Coming to Africa: Q&A with Dr Ghimire

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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.