Ghanaian plant geneticist Eric Yirenkyi Danquah yesterday was awarded the 2018 World Agriculture Prize in a ceremony at Nanjing Agricultural University in China.
Dr. Danquah is the first African to win the prize, which is awarded by the Global Confederation of Higher Education Association for Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA).
The professor, who is director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) at the University of Ghana, was also recognized for his selfless commitment to training young plant breeders as agents of positive change in addressing the issues of hunger and malnutrition that affect millions of people in Africa.
In line with that dedication, Danquah will be using the $100,000 prize to advance student opportunities at the University of Ghana. “I shall announce a foundation to support and encourage talented but needy students to study agriculture at the University of Ghana,” he said. “I hope the foundation will grow in my lifetime to train next generation ag scientists who will be game changers and history makers for the future of food and agriculture in our changing, growing and hungry world.”
After earning his doctorate at Cambridge University, Danquah turned his vision and dream of improving food security and the livelihoods of millions of Africans into reality by creating the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) in 2007. It has since enrolled over 114 PhD plant breeding students from over 15 African countries, giving them a life transforming opportunity to receive a world class education in plant breeding. Many WACCI graduates are now developing improved varieties of commercial and indigenous crops in their home countries.
Danquah also contributed significantly to the establishment of the Biotechnology Center at the University of Ghana, and serves on the Cornell Alliance for Science advisory board.
Under his leadership, the WACCI has evolved into a leading educational center for plant breeders and seed scientists in Africa. WACCI led a maize breeding program that has released three high yielding maize varieties in Ghana. It also has been named a World Bank Africa Centre of Excellence Project.
In presenting the award, GCHERA President John Kennelly said: “The highly trained professionals from WACCI will continue to produce improved varieties of the staple crops of Africa for decades, thus extending the legacy of WACCI in improving the lives of small farmers as well as contributing to global food and nutritional security.”
Added Dr. Ronnie Coffman, professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of International Programs, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University: “Professor Dr. Eric Danquah has been the driving force behind the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), training the next generation of African plant breeders in Africa for Africa. This is a breakthrough effort to establish and sustain the science needed for the improvement of lives and livelihoods in rural Africa.”
In his acceptance speech, Danquah dedicated his award to Coffman, the WACCI team and Dr. John Barrett, his master’s and PhD supervisor at Cambridge University.
The 2018 GCHERA prize was also awarded to Professor Rattan Lal of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University. He was recognized for his contribution to education and research in the sustainable management of world soils.
Established in 2013, the World Agricultural Prize aims to encourage the global development of the mission of higher education institutions in education, research, innovation and outreach in the agricultural and life sciences by recognizing the distinguished contribution of individuals to the mission.