Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, a plant geneticist from the University of Ghana, was the first African award recipient of the 2018 GCHERA World Agriculture Prize, which he won for his success in founding and directing the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement in partnership with Cornell for the past eleven years.
According to the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences website, the international prize aims to “encourage the development of the mission of higher education institutions in education, research, innovation and outreach in the agricultural and life sciences,” by awarding individuals in those disciplines.
GCHERA and Nanjing Agricultural University established the World Agriculture Prize in 2013. Danquah was one of two winners for 2018, along with Prof. Rattan Lal, soil science, Ohio State University. Each winner was awarded $100,000 in prize money.
Danquah was recognized on Oct. 28 at an award ceremony in Nanjing Agricultural University in Nanjing, China. In accepting his award, Danquah announced that he will donate the prize money to “support a foundation to attract talented but needy students to study agriculture at the University of Ghana.”
According to the a University press release, Danquah partnered with Cornell CALS to create the West African Center for Crop Improvement, a leading educational center in Ghana for plant breeders and seed scientists, in 2007. WACCI was established at the University of Ghana with a mission to train a new generation of plant breeders to develop improved varieties of staple crops.
Ronnie Coffman, director of IP-CALS, nominated Danquah for the award. Coffman told the University that Danquah was the “driving force” behind training the next generation of African plant breeders.
“This is a breakthrough effort to establish and sustain the science needed for the improvement of lives and livelihoods in rural Africa,” Coffman said.
“Dr. Danquah is a renowned educator and exceptional leader,” Coffman said in the press release. “Eric’s global impact will be evidenced well into the future because of WACCI’s success at promoting the careers of up-and-coming plant breeders … Making the most of young people’s potential is the planet’s best hope for survival.”
Coffman told The Sun that Danquah’s work with Cornell “was and is a true partnership that is expected to have a lasting impact by training young African plant breeders in Africa for Africa.”
“From the beginning we did our best to plan for a sustainable program that would support African agriculture indefinitely,” Coffman said. “Many individuals in Africa and at Cornell have contributed to this effort and we are all extremely proud to see Professor Danquah recognized for his vital leadership.”
GCHERA President John Kelly congratulated Danquah in the award presentation speech, emphasizing the diversity of the students involved and the opportunities the program provides for women.
Danquah holds a B.S. degree in agriculture, with a specialization in crop science from the University of Ghana and an MPhil degree in Plant Breeding and a Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of Cambridge. Danquah is also a Professor of Plant Genetics at the University of Ghana’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences and serves as the director of the Biotechnology Centre at University of Ghana.
Prof. Margaret Smith, plant breeding and genetics, recently led another project on hybrid maize that Danquah also worked on, which has become one of the largest plant breeding Ph.D. programs in the world.
Smith said that Danquah “has provided exceptional leadership to the [project], from its formative years to its more recent established phase.”
“His emphasis on building the existing institutional capacity while tapping the best of his international networks has created a truly unique program that is already giving rise to the future leaders in this field,” Smith said.