Category Archives: Capacity Building

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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.

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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.

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Jacqueline Kasiiti Lichoti from the Kenyan Ministry of Livestock (a key member of the BecA-led African swine fever research team) explains biosecurity measures to pig farmer in Busia, Kenya (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Larelle McMillan)

Jacqueline Kasiiti Lichoti from the Kenyan Ministry of Livestock, a key member of the BecA-led African swine fever research project, explains bio-security measures to pig farmer in Busia, Kenya (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Larelle McMillan)

Extreme poverty can be ended by putting science at the centre of international development. These are the thoughts of Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and Nick Hurd, international development minister for Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID).

In an article written for the Guardian’s Global Development blog on 16 March 2016, Hellman and Hurd articulate how joint investments by BMGF and DFID are already contributing to improving lives globally.

The article cites support to the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub) which provides access to cutting-edge facilities by crop and livestock scientists from over 18 African countries. This support has also facilitated the creation of triangular alliances between the BecA-ILRI Hub, African national agricultural research systems and advanced international research institutions, bringing to bear the most advanced knowledge and technology to smallholder farmers’ fields in Africa.

Hellman and Hurd also highlight joint support to a partnership for livestock veterinary medicines, the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), in which ILRI is a major partner. Through GALVmed, ILRI is helping livestock-keeping communities in Africa to access a vaccine against East Coast fever, the lethal cattle disease endemic in 11 countries of eastern, central and southern Africa.

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Read the whole article by Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Nick Hurd, the international development minister for Britain’s Department for International Development in the Guardian’s Global Development blogTo end poverty, put science at the heart of development, 16 Mar 2016.

Read a related article on the ILRI website: ILRI biosciences hub and vaccine development named global public goods by heads of BMGF and DFID

Get more about ILRI’s livestock vaccine platform on the ILVAC blog site.

 
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When she chose to spend her sabbatical in 2014 conducting research at the BecA-ILRI Hub, Jacinta Akol from the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda had no idea that this research would win her international awards.

Jacinta Akol receives the ‘Pat Coursey’ award from Keith Tomlins, president of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC). Looking on is Claude Fauqet, co-founder of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century (GCP2) (photo: WCRTC)

Jacinta Akol receives the ‘Pat Coursey’ award from Keith Tomlins, president of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC). Looking on is Claude Fauqet, co-founder of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century (GCP2) (photo: WCRTC)

During the First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops (RTCs) meeting that took place in China from 18–22 January 2016, Akol was awarded the Pat Coursey prize in recognition of her contribution to research on yams in Uganda.

The research done on this under-studied, underutilized food crop by Akol through an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship. Akol reiterated the impact of the fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub in defining her scientific goals and giving her career more focus.

‘While at the Hub, I was able to sharpen my skills in networking, adoption of modern scientific techniques and most importantly effective communication,’ said Akol. ‘This has really boosted my confidence and profile as a scientist’ she added.

Akol stated that the BecA-ILRI Hub is an extremely significant investment in raising agricultural research in the region.

‘At the BecA-ILRI Hub, science leaders who will improve the face of agriculture in Africa are being created,’ she said. ‘It is important that African governments support such organizations which exist to support our national agricultural research systems,’ she added.

Root and tuber crops, including yams, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cocoyams and other root crops are important to agriculture and food security of more than 100 countries. In Uganda, yam is increasingly gaining importance as a source of income for smaller holder farmers.

The RTCs congress aims at raising awareness of the importance of the RTCs in the world. It reviews scientific progress; identifies new opportunities; and sets priorities to tackle challenges including finding the resources to support research and development in areas where it is currently inadequate or lacking.

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About the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund

The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF), managed by the BecA-ILRI Hub, provides fellowships to scientists and graduate students from African national agricultural research systems to undertake biosciences research-for-development projects at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The ABCF fellowship program develops capacity for agricultural biosciences research in Africa; supports research projects that ultimately contribute towards increasing food and nutritional security or food safety in Africa; and facilitates access to cutting-edge research facilities by African researchers.

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Written by Milcah Kigoni

During my placeMilcah Kigoniment at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub under the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship, I was selected to attend the European Food Security Authority (EFSA) second scientific conference from 14–16 October 2015 in Milan, Italy, through the Young Researcher Initiative.

Being at the BecA-ILRI Hub gave me access to this opportunity as information about the conference came through the capacity building office and my supervisor was very supportive of my application. I was also supported through the financing of my visa application process.

The EFSA conference was an opportunity for me to learn more about food security and safety research and also to interact with scientists from all over the world. The trip to Milan was my first visit to Europe, which was a great experience and I made the most of it by networking professionally and socially.

Although I did not get a chance to present my poster, seeing my work listed in the EFSA Journal book of abstracts, was very uplifting! This goes to show that the research and capacity building being done at the BecA-ILRI Hub is top notch. I am grateful to the ABCF fellowship, because it has opened up many opportunities for me and built my capacity to great lengths.

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About Milcah Kigoni

Milcah Kigoni is an MSc student at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya. She was awarded a six month fellowship from 1 October 2014–30 March 2015 through the ABCF program. Having witnessed farmers from Machakos County in eastern Kenya lose their herds to  East Coast fever (ECF), Kigoni developed the desire to be part of the solution to this challenge. The acceptance of her proposal by the ABCF to use computational tools in identifying potential vaccine candidates for ECF presented an opportunity to build her capacity in bioinformatics while fulfilling her aspiration to contribute to tackling the disease. Although much remains to be done, Kigoni’s work at the BecA-ILRI Hub has provided a better understanding of the parasite and the tick vector, a good start to finding a lasting solution to the ECF problem.

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The BecA-ILRI Hub fraternity celebrates visiting researcher’s family milestone

On 24 June 2015, the BecA-ILRI Hub team and Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellows from across eastern and central Africa celebrated six-month old baby Rayan BecA Babiker.
Baby BecA who was born to ABCF fellow Rasha Adam from Sudan and her husband Babiker Mohammed is a testimony to the significance that the BecA-ILRI Hub places on supporting women in agricultural research.

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund Fellow Rasha Adam and her family pose with BecA-ILRI Hub communications officer Ethel Makila and capacity building officer Valerian Aloo, Nairobi, Kenya

Adam, a researcher at the Biotechnology and Biosafety Research Centre at the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Khartoum, Sudan joined the BecA-ILRI Hub on 30June 2014 for a year-long placement. Already expectant when she got her letter of acceptance to the highly competitive fellowship program, Adam was not willing to postpone her quest to improve the food security situation in Sudan despite being offered a postponement of the start date till after delivery. The BecA-ILRI Hub capacity building team worked with her to ensure her work-plan guaranteed her safety and comfort, and she commenced her placement in June 2014 as scheduled.

Rasha Adam and her husband Babiker Mohammed cut the cake to celebrate baby BecAAfrica Biosciences Challenge Fund fellows and BecA-ILRI Hub staff share out the cake to celebrate baby BecAAppolinaire Djikeng, director and Valerian Aloo, capacity building officer pose with Baby BecA and proud mother Rasha Adam, ABCF fellow from Sudan‘I am so grateful to all of you at the BecA-ILRI Hub for the support that you gave me throughout my pregnancy,’ said Adam, who gave her baby the name BecA as a reminder of the team that stood with her during a significant period in her career and family life.

In appreciating her co-ABCF fellows, Adam said ‘The ABCF fellows have become like family to me, watching over me throughout my pregnancy and showing me how to hold and care for the baby when she came.’

Appolinaire Djikeng, the director of the BecA-ILRI Hub lauded Rasha as a true example of the resilience of women in science.

‘It is inspiring to see Rasha balance her new status as a mother while conducting excellent science,’ said Djikeng. ‘Rasha is evidence of the heights that women can achieve when they are offered the right support,’ he added.

For the past one year, Rasha Adam has been working to optimize tissue culture and transformation protocols that will facilitate the enhancement of sweet sorghum for drought resistance. Sorghum is an important staple crop in Sudan due to its tolerance to high temperatures and drought. The sweet sorghum is increasingly significant in the country for its use as food, livestock feed and its potential for production of biofuels.

The research being conducted by this first time mother could result in the ground-breaking development of the very first protocol for the transformation of cereals.

For more pictures, visit the Flickr Album: Celebrating Baby BecA