The ABS Project Consortium
  1. Africa Harvest

Africa Harvest Foundation International (Africa Harvest) was established to promote the use of advanced science and technology products to improve agricultural productivity among Africa’s farmers, and free Africans from poverty, hunger and malnutrition.  Founded by Kenyan scientist Dr Florence Wambugu, the Foundation supports policy development and scientific and institutional capacity building across Africa and promotes the use of science and technology, including biotechnology, to help farmers.

Africa Harvest was founded in 2002 and incorporated in the USA as a non-profit foundation. Its African-focus made Nairobi, Kenya a natural headquarters.   The organisation has regional offices in Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington, DC in the USA.

The Foundation has been helped change perceptions about GM crops in Africa through its communication programme, by providing data and information to empower people to make sound, scientific and informed decisions. The CEO, Dr Wambugu, has managed to steer Africa Harvest in a number of projects, including the Tissue Culture Banana Project, the Trees for Energy Project, the Tumaini Sorghum Project and the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project. 

As the primary grantee of the ABS project, Africa Harvest has provided stewardship and is held accountable for general leadership and management of the project, including the disbursement of funds and monitoring of activities over the rest of the consortium members.        

  1.  Pioneer Hi-Bred           

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a DuPont business, is the world's leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics to farmers worldwide. Headquartered in Johnston, Iowa, Pioneer provides services to customers in nearly 70 countries. Pioneer embraces new ideas that foster customer trust and improve our ability to deliver quality products. Pioneer, the first company to market hybrid seed, continues to innovate and deliver improved products to customers around the world. As the world's leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics to farmers worldwide, Pioneer shares its resources and knowledge to help make advancements in agriculture.

Pioneer Hi-Bred is partnering with Africa Harvest as the scientific lead institution on the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project. Pioneer donated the initial technologies valued at US$4.8 million to help with the project aimed at improving the nutritional value of sorghum, a staple crop in Africa.

The Pioneer technology development team is led by the Project Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Marc Albertsen (Senior Research Fellow at DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition).  He is also a member of the ABS Steering Committee. His team is composed includes Dr. Zhuo-Yu Zhao and Mr.  Lloyd le Page (Technology Acceptance & Sustainable Development Senior Manager).  Mr Le Page is also an ABS Steering Committee Member and provides leadership in technology development. Visiting scientists from Africa have conducted research for the project on the Pioneer campus in Johnston, Iowa. These scientists have learned about the technology; and have and will use their expertise to continue to move the project forward in their home country of Africa. 

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa.  The CSIR undertakes directed and multidisciplinary research, technological innovation as well as industrial and scientific development to improve the quality of life of the country’s people. It leverages public, private, academic and international partnerships in support of cutting-edge science, engineering and technology (SET) to improve South Africa’s competitiveness in the global economy.

CSIR is a part of the technology and research component of the ABS project consortium.  The CSIR team is led by Dr. Rachel Chikwamba and is composed of Dr. Maretha O’Kennedy and Dr. Luke Mehlo.  Capacity building resulted in Dr. Mehlo and Dr. Andile Grootboom going for training at Pioneer Hi-Bred for one year (to become familiar with cutting-edge molecular biology and plant modification techniques) and returning to work on transgenic Vitamin A sorghum lines and improving the efficiency of transformation.  Trait introduction work is progressing well, laying strong foundations for the non-laboratory activities planned for later.  Sorghum digestibility objective is also on target.

A permit for the contained greenhouse trials of GM sorghum was granted by the GMO Executive Council (the decision making body for GMO permits in South Africa).  This reflects on an important aspect of the ABS project – that of strict compliance with the national and international GMO regulations and upholding the safety of environmental, human and animal health over research.

  1.  The Agricultural Research Council of South Africa (ARC)

The ARC is a premier science institution that conducts fundamental and applied research with partners to generate new knowledge, develop human capital and foster innovation in agriculture, through technology development and dissemination, and competitive commercialisation of research results, in support of developing a prosperous agricultural sector. 

The ARC has under its control 13 specialised research institutes that are grouped into four clusters, namely Grain and Industrial Crops, Horticulture, Livestock and National Support Services. Their research capacity consists of a network of experimental farms, modern equipment, and a staff component of over 2,000. The eight ARC research institutes are spread throughout the country. The institutes operate an extensive participative process to ensure that needs-directed research is performed. Planning committees, comprising representatives of the relevant industries, customers, markets and related sectors, are formed. Research needs are identified; proposals are prepared by the ARC and authorised by the stakeholders; and the result forms the basis for the allocation of funds. In addition, ARC has a number of laboratories, office buildings and research farms away from these main locations in support of its research mission. All these facilities are publicly owned and form the basis from which ARC scientists to accomplish their research objectives and projects.  
This country-wide infrastructure supports most of the major agricultural commodities in South Africa. In addition, research at some of the institutions also deals with the management and sustainable utilisation of natural resources. 

The Grain and Industrial Crops Institute team of the Agricultural Research Council is led by Dr. Dries Fourie together with Dr. Nemera Shargie, Dr. Hannalie Terblanche and Dr. Kingston Mashingaidze. They are tasked with conducting some of the greenhouse and field work involved in developing biosorghum.

 

  1. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)

The AATF was launched in June 2004 in Kenya, is a registered charity under the laws of England and Wales and has been given a tax-exempt status in the USA. It is incorporated in Kenya and in the UK and has been granted host country status by the Government of Kenya where it is headquartered. This is an African-led, African-based, freestanding, not-for-profit organization. Its mission is to improve food security and reduce poverty of African smallholder farmers by facilitating public-private partnerships for the transfer, delivery and uptake of appropriate agricultural technologies.  It works closely with farmers, scientists, small businesses, NGO’s and others to identify the needs of poor farmers and match them technologies suitable for adaptation to African ecologies and farming systems. 

The AATF facilitates partnerships to remove the constraints on transfer and use of appropriate agricultural technologies. It also contributes to capacity building in Africa by engaging African institutions in the execution of tasks that contribute to the Foundation’s mission. The AATF is a partnership between public and private sectors in Africa, north America and Europe. The organization works towards food security and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its structure and operations draw upon the best practices and resources of both the public and private sectors.

The AATF team manages the intellectual property, proprietary information and aspects of regulatory compliance across the whole ABS consortium.  To this end, AATF has coordinated the conduct of technology inventories and freedom to operate (FTO) assessments, formulated best management practices in intellectual property (IP) for inclusion in the ABS policy manual, and provided licensing advisory services to members of the consortium.

  1. The International crops research institute for the semi-arid tropics (ICRISAT)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is a nonprofit, non-political organization that does innovative agricultural research and capacity building for sustainable development with a wide array of partners across the globe. It serves as a world center for the improvement of genetic resources of crops, developing improved farming systems that will help to increase and stabilize agricultural production through more effective use of natural and human resources in the seasonally dry semi-arid tropics. This is in accordance with its mission is to help empower 600 million poor people to overcome hunger, poverty and a degraded environment in the dry tropics through better agriculture.

ICRISAT belongs to the Alliance of Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an informal association of approximately 50 public and private donors, through which it is funded. Increased international public goods, food security, livelihood resilience, poverty reduction and an improved environment in the production systems of the semi-arid tropics have been achieved with ICRISAT partnership research practicing “Science with a Human Face” and making a significant and attributable contribution to development.  ICRISAT has established skill development programs to improve the background and qualifications of agriculturists in national and cooperating programs concerned with ICRISAT mandate. ICRISAT plans its study programs to meet diverse needs of national programs in the semi-arid tropics by establishing broad categories of Participants. ICRISAT publishes catalogues and scientific reports and has Regional Offices in: Niamey, Niger; Nairobi, Kenya; Lilongwe, Malawi; Bamako, Mali; Kano, Nigeria; and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

The ICRISAT team is led by Dr. Mary Mgonja from ICRISAT- Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office. She works with Dr. Henry Ojulong in updating the sorghum germplasm databank and providing critical information to the research and development work.

  1.  The University of Pretoria (UP)

The University of Pretoria (UP) is the leading research university in South Africa and one of the largest in the country. The Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UP aims to provide leadership in the fields of basic natural sciences and mathematics. It has substantial records of research achievement. High quality of undergraduate and postgraduate education is offered and involvement in a variety of community projects contributes to excellence provided by the Faculty.

As part of the technology and research component, The Department of Food Science at the University of Pretoria is conducting nutritional studies under the leadership of Professor John Taylor. His team includes Dr. Andre Oelofse, Dr. Janet Taylor, Dr. Corinda Erasmus and a group of postgraduate students who are analysing food preparation methods and sorghum plants for nutritional content. UP’s specific role in the project is to quantify the enhanced nutrients in the ABS sorghum and to ensure that these nutritional improvements are bioavailable in the food products consumed by people. In the planned second phase of the project UP will lead the nutrition component, ensuring that the ABS sorghum actually improves the nutritional and health status of people in rural communities.

  1. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) develops and disseminates technologies to increase productivity.  It focuses on the post-harvest value of agricultural and livestock products, while conserving the environment. The Institute is a premier national institution bringing together research programmes in food crops, horticultural and industrial crops, livestock and range management, land and water management, and socio-economics.

With 29 research centres, KARI aims to be an institute of excellence in agricultural research and technology transfer, contributing to an improved quality of life for all citizens of Kenya. KARI’s Maize Programme has supplied germplasm to produce 80% of the maize seed in the principal maize growing areas. KARI promotes sound agricultural research, technology generation and dissemination to ensure food security through improved productivity and environmental conservation. At KARI, African scientists are developing tools to boost productivity of Africa’s farms – part of a broad strategy to strengthen the entire agricultural sector, to increase income, to support rural communities, and to drive economic growth.

The Biotechnology Center at the KARI National Agricultural Research Laboratory complex in Kabete, Kenya is involved in developing nutritionally enhanced sorghum varieties localized for Kenya and Eastern Africa. The ABS team is led by Dr. Simon Gichuki assisted by Dr. Joel Mutisya and a team of research associates.

  1.  The West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD)

The West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) was founded in March 1987 after a meeting of 15 directors of francophone agricultural research institutions of West and Central Africa and Madagascar and their colleagues from French agricultural research institutions.

The organization brings together the national agricultural research institutes of 21 countries in West and Central Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. It aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural research in the region by supporting and consolidating the capacities of the national agricultural research systems in the member countries.

It has, among its highest authorities, civil society and private sector institutions. CORAF/WECARD’s vision is to contribute to sustainable reduction of poverty and food insecurity in West and Central Africa. This will be achieved through agricultural led economic growth, and improving agricultural research system of the sub-region. The mission is underlined by the determination to meet the socioeconomic needs of the population in the sub-region. This is why CORAF/WECARD’s concern is to improve, in a sustainable way, agricultural productivity, competitiveness and markets. For that reason, it puts the producers and end-users at the centre of research. Technical research is applied using an integrated approach based on systems and commodities, but employing new holistic and participatory methodologies.

Prof. Abdourahamane Sangare leads the ABS Project team at CORAF.  He plays the vital role of disseminating information to support the implementation of the project in the West African region.

  1. University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley)

The University of California was chartered in 1868 and its flagship campus — envisioned as a "City of Learning" — was established at Berkeley, on San Francisco Bay. Today the world's premier public university and a wellspring of innovation, UC Berkeley occupies a 1,232 acre campus with a sylvan 178-acre central core. This California institution became a catalyst of economic growth and social innovation — the place where vitamin E was discovered, a lost Scarlatti opera found, the flu virus identified, and the nation's first no-fault divorce law drafted. Scholars at Berkeley have conducted groundbreaking research on urban street gangs and on basic human nutritional requirements, identified why wartime supply ships were failing at sea, invented technologies to build faster and cheaper computer chips, and imaged the infant universe.  To date, 20 UC Berkeley faculty members have won Nobel awards.

In recognition of broad and deep excellence, respected sources have repeatedly ranked UC Berkeley at or near the top in a wide range of fields. The National Research Council ranked Berkeley No. 1 nationally in the number of campus graduate research programs among the top 10 in their fields.

The work of Dr. Bob Buchanan (UC Berkeley professor of plant and microbial biology and one of the lead scientists on the project) and co-researcher Dr. Peggy G. Lemaux (UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension specialist in plant and microbial biology) was part of the ABS Project.  The two were researching digestibility issues, basing their work on studies they have conducted for over a decade in their laboratories. The efforts complemented approaches explored by other ABS consortium members. The UC Berkeley research has since been completed.

  1.  Environmental and Agricultural Research (INERA)

INERA is Burkina Faso’s state agricultural and environmental research institute. It is the public research institute mandated by government to build capacity, develop policy, transfer technology and manage agricultural research.  The institute's principal goals are:

  • The deliverance of a lasting contribution to the agricultural and environmental research in Burkina Faso;
  • The organization, management and coordination of research programs;
  • The dissemination of the acquired scientific and economic results of investigative programs;
  • The scientific and technical education of researchers;
  • The promotion and development of optimal regional agricultural and environmental practice;
  • The decentralization of research to achieve direct connections between research and end-users and to insure the transfer of knowledge and technology to farmers.

The agricultural and environmental research programs are focused on traditional cereals, legumes, horticultural crops, rice and cotton, cattle, pigs and poultry, the improvement of forestry production as well as the protection of natural forestry resources.
This institution is involved in developing nutritionally enhanced sorghum varieties localized for Burkina Faso and the Sahelian region.  The team is led by Dr. Gnissa Konate who is the Director at INERA. He is assisted by Mrs. Clarisse Barro, Dr. Hamidou Traore, Dr. Mahamadi Ouedraogo and a team of research associates. Mrs. Clarisse Barro, a sorghum breeder, was part of a team that underwent three weeks of intensive training in August 2008 through the support of the ABS project at Pioneer Hi-Bred facilities in the USA.  She received theoretical and practical training on the selection methods, data management, germplasm assessment, development of varieties, and hybrids creation as part of the capacity building program.

  1. Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR)

The Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) is a regional agricultural research institution situated in the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. It is a public research institution mandated by the university to manage crop research and improvement for the savannah region of Nigeria. It is mandated to conduct research into agricultural crops such as maize, sorghum, groundnut, cowpea, cotton, castor and sunflower for the broad ecological zone within the states of the northern region, Nigeria.

The institution also provides research, training and agricultural extension services concerning agronomy, disease control, farming systems, fabrication of farm machinery, soil management , preservation, storage and training.

The team leader is Dr Mary Yeye who is the senior Sorghum Breeder at the institution. She is supported by a team of research associates and technicians.  As the institution joined the consortium in 2010, the institution is completing the formal processes to join the consortium and laying the groundwork to begin the product development processes at the institution.

References

  1. http://www.africaharvest.org
  2. http://www.scidev.net
  3. http://www.afdevinfo.com
  4. http://www.politicalfriendster.com
  5. http://www.knowledge.cta.int
  6. http://www.pioneer.com
  7. http://www.planetark.com
  8. Gillam C (2008).  Biotechnology Companies Race for Drought-Tolerant Crops.  Reuters.  United States of America
  9. http://www.csir.co.za
  10. Mehlo L (2009). Nutritionally Enhanced Sorghum for Improved African Health.  Malnutrition.  Science Crop. Pp40-43
  11. Mehlo L, et al.  Sorghum Biotechnology for Food and Health.  CSIR Biosciences.  South Africa
  12. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project Mid-Term Report, December 2007
  13. http://www.abu.edu.ng/institutes/iar/index.php
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