WEST AFRICA: Multi-university biotechnology masters

Seven West African universities have created a masters degree in tropical biotechnologies, with the aim of boosting agricultural productivity, reported Wal Fadjri of Dakar.

The universities are Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar in Senegal; Abobo-Adjamey of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire; Abomey-Calavi of Cotonou in Benin; Abdou Moumouni of Niamey in Niger; Bamako in Mali; Nouakchott in Mauritania; and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. The countries are all members of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

Rising populations made it necessary to improve agricultural productivity. But unlike in the past it was no longer possible to achieve this improvement by extending the amount of land under cultivation because arable land was increasingly rare, said Wal Fadjri.

Agricultural biotechnologies offered other possibilities for increasing production per unit of land, while lowering input costs.

However, there were constraints to using agricultural biotechnologies in the ECOWAS region, notably the "limited capacity of present human resources", Wal Fadjri reported.

To counter this problem the seven universities signed, in Dakar in June, an agreement to create the international masters in tropical biotechnologies.

Wal Fadjri quoted a statement from Wecard, the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (known as Coraf in French), a regional organisation that coordinates the agricultural research of 22 countries. It said the application of biotechnology could complement more conventional agricultural practices and make an important contribution to increasing production in developing countries.

"Development of research and the application of biotechnology can significantly help in dealing with several constraints which put a strain on the agricultural sector," said the statement.

It could also "contribute to the reduction of poverty by increasing farmers' income and improve food safety thanks to the increase in yields and improvement of nutritional quality of agricultural products", and "protect the environment through an appreciable reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilisers".

The course will be given online to ensure quality and to make it accessible to all students in the region, said Wal Fadjri. From 2012 the masters will offer two specialisations, in plant biotechnology and in agricultural and environmental biotechnology.

Wal Fadjri reported that Wecard would fund the masters course with CFA85 million (US$184,000).

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original report.