For the next five years, the newly launched African Plant Breeding Academy at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi will train 250 budding scientists on generating superior breeds from orphan crops.
Led by the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) the academy will use cutting edge technology to genetically sequence, assemble and annotate genomes of some 100 traditional African crops.
Orphan crops are African staple and tree species that have been neglected by researchers and the industry due to their alleged low value in terms of economic output, says AOCC.
“The world has genetically sequenced 57 plant species,” said ICRAF director general, Tony Simons. “This initiative will nearly triple this number over the next four years.”
The first orphan crop to be engineered at the academy will be the Baobab, which can be used as dried fruit powder for consumer products, says AOCC.
Dubbed the ‘wonder tree’ in Africa, baobab’s fruits have 10 times the antioxidant of oranges, twice the amount of calcium than spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges, four times more potassium than banana, antiviral properties, and is gluten free, among others, experts say.
“I learned for the first time that malnutrition and chronic hunger cause a devastating condition called stunting in children,” said Howard Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer, Mars Incorporated. “Today we are opening an Academy that will place fundamental science that can help in fighting chronic hunger and malnutrition in the hands of many more practitioners.”
AOCC includes the African Union – New Partnership for African Development (AU – NEPAD Agency), Mars Incorporated, ICRAF, BGI, Life Technologies Corporation, World Wildlife Fund, University of California, Davis (UC Davis), iPlant Collaborative, and Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa of the International Livestock Research Institute (BecA – ILRI) Hub.