Category Archives: Uganda

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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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By Fred Masika, visiting scientist at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Fred Masika at UC Davis, US during the 13th Solanaceae Conference was held on September 12— 16, 2016

Fred Masika at UC Davis, US during the 13th Solanaceae Conference September 12— 16, 2016

The modernization of agriculture in Africa has led to the focus on cultivation of a very limited variety of food crops. Sadly, this means we are missing out on nutritional and health benefits found in traditional plants such as the African eggplant.

The African eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum) is not only a vegetable, but also has medicinal value. Skin ailments, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes and blood cholesterol are some of the health disorders that this plant is known to alleviate. In Uganda, the local variety ‘Nakati’  is increasingly gaining importance as a source of income and nutrition for smallholder farmers, mostly women and youths. I want to contribute to research that will boost its production and enable it to play a role in limiting malnourishment and income insecurity in Africa.

The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship offered by the BecA-ILRI Hub provided me an opportunity to study this under-researched crop. Using high throughput genotyping technologies, I will generate information that will contribute to breeding initiatives to improve this crop.

With full support from the BecA-ILRI Hub, I also had the opportunity to attend the 13th Solanaceae Conference at University of California, Davis (UC-Davis) from 12–16 September, 2016. During the meeting themed from advances to applications, I made a one-minute pitch using a poster of my work ‘Generating genomic tools for efficient breeding of African eggplant’.

The career panel workshop chaired by Ann Powell from the UC Davis department of plant sciences afforded me the opportunity to learn from and interact with international professionals from the public sector and industry. I participated in discussions on cutting edge research in genomic tools, advances and applications for the Solanaceae species.

I am grateful for the research, capacity building opportunity and support I have received at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The training and mentorship has greatly increased my capacity in molecular biology, and bioinformatics. I am now also confident in communicating my research with scientific and non scientific audiences

About Fred Masika
Fred Bwayo Masika works with Uganda Christian University in The Department of Agricultural and Biological Sciences. He has a MSc. Botany (Genetics and Molecular biology) from Makerere University.  Realizing that there is narrowing food diversity and recognizing the potential role of traditional vegetables in combating nutrient deficiencies, Masika is passionate about research of underutilized nutritious vegetables such as those of the Solanaceae family. His work towards generating genomic tools in African eggplant will help boost production of African eggplant and related species.

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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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Dr Charles Masembe, Assistant Professor in the College of Natural Sciences at the Makerere University in Uganda

Dr Charles Masembe, Assistant Professor in the College of Natural Sciences at the Makerere University in Uganda

Dr Charles Masembe, an veterinerian, molecular epidemiologist and Associate Professor at the College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University in Uganda has been awarded a five-year Wellcome Trust Public Health and Tropical Medicine fellowship.

Building on discoveries he made while conducting research on genetic factors linked to the transfer of African swine fever (ASF) at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, Masembe has continued to lead key research efforts on understanding the devastating viral swine disease.  African swine fever periodically kills 90-100 per cent of herds affected, threatening the thriving pig production industry in Uganda. Masembe will use the Wellcome Trust award to investigate the distribution patterns, and full genome characteristics that influence the maintenance and transmission of African swine fever at the livestock-wildlife interface in Uganda.

Masembe’s research at the BecA-ILRI Hub in 2010 and 2011, Masembe, shed light on the existence of the Ndumu virus in domestic pigs, a phenomenon which had not been previously observed. The virus had previously been isolated only from culicine mosquitoes. The results of his research will contribute to the development of effective control strategies for this disease that threatens the development of Uganda’s pig industry, the the largest and most rapidly growing pig production in eastern Africa with a pig population of 3.2 million.

Read similar story by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)

Read more about Masembe’s research at the BecA-ILRI Hub: Viral metagenomics demonstrates that pigs are a potential reservoir for Ndumu virus

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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!

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Researchers from Kenya, Uganda and Australia chart the way to control African swine fever in East Africa

On 2-3 October 2013, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who have been studying the patterns, causes, and effects of African swine fever (ASF) in Kenya and Uganda, shared their findings at a project closing workshop.

During the workshop held jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases Operations (FAO-ECTAD) the team of researchers from Kenya, Uganda and Australia led by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute shared data from their two-year long study.

African swine fever, which currently has no treatment or vaccine, is a highly contagious disease in pigs that causes nearly 100% losses in pig herds. Although it does not cause infection in people, outbreaks of the disease cause devastating income losses to farmers, and pig/pork traders. The project, “Understanding ASF epidemiology as a basis for control”, was funded by the Australian government as part of a research partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s national science agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The discussions generated at the workshop are expected to mark the beginning of a concerted effort to improve pig farming and expand the pig industry in eastern Africa.

Presentations from the workshop can be viewed here:http://www.slideshare.net/ILRI/tag/asfoctworkshop