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Years of UCR research feeds people, wins award


Years of UCR research feeds people, wins award

(October 6, 2000)

Anthony E. Hall, a University of California, Riverside plant scientist, has spent the past 26 years in research that has led to a substantial increase in protein-rich food for poor people in Africa. On Friday, Sept. 29, he received the Chair's Award for Scientific Excellence from the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, a Presidentially appointed board that advises the United States Agency for International Development.

"Tony has succeeded as both an accomplished basic scientist using cowpea as a model system to uncover substantial new information about drought adaptation and heat and chilling tolerance and as a plant breeder and agronomist making use of this information," said Professor Irvin Widders of Michigan State University, who nominated Dr. Hall for the award.

Since the mid 1970's, Hall has worked to improve varieties and management of cowpea, a crop that provides grain, fresh peas and hay for millions of poor people. His work has provided a partial solution to the drought and low soil fertility problems plaguing the Sahelian zone of Africa and has contributed to increasing the profitability of the cowpea (blackeye bean) industry of California.

In 1976, Hall recognized that cowpea might be successful in the Sahel because the dry conditions would enable the crop to escape many of the insect pests that plague cowpea elsewhere in Africa. Unfortunately, the drought also was causing all other crop species to fail to produce food. He began breeding new varieties of cowpea capable of growing under these harsh hot dry conditions.

He trained teams of African researchers, who have since developed several of these cowpea varieties for Africa, by combining an early bloom with drought resistance, heat tolerance and resistance to pests and diseases. Dr. Ndiaga Cisse, the lead breeder of this effort in Senegal, received a 1999 Presidential Prize for Science and Technology from the President of Senegal for developing cowpea varieties, 'Mouride' and 'Melakh'.

Hall also developed an early cowpea breeding line that after many years of yield testing by a former student, Dr. Hassan Elowad, was released as the variety 'Ein El Gazal' in the Sudan, which has produced much higher grain yields than local varieties, with no insecticide sprays or fertilizer applications. Another graduate student from Africa who worked with Dr, Hall in California, the late Dr. K. O. Marfo, used the heat-tolerant parents and selection methods developed by Dr. Hall to breed two cowpea varieties that were recently released in northern Ghana.

Hall's team bred the heat-, nematode- and disease-resistant variety, 'California Blackeye 27', which was released in California in 1999. Hall established a cowpea germplasm collection at UCR that has grown over the years to more than 5,000 entries and he has substantially enhanced the USDA collection. The UCR collection has provided the raw genetic materials from which important new traits such as heat and chilling tolerance and new sources of insect and nematode resistance have been discovered.

The new cowpea varieties and management methods have contributed to increases in national cowpea production in Senegal, which is now estimated to be about 2.4 times higher than a 20-year baseline average. In Africa several million people have received more nutritious food as a consequence of the activities of projects directed by Professor Hall.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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