Category Archives: Ethiopia

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Men leading research at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub pay tribute to women who influenced their career

A lot has been said about the under-representation of women in the field of science and technology; something has been said about women who have made significant contributions to science; but not enough has been said about the women who motivated men to become leaders in science.

Girls at research facility ILRI Ethiopia

Introducing girls to agricultural research in Ethiopia. (photo credit: ILRI\ Apollo Habtamu)

This is the introduction of a four-part blog series to mark the International Women’s Day and to celebrate the achievements of women in science worldwide.

Science leaders at the BecA-ILRI Hub pay tribute to the women who played a key role in shaping their career. Each man speaks from his heart about a woman whose expertise, ability to share knowledge and tendency to inspire the inner person, imparted principles which are guiding them as they reach out to and inspire the next generation of science leaders in Africa.

Part 1: Judith Anne Francis – Connecting people, multiplying potential

 

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“There is need for us, African scientists to design research to suit our own context so that we can get the real picture of what we have on our continent.”

This was the powerful message delivered by Getinet Mekuriaw, an Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund (ABCF) research fellow at the BecA-ILRI Hub, during the Sixth All African Conference on Animal Agriculture in Nairobi on 27 October 2014. Mekuriaw’s presentation titled “A review of genetic diversity of domestic goats identified by microsatellite loci from global perspective” was based on a paper authored together with five other scientists from the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and ILRI. The paper was an evaluation of the research that has been done so far in establishing the genetic diversity of domestic goats globally.

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund fellow, Getinet Mekuriaw at work at the BecA-ILRI Hub. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Marvin Wasonga)

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund fellow, Getinet Mekuriaw at work at the BecA-ILRI Hub. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Marvin Wasonga)

Genetic diversity holds the key to animal breeding and selection. Accurate information on the observable characteristics or traits of a species, their form and structural features and how this varies amongst different populations in a given region is crucial in the development of appropriate breeding strategies for the improvement and for the conservation of important breeds.

In Africa, the role of indigenous goats in smallholder livestock production is growing rapidly as keeping them is often the only practical way to use vast ranges of grasslands that cannot be used for crop production. There is evidence of local goat breeds being better able to withstand the increasingly harsh environmental conditions that come with climate change including higher temperatures, lower quality diets and greater disease challenge.

Unfortunately, not enough has been done to generate information about the genetic resources available and it is feared that many goat populations could disappear before they are even identified. Mekuriaw attributed the gaps in knowledge on goats globally, and in Africa specifically, to deficiencies in research methods. While it is indeed possible that there is low genetic variation between goat populations in Africa and beyond due to uncontrolled and random mating within flocks as well as huge population movement in between regions, inefficient technical and statistical data management have contributed to conclusions drawn from research so far.

Mekuriaw, a PhD student from the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, is currently attached to the BecA-led research project “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” under the ABCF fellowship program. Through this component of his PhD research which is supervised at the BecA-ILRI Hub by project Principal Investigator Dr Morris Agaba, Mekuriaw hopes to establish the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in Ethiopia. He also hopes to map out the genes responsible for growth and twinning and thus contribute to the establishment of a breeding strategy that will select goats for those traits. In addition, he is also developing a molecular tool, DNA profiling, which enables the determination of pedigree of the animals which will also be used in the establishment of the breeding strategy.

Mekuriaw’s research is helping the BecA-led project to achieve its overall goal which includes empowering goat breeders in Cameroon and Ethiopia to develop better goats suited to resource-poor farmers and to develop ICT based tools to support management decisions throughout the goat production chain.

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The most significant part of research is the point at which the output transforms the lives of those for whom it is intended. When Tilahun Seyoum, a small holder livestock farmer in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, learnt basic principles of goat breeding and health management from a group of researchers his approach to goat farming completely changed.

This Ethiopian goat displays its identity card proudly. (Photo credit:ILRI/Wondmeneh Esatu)

This Ethiopian goat displays its identity card proudly. (Photo credit:ILRI/Wondmeneh Esatu)

Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) initiated a community based goat breeding initiative/program in Seyoum’s village and are helping him and 49 other farmers to exploit existing genetic diversity in their herds to improve goat productivity. The program is a part of the Swedish funded ‘Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity’ project led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA-ILRI) Hub.  The project which spans Ethiopia and Cameroon is conducting genetic diversity studies in these countries, knowledge that is being used to empower breeders to develop better goats suited to their context.

Already, a tagging exercise has helped the farmers in the Luma Tatesa kebele in Meta Robi distinguish the difference between goats whose parentage is known and those of unknown pedigree. The tags also indicate that the performance of the future offspring of these goats can be predicted hence the increasing their value compared to untagged animals.

Through this project, farmers in participating in the research have also been provided with access to animal health workers and are learning how to observe differences in their performance caused by illness as they keep animal health records for breeding purposes.

Read the original article:
http://sustainable-livestock.ilri.org/2014/05/25/ear-tags-stir-fresh-interest-in-goats-in-ethiopian-village/

Read related stories: 
http://hub.africabiosciences.org/blog/improved-goat-productivity-in-ethiopia-qa-with-dr-tadelle-dessie/

http://hub.africabiosciences.org/blog/pose-and-click-hassle-free-goat-sampling-in-ethiopia/

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While the International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the enormous contribution made by women to the economic, political and social development of their country and communities, it is also important to reflect on the hurdles that prevent them from achieving their full potential.

The emphasis of this year’s theme, “Equality for women is progress for all” is that the capability of women to participate fully in society without discrimination and with the necessary support is essential to economic and social progress. Sadly, across the globe, much talent remains unexploited as girls turn away from science and technology (S&T) careers and as women in S&T become discouraged by discriminatory treatment. (UNESCO, 2007).

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics places the percentage of female researchers in Africa at only 34.5%. Patriarchy, stereotyping of female roles and reproductive roles are some of the barriers preventing women from fully participating in S&T. Still, many women continue to rise above the odds and make their mark in the science world and at the BecA-ILRI Hub, we recognize four such women whose pursuit of their dreams is backed by their passion to make food and nutritional security in Africa a reality.

Gerardine Mukeshimana explaining her project during the ILRI Biosciences day in Nairobi, 27 November 2013 (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Tim Hall)

Gerardine Mukeshimana explains her project during the ILRI Biosciences day in Nairobi, 27 November 2013 (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Tim Hall)

Gerardine Mukeshimana from Rwanda is a post-doctoral scientist in plant molecular biology currently working on a project to develop tools that will be used to control the spread of aphid-transmitted virus diseases in the common bean.

I never felt discriminated against or pigeon-holed by my family. I was fortunate to go to a science based high school in Rwanda. The government in Rwanda generally supports the study of science and technology, and there are programs to encourage high school girls to be leaders in whatever sphere they choose. I must admit that in college, there were very few girls in my class but I never felt discouraged or out of place.

The support I get from my husband has ensured that family responsibilities never come in the way of my career advancement and as a result I have had many achievements. I have worked in various capacities in the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda; I was recognized by the United States Agency for International Development’s Board for International Food & Agriculture Development (BIFAD) for my significant contributions to the breeding of the common bean for drought tolerance and disease resistance; and I received a Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP) fellowship for my contributions to breeding of the common bean.

I would say in pursuing my career, I have always had the full support of my family and country.

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Martina Kyalo assists a research fellow at the BecA-ILRI Hub, 2012. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Valerian Aloo)

Martina Kyalo (l) assists a research fellow at the BecA-ILRI Hub, 2012 (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Valerian Aloo)

Martina Kyalo from Kenya is a research Assistant at the BecA-ILRI Hub responsible for capacity building including training and technical support to visiting scientists and students. Martina is also pursuing her PhD in Molecular Virology.

I used to think science was a hard field but that I was up to the challenge. In my Masters’ class, I was the only female student to complete her degree course, which made me very proud of myself. Currently, I am in an environment where opportunities are open to both men and women on an equal basis which makes things very competitive and rewarding.

Being a mother has meant that l have had to lose out on many opportunities to better my career. These were mostly opportunities that would require me to be away from home for long periods of time and I wanted to raise my daughter first. However, my family is very supportive, my daughter is older and now understands the commitment involved in a science career, so I can go after some of those openings.

So far, I would say I am doing very well. I have been invited to regional science meetings and have been able to contribute to the progress of scientists from different institutions. I also received a four year PhD scholarship which is allowing me to make up for the lost opportunities!

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Helen Nigussie at work during her placement at the BecA-ILRI Hub, 2013. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Ethel Makila)

Helen Nigussie at work during her placement at the BecA-ILRI Hub, 2013 (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Ethel Makila)

Helen Nigussie is a PhD Student (Animal Breeding and Genetics), Haramaya University, Ethiopia. She was also the recipient of an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

Both men and women discouraged me at the beginning of my career since they considered science at the tertiary level to be a preserve for men. However, I was very determined and did not let anyone put me down. For me it has taken hard work and determination to pursue the career of my dreams.

My family commitments have never really stood in the way of my career, but it is not easy to be successful in science especially for women. We are responsible for both productive and reproductive activities. Family support and understanding is very important. I have enjoyed very strong support from my family and especially from my husband.

Being female has never hindered me from going after what I want. I believe I can achieve my dream for both education and personal life. I have a lovely family who are the backbone of my successes, and I will soon get my PhD in Animal breeding and genetics!

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Cécile Annie Ewané at work during her placement at the BecA-ILRI Hub in 2012. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/ Valerian Aloo)

Cécile Annie Ewané at work during her placement at the BecA-ILRI Hub in 2012 (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/ Valerian Aloo)

Cécile Annie Ewané is a senior lecturer at the University of Yaoundé I and an associate researcher at the African Research Centre on Bananas and Plantains (CARBAP) in Douala, Cameroon. She was also the recipient of an African Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

Although science is considered ‘a male domain’ by many societies, I have never experienced any discouragement from pursuing a career in scientific research. My specialization is agricultural research and I feel strongly that as woman, I must do something about food security. In Sub-Saharan African countries and in Cameroon in particular, women are very important players in agriculture.

Many years ago at an international seminar, I was the only woman delegate and no foreign delegates came to discuss and exchange ideas with me during the coffee break as they were doing with my male colleagues. I felt so alone and that day, I asked myself if I was really in the right place. I now know what to do in such cases – take the initiative and start the conversation! I have no problems at work even though most of colleagues are men. I think that with time, they got used to having a lady among them.

My family commitments have not reduced my capacity to meet my potential. Although it is sometimes difficult to balance career and family life, I have done my best, and received the full support of my family. Through my hard work, family support and the Grace of God, I would say that I am a fulfilled, family woman and an accomplished scientist.

I attained a PhD and have just been promoted to senior lecturer at the University of Yaoundé. I am the Associate Chief of the Laboratory of Phytoprotection and Valorization of Plant Resources of the Biotechnology Center (Nkolbisson) of Yaoundé, where I try every day to advance the quality and the level of research.

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Sarah Osama takes blood samples from a goat in Ethiopia

Sarah Osama takes blood samples from a goat in Ethiopia

Narrated by Sara Osama, Research Technician

Taking blood, tissue or hair samples for genetic analysis and at the same time doing physical measurements of livestock in the field can be a very hectic and time consuming activity.

This tedious but necessary sampling process has greatly been eased by the use of a sampling method (AdaptMap photo protocol and sampling kit) developed by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). When I visited the villages of Haro Wolkite and Luma Tatesain in Ethiopia on a mission to investigate the genetic basis of goats in that region, I had the opportunity to test the sampling kit which had a slight modification made to it at the Hub.

Photo shoot
By taking photographs of the goats at different angles, we were able to deduce the physical measurements of the goats without struggling to pin them down. The process involved making markings on the animal’s pin bones which could easily be viewed by the photographer. An identifying card was then attached to the animal on which information such as the animal’s unique identity number, sex, birth date, owner, breed, sampling date, district/location, country and the distance from the camera was recorded.

A photograph of the goat’s eye with a color guide placed next to it was taken to determine the anemic state for the animal. This “famacha” guide has five levels of red and an animal giving a low score of 5 (very pale red) indicates the animal could be suffering from anemia. A photograph of the teeth helped us estimate its age while various profile shots were taken to deduce the pin bone width; the chest girth; height and length; and the points of shoulder width. All the information acquired from the photo shoot was recorded onto the card attached to the animal.
Finally, blood samples are drawn immediately after taking photos of each animal. The blood samples were labeled using the identity numbers given to the animals while taking the pictures for physical measurements.

Take and give
The farmers in the two villages visited were very cooperative with the researchers and gave extra assistance in managing the blood samples on FTA cards (cards developed for the collection and storage of DNA from organic samples), as they dried under the shade of a tree before storage. The farmers expressed their satisfaction with the minimal handling of their animals and in return for their cooperation in the sampling process they received on-the-spot diagnosis and treatment for worms based on the eye exam. Since the team included production experts, the farmers also received advice on better production practices.

This sampling exercise was part of the field activities being carried out by the BecA-ILRI Hub led team researching the genetic diversity of goats for improved productivity in Ethiopia and Cameroon.