Category Archives: People

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Anne Njoroge of CIP-SSA at a biotech potato confined trial site in Uganda (photo: NARO-KaZARDI/G. Baguma)

Anne Njoroge of CIP-SSA at a biotech potato confined trial site in Uganda (photo: NARO-KaZARDI/G. Baguma)

Anne Njoroge is a molecular pathologist working at the International Potato Center (CIP) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Through a one year Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship awarded by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, Njoroge has access to state-of-the-art research facilities that will accelerate her quest to defeat potato late blight disease.

Despite the pivotal role of women in agriculture in Africa, the contribution of women in research remains below the desired level. In recognition of International Women’s Day 2017, marked every year on March 8, CIP-SSA celebrates Anne Njoroge for her boldness in following her passion into a male dominated field.

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Read the full article: Bold for change: fighting potato late blight disease in Africa.

Read related article: Three women, three countries, one passion: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2017 at the BecA-ILRI Hub

 

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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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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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Democratic Republic of Congo’s Birindwa Ahadi is at the BecA-ILRI Hub on a quest for knowledge that could transform his country’s livestock industry.

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Small ruminant farming in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for more than 72 percent of household incomes. However, according FAO reports, this important source of meat, milk, skin and organic manure in DRC is under threat.

An estimated 1,000,000 goats and 600,000 sheep are at risk of contracting peste des petits ruminants (PPR) disease–also referred to as ‘goat plague’ resulting in annual losses of approximately USD 5.3 million.

From December 2015, Birindwa Ahadi, a lecturer at the Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC has been at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub seeking a solution to the challenge facing thousands of smallholder farmers in his country.

Through an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub, Ahadi has been carrying out an in-depth analysis of incidences of the PPR virus in goats and sheep. Ahadi hopes to identify PPR hotspots in DRC and identify PPR risk factors. These findings will contribute to appropriate control strategies and policies to be included in a national program for control and eradication of PPR and other related trans boundary diseases.

‘Being the first published report on the prevalence of PPR in eastern DRC, my research at the BecA-ILRI Hub will make a significant contribution to the Ministry of Agriculture in my country,’ says Ahadi.

Since its inception in 2010, the ABCF program has contributed to strengthening capacities of individual scientists and institutions in sub Saharan Africa and is looking forward to supporting DRC in managing the PPR disease that has a high negative impact on food and economic security for smallholder farmers.

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A partnership to defeat a devastating disease of cassava, in which the BecA-ILRI Hub is involved, recently received a $2.15 million boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Cassava virus evolution research partnership which brings together scientists from East Africa and US is examining how plant DNA viruses change over time with a view of tackling the Cassava mosaic disease (CMD).

Cassava is staple food for over 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Caused by Cassava mosaic virus (CMV), CMD is responsible for between 12 and 23 million tonnes crop yield losses in Africa. The project will be studying the evolution of the Cassava mosaic virus. The virus’ changes over time have enabled it to adapt to different environmental conditions and break plant resistance, confounding efforts to combat CMD.

Promoting north-south research collaboration

A key component of the partnership which was established with funding from the National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (NSF-PIRE), is the north-south research collaboration which is strengthening the capacities of African researchers and enabling early career US scientists to work alongside outstanding researchers at the BecA-ILRI Hub and Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (Tanzania). From August 2016, post-doctoral scientists Gabriela Chavez from Auburn University and William Sharpee from North Carolina State University have been based at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi.

‘Working in Africa has been a life-changing multicultural experience’ said Chavez, ‘I have learnt that there is on-going cutting-edge research and high-end technologies here’.

‘Our trip 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 was a good opportunity to see first hand, the devastating effects of this disease on cassava production’ said Sharpee.

The project is the most detailed study of any virus ever conducted and is expected to make groundbreaking discoveries on other viruses with significant economic and health impacts like the dengue virus.

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The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub will next week (13-14 June 2016) co-host a forum on enhancing agriculture and nutrition outcomes in Africa at this year’s Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) general assembly.

The 7th AASW and FARA general assembly is taking place in Kigali Rwanda, 13-16 June 2016.

Approximately one in four children under five are stunted and over 2 billion people are deficient in key vitamins and minerals worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger with one in four people being undernourished. Among the factors contributing to the global food and nutrition crisis is post-harvest losses caused by a range of issues including contamination by unsafe use of pesticides, veterinary drug residues, contaminated water and naturally occurring toxins in food. Tackling these challenges to nutrition and health through agriculture requires a concerted multi-sectoral approach.

Drought tolerant maize route out of poverty for community-based seed producer, Kenya

The  ‘Strengthening Systems to Optimize Agriculture and Nutrition Outcomes in Africa’ side event organized jointly by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the BecA-ILRI Hub and FARA in collaboration with the International Potato Centre (CIP), Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) and University of Rwanda’s College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine will showcase examples of good practices that are exploiting rigorous research in agriculture and health sciences; policy interventions; and public-private partnerships.

Presentations by representatives of African national agricultural research systems, regional and sub regional organizations, international research institutions, and the public and private sector will share lessons learned and explore promising avenues towards translating these initiatives into more universal impacts.

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

Read about the aflatoxin research project: Capacity and Action for Aflatoxin Reduction in Eastern Africa (CAAREA)

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

Follow the event on twitter: #AASW7

Related articles:

Public-private partnership for food and nutrition security: BecA-ILRI Hub–Cereal Millers Association collaboration features at continental agricultural forum

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

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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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund

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

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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.”