Category Archives: Capacity Building

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By Jane Githinji, assistant director of veterinary services, Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane githinjiAs head of the virology laboratory at the Central Veterinary Laboratories in the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) in Kenya, my responsibilities include laboratory surveillance, and confi rmation and reporting of animal viral diseases. My reports form the basis upon which disease control strategies are developed. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that these reports refl ect the true picture of the disease situation in the country, from which appropriate disease control policies and strategies can be derived.

Like in most developing countries, poultry farming in Kenya is mainly in the hands of the smallholder rural poor, mostly women and young people, and is usually the only livelihood source for smallholder farmers. Outbreaks of infectious viral diseases that cannot be treated pose a major constraint on poultry production. Vaccination is the recommended method of control for these diseases. But vaccines do not always prevent occurrence of a disease.

The apparent failure of vaccines to protect chicken from infectious bursal disease (IBD) got me interested in understanding the cause of the disease despite prompt vaccinations by farmers (IBD causes immune suppression, making chicken more prone to other infectious diseases). I wanted to improve my understanding of the epidemiology of IBD in Kenya, starting with the comparative molecular characterization of the circulating viruses with the currently used vaccine virus strains.

The facilities available at the central veterinary laboratory are suitable for carrying out basic molecular analysis. However, to undertake more advanced molecular research required to gain a better understanding of IBD viruses circulating in Kenya, I needed access to the facilities at the BecAILR Hub. Under the mentorship of the BecA-ILRI Hub scientists, in a very conducive research environment as an ABCF fellow, I learned many skills, including sequence editing and analysis, primer design, scientific paper writing and communicating science to non-scientists. These crosscutting skills will be very useful in improving my diagnostic capacity, and ultimately, scientific data collection for policy development at the DVS.

Based on the feedback and recommendations I gave to the DVS director, I am confident my research findings will form the basis for developing effective IBD control strategies, including diagnosis, vaccination, hatchery surveillance and certification, IBD vaccines registration and vaccine production. Implementation of such strategies will have far reaching impacts on poultry production, poverty alleviation, nutritional security, economic empowerment for women and young people, and self-employment. Reducing antimicrobial residues in poultry products will also contribute to a reduction in antimicrobial drug resistance in humans.

With my newly acquired skills, I will be able to contribute more to livestock research: science, technology and innovation. I am a better mentor to young people, a better leader and manager, a more fulfilled person, and, above all, an asset to my country. My time as an ABCF fellow marked the beginning of what I believe will be a journey full of discoveries, networking, research development and fulfilment.

chicken and chics

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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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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By Wokorach Godfrey, PhD student, Gulu University and research fellow at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Wokorach-AgshareAgricultural production is a key driver of economic growth for most of sub-Saharan Africa. It has the potential to boost economic development by improving food and nutritional security, providing employment to youth, promoting trade and generally improving livelihoods.

Agriculture under siege

However, this ‘goose that lays the golden eggs’ is plagued with challenges ranging from diseases, parasites, pests, drought, post-harvest losses and lack of access to markets. As such, many countries have experienced a decline, rather than increase in agricultural production and revenues associated with sale of agricultural products over the years.

Some of the problems can simply be addressed by educating farmers on good farming practices. Other challenges are solved through research and implementing of research findings. This requires transfer of knowledge, skills and technologies generated through research, to the farmers, often hampered by a disconnect between the farmer and the scientist.

Through the use of ICT, the distance between scientists globally is being bridged. The ability to share information and work collaboratively on virtual platforms has been made possible by online platforms specially designed to drive these conversations. Among such platforms that I have used are Agshare.Today and Yammer, which have been adapted to co-ordinate root and tuber crops, viruses and vectors research. The platforms connect scientists from different countries working on similar projects and enables them to share information they generate, get access to information they need, safely store research data and communicate their findings.

However, there is an urgent need to speed up the flow of information from researchers or extension workers to farmers and vice versa. A common platform that brings together farmers, scientists, extension officers, traders and other players in agriculture would narrow the existing gaps and potentially increase uptake of new technologies.

ICT to the rescue?

The relative affordability of mobile phones and the improving telecommunications networks in rural Africa have already resulted in evident economic benefits and mass social mobilization. The same technology availing access to vast databases by individuals seeking or sharing information on diverse topics like health, politics, news, markets and agriculture can be applied more effectively to get conversations going between farmers and scientists.

An agriculture-telecentre could facilitate information and knowledge sharing among farmers and the various groups of scientists and development specialists working to improve agricultural production. The platform could be used not only to transmit research findings, but also to receive information from farmers.

The existing technologies could be better applied to areas like disease and pest management, where detailed information such as number of affected plants, radius within which the problem occurs and severity of symptoms along with pictures from farmers, can support experts in assessing the severity of an outbreak and providing possible solutions. Additionally, extension services can relay information on where farmers can easily access the relevant agro-inputs like pesticides, fungicides and how to mix and apply these products.

I envision agriculture-telecentres being used as tools for surveillance of crop and livestock diseases, market information, weather patterns, and production trends of individual farmers. In this way, ICT can be used to overcome challenges associated with limited agricultural extension services, a scenario that is common in many rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Read related article: Being social could help your science

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By Fred Masika, visiting scientist at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Fred Masika at UC Davis, US during the 13th Solanaceae Conference was held on September 12— 16, 2016

Fred Masika at UC Davis, US during the 13th Solanaceae Conference September 12— 16, 2016

The modernization of agriculture in Africa has led to the focus on cultivation of a very limited variety of food crops. Sadly, this means we are missing out on nutritional and health benefits found in traditional plants such as the African eggplant.

The African eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum) is not only a vegetable, but also has medicinal value. Skin ailments, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes and blood cholesterol are some of the health disorders that this plant is known to alleviate. In Uganda, the local variety ‘Nakati’  is increasingly gaining importance as a source of income and nutrition for smallholder farmers, mostly women and youths. I want to contribute to research that will boost its production and enable it to play a role in limiting malnourishment and income insecurity in Africa.

The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship offered by the BecA-ILRI Hub provided me an opportunity to study this under-researched crop. Using high throughput genotyping technologies, I will generate information that will contribute to breeding initiatives to improve this crop.

With full support from the BecA-ILRI Hub, I also had the opportunity to attend the 13th Solanaceae Conference at University of California, Davis (UC-Davis) from 12–16 September, 2016. During the meeting themed from advances to applications, I made a one-minute pitch using a poster of my work ‘Generating genomic tools for efficient breeding of African eggplant’.

The career panel workshop chaired by Ann Powell from the UC Davis department of plant sciences afforded me the opportunity to learn from and interact with international professionals from the public sector and industry. I participated in discussions on cutting edge research in genomic tools, advances and applications for the Solanaceae species.

I am grateful for the research, capacity building opportunity and support I have received at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The training and mentorship has greatly increased my capacity in molecular biology, and bioinformatics. I am now also confident in communicating my research with scientific and non scientific audiences

About Fred Masika
Fred Bwayo Masika works with Uganda Christian University in The Department of Agricultural and Biological Sciences. He has a MSc. Botany (Genetics and Molecular biology) from Makerere University.  Realizing that there is narrowing food diversity and recognizing the potential role of traditional vegetables in combating nutrient deficiencies, Masika is passionate about research of underutilized nutritious vegetables such as those of the Solanaceae family. His work towards generating genomic tools in African eggplant will help boost production of African eggplant and related species.

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s Birindwa Ahadi is at the BecA-ILRI Hub on a quest for knowledge that could transform his country’s livestock industry.

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Small ruminant farming in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for more than 72 percent of household incomes. However, according FAO reports, this important source of meat, milk, skin and organic manure in DRC is under threat.

An estimated 1,000,000 goats and 600,000 sheep are at risk of contracting peste des petits ruminants (PPR) disease–also referred to as ‘goat plague’ resulting in annual losses of approximately USD 5.3 million.

From December 2015, Birindwa Ahadi, a lecturer at the Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC has been at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub seeking a solution to the challenge facing thousands of smallholder farmers in his country.

Through an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub, Ahadi has been carrying out an in-depth analysis of incidences of the PPR virus in goats and sheep. Ahadi hopes to identify PPR hotspots in DRC and identify PPR risk factors. These findings will contribute to appropriate control strategies and policies to be included in a national program for control and eradication of PPR and other related trans boundary diseases.

‘Being the first published report on the prevalence of PPR in eastern DRC, my research at the BecA-ILRI Hub will make a significant contribution to the Ministry of Agriculture in my country,’ says Ahadi.

Since its inception in 2010, the ABCF program has contributed to strengthening capacities of individual scientists and institutions in sub Saharan Africa and is looking forward to supporting DRC in managing the PPR disease that has a high negative impact on food and economic security for smallholder farmers.

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Written by Milcah Kigoni – Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship program alumni

Cattle at a livestock market in eastern Kenya. Over one million cattle die of East Coast fever each year resulting in annual losses exceeding $300 million (photo:  ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

Cattle at a livestock market in eastern Kenya. Over one million cattle die of East Coast fever each year resulting in annual losses exceeding $300 million (photo: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

As part of ongoing research to develop an effective vaccine for East Coast Fever (ECF), I conducted a study on the interactions between the parasites that cause disease and vectors that transmit them. East Coast Fever is a tick-borne disease that kills over 1 million cattle in East, Central and Southern Africa annually, devastating the livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers. I would like to develop a vaccine that can block transmission of this disease at the vector level.

My quest to apply computational methods to identify potential ECF vaccine candidates however requires a more in-depth understanding of parasite and vector biology, and interaction. A travel scholarship from the BecA-ILRI Hub enabled me attend the 2016, the NIH-Global Infectious Disease Training Program’s Workshop on Biology of Parasites and Disease Vectors. This presented an opportunity to progress my search for a solution to ECF which begun through a fellowship under the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program at the BecA-ILRI Hub (October 2014–March 2015).

The workshop took place at Gulu University in Uganda, one of the regional institutions whose capacity has been strengthened by the BecA-ILRI Hub. It was organized by Gulu University in partnership with Yale University and Biotechnology Research Institute-Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (BRI-KALRO). It was a good opportunity to share the outcome of my work, build my capacity and network with fellow researchers that share similar interests.

I gained different perspectives to approaching my research. For instance, I learned how  vector physiology, ecology, immunity, evolutionary biology and genetics studies are applied in development of effective disease control strategies. Through group discussions, I got new ideas for future ECF vaccine development studies.

Of course, at the end of the workshop, I gave a brief oral presentation about the BecA-ILRI Hub, and the opportunities available for African scientists to build their research capacity while solving major food insecurity causes such as livestock diseases on the continent.

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Read related story by Milcah Kigoni: Opportunities In Research And Beyond: The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship Program

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Roger Pelle, BecA-ILRI Hub principal scientist stresses a point during the Science Communication workshop

Roger Pelle, BecA-ILRI Hub principal scientist stresses a point during the Science Communication workshop

Communicating research findings to the general public is increasingly becoming a necessary part of being a scientist. However, the skills to do this are not intuitive to scientists, who have been trained in research methodologies, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate with other scientists. This hurdle is one that the team at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI) Hub sought to overcome as they underwent an intensive science communication course.

‘We have a lot of knowledge in the labs but we don’t get it out for people to appreciate and accept’ said Appoliniare Djikeng, the BecA-ILRI Hub director, at the start of the two-day workshop conducted by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter.

Djikeng acknowledged that ineffective outreach could be a contributing factor to researchers not attracting funding from national budgets. ‘We have not made the case for policy makers to appreciate that what we are doing is useful to them’, he said.

During the training that took place on June 28 and 29 at ILRI’s Nairobi campus, the BecA-ILRI Hub team was joined by researchers from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) working on the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project. While giving an overview of the VIRCA project, field implementing coordinator Hannington Obiero remarked that effective communication is key to the project’s success.

‘We are here to acquire the communication skills needed to complement VIRCA’s research and ensure that our findings are adopted by the end-user’ said Obiero.

Margaret Karembu, Director ISAAA AfriCenter, thanked the researchers for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the training, stating that it was a testament to their commitment to communicating effectively with all their audiences. She lauded their passion for seeking solutions to help African farmers and encouraged them to ensure that their work was well communicated and impacted the very people they work hard for.

The course familiarized participants with various strategies to engage policy makers, the media and the public at large. At the end of the training, participants had learnt how to identify their audiences and develop audience-specific messages.Roger Pelle, a Principal Scientist at the BecA-Hub appreciated the participatory approach to the training which included practical sessions on the use social media for science communication and mock media interviews.