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MaRCCI Set to Receive Gates Foundation US$565,026 to Promote Cassava Breeding

Director MaRCCI-Dr. Richard Edema during a press conference to unveil the World Bank funded Centre of Excellence, 30th October 2017, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has injected US$565,026 (approx UGX2.1bn) into Makerere University’s Regional Centre for Crop improvement (MaRCCI) to promote cassava breeding in addition to similar efforts in cowpea and sorghum. The funds will be channeled through the Cornell University under the next generation cassava project.

Dr. Richard Edema the Director MaRCCI confirmed this and said that the funds are part of the second phase of funding to MaRCCI from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are putting this money into training five students; three of them are Masters Students from Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania while two of them are PhDs both from Tanzania.

These funds are in support of the MaRRCI regional training programme because we have been trying to raise funds from all corners.

Dr. Barbra Zawedde (R) leads a team from the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation on a tour of the cassava research garden at NaCCRI Namulonge

We initially got the funds from the World Bank to set up this centre at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK) and admitted 45 students at Masters and PhD level, all fully funded, “he added.

He explained that the five students will be trained in collaboration with the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) Namulonge Cassava program, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria and the Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania.

“The five students are part of the junior staff in these institutions and they are in need of further training to support their programs back home but overall, the next generation cassava program goal is to improve cassava breeding in Africa, “he said.

He observed that despite its importance in Uganda, cassava has been one of the crops that have been very difficult to breed due to a variety of problems surrounding it, noting that lately it has suffered from a lot of viruses.

Dr. Zawedde with Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation Officials at NaCRRI, Namulonge

“We grow is for its root and 2/3 of the people from Northern Uganda eat it. It used to be a small crop but now it is becoming an industrial crop, a raw material for beer, on top of being a source of starch under which a starch industry can be supported, “he said.

Additionally, Dr. Edema noted that cassava can also serve as a source of starch when making chicken feeds. He emphasised that if the breeding programme can improve cassava’s starch quality and protect it from viruses and diseases, then overall, its productivity can be improved.

He stated that cassava can thrive in semi-arid conditions where other crops fail, hence making it an important crop in which money can be invested.

For that reason therefore, Edema stated that through the next generation cassava project, scientists are helping to build human capacity that will trickle down to improvement in the three countries of Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria.

A field staff inspects his crop in a cassava research garden. Courtesy photo

“We did this before, where nine students from the same countries trained, and this is additional money to the centre of excellence to continue doing the same work.

We are proud that many of these students would go to Europe for their PhDs but this funding means that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Cornell University recognise the quality of education that comes from the Makerere University graduate program, mostly from the Master of Science in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems and the PhD in Plant Breeding and Bio-technology, “he said.

He applauded the Gates Foundation for the funds extended to MaRCCI saying it will make Makerere contribute towards the development of Cassava improvement in Africa.

The support, he revealed, is part of the total funding to Cornell University amounting to about US$35m, with Tanzania being a new entrant. The original institutions were Cornell University, Makerere University, NaCRRI and National Root Crops Research Institute Umudike, Nigeria.

Harvest cassava tubers. MaRCCI research will improve starch quality and resistance to cassava viruses. Courtesy photo

“This funding has been supporting infrastructure, research and training. We are therefore very proud that they are recognizing the quality of our education. However, despite the importance of cassava for food security on the African continent, it has received relatively little research and development attention compared to other staples such as wheat, rice and maize. The key to unlocking the full potential of cassava lies largely in bringing cassava breeding into the 21st century, “explained Edema.

According to him, ensuring the future of cassava breeding will require training young scientists to excel. “We are proud of NextGen’s new graduates and we are excited to see their contributions to research in the years to come, “he added.

Brief about cassava

Cassava (Manihot esculenta), a major staple crop, is the main source of calories for 500 million people across the globe. No other continent depends on cassava to feed as many people as does Africa. Cassava is indispensable to food security in Africa. It is a widely preferred and consumed staple, as well as a hardy crop that can be stored in the ground as a fall-back source of food that can save lives in times of famine.

Story compiled by Agnes Nankebe Nantambi,
For Communication Office, CAES

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