Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, a Ghanaian plant geneticist, who has won the 2022 Africa Food Prize, has said that for the continent to achieve food security, it needs to fund the development of more highly productive and resilient crop varieties that can withstand shocks such as diseases, pests as well as drought.
The laureate was announced on Wednesday, September 7, at the 2022 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF2022) Summit taking place in Kigali, from September 5 through 9.
Danquah has been celebrated for his outstanding expertise, leadership and grantsmanship skills that led to the establishment and development of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) as a world class centre for training plant breeders in Africa for Africa.
“The centre has so far released improved maize varieties which yield between nine and 11 tonnes per hectare and also tomato varieties which yield above 48 tonnes per hectare” Danquah said after winning the prize.
“And these varieties are at different stages of commercialisation, and we hope that for example, our high-yielding maize varieties will get to farmers in the next year,” he indicated.
Today, he said, there are some maize varieties which farmers grow but they do not even harvest two tonnes per hectare.
“But, we have maize varieties which, even if farmers use them in harsh environment [such as dry or rain-scarce period], they can about six tonnes per hectare,” he said, calling adequate funding for research for development to ensure availability of resilient varieties that farmers need so urgently for sustainable food security.
Danquah founded the WACCI in 2007 at the University of Ghana, with the “aim of training a new generation of plant breeders to develop improved varieties of staple crops in West and Central Africa”.
Through his leadership, WACCI attracted more than $30 million of research and development funding, and trained more than 100 PhD in plant breeding from 15 African countries over the last 15 years.
This, he said, led to over 200 improved crop varieties, including superior maize hybrid varieties, which are primed to help boost yield for farmers and contribute towards food and nutrition security.
The winner was chosen by a preeminent judging panel of leaders in African agriculture, comprising the Africa Food Prize Committee chaired by Olusegun Obasanjo (former President of Nigeria).
While announcing the winner in Kigali, Obasanjo said that “he [Danquah] has been, and continues to be, a true inspiration for many young minds,” pointing out that he was selected from the 376 nominees for the award, representing African 34 countries.
“His leadership in genetic innovation inspires the future of food security and nutrition in Africa, and has made a tangible difference to how a new generation is working to improve African food systems,” he said.
Commenting on Danquah’s winning the award, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Executive Director for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, said he is not only doing scientific research for the continent, but also investing in the next generation scientists on this continent.
“The fact that you’re doing this work not just for this generation but that those who you’re training will go ahead and build a robust scientific research ecosystem on the continent, … that for me is incredibly inspiring,” she said, while referring to the winner.
About The Africa Food Prize
The Africa Food Prize is the preeminent annual award that recognises outstanding individuals or institutions that are leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa.
The $100,000 prize celebrates Africans who are taking control of Africa’s agriculture agenda. It puts a spotlight on bold initiatives and technical innovations that can be replicated across the continent to create a new era of food security and economic opportunity for all Africans.
The Prize Committee considers criteria for the Prize, which include contribution to reducing poverty and hunger and/or improving food and nutrition security in measurable terms.
Other factors are contribution to providing a vital source of income and/or employment in measurable terms, as well as potential for transformative change through scalability, replication, and sustainability.