Managed Research Areas including Plant Breeder Education, SIL aims to increase food security, raise incomes, and improve household nutrition on the African continent. For more information, visit www.soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu or @TropicalSoyLab on Twitter.  Also visit SIL’s Tropical Soybean Information Portal to see interviews with the researchers and other experts in tropical soybean development, find information on your area of interest from our research article database and see the latest results of worldwide soybean varietal trial evaluations.

Article submitted by Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373

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