Category Archives: BecA-ILRI Hub

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Scaling up the use of Brachiaria grass as a key forage in Africa

Research implemented in Kenya and Rwanda by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and national partners — the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and  Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB)

On-farm evaluations in Kenya and Rwanda have confirmed that the use of Brachiaria grass extends forage availability for livestock by up to three dry months. These evaluations also confirmed previous observations of increases in milk production and weight when cattle are fed on Brachiaria grass. Over 6,000 farmers in both countries are growing the four best-bet Brachiaria varieties (Basilisk, MG4, Piatã and Xaraés), which were identified through the use of a participatory approach with key stakeholders. These varieties are being concurrently scaled out in Kenya and Mali by the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVDD) dairy project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Initiative. There is growing interest and a push to adopt Brachiaria grasses in other countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Mozambique, Namibia and Somalia.

This research has identified potentially beneficial bacteria that occur naturally within the grass (bacterial endophytes). The endophytes could be useful: increasing production of hormones that regulate: plant growth and boost biomass production in Brachiaria; improving soil nutrient solubility and soil fertility; enhancing drought tolerance; and improving the overall health of the grass. These endophytes are currently being evaluated under greenhouse conditions for their ability to confer drought tolerance to Brachiaria.

To ensure the transfer of technologies to national programs, seven researchers from five East African countries were trained on forages biotechnology through the Brachiaria program. After periods of between six and nine months at the BecA-ILRI Hub the NARS researchers returned to their home institutions with transferable skills acquired through the training. An in-depth external review of the program concluded that it has made significant contributions to the improvement of forage availability and livestock productivity in the aforementioned program countries.

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

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AR 2016 reportIn 2016, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub celebrated 15 years as a centre for excellence for agricultural research. Against a backdrop of renewed impetus for innovation in agricultural research for development (AR4D) in Africa, BecA-ILRI Hub and its partners showcased their joint achievements in responding to the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A)— leveraging science in an agriculture-led social and economic transformation. The event also offered us an opportunity to acknowledge our donors, whose support has made these accomplishments possible.

Research facilitated by the BecA-ILRI Hub drives the bioscience innovations that underpin development outcomes. The success of the climate-smart Brachiaria program in developing technologies that are readily adapted by farmers has generated a demand for their scaling-up. Strategic partnerships, for instance with the North Carolina State University (NCSU)—leveraging the human resource of advanced research institutions—have enabled groundbreaking work in tackling the devastating cassava mosaic disease, potentially increasing yields in what is a staple crop for over 250 million people in Africa.

Through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship program, up and coming research fellows from national agricultural research systems (NARS) have contributed to the formulation of evidence-based agricultural policies. For instance, seminal work on maize and food safety has provided a clearer picture of the interventions required throughout the value chain in Rwanda and research into chicken vaccines has supported the elaboration of policies guiding the production of vaccines for infectious bursal disease in Kenya. Moreover, the establishment and support of communities of practice (CoPs) for ABCF alumni has enabled the development of a comprehensive regional approach to the tackling of key livestock and crop research challenges.

In step with technology advances, the BecA-ILRI Hub launched the Integrated Genotyping Service and Support (IGSS) platform to enhance efficiency and precision in plant and livestock breeding, as well as quality seeds assessment. In research led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), application of this new technology has improved understanding of the genetic basis for resistance to maize lethal necrosis (MLN). The ongoing upgrading of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s technology platforms is fast-tracking research within the regional NARS and reducing the need for scientists to leave Africa to do their work.

Working to shape to continent-wide processes, BecA-ILRI Hub staff joined CGIAR research scientists, policymakers, and representatives of higher education networks and the private sector at a workshop to develop the concept of the the African Agricultural Research Programme (AARP). AARP is an initiative led by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to strengthen the continent’s agricultural research systems for increased productivity, profitability and sustainability. As part of our 2018–2023 strategy, the BecA-ILRI Hub will seek to play a leading role in the application of and support for biosciences in the region. A landscape survey confirmed the comparative advantage of the BecA-ILRI Hub as an important regionally-valued bioscience facility. It identified opportunities to enhance our role in helping set the bioscience agricultural research agenda, as well as an advocate for the government funding of NARS work in bioscience technologies and services.

The coming year will, therefore, be characterized by engagement with key stakeholders to guide the development of our new five-year plan. We remain committed to helping Africa use biosciences as a means of transforming agriculture, bridging the gap between population growth and agricultural productivity on the continent. To the readers of this report, we hope you will accompany us on this grand AR4D journey in Africa. To our many partners and donors, thank you for your support.

Jimmy Smith Director General, ILRI

Jimmy Smith
Director General, ILRI

Appolinaire Djikeng Director, BecA-ILRI Hub

Appolinaire Djikeng
Director, BecA-ILRI Hub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can download the full 2016 Annual report: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/83016

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By Joyce Nzioki, Research associate-bioinformatics at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Joyce Nzioki (left) and Fracnesca Stomeo at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

Joyce Nzioki (left) and Fracnesca Stomeo at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

From 1-13 July 2017, capacity building scientist Francesca Stomeo and I visited the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK. Our mission was to explore ways of strengthening the budding partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Earlham Institute as well as to gain knowledge that will improve the Hub’s genomics and bioinformatics platform.

We had an intense one and a half week of meetings and interaction with the institute’s genomics and bioinformatics specialists, with guidance of our hosts Anthony Hall, head of plant genomics and post-doctoral scientist Jose de Vega. There was much to learn about different aspects of genomics and bioinformatics, particularly in terms of lab and bioinformatics protocols and systems.

It was very exciting to share experiences on our research and training opportunities, and make potential connections for joint activities in the near future. The discussion we had with the project leader-bioinformatic algorithms, Bernardo Clavijo was invaluable in planning for the BecA-ILRI Hub annual advanced bioinformatics workshop that will take place in October this year. I am really glad that Clavijo will be among the trainers for that workshop.

Discussions on work by national agricultural research system (NARS) research fellows conducted at the BecA-ILRI Hub highlighted potential areas of collaborative research to enhance food safety and security in Africa including: improved conservation of fish, understanding drug resistance in Salmonella, plant transformation and exploiting various under-utilized African crop species. We were also challenged to consider introducing the portable Oxford Nano Pore sequencing technology to serve our partners who may not be able to purchase the bigger high through put sequencing machines.

From the visit to Earlham Institute, I saw a clear need for improved bioinformatics capacity to fulfil the potential of modern biosciences in Africa. Bioinformatics training—a key component of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s remit—is central to the training conducted at the Norwich Research Park (NRP), of which the Earlham Institute is a partner. We had fruitful discussions on strategies to empower a cohort of bioinformaticians in Africa with hands-on training in 2018.

I look forward to many joint research and training activities with scientists in Earlham Institute starting with the bioinformatics workshop in October!

The bioinformatics lab at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

The sequencing facility at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

About the author:
Joyce Nzioki is a bioinformatics analyst providing bioinformatics support to various on-going genomics projects at the BecA-ILRI Hub. She holds a Masters in Bioinformatics from Rhodes University in South Africa and a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Technology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Through her MSc studies, she gained skills in working in a Linux environment, Python programming, mathematical and statistical applications to biology and bioinformatics (R and Matlab), structural bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics.

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Aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies are responsible for the spread of diseases causing significant crop yield losses globally. On 5 July 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub hosted a symposium to explore ways in which the knowledge of plants, disease-causing organisms and their vectors can be used to combat devastating crop diseases in Africa.

Stephen Runo of Kenyatta University (left) with JIC scientists Beccy Corkill, Olu Shorinola and Sam Mugford (photo JIC/Matt Heaton)
Stephen Runo of Kenyatta University (left) with JIC scientists Beccy Corkill, Olu Shorinola and Sam Mugford (photo JIC/Matt Heaton)

In sub Saharan Africa, the aphid-transmitted bean viruses—bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) and bean common mosaic necrosis virus (BCMNV)—cause up to 100 percent losses for smallholder bean farmers. Growers of cassava—a staple food for over 250 million people— experience losses of up to 23 million tonnes annually across Africa due to disease caused by whitefly-transmitted Cassava mosaic viruses.

In the face of increased regulations on the use of pesticides, a better understanding of the plant-microbe-vector interactions could lead to the development of urgently needed bio pest-controls. The July forum brought together researchers from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenyatta University, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Auburn University and North Carolina State University based in Africa; and the John Innes Centre (JIC) from UK.

From left to right: Josiah Mutuku (BecA-ILRI Hub), Olu Shorinola (JIC), Steven Runo (Kenyatta University), Beccy Corkill (JIC) and Sam Mugford (JIC) at the BecA-ILRI Hub greenhouses (photo: JIC/ Matt Heaton

From left to right: Josiah Mutuku (BecA-ILRI Hub), Olu Shorinola (JIC), Steven Runo (Kenyatta University), Beccy Corkill (JIC) and Sam Mugford (JIC) at the BecA-ILRI Hub greenhouses (photo: JIC/ Matt Heaton

The symposium was held under the Alliance for Accelerated Crop Improvement in Africa (ACACIA) initiative—a new initiative established to harness diverse research efforts for hastened crop improvement in Africa.

Read full story: Deciphering Plant-Insect Interactions on the ACACIA website.

Read about the ACACIA initiative: New initiative to accelerate crop improvement for food security in Africa

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In the ‘Land of a thousand hills’ where the largely steep landscape  has led to severe erosion, finding sufficient feed to support the growing dairy industry has been a major challenge to smallholder farmers.

However, a visit to farmers in Eastern and Southern provinces of Rwanda during the country’s dry season in July revealed that the climate smart Brachiaria grass—or ivugbwe as it is known locally—has the potential to extend forage availability throughout the year.

Rwandan dairy farmers have been participating in a research project to assess the performance of best bet varieties of Brachiaria grass for different agro-ecological regions in Rwanda. The Swedish funded project on ‘Climate smart Brachiaria grass to increase livestock production in East Africa’ was led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and implemented in collaboration with the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).

In this 5-minute video, the farmers talk about why Brachiaria grass has quickly become a favourite forage for their livestock.

Read original article on RAB website: Rwanda dairy farmers praise the climate smart ‘Ivugbwe’ grass  

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Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

From 19–30 June 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub will host the third edition of the Animal Quantitative Genetics and Genomics annual training workshop. The training is strengthening the capacity of researchers in Africa to apply an in-depth understanding of livestock genetics to the design of livestock breeding programmes.

Early this month (8–12 May 2017) over 250 experts from the public and private sectors in more than 50 countries across the globe gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss the benefits and potential of livestock during the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). The increasing demand for animal protein in emerging economies in Africa presents the challenge of sustainably improving livestock productivity while at the same time maintaining genetic diversity.

Since 2012, the BecA-ILRI Hub has been conducting research to improve performance of indigenous goats using their genetic diversity. Working in Cameroon and Ethiopia, the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project looked at the genetic adaptation of goat populations in the two countries to environmental challenges including drought and disease.

To Getinet Mekuriaw, an assistant professor at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia and a visiting scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub, the key to sustainable development of livestock in Africa is in the optimal exploitation of genetic resources to improve indigenous breeds.

‘We have the evidence of a rich genetic resource in livestock in Africa, and particularly in indigenous goats,’ Mekuriaw said ‘the next step is investing in research that will link this intelligence to the design of trait-focused breeding programs.’

Mekuriaw’s PhD contributed largely to establishing the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in the two countries of interest for the BecA-led research. He also investigated the genetic potential of the goat populations in adaptation, disease resistance, reproduction and hair fibre production.

Strategies to enhance livestock production–including exploiting the natural potential of local breeds–could greatly contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through increased agricultural capacity in developing countries.

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Read more about the 7th Multi-stakeholder partnership meeting of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock

Read related post – Cooperating with the future: Towards multiplying the multiple benefits of sustainable livestock 

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In an unconventional approach to science communications, a diverse group of scientists at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub take to the stage to illustrate their role in the march towards a food secure Africa.

Performed by the BecA-ILRI Hub staff, research fellows from African national programs and international collaborators, this 25 minute skit sheds light on how technology, partnerships and increased research capabilities of national agricultural researchers and institutions can bring about agricultural development in Africa.

The play dramatizes the role of the BecA-ILRI Hub and its national and international partners in bridging high-end research with practical solutions for smallholder farmers. Established as an African centre for excellence for agricultural biosciences, the BecA-ILRI Hub supports African national agricultural research institutes and universities enhance in harnessing bioscience technologies for sustainable agricultural development in Africa.

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Written by Tony Obua, African Biosciences Challenge Fund research fellow

Tony ObuaSince 2010, I have worked on developing soybean varieties with improved nutritional value and high yield. My passion for soybean research earned me a fellowship––the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship––at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research (BecA-ILRI) Hub.

Through this fellowship, I am conducting in-depth analyses of five soybean varieties released by Makerere University and 95 elite soybean lines for different nutritional properties.

Owing to its increased use as human food and animal feed, soybean has great economic potential, which I want to help smallholder farmers in East Africa exploit. I am looking for a fast way of introducing good nutritional properties to existing soybean varieties and hope to develop high yielding, nutritionally superior lines.

Containing approximately 40 percent protein, 20 percent oil and an ideal supply of essential amino acids and nutrients, soybean grains are the world’s largest source of animal protein feed and the second largest source of vegetable oil globally. Aside from their significance as food and livestock feed, the crop improves soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and enhancing moisture retention.

Between 2006 and 2009, earnings from the crop in Uganda rose by 288 percent, but despite the economic opportunities in production and processing, factories established to process soybean oil and soy-based products across East Africa lack adequate raw material to run at full capacity. Furthermore, increased awareness by oil consumers has increased the demand for soybean oil as they seek more nutritious alternatives.

Through my research at the BecA-ILRI Hub and my home institution, Makerere University, I hope to contribute significantly bridging the supply gap and increasing the global competitive edge of locally produced soybean.

4N-1

About Tony Obua:
Tony Obua is a researcher at Makerere University in Uganda. He is currently conducting research on genetic improvement of oil quality and yield of soybean in Uganda at the BecA-ILRI Hub as an ABCF research fellow.

Read more about the ABCF fellowship program

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Brizantha cv. Xaraés, one of the improved varieties of Brachiaria under research for climate change mitigation (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Collins Mutai)

Brizantha cv. Xaraés, one of the improved varieties of Brachiaria under research for climate change mitigation (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Collins Mutai)

A recent study by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) shows that farmers in semi-arid region of Kenya could stall the adverse effects of climate change on their farms by planting drought-tolerant Brachiaria grass.

The study shows that Brachiaria grass not only improves the productivity of livestock but that it also contributes to improved soil health. Arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) make up 83 per cent of the total land area in Kenya, which have marginal to low potential for crop production. The soils in these areas are low in plant nutrients and are prone to erosion.

The report Effects of Brachiaria grass cultivars on soil microbial biomass carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous in soils of the semi arid eastern Kenya is one of a compilation of 24 papers published on diverse studies carried out on Brachiaria grass with regards to its adaptation to drought; its impact on milk and meat production; its role in improving soil quality; and establishment of seed production systems for increased availability of the grass seeds and income generation.

Sita Ghimire, a co-author and co-editor of the report and senior scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub leading the Brachiaria research, says the report is a culmination of pioneering research on the forage in East Africa.

Brachiaria has been used to transform livestock production in South America,’ says Ghimire, ‘however, despite the immense benefits it demonstrated in that region, the true potential of this grass is yet to be realized in its motherland, Africa.’

Livestock production in Kenya accounts for 10 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). With growing population, increasing affluence and changes in food habits there is an increasing demand for livestock products. Over 70 per cent of all the livestock in Kenya is found in ASALs, necessitating research to develop forage options that will sustain increased livestock productivity in the face of climate change.

The collaborative research of the BecA-ILI Hub and KALRO demonstrates that the cultivation of Brachiaria grass improves soil quality by increasing the amount of plant available carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous.

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Every year on the International Women’s day observed on March 8, the BecA-ILRI Hub celebrates women who are contributing to shaping the agricultural research for development agenda in Africa. They may be involved in research, support research or have inspired researchers who are making a difference.

Blessing Adanta (left) and Lyna Mukwa at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

Blessing Adanta (left) and Lyna Mukwa at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

This year, we celebrate Blessing Adanta, Jane Githinji and Lyna Mukwa who were awarded the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship to conduct their research at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The ABCF fellowship is a competitive fellowship program that develops capacity for agricultural biosciences research in Africa, to support research for development projects that ultimately contribute towards increasing food and nutritional security and/or food safety in Africa.

Eleni Vikeli, PhD researcher at the John Innes Centre (UK) and Communications Assistant in BecA-ILRI Hub, interviewed the three women about the joys and challenges of being a scientist.

Blessing Adanta is a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria and a PhD student of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at Makerere University, Uganda  funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the Carnegie cooperation, USA. In 2014, she won the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and the 2014 fall Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Programme (LEAP) fellowships.

Jane Githinji is the Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya. In 2016, her research on chicken vaccines conducted through the ABCF program, lent weight to the development of policies to guide the production of vaccines for Infectious bursal disease in Kenya.

Lyna Mukwa is an Associate Professor at the University of Kwango in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She is also the director of the Plant Clinic of Kinshasa, a project jointly initiated by the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Kinshasa and the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), with the local support of the Agronomic and Veterinary Centre in Tropical Agriculture (CAVTK).

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

Jane Githinji, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane Githinji, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Blessing:The biggest challenge I have encountered so far, was when I left my hometown to pursue a PhD career, while I had my daughter with me. Try having long hours in the lab and teaching students with an active toddler waiting–I am very grateful for the support of my husband through all this!

Jane: My biggest challenge has been balancing between multiple roles–as a mother, a wife, a sibling, a manager, a friend, a scientist–in such a way that I remain effective in each one of them, and without losing my peace of mind!

Lyna: The hardest thing I had to do and am still trying to tackle is maintaining a balance between my professional and personal life. While trying to cope, I learned multiple ways to organise myself and organise everything!

What is your biggest reward from being a scientist?

Blessing:  I was privileged to have been given the opportunity as an AWARD fellow, to have mentors from different countries, senior scientists with great experience and qualifications. That enhanced my skills and filled me with confidence that I use in my own teaching sessions. On top of that, I feel lucky that my profession gave me the opportunity to travel and see the world beyond my country.

Jane: Just knowing that I am contributing to making the world a better and a happier place for someone is very fulfilling. I believe I am in this world for a good purpose–to make it a better and a happier world for someone.

Lyna: In my case, the biggest reward has been the interaction with students where I can share my knowledge and expertise. I am also proud of my published work which makes me a part of the scientific community and has allowed me to work in various institutions in three different countries.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

Blessing: That would be the award I received in 2015 from my home institution, University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria in recognition of my contribution to science. I felt honoured and that all my hard work and sacrifice had paid off!

Jane: I consider successfully completing my ABCF fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub despite the initial challenges and being able to apply my research to policy, my biggest accomplishment. It was a test of my faith, patience, and will power.

Lyna: My biggest accomplishment is getting my PhD last November and shortly after that, I was appointed Associate Professor. This was definitely a dream of mine for quite a while and I felt wonderful when I accomplished it!

The three women cherish their roles as science leaders in Africa deeply despite the challenges it brings to their daily lives. To all the girls that dream of becoming the next Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin or Ada Lovelace, they have proved that a woman can have a family as well as a career in science. They have overcome challenges, followed their passion and are making a difference in society.

Happy International Women’s Day 2017!

Eleni VikeliArticle written by Eleni Vikeli, PhD researcher at the John Innes Centre (JIC), UK. Vikeli is at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi, Kenya as a communications assistant under the BecA-JIC alliance which supports capacity building, resource mobilization and technology transfer activities.

Read more about the BecA-JIC alliance: John Innes Centre forms research and capacity building alliance with the BecA-ILRI Hub