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  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
  • Global Development

Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, a Ghanaian plant geneticist and scientific leader who established a thriving model for agricultural education, earned the 2022 Africa Food Prize for his achievements training African agricultural scientists in Africa and for Africa.

Danquah, founding director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) and professor of plant genetics at the University of Ghana at Legon, received the award Sept. 7 at AGRF in Kigali, Rwanda. The Africa Food Prize recognizes outstanding individuals or institutions that are leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa.

The WACCI model took shape in the early 2000s as Danquah identified a threat to long-term African food security. He saw that many African agricultural scientists trained in the United States and other countries outside Africa often remained abroad after graduation to pursue job opportunities. Danquah, who earned his own doctorate from the University of Cambridge, envisioned a competitive plant breeding program that could train African students on the crops and challenges specific to Africa.

A close intellectual partnership between Danquah and scientists from Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) formed the basis of an educational model for training plant breeders to develop improved varieties of staple crops in West and Central Africa. WACCI launched in 2007 with a 10-year grant of $11.5 million from AGRA on the promise of developing a robust program that could attract emerging agricultural scientists to train in Africa and stay to be part of the solution to the continent’s food challenges.

“Dr. Danquah has few equals in terms of vision, ingenuity and determination,” said Ronnie Coffman, professor emeritus of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University. “Eric is a committed educator, researcher, innovator and visionary in agriculture and the life sciences. WACCI’s impact has been substantial for the future of African farmers.”

So far WACCI has enrolled 160 Ph.D students in plant breeding and 78 master’s students in seed science and technology. In the 15 years since the launch of WACCI, 135 scientists have graduated with doctoral and master’s degrees, many of whom have returned to their home countries to spearhead agricultural transformation. The students have come from across Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

“Dr. Danquah’s vision for WACCI provides an outstanding model for engaged education and research in agricultural science, attracting top-quality students from across the African continent and turbo-charging their graduate education by combining real-world field experience with classroom instruction and opportunities for collaboration with world-reknown plant scientists and breeders,” said Susan McCouch, Ph.D. ’90, the Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics in CALS and co-director of CROPPS.

Since founding WACCI, Danquah has forged partnerships that raised more than $28 million in support of the program. A Centre of Excellence designation from the World Bank in 2015 brought investments of $13.5 million to expand the scope of the program and integrate Africa talent into the international community of plant breeders as collaborators and mentors. WACCI now employs 30 associate faculty with 20 visiting scientists from 15 countries, and 24 local staff.

"WACCI’s impact has been substantial for the future of African farmers." -Ronnie Coffman

Danquah established the Enterprise Hub for Agricultural Innovation (KAEHAI)  in honor of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations from Ghana for his service to AGRA and the University of Ghana. The entrepreneurial hub responds to challenges of agricultural commodity value chains and equips African youth with knowledge and skills for agribusiness start-ups.

Through strategic partnerships, WACCI alumni have attracted over $37 million to initiate impact-driven research programs in their home institutions demonstrating the returns on investments in quality higher education programs.

Danquah received the GCHERA World Agriculture Prize in 2018. Since 2019, he has served as a visiting scientist at Cornell CALS and an adjunct professor at the University of Western Australia. He serves on the partnership committee of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement (ILCI).

“Eric has been a great leader as well as a great partner for research and educational programs addressing global food security,” said Stephen Kresovich, ILCI director and professor in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science and the Robert and Lois Coker Trustees Chair of Genetics in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Clemson University. “I’ve worked with Eric for almost the past two decades and I’ve always been impressed with his vision, energy, and tenacity. WACCI is a stellar example of what can been done and what should be done for future advancements.”

Eric Yirenkyi Danquah

Professor of Plant Genetics at the Department of Crop Science of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, University of Ghana, and a Visiting Scientist in the Department of Global Development at Cornell University. His awards and honors include:

  • Africa Food Prize (2022)
  • University of Ghana, College of Basic and Applied Sciences Meritorious Award (2021)
  • Ghana Agribusiness Excellence and Leadership Award: International Agribusiness Leadership Personality of the Year (2019)
  • Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth and Cambridge Philosophical Societies
  • GCHERA World Agriculture Prize (2018)
  • UG Distinguished Award for Meritorious Service (2013)
  • UK Commonwealth Academic Fellowship (2000-2001)
  • UK Commonwealth Scholarship (1989-1993)
Eric Danquah

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