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Bridging the Biotech Divide: WARDA Strengthens Capacity of National Partners in Africa

Cotonou, Benin  —  Rice breeders and pathologists of national agricultural research programs in sub-Saharan Africa will now have access to state-of-the-art molecular biology tools thanks to a comprehensive capacity building program offered by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) in response to strong demand from its member countries.

A major thrust of this program is to develop a new breed of national scientific staff trained in the application of molecular marker-assisted selection techniques as part of a project funded by USAID-West Africa Regional Program (WARP).

The national programs of four West African countries—Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and The Gambia—are participating in this project, which seeks to address the intractable problem of rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV). The potential benefits of the project are expected to go far beyond the four project countries and reach all the African countries that grow rice.

RYMV is a scourge of lowland and irrigated rice and is unique to Africa, where it can sometimes lead to total crop failure, contributing to famine in areas where rice is an important food staple.

The WARDA-USAID RYMV project is helping research staff from the national programs of the four project countries to use marker-assisted selection techniques to speed up the process of developing RYMV-resistant rice varieties.

An important component of the project is to help set up in each of the four countries a small functional biotechnology laboratory where trained national staff will be able to transfer RYMV-resistant genes to elite rice varieties.

“It is important to note that the legacy of this 3-year project will be the availability of these laboratories furnished with basic equipment necessary to apply molecular biology techniques and trained national staff who can apply these techniques across many different crops,” explained Dr Marie-Noelle Ndjiondjop, WARDA Molecular Biologist, who is heading this project.

The first of the series of training programs planned for this project is under way in Cotonou, Benin, 18-28 April 2006, in which eight researchers are taking part. The 2-week intensive hands-on course includes all steps from DNA extraction to data analyses for genetic diversity studies, linkage mapping, QTL analysis, and marker assisted selection.

“At the end of the training period, each participant is expected to understand how to collect, analyze, interpret, and present data from a wide rage of molecular markers, with emphasis on RAPD, ISSR, AFLP, and microsatellites,” said Dr Ndjiondjop.

In addition to this training program, the project is supporting several doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows from sub-Saharan Africa to undertake research studies in biotechnology.

“In view of the predominant role of the private sector in biotechnology and the lack of emphasis on poor people’s crops, this WARDA-USAID partnership which is enabling public sector researchers, especially our national partners, to take advantage of the biotechnological revolution to address problems faced by poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is very significant,” stated WARDA Director General Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze.

About AfricaRice

AfricaRice is a CGIAR Research Center – part of a global research partnership for a food-secure future. It is also an intergovernmental association of African member countries.

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