Category Archives: East Africa

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

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

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

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.

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________

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

 

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

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.

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

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.

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

A partnership catalyzed by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub to improve testing for aflatoxins in maize flour will feature at a side event during the 7th Africa Agriculture Science Week and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) general assembly, next week (from 13-14 June 2016).

The partnership brings together the Kenya Cereal Millers Association—which has over ten million customers, including the urban poor—and the Texas A&M AgriLife laboratory which is hosted at the BecA-ILRI Hub. It is enabling millers to accurately perform their own tests for aflatoxins in maize flour, reducing aflatoxin risk and improving food safety for an estimated 16 million Kenyans.

Members of the Kenya Cereal Millers Association visit the BecA-ILRI Hub facilities

Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic by-product of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts. Highly carcinogenic, aflatoxins are lethal in high doses, with chronic exposure potentially stunting infant development, blocking nutrient absorption and suppressing the immune system.

Preventing human exposure to aflatoxins involves removing crops with unacceptable aflatoxin contents from both foods and feeds.

Paloma Fernandes, the chief executive of the Kenya Cereal Millers Association, will give a presentation on industry-led approaches to controlling aflatoxin in the country’s food supply chain at the ‘Strengthening systems to optimize agriculture and nutrition outcomes in Africa’ side event.

Read event concept note: Strengthening Systems to Optimize Agriculture and Nutrition Outcomes in Africa

For more information on the Africa Agriculture Science Week visit: http://faraafrica.org/aasw7/

Follow the event on twitter: #AASW7

Read related articles:

A vision for safe, affordable and adequate food

Providing safe maize for Africa: Aflatoxin Proficiency Testing and Control in Africa project at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Regional Aflatoxin control organization recognizes role of the BecA-ILRI Hub in fighting aflatoxins

 

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

By Paloma Fernandes, CEO of the Kenya Cereal Millers Association

PalomaHaving a milling capacity of 1.6 million tonnes of maize per year and constituting 85 percent of the commercial flour on the shelves sold to about 10 million consumers annually, the Cereal Millers Association (CMA) bears the heavy responsibility of providing safe, affordable and adequate food for their consumers. This responsibility is at the heart of our vision as an association which comprises 27 of the largest millers in the country.

Our four-year relationship with the BecA-ILRI Hub’s aflatoxin research project was borne out of our quest to bridge the existing gap in best practices for diagnosis of aflatoxins at the millers’ level. In efforts to find a solution, we participated in various national forums on the control of aflatoxins in the food value chain in Kenya and eventually made the connection with the project.

Through our collaboration with the BecA-ILRI Hub, CMA staff members have received training on the proper use of aflatoxin diagnostics equipment to get the most accurate results.Visits by the BecA-ILRI Hub scientists, research technicians and project collaborators to three CMA mills has helped us ascertain the levels of testing, training needs and ways in which we can improve our storage, transport and testing facilities.

In order for us to take adequate measures in providing safe food for Kenyans, we have extended
our collaboration to exploratory research on the types of aflatoxins we are dealing with at our mills and will provide samples of both wheat and maize to the BecA-ILRI Hub for analysis.

Through this partnership, we have also identified a consultant from Texas A&M University, USA, to
develop and test the feasibility of maize sampling and aflatoxin testing protocols for use in Kenyan maize mills – an initiative in which many of our mills are involved.

The dream of CMA is to have a fully-fledged laboratory for testing of aflatoxins and we believe with the support of research institutions like the BecA-ILRI Hub, this dream is not very distant. Ultimately we hope that we can achieve our goal to provide safe, affordable and adequate food for all our consumers.

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

downloadThe United Nations Institute for Statistics’ reports show that only 28 per cent of the world’s researchers are women. It also reveals that many of the women who enroll for science careers in university end up choosing not to advance their science careers.

The scenario at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub in Kenya is however quite different. With 50 percent female staff, the African centre for excellence in agricultural biosciences has proven that women do have a significant contribution to make to research for development in Africa and beyond.

As we celebrate the International Women’s day 2016, the BecA-ILRI Hub pays special tribute to all the women who are part of a dedicated team of scientists; technical staff; and administrators playing a vital role in empowering African scientists to use biosciences in transforming African agriculture.

In this article, you will meet two out of 22 remarkable women who represent the skill, passion and determination of women in science at the BecA-ILRI Hub and of many more across the globe.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Agnes Mburu
Technical management assistant

A trained electronics engineering technologist, Agnes is driven to ensure the efficient management and use of the electronic equipment at the shared research platform.

IMG_8478“I got the greatest encouragement in choosing a career in Electronics Engineering from my high school physics teacher. He had only two girls in his class—the other 38 opted to take geography instead.

I have a passion for all things ‘electricity’ and what I love most about my job is that I am always learning new things. But more important to me is the fact that as I learn, I am able to support researchers in the proper use of equipment to ensure their success.

Although mine is a male dominated field, this has never stopped me from being the best that I can be. Being open to new ideas and new ways of doing things has helped me overcome the negative attitudes I faced when I chose my career.

The greatest challenge I have faced is getting the resources to finance my learning and career growth. It was a tough choice to make—progressing my career while at the same time, providing for my family. What kept me strong is the understanding that whatever we do in life never goes unnoticed.

I plan to start a group to support the young people in my village who did not get an opportunity to go to high school. There are many opportunities for hands-on training at the polytechnics in Kenya which they can benefit from. Maybe given an opportunity, more women from my village will join my profession.”

Everline Atieno
Acting Central Core Unit Coordinator

Trained in laboratory technology and biotechnology, Everline manages a team providing essential services to all laboratory users at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

IMG_8448“I developed an interest in science at a very early age and therefore I had a bias towards science subjects in high school.

The most exciting thing about working at the BecA-ILRI Hub is that I am adding value to research done by national, regional and international scientists. I get to meet top notch scientists, students, research associates, and suppliers from all over the world. I belong to a big community that is making a difference in Africa!

I have never really been made to feel out of place in my career choice. On the contrary, I have been made to feel important for having developed an interest in science as a woman. The greatest challenge I have experienced though, was the struggle to have my skills and contribution recognized before I got a college degree. Some people have the wrong perception that anyone without a college degree is a failure–that is not true, I think my work spoke for me long before I got my degree!

There is need to encourage people to grow no matter what their background is. Some people simply lack opportunities or an enabling environment to help them excel. More people should stand out as role models and motivate those in the lower cadres who have the potential and are willing to grow in their career.

My greatest drive has been my ambition to progress and the encouragement I have received from other women who have made it in the world of science like the BecA-ILRI Hub technology manager, Josephine Birungi. I have also benefited from the support and flexibility of my supervisors and the encouragement from my peers.”

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail
Farmer harvesting Brachiaria grasses in Kenya

Albernus Mulwa harvests Brachiaria grass at his farm in Machakos County, eastern Kenya
(photo: Nation Media Group\ Sarah Ooko).

The meat and milk production of a cow is only as good as the feed it gets. Through a project led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, dairy farmers in the semi-arid regions of Kenya are discovering that Brachiaria, the grass which transformed the livestock industries of Brazil and Australia, can turnaround their low production levels.

Brachiaria grasses are highly nutritious, possessing about 12 per cent protein at harvest which can be sustained over a long period as compared to the commonly used Napier grass whose protein concentration starts diminishing after about four months. The leaves, which form a greater proportion of the plant, are also more palatable and easily digestible. Since Brachiaria grasses thrive all year round, farmers are able to enjoy a constant supply of animal fodder. After a bumper harvest, Brachiaria can easily be dried in the sun and conserved as hay for sale or future use.

Brachiaria grass is not only good for livestock, but has proven useful in the alleviation of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and ground water pollution. The high amounts of biomass produced by the grass sequester carbon and enhance nitrogen use efficiency through biological nitrification inhibition (BNI).

Through the Swedish funded research project, scientists from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Rwanda Agriculture Board, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Grasslanz Technology Limited and AgResearch (New Zealand), are developing varieties of Brachiaria grasses that are well suited to different local environments across eastern Africa. The project aims at promoting the mass cultivation of the grass in Kenya and other African countries so that the continent can eventually also reap the benefits of her native grass.

_______________________________________________________________________________

For information on the Brachiaria grass planting materials and the field trials being coordinated by KALRO Katumani research center, call Tel: 0722206986

For more information on the research project, contact program leader Sita Ghimire — s.ghimire@cgiar.org

Read original story by Sarah Ooko: Wonder grass back in Africa, opens new horizon for Kenya’s livestock sector
Read related story: Change of diet opens cash taps for milk producers
Visit the project page: Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

 

FacebookGoogle+TwitterLinkedInEmail

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