Dr. Martin Fregene

Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department, AfDB

Dr. Martin Fregene is a plant geneticist and molecular breeder with over 25 years of research and development experience at two International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs), a renowned Plant Science Center in the US (judged the sixth best plant science center in the US), at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) of Nigeria – as Chief Technical Adviser to the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture, and as Adviser to the Vice President of Agriculture, Human, and Social Development at the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Jennifer Blanke. He is currently Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry (AHAI) at the African Development Bank working on implementation of a bold initiative of the Bank, the Feed Africa Strategy in collaboration with AHAI’s sister department at the Bank, Agricultural Financing and Rural Development (AHFR).  Specifically, he is leading the execution of the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) to raise farm level crop, livestock, and aquaculture productivity across the continent.  He is also leading the design and implementation of the Transformation of African Savannah Initiative (TASI), a science and technology –based initiative, that seeks to transform 16 million Ha of African Savannah across eight African countries into breadbaskets producing 50million MT of maize, 30million MT of soybean, and 10 million MT of livestock within 25 years via new private sector investments and climate-smart agriculture.

He began his career at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1991 as a pre-doctoral fellow in cassava breeding (1991-1993.  While at IITA, he was a recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation post-doctoral fellowship on molecular genetic mapping (1993 – 1996) that took him to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, its Spanish acronym), Cali, Colombia; while at CIAT as a post-doc, he developed the first molecular genetic map of cassava.  From 1996 until 1997 he was an associate scientist at CIAT working on tagging of genes controlling early yield, resistance to diseases and pests in cassava.   In 1999, he was promoted senior scientist and cassava geneticist at CIAT and initiated the first cassava molecular breeding program to accelerate development of improved cassava varieties for various agro-ecologies of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

He left CIAT in 2008 to join the Biocassava Plus project, an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to enhance the nutritional status of cassava, as product development manager at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC), St. Louis, Missouri.  He was promoted Director of the Biocassava plus project in July 2010 and led a team that produced cassava events rich in pro-vitamin A and iron, also successfully renewing the grant, securing an additional US$7million for a phase II, bringing the total grant to US$21million.  Dr Fregene took a leave of absence from DDPSC to join the Honorable Minister of Agriculture as a Chief Technical Advisor and team leader of the cassava value-added chain, continuing on to the African Development Bank in 2015 as adviser on Feed Africa.

Dr Fregene has a B.Sc. degree in Chemistry from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.  He bagged a M.Sc. degree in Organic chemistry at the same University, graduating at the top of his class. His Ph.D. degree in plant genetics and breeding  was conducted at the John Innes Center, Norwich UK, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, its Spanish acronym), Cali, Colombia, and awarded by the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.  Dr Fregene has also been recipient of several travel award: including a grant of the Japanese Society for the promotion of Science (JSPS) in 2001 to spend a total of 6 months at the Iwate Biotechnology Research Institute (IBRC), Kitakami, Japan; a CIAT award to spend 3 months with Dr Rod Wing at the Clemson University Genome Institute (CUGI),  a grant of the International Program for Science of the University of Uppsala to spend 3 months at the Swedish Agricultural University, Uppsala, Sweden, amongst others.  He also won best publication award twice while at CIAT.  He has been recipient of over US$25M in research grants over the course of his 25 year career and has published over 70 scientific papers in refereed journals and book chapters.