Category Archives: Rwanda

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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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“The hitherto overlooked Brachiaria grasses have returned home to Africa and have been warmly embraced by smallholder dairy farmers in eastern Africa.”

Presenting a paper co-authored by nine scientists from seven institutions including the BecA-ILRI Hub, Dr Brigitte Maas from International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) gave an overview of the research, successes and challenges of adopting improved Brachiaria hybrids Mulato and Mulato II in the African context during the 6th All Africa Conference of Animal Agriculture in Nairobi on 27 October 2014.

Brachiaria grasses have higher nutrient content than most commonly used forages. They are adapted to drought and low fertility acidic soils. These grasses are good for the environment as they enhance nitrogen use efficiency, sequester carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emission and ground water pollutions. These attributes make Brachiaria one of the most widely cultivated forages in South and Central America, and Australia where they have been shown to increase milk and meat yields in cattle.

Farmers participatory selection of brachiaria grasses

Farmers select their preferred variety of Brachiaria grasses at the KALRO-Katumani experimental plot in eastern Kenya. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Re-introducing Brachiaria grasses to their native home
Despite the fact that they are native to Africa and that they occur plentifully across many regions of sub Saharan Africa, these grasses are yet to be explored and fully utilized as forage on the continent. However, thanks to the implementation of a Swedish funded research program “Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa” which is led by BecA-ILRI Hub in partnership with CIAT; Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB); and Glasslanz, the anonymity of these “wonder grasses” is coming to an end. The heightened publicity of the importance of Brachiaria grasses and as a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change has resulted in substantial interest in these grasses among farmers, researchers and policy makers across the continent.

While improved varieties developed in Latin America are being tested in Africa, challenges from pests and diseases have been observed on these imported varieties. The grassed developed in South American conditions have already been observed to be vulnerable to spider mites; sorghum shoot fly, and a number of fungal diseases that are currently in the process of identification. This has necessitated a deeper investigation into locally available diverse genetic resource in Africa to identify the pest and disease resistant varieties.

Finding the best local varieties for the African context

Dr Sita Ghimire, lead scientist in the BecA-led project on Brachiaria, examines one of the varieties under testing at the KALRO-Katumani experimental field. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Dr Sita Ghimire, lead scientist in the BecA-led project on Brachiaria, examines one of the varieties under testing at the KALRO-Katumani experimental field. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Since Africa hosts a high genetic diversity of Brachiaria, the way forward would be the utilization of this untapped genetic resource to breed varieties that are suitable to the African context. The BecA-ILRI Hub-led project is exploring local ecotypes and gene bank accessions of African origin for drought tolerance, pests and disease resistance and biomass yields. This program consists of four main components – evaluating Brachiaria genotypes for drought tolerance and adaptation to marginal soils; evaluating varieties for biomass production, animal nutrition (including feeding experiments) and seed production; identification and use of phytobiomes for potential agricultural applications as bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and bio-yield enhancement agents; and the building the capacity of African scientists to conduct research on Brachiaria grasses.

This collaborative research effort is giving renewed hope to millions of smallholder livestock farmers across eastern Africa who operate smallholder crop-livestock mixed farms on less than 10 ha and are at pains to increase their production in a set up where natural grazing is limited or no longer available

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Read related story: Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses: livestock feed, household cash
View a poster on the project here:  Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

 

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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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A Swedish funded research program led by the BecA-ILRI Hub is improving the adaptation of Brachiaria grasses, an indigenous East African forage crop, to drought and creating forage seed production enterprises to benefit resource poor smallholder farmers in the region.

During the 22nd International Grasslands Congress held in Sydney, Australia from 15-19 September 2013, Sita Ghimire, a plant pathologist and senior scientist with the “Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improving livestock production in East Africa” program presented a poster about the possibilities that these highly nutritious grasses present.

By using the genetic diversity of Brachiaria grasses and endophytes found within the host (beneficial microorganisms growing within the plants) the research aims to enhance the drought resilience of the grasses; reduce the conversion of soil nitrogen to greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide; and possibly develop microbe based pesticides and fertilizers with wider applications.

See more about the project here: Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses research

View the poster here:  Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

Read about what drew Sita out of USA and into Africa to work on this project: Coming to Africa

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Dr. Sita Ghimire joined the BecA-ILRI Hub in June 2013 as senior scientist for the Swedish funded “Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improving livestock production in East Africa” program. Prior to joining the Hub, Sita was a research microbiologist at the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International in North Carolina, USA.

Find out more about his passion for his work and what drew him out of USA and into Africa in this article.

Q Dr Ghimire, in your online profile, you talk about growing up in a farming family in Nepal. Did your early family life have anything to do with your choice of career?

A When I was growing up, almost 95% of the population in Nepal depended on agriculture for their livelihoods. As a farming community, we all looked up to government employed agricultural officials to solve all our farming problems. They were very highly regarded in the community and it was every child’s dream to graduate from high school, be trained in an agriculture college and become an agricultural official. That was my ultimate dream too. However after joining the agriculture school, my eyes were opened up to so many other possibilities beyond being a local extension official.

Q Can you tell us a bit about your journey from extension official to crop research scientist?

A After my undergraduate studies, I worked in remote villages where people’s livelihoods were based on potatoes. My role there was to support a community based potato bacterial wilt management program funded by the User’s Perspective with Agricultural Research & Development Program, a sister organization of International Potato Center (CIP). The area had a severe bacteria wilt problem and the idea of the program was to alleviate potato losses through the implementation of an integrated disease management approach that included a three year crop rotation with non-Solanaceous crops. The plant pests and diseases problems faced by these farming communities persuaded me to specialize in plant pathology for my Masters’ degree, and later conduct research on potato late blight pathogen as part of my PhD studies.

Q How did you end up in the USA?

A During a period of civil unrest in Nepal (1996-2006), government funding on agricultural research and development was severely affected. Law and order in the country was also deteriorating and as a result many people from Nepal moved to other parts of the world. I moved to USA in 2003, taking up a Post-Doctoral position with the Mississippi State University.

Q Your stay in the US ended up being more than 10 years – what made you choose to come to Africa?

A My greatest desire at the time I responded to the job advertisement was to move from working in a commercial environment, to doing research that I was sure will have an impact for millions of small holder subsistence farmers of sub-Saharan Africa. I was sure I would get more satisfaction from the kind of impact I could have in such a position. Something else that touched me was the fact that Appolinaire, the Director of the BecA-ILRI Hub left his job as an assistant professor in a very prestigious institution in the US to come and work here. I thought – if he could, why couldn’t I?

Q What excites you most about this research program?

A There are so many things that make my work exciting! Over the past several decades, extensive research has been carried out on endophytes (beneficial microorganisms growing within the plants) of cool season grasses, the grasses mostly grown in temperate parts of the world. However, the endophytes of warm season grasses, grasses commonly found in the tropics including Brachiaria are very little researched. This program provides the unique opportunity of studying Brachiaria grasses and their associated microbes in their center of origin – East Africa.

In addition, through this program I see a big opportunity to take the ground-breaking research of Dr Segenet Kelemu (former BecA-ILRI Hub director) and her colleagues to the next level and make it benefit farmers – there is a possibility of developing microbe based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers with wider applications.

Lastly, since the BecA-ILRI Hub has such a broad mandate to work in eastern and central Africa and even beyond, I look forward to the prospects of developing the Hub into the leading endophyte research center in Africa. I am very hopeful about the future.