The Word Bank has noted with satisfaction, the achievements of the University of Ghana’s West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), in attracting students from the West Africa sub-region and beyond.
Mrs Eunice Ackwerh, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank Country Office, commended WACCI on its regional numbers saying students from the sub-region and beyond accounted for 66 per cent of WACCI’s total enrolment and also the number of publications was almost on target at 80 per cent.
In addition, she hailed the Centre for closing the gender gap in its enrolments.
“The World Bank is elated to partner with the UG and the WACCI on the African Centre of Excellence (ACE) Project.”
Mrs Ackwerh said these in Accra on Tuesday during a sod-turning ceremony for the construction of an ultr-amodern building for the Centre.
Ghana is hosting three of twenty-two ACEs in nine West and Central African countries.
The University of Ghana has two of these Centers: WACCI and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP).
The Centre for Water and Environmental Sanitation, which is the third Centre in Ghana, is located at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
The objective of the ACEs Project is to support recipient countries, promote regional specialisation among participating universities in areas that address regional challenges and strengthen the capabilities of these universities to deliver quality training and applied research.
The ACE Project is designed by the World Bank with support from the Government of Ghana to help address the critical demand for skilled graduates in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
The project also covers themes in agriculture, health, water and sanitation, construction, energy and climate change.
Under the ACE Project, the World Bank is making available eight million dollar grants to be disbursed intermittently to each centre.
Mrs Ackwerh said the World Bank was encouraged that the ACEs and participating countries were making significant disbursements on the project so far.
“The World Bank and the Ghana Government, are not only interested in disbursement, but also in implementation beyond the disbursement of funding such as the current sod-turning and construction of the WACCI building,” she stated.
“At 6.2 million dollars, WACCI has exceeded the targeted $5.4 million with respect to generating additional funding to the ACE Project funds. We are expectant that the building will facilitate successful academic and research activities which will sustain the recognition of WACCI as a national, regional and international Centre of Excellence in Africa for the training of the next generation of scientists, researchers, leaders and innovators in the field of agriculture,” she added.
Professor Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, the Founding Director of WACCI, said the new building, estimated to cost about $ 2.4 million, would take a projected duration of 18 months to complete.
He said the facility would house offices, lecture rooms, a bioinformatics platform, a seed science laboratory, a tissue culture laboratory, a library and conference and meeting rooms.
He went on to say that the world-class PhD training in Plant Breeding and MPhil in Seed Science and Technology would experience a scaling up after the construction of the multipurpose building.
He said the overall purpose of WACCI is to train the next generation of West and Central African plant breeders in an African university; to breed crops in national agricultural research stations for production systems in the two sub-regions.
Prof. Danquah said that since inception, WACCI had enrolled 98 PhD students from 16 West, East and Central African countries and had graduated 35 highly qualified plant breeders.
“As a result of the outcome of students PhD research projects, national crop improvement programmes have been revived in the sub-region,” the Director said.
“WACCI graduates have demonstrated the value of quality plant breeding education in the region and made the WACCI programme a model for SSA and beyond,” he added.
He said currently, the programme had students from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, Malawi, Togo and Uganda, and that in July 2017, WACCI would be graduating a record number of 18 PhD students.
Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, hailed WACCI for its impressive achievements; saying the management of the University would put in place necessary measures to ensure the success and sustainability of WACCI.
He appealed to government to allow the public universities maintain and use their Internally Generated Funds (IGFs) for their development projects.
He said IGFs were key fund areas from which most public universities get reliable revenues; declaring that without IGFs most public universities would dry up.
Mrs Mona Helen Quartey, a Deputy Minister of Finance, said Government was proud of WACCI’s initiative towards enhancing food security, which had been a challenge in the country and the sub-region as a whole.
She said it was envisaged that WACCI would not only address the brain drain syndrome, which is characteristic of training African scientists abroad, but have graduates trained locally to embark on research to support the agricultural sector.
Prof. Mohammed Salifu, the Executive Secretary of the National Council for Tertiary Education, commended the Centre for standing tall, as a shining example of investment in capacity building and research in Africa.
The sod-turning ceremony, which was jointly performed by Prof. Owusu, Prof. Salifu, Mrs Quartey and Prof. Danquah, was witnessed by high profile figures from academia, members of the diplomatic community, donors, internationally renowned research scientists and the University community.
WACCI was established in June 2007 with funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to train 40 Plant Breeders at the PhD level at the University of Ghana.
The Centre has now evolved into the largest PhD in Plant Breeding education programme in Africa, having enrolled 98 PhD students from 16 countries and graduated 35 who are at the forefront of developing high yielding and climate-smart varieties of staple crops to increase productivity in farmers’ fields in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Centre expects to graduate an additional 18 PhD students in Plant Breeding at the University’s July 2017 Congregation.
The Centre collaborates with Cornell University, USA, the National Agricultural Research Institutions (NARIs) in Africa where most of these students have been drawn from and the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research Institutions among other world class institutions.