Category Archives: East Africa

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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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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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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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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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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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By William Sharpee, postdoctoral fellow, North Carolina State University

Gabriela Chavez and William Sharpee

Post-doctoral scientists Gabriela Chavez from Auburn University (left) and William Sharpee (2nd right) from North Carolina State University interact with cassava farmers in the western region of Kenya during a whitefly collecting exercise

Cassava is an important food crop for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, but unfortunately this crop is facing a decline in production across the continent due to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). I came to the BecA-ILRI Hub in August to work on a project funded by the National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (NSF-PIRE) to analyze the evolution of the viruses that cause this disease.

The purpose of this project is to understand how African cassava mosaic virus (ACMV) and East African cassava mosaic virus (EACMV), the causal agents of CMD, evolve during vegetative propagation of infected cassava plants versus being transmitted via whiteflies. It is our goal to understand how these viruses evolve in order to develop strategies that will hinder the development of more virulent strains and thus prevent future outbreaks of CMD.

When I first arrived in Kenya, I travelled to the shores of Lake Victoria in the western part of Kenya to collect whiteflies for the establishment of a colony at the BecA-ILRI Hub. This was a good opportunity to interact with local farmers and see the devastating effects that this disease has on cassava production in Kenya. Once the individual whiteflies were collected we set up a room dedicated to establishing a colony to be used in future experiments.

Because multiple species of whiteflies exist, my colleagues and I have focused our efforts on understanding the genetic make up of the colony to ensure that we have a single species for our experiments. Additionally, we established procedures for the propagation and growth of cassava in the greenhouse. We continue to lay the groundwork for pilot experiments that will act as the basis for our future work.

I am excited to be a part of this project and the BecA-ILRI Hub community. I am grateful for everyone’s support and input and look forward to great discoveries in the future.

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Read related stories:

International partnership on Cassava virus evolution launched in Africa

Auburn University Post-Doc Tracks Cassava Virus History In East Africa

The BecA-ILRI Hub strengthens partnership with North Carolina State University

 

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By Gabriela Chavez, postdoctoral fellow, Auburn University based at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Gabriela Chavez poses with a farmer in Kisumu, Kenya

Gabriela Chavez poses with a cassava farmer in Kisumu, Kenya

I joined the Cassava Virus Evolution Project to study the most economically important disease in cassava in Africa. Like me, the cassava is indigenous to South America, but is now widely cultivated and adopted in Africa where it became one of the major crops for human consumption.

Cassava is a fascinating crop that is able to grow under drought conditions, high temperature, and poor soil conditions. However, its production in Africa is severely limited by viral diseases. The begomoviruses that cause Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) have a long evolutionary history in Africa, including the recent pandemic that spread across Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s and 2000s.

At the BecA-ILRI Hub I am studying how the whitefly influences the evolution of Cassava mosaic begomovirus (CMBs). Together with colleagues, I am analyzing the genetic makeup of a colony of whiteflies collected from the western part of Kenya in Kisumu and Lake Victoria surroundings. This is a critical component of the project because whiteflies exhibit an extremely high rate of differences within the species.

Working in Africa has been a life-changing multicultural experience. I have learnt that Africa is not all about catastrophes or poor infrastructure highlighted in news, but that there is on-going cutting-edge research and high-end technologies. I have also enjoyed the contemporary Kenyan music in English, Swahili and various local languages with intricate melodies that borrow from different styles of music from around the globe. I am also impressed with Kenyans’ ambitions and their spirit of entrepreneurship.

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By Tim Herrman, Texas state chemist, Texas A&M AgriLife

Anne Muiruri - APTECA (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Alnoor Abdulla)

Anne Muiruri – APTECA program coordinator at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Alnoor Abdulla)

The Aflatoxin Proficiency Testing and Control in Africa (APTECA) program hosted by the mycotoxin diagnostics platform at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub is contributing to the availability of safe maize on the African market.

The program, managed by the Texas A&M University, USA, was initiated to support the commercial maize milling sector in Kenya through a public-private partnership. Cereal millers which participate in the voluntary program manage aflatoxin risk by improving their quality systems to accurately perform their own tests for aflatoxins in maize flour.

Proficiency testing program

Participation in the APTECA program improves testing accuracy through qualification of the mill’s laboratory analysts; use of working controls with a known level of aflatoxin; routine proficiency testing; and verification of mill results by the ISO accredited Texas A&M AgriLife laboratory housed at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

In 2015, 31 laboratory analysts from commercial mills across Kenya attended training and qualified to analyse maize flour using validated aflatoxin testing platforms. These qualified individuals analyse working control samples twice a week at their respective mills to ensure testing accuracy and results are evaluated using a statistical process control charting technique. Further verification of mills’ aflatoxin test results of finished product occurs at the Texas A&M AgriLife laboratory at the BecA-ILRI Hub and results are sent to the APTECA mills to assist in quality improvement and aflatoxin risk management.

Already, APTECA has hosted five proficiency testing exercises involving 30 industry and public sector laboratories. The companies involved in the project include Osho Grain Millers; Unga Holdings; Alpha Mills; Capwell Industries; Kabansora Millers; Kenblest Group; Maisha Flour Mills; Mombasa Maize Millers; Pembe Flour Mills; Premier Group; and United Millers all from Kenya.

Co-regulation

The APTECA research is part of an effort to explore co-regulation of aflatoxin as a regulatory risk-management policy alternative with the aim of improving food safety and facilitating trade in Africa. Co-regulation involves a government-private sector partnership in regulation that includes statutory or government-backed codes of practice combined with regulatory and industry oversight. A marketing study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Western Michigan University in collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife explored the impact on sales of marketing products branded with a logo on packages of maize meal stating ‘Aflatoxin Tested Process Verified by APTECA.’ This logo conforms to the East African Community labelling requirements and AgriLife has received trademark approval for it from the Kenya Intellectual Property Institute.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Kenya regulatory authority, accreditation of the AgriLife laboratory activities by the Kenya Accreditation Service, and training regulatory chemists from six countries and nine agencies has helped lay the groundwork for a regional public-private sector partnership to manage aflatoxin risk and facilitate trade among countries in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.