Category Archives: Kenya

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Every year on the International Women’s day observed on March 8, the BecA-ILRI Hub celebrates women who are contributing to shaping the agricultural research for development agenda in Africa. They may be involved in research, support research or have inspired researchers who are making a difference.

Blessing Adanta (left) and Lyna Mukwa at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

Blessing Adanta (left) and Lyna Mukwa at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

This year, we celebrate Blessing Adanta, Jane Githinji and Lyna Mukwa who were awarded the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship to conduct their research at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The ABCF fellowship is a competitive fellowship program that develops capacity for agricultural biosciences research in Africa, to support research for development projects that ultimately contribute towards increasing food and nutritional security and/or food safety in Africa.

Eleni Vikeli, PhD researcher at the John Innes Centre (UK) and Communications Assistant in BecA-ILRI Hub, interviewed the three women about the joys and challenges of being a scientist.

Blessing Adanta is a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria and a PhD student of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at Makerere University, Uganda  funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the Carnegie cooperation, USA. In 2014, she won the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and the 2014 fall Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Programme (LEAP) fellowships.

Jane Githinji is the Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya. In 2016, her research on chicken vaccines conducted through the ABCF program, lent weight to the development of policies to guide the production of vaccines for Infectious bursal disease in Kenya.

Lyna Mukwa is an Associate Professor at the University of Kwango in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She is also the director of the Plant Clinic of Kinshasa, a project jointly initiated by the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Kinshasa and the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), with the local support of the Agronomic and Veterinary Centre in Tropical Agriculture (CAVTK).

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

Blessing: The biggest challenge I have encountered so far, was when I left my hometown to pursue a PhD career, while I had my daughter with me. Try having long hours in the lab and teaching students with an active toddler waiting–I am very grateful for the support of my husband through all this!

Jane: My biggest challenge has been balancing between multiple roles–as a mother, a wife, a sibling, a manager, a friend, a scientist–in such a way that I remain effective in each one of them, and without losing my peace of mind!

Lyna: The hardest thing I had to do and am still trying to tackle is maintaining a balance between my professional and personal life. While trying to cope, I learned multiple ways to organise myself and organise everything!

Jane Githinji, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane Githinji, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and ABCF alumnus

What is your biggest reward from being a scientist?

Blessing:  I was privileged to have been given the opportunity as an AWARD fellow, to have mentors from different countries, senior scientists with great experience and qualifications. That enhanced my skills and filled me with confidence that I use in my own teaching sessions. On top of that, I feel lucky that my profession gave me the opportunity to travel and see the world beyond my country.

Jane: Just knowing that I am contributing to making the world a better and a happier place for someone is very fulfilling. I believe I am in this world for a good purpose–to make it a better and a happier world for someone.

Lyna: In my case, the biggest reward has been the interaction with students where I can share my knowledge and expertise. I am also proud of my published work which makes me a part of the scientific community and has allowed me to work in various institutions in three different countries.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

Blessing: That would be the award I received in 2015 from my home institution, University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria in recognition of my contribution to science. I felt honoured and that all my hard work and sacrifice had paid off!

Jane: I consider successfully completing my ABCF fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub despite the initial challenges and being able to apply my research to policy, my biggest accomplishment. It was a test of my faith, patience, and will power.

Lyna: My biggest accomplishment is getting my PhD last November and shortly after that, I was appointed Associate Professor. This was definitely a dream of mine for quite a while and I felt wonderful when I accomplished it!

The three women cherish their roles as science leaders in Africa deeply despite the challenges it brings to their daily lives. To all the girls that dream of becoming the next Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin or Ada Lovelace, they have proved that a woman can have a family as well as a career in science. They have overcome challenges, followed their passion and are making a difference in society.

Happy International Women’s Day 2017!

Eleni VikeliArticle written by Eleni Vikeli, PhD researcher at the John Innes Centre (JIC), UK. Vikeli is at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi, Kenya as a communications assistant under the BecA-JIC alliance which supports capacity building, resource mobilization and technology transfer activities.

Read more about the BecA-JIC alliance: John Innes Centre forms research and capacity building alliance with the BecA-ILRI Hub

 

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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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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 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.

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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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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.

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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

 

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K24 Journalist Violet Otindo highlights the changing fortunes of dairy farmers using Brachiaria grasses to feed their animals in Kenya.

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Preliminary data from dairy farmers participating in on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses in Kenya shows that the nutritious grasses contribute to increased milk production.

The on-going research program on Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses to Increase  Livestock Production in East Africa conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) ; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia; and Grasslanz Technology Limited, New Zealand has engaged smallholder farmers in cultivating the grasses as major livestock feed sources and as a source of household cash income through the seed production.

The Swedish funded program has been successful in, together with farmers, identifying best bet varieties for different agro-ecological regions and creating awareness among the farmers, researchers, extension agents, policy makers and politicians on the significance of Brachiaria grasses to support a growing dairy industry. Through the project, farmers have discovered that the Brachiaria grasses not only preferred by animals but  also grow better than most forage in marginal soils of semi-arid and sub-humid environments that are common in most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this four minute video, K24 journalist Violet Otindo talks to Albanus Nduva from Kanzalu village of Machakos County in eastern Kenya, one of the 1200 farmers in Kenya who have been involved in participatory on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses as pasture and recording the milk production data Otindo also gets insights from BecA-ILRI Hub scientist Sita Ghimire who leads the program and Donald Njarui from KALRO, Kenya as to why Brachiaria grasses are good for the environment.

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Read related stories:

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Elisabetta Ullu - Celebrated  by Appolinaire Djikeng, Director of the Biosciences eastern and central-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Elisabetta Ullu

Elisabetta Ullu, Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and of Cell Biology at the Yale School of Medicine (photo credit: Yale School of Public Health)

Last year I lost my postdoc mentor Dr Elisabetta Ullu to breast cancer. She endured it silently for close to 20 years. Only her husband and one of her close friends knew that she had cancer. She did so, I was told, because she wanted to succeed on her own merit and not because she was favored out of someone’s pity for her.

I worked with Elisabetta at Yale University for five years, and I consider them my best professional years. They were the best years of my career life because I was working with a true role model.

Elisabetta was smart and knew her stuff, a very critical attribute to have in an Ivy League school. She taught others without prejudice and with humility. She was always happy, knew how to cheer people up…and she was beautiful and a sharp dresser! One can hardly find such a combination in a single individual, but Elisabetta had it all.

When Elisabetta passed on last year, I was unable to make it to her memorial. A friend who knew my special bond with her, and who was at the memorial told me ‘Elisabetta was who she was to you, to hundreds other people’ — amazing! That statement made me cry, because I missed her even more, knowing what an asset she had been to so many people around the world. Elisabetta’s mentees are all leaders in different areas of research and development across the globe.

This year, as we celebrate International Women’s day, I want to pay special tribute to this great woman. Elisabetta has made immeasurable contributions to the world of science through her professional accomplishments and by being ‘who she was to hundreds of people.’

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Celebrated by Alexander Bombom, lead project scientist for the sorghum-maize hybrid project at the BecA-ILRI Hub

The woman who has had the most influence on my life and growing career is Ms Anna Nagadya. Growing up with my grandma Anna on the large acres of coffee and banana she farmed for a living automatically made me love agriculture and nature.

When my great grandfather, Anna’s father, opted not to educate his daughters in favor of his sons (as was the tradition then), Anna strove to achieve a basic education. Despite dropping out of school at primary 2 (grade 2), Anna taught herself to read and write.

Alexander bombom

Alexandar Bombom (then in high school) and his grandmother Anna Nagadya

When Anna had her own daughter, she went against the norms and ensured my mother, Elizabeth Nandawula Ovuga, now a trained nurse, had a good education. Her determination to educate a girl child against all odds inspires me.

Anna’s passion for education did not stop at my mother. She always said to her grandchildren and especially the girls;

“Kumulembe guno, omukyala yena asana asomeko muleme kubera nga ffe. Mwongere ku degree gyemufunye, mu fune emirimu mubeko ne sente zamwe”

meaning,

In the present times, unlike in our times, a woman too needs to have a good education. Don’t sit on your first degrees, but strive to study further, find jobs, have your own earnings and contribute to your homes”.

When chose agriculture as my bachelors degree, grandma Anna supported me in every way, sharing her traditional agricultural knowledge. In her last words to me before her passing, she said:

“Bombom, education is the basic gift you have received from your parents. Now use your innovation to put food on the tables of many, for many shall die of starvation if things continue as they are now ”.

With these words etched in my mind, how can I fight the desire to do something revolutionary that will save people’s lives? My dream now is to develop agricultural products that will be useful to the large population of smallholder farmers who are struggling to earn a decent living in Uganda and beyond!