Can DNA put an end to childhood hunger in Africa? Mars thinks it can certainly help.

Mars, Inc. confirmed during the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture that data being developed by the African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC) will be made publicly available.

This data, basically the sequence, assembly and annotation of a crop’s genome, can then be used by scientists, plant breeders and farmers to more rapidly improve the nutrition of Africa’s children. “Orphan crops” refers to African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers because they are not economically important on the global market.

The AOCC is a 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.

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, such as the cacao bean.

“Big kudos to everyone attending the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference who has committed to making their troves of data open and available to the public,” said Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer.

The AOCC’s goal is to gather data from 100 traditional African food crops and make them available to the public. The information gathered by 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. Over a five-year period, the academy will seek to train more than 750 plant breeding scientists and technicians in the application of genomic information and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement. This work will then yield improved seeds that will be given to small farmers throughout Africa.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Mars chief agricultural officer, spoke amongst 90 other presenters at the G8 conference. He focused on the importance of plant sciences and the understanding of genomics as a key to enabling higher nutritional content for society over the decades to come.

“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,” says Shapiro. “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 that effort.”