NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) today opened the African Plant Breeding Academy to help improve the livelihoods of Africa's smallholder farmers and their families, reduce hunger and boost Africa's food supply. AOCC's goal is to use the latest scientific equipment and techniques to genetically sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 100 traditional African food crops to guide the development of more robust produce with higher nutritional content.
'Orphan crops' are African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers and industry because they are not economically important on the global market.
The consortium includes the African Union - New Partnership for Africa's Development (AU-NEPAD Agency); Mars, Incorporated; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF); BGI; Life Technologies Corporation; World Wildlife Fund; University of California, Davis (UC Davis); iPlant Collaborative; and Biosciences eastern and central Africa - International Livestock Research Institute (BecA - ILRI Hub).
Located at ICRAF in Nairobi, Kenya, the Academy will train 250 plant breeders and technicians in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period. The work will drive the creation of improved planting materials that will then be offered to smallholder farmers throughout Africa. The Academy provides scientists and technicians with a dedicated place to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes to help develop food crops with higher nutritional value and which can better withstand climate changes, pests and disease. The data derived from this collaborative effort will be made publically available with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture.
"The African Orphan Crops Consortium and the new African Plant Breeding Academy represent an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the training programs we have developed for plant breeders in Africa," said Allen Van Deynze, Director of Research at UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center. "The partnerships allow African breeders to take advantage of the latest technologies to rapidly advance development of crops that are important to African diets and health."
"I am delighted that we are hosting this new initiative," said Prof. Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre. "For the continent that is the most malnourished, the poorest, the most rural and the least forested, the AOCC gives Africa a chance through new science and its application to address many of its perennial problems of development. To date, the entire world has genetically sequenced 57 plant species and this uncommon public-private collaboration, based in Africa with Chinese and US support, will nearly triple this number over the next four years. The addition of so many tree species in the list, which can help rural and urban people achieve their full cognitive and physical potential, is ground breaking, and these perennial solutions to nutrition will reinforce the progress Africa is making in so many other fields."
The 100 targeted crops are the 'back garden' crops of rural Africa, home to 600 million people. So improving them will greatly improve the diets of Africa's children, helping to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, which causes stunting. Stunting - short stature for age and incomplete neurological development - is rife among the children of rural Africa.
"The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency has as its primary thematic area food and nutrition security; rightly so because of the issue of low agricultural productivity that impacts on this," said NEPAD CEO, Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki. "Malnutrition is a direct product of food insecurity. A large number of Africans suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as minerals, iron and vitamin A with devastating effects on population including high mortality and morbidity rates and blindness among children, agricultural labour reduction and poor quality of life."
Mars, Incorporated, previously led a similar uncommon collaboration that sequenced, assembled and annotated the cacao (cocoa) genome and made these data publically available on the Internet to all researchers in 2010. Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, Mars, Incorporated, who made the case for the AOCC at the opening of the Plant Breeding Academy, said, "In 2010, I learned for the first time that malnutrition and chronic hunger cause a devastating condition called stunting in children. It was shocking to try and grasp the scale of this tragedy, with more than 35% of the children in Africa affected. 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. This is huge leap forward for the diversity and sustainability of African agriculture and the start of a very different future for rural and urban food consumption patterns."
The first orphan crop to be sequenced, assembled and annotated at the Academy will be baobab, which can be used as a dried fruit powder for consumer products. Baobab is called 'the wonder tree' in Africa because its gluten-free fruit has ten times the antioxidant level 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 much more. By sharing knowledge of the genome sequences of baobab and other African crops, scientists and technicians working at the Academy will inform plant breeders and farmers of species varieties that are more nutritious, productive and robust.
"Life Technologies is proud to be part of this global humanitarian effort to help improve the health of future generations in Africa," said Gregory T. Lucier, Chairman and CEO, Life Technologies, which developed the advanced sequencers that will be used in the program. "We are committed to this important work and know that the Ion Proton sequencers we have provided will make a tangible difference in this life-changing endeavor designed to leverage the knowledge gained from genomics."
With this collaboration, BGI will make its sequencing and bioinformatics expertise available for scientists and researchers in Africa. "BGI is dedicated to using genomics technology for the benefit of human beings," said Prof. Jian Wang, President of BGI. "Having contributed to the sequencing of many critical crops including rice, maize, soybean, potato, pigeonpea and foxtail millet, we are confident that the combination of capabilities, experience and resources within AOCC will yield great scientific breakthroughs in African crops research and bring advancement to develop improved crop varieties, thus to contribute to the wellbeing of local society."
"We are truly honored to be part of this groundbreaking initiative as it fits within our remit of research, capacity building and technologies applications in support of African National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) to drive biosciences innovations aimed at improving the livelihood in small holder farming communities and other vulnerable communities," said Appolinaire Djikeng, Director of the BecA-ILRI Hub, in Nairobi, Kenya.
AOCC was officially launched at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in 2011 as an effort to improve the nutrition, productivity and climatic adaptability of some of Africa's most important food crops. In June 2013, during the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held in partnership with World Bank Group in Washington D.C., AOCC announced it would be making its data publically available to scientists, plant breeders and farmers. At the 2013 CGI meeting, Howard-Yana Shapiro, who gave an opening speech, confirmed that AOCC had raised approximately $40 million USD in-kind contributions to date to support its work.
To learn more and keep up to date on the latest news and developments, please visit http://www.mars.com/global/african-orphan-crops.aspx.
About Mars, Incorporated
In 1911, Frank C. Mars made the first Mars candies in his Tacoma, Washington kitchen and established Mars' first roots as a confectionery company. In the 1920s, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. joined his father in business and together they launched the MILKY WAY® bar. In 1932, Forrest, Sr. moved to the United Kingdom with a dream of building a business based on the objective of creating a "mutuality of benefits for all stakeholders" – this objective serves as the foundation of Mars, Incorporated today. Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars has net sales of more than $33 billion, six business segments including Petcare, Chocolate, Wrigley, Food, Drinks, Symbioscience, and more than 72,000 Associates worldwide that are putting its Principles into action to make a difference for people and the planet through its performance.
Mars brands include: Petcare – PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, WHISKAS®, KITEKAT®, BANFIELD® Pet Hospital, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES® and CESAR®; Chocolate – M&M'S®, SNICKERS®, DOVE®, GALAXY®, MARS®, MILKY WAY® and TWIX®; Wrigley – DOUBLEMINT®, EXTRA®, ORBIT® and 5™ chewing gums, SKITTLES® and STARBURST® candies, and ALTOIDS® AND LIFESAVERS® mints. Food –UNCLE BEN'S®, DOLMIO®, EBLY®, MASTERFOODS®, SEEDS OF CHANGE® and ROYCO®; Drinks – ALTERRA ® Coffee Roasters coffee, THE BRIGHT TEA CO.® tea, DOVE®/GALAXY® Hot Chocolate, and FLAVIA® brewer; Symbioscience – COCOAVIA™ and WISDOM PANEL™.
For more information, please visit www.mars.com. Follow us: facebook.com/mars, twitter.com/marsglobal, youtube.com/mars.
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and working in 24 countries in Africa, Asia and South America, is the world's leading research institution on the diverse role trees play in agricultural landscapes and rural livelihoods. As part of its work to bring tree-based solutions to bear on poverty and environmental problems, the Centre's researchers – working in close collaboration with national partners – have developed new technologies, tools and policy recommendations for increased food security and ecosystem health. For more information, visit www.worldagroforestry.org.
About Life Technologies Life Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: LIFE) is a global biotechnology company that is committed to providing the most innovative products and services to leading customers in the fields of scientific research, genetic analysis and applied sciences. With a presence in more than 180 countries, the company's portfolio of 50,000 end-to-end solutions is secured by more than 5,000 patents and licenses that span the entire biological spectrum -- scientific exploration, molecular diagnostics, 21st century forensics, regenerative medicine and agricultural research. Life Technologies has approximately 10,000 employees and had sales of $3.8 billion in 2012.
The Ion Proton™ is for Research Use Only, not for use in diagnostic procedures.
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BGI, a China-based scientific institution, was founded in 1999 and has since become the largest genomic organization in the world. With a focus on research and applications in the healthcare, agriculture, conservation, and bio-energy fields, BGI has a proven track record of innovative, high profile research, which has generated over 250 publications in top-tier journals such as Nature and Science. It also contributes to scientific communication by publishing the international research journal GigaScience. BGI's distinguished achievements have made a great contribution to the development of genomics in both China and the world. Their goal is to make leading-edge genomics highly accessible to the global research community by integrating industry's best technology, economies of scale, and expert bioinformatics resources. BGI and its affiliates, BGI-Americas and BGI-Europe, have established partnerships and collaborations with leading academic and government research institutions, as well as global biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
About the Plant Breeding Academytm
The African Plant Breeding Academy is the latest offering of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy, a premium professional certificate program, available since 2006 in the United States, Europe and Asia. For more information on the African Plant Breeding Academy's course curriculum, dates, application process and scholarships, please visit PBA in Africa - Plant Breeding Academy.
About the BecA-ILRI Hub
The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub is a world-class agricultural research and biosciences facility located at and managed by ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya. It provides support to African and international scientists conducting research on African agricultural challenges and acts as a focal point for learning, interaction and strategic research — enabling collaborations in the scientific community to benefit African farmers and markets within the region. The Hub was established as part of an African Union/New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) African Biosciences Initiative, which employs modern biotechnology to improve agriculture, livelihoods and food security in eastern and central Africa. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.
SOURCE Mars, Incorporated