Mars, Incorporated confirmed at an international conference that data being developed by the African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC) will be made publicly available so that scientists, plant breeders and farmers can more rapidly improve the nutrition of Africa's children.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Mars chief agricultural officer, announced the public availability during the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held in partnership with the World Bank Group in Washington D.C.

Shapiro led a partnership that sequenced, assembled and annotated the cacao (cocoa) genome and made this data available on the internet to all researchers in 2010.

The AOCC is an collaboration led by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), Life Technologies, the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations and companies, including Mars, Inc.

AOCC's goal is to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 100 traditional African food crops that would enable higher nutritional content for society over the decades to come. The resulting information will be put into the public domain with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the intellectual property organization, Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA).

'Orphan crops' including African eggplant and potato, cocoyam and Ethiopian mustard, refer to African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers because they are not economically important on the global market. Making more widely available the genome sequences will allow African and other scientists to breed varieties of these species that are more nutritious, productive and robust.

Officially launched at the Clinton Global Initiative meetings in 2011, the AOCC is an effort to improve the nutrition, productivity and climatic adaptability of some of Africa's most important food crops. The consortium's goal is to help eliminate stunting in Africa's rural children and improve the livelihoods of 600 million African farmers. Stunting, short stature for age and incomplete neurological development is rife among the children of rural Africa.

Shapiro commented: "Getting opportunities to grow nutritious food into the hands of those who need it most has been the ambition of the African Orphan Crops Consortium since inception. It is hugely exciting to realize that through the pursuit of fundamental science the AOCC is playing its role in fighting chronic hunger and malnutrition, and Mars is proud to be a part of this effort."

Information generated through the AOCC will be shared with African researchers through the establishment of the African Plant Breeding Academy, which will have facilities at the World Agroforestry Center in Kenya and in West Africa at a site to be established. The academy will train 250 plant breeding scientists and 500 technicians over a five-year period to educate African plant breeders in the application of genomic information and marker assisted selection for crop improvement. The work will be translated into the production of improved seeds that will be got into the hands of the small farmers throughout Africa.

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