ACACIA’s Official Launch at JIC
‘This alliance will harness the strengths of the global scientific community, as well as the recent advances in technology to find lasting solutions to the challenge of food insecurity in Africa’
-Jacob Mignouna, Director of BecA
ACACIA was officially launched by the Director of the BecA-ILRI Hub, Jacob Mignouna and Dale Sanders (Director of JIC) at the John Innes Centre on the 16th of June. The occasion marks a great development of the current JIC-BecA Alliance to dramatically increase the range of partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub, JIC and the wider Norwich Research Park. ACACIA (The Alliance for Accelerated Crop Improvement in Africa) is an interdisciplinary partnership to directly develop research, biotechnologies and engagement for delivery towards African food security.
The launch follows the visit of Jacob and previous BecA Director Appolinaire Djikeng to the John Innes Centre to build the partnership and a full tour of the JIC facilities. Research objectives in the new alliance allow co-created projects between BecA, NARS (National Agricultural Research Systems) and JIC partners. These areas will include yield responses to climate change, resilience of crops to emerging pests or pathogens and micronutrient quality and products of crops. One such project would be Peter Emmrich’s research removing the powerful neurotoxin in Grass-Pea that will create a new food source with ingrained exceptional drought tolerance. Peter himself will act as a split appointment between JIC and BecA as part of ACACIA.
Building on the previous JIC-BecA alliance, the new program promotes the greater exchange of staff and training workshops. 2017 saw the AfriPlantSci summer school which brought some of the most renown names in plant science together at NM-AIST to provide training to students from across the UK and Africa. New partnerships with AWARD too have allowed three fellowships placements to come from NARS institutes to have access to NRP facilities in the last year. As ACACIA brings more of these links together, greater cross continent communities of practice are being established.
The sharing of advances in technology is vital if we are to meet the challenges of food insecurity. Golden Gate cloning has revolutionised the rate at which engineering objectives can be pursed and the training the CEC is providing ensures we can develop this access across Africa. Similarly, Oluwaseyi Shorinola is currently based at the BecA-ILRI hub establishing a KASP Genotyping platform. This platform offers better and cost effective SNP genotyping throughput compared to SSR and gel-based genotyping platforms currently used at BecA. Innovations such as these are only the start with a number more to appear over the next year.
At its core ACACIA unites a wider engagement beyond just that of life science. The challenges of food security are multidimensional and to ensure impact, life sciences must engage with social sciences, policy makers and MLE experts. DevSET focused on establishing these interdisciplinary links with early career researchers focused on development goals. Beyond the immediate participants, the networks of supervisors formed across faculties has brought a range of expertise to the ACACIA discourse. Partnership with the AWARD and the school of international development at the University of East Anglia brings greater understanding of the context surrounding agricultural innovation and BecA’s connection with the NARS consolidates this technology delivery to the farmers.
The launch on Friday by Jacob may have officially opened ACACIA but it does not mark the absolute beginning. The key components that define the program were started in the JIC-Beca alliance. ACACIA marks a key moment in the history of both institutes and a significant partnership to address African food security.