Tag Archives: agriculture

Strengthening the capacity of African women scientists


Over the years, the ABCF program has supported several researchers who have now grown into positions of influence within their institutions. This week we feature two scientists from the national research organizations and are doing great things for agricultural development.

Nina Wambiji, Kenya

As the assistant director of the fisheries program at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) headquarters based in Mombasa, Kenya, Nina Wambiji is the epitome of a scientist who has grown in leaps and bounds. 

As a young researcher, Wambiji was able to secure the African Women in Agricultural Research for Development (AWARD) fellowship and advanced science training placement at BecA-ILRI Hub with the support from the ABCF program. The opportunity gave her the chance to conduct her research on the application of next-generation sequencing approaches to assess the genetic diversity of Siganus (rabbit fish) species from Kenya.  Her interest to work on this species of fish also called tafi by the coastal people is because it has no scales or bones which makes it easy to prepare and eat. At the time of doing this research, there was no data on rabbit fish.

Dr. Wambiji (left) and Dr. Mukhebi, the Deputy Director of AWARD at a previous seminar held at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

She says, “If we are to identify the cause of dwindling populations beyond overfishing it is important that we also understand the fish physiology and genetics, their movements as well as the effects of climate change”.

From this work, she was able to successfully barcode different Siganus species caught along the Kenyan coast. In addition to acquiring molecular biology skills, Wambiji was also able to gain skills in research communication and public speaking which has greatly helped her in her line of work where she engages various stakeholders. In addition, she supervises undergraduate students taking up coastal and marine sciences subjects. She continues to apply the molecular techniques of extracting and processing of total RNA, cDNA synthesis, DNA, gene expression analysis, cloning procedures, sequence analysis through partnering with colleagues attached to molecular laboratories. 

Wambiji is responsible for contributing to the development of the research agenda of KMFRI Strategic plan by contributing to research knowledge, data and projections needed for strategic planning to make KMFRI undertake research as per her mandate and Strategic Plan. She also manages research programs by coordinating proposal developments for research work, planning research teams, coordinating research reporting and reviewing research performance. 

As a senior scientist, her research areas are on fisheries biology and ecology, stock assessment, fish genetics and impacts of fishing gears on marine mammals. She is also the Country Coordinator for the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, an organization that aims to promote the educational, scientific and technological development of marine sciences throughout the Western Indian Ocean.

Barberine Assongo, Cameroon

Barberine Silatsa Assongo grew up in a small village along the Cameroonian coastal region where her family farmed cacao and maize. Her love for farm animals made the dream of becoming a veterinarian. But as fate would have it, circumstances could not allow Assongo to enroll in the only school of veterinary medicine. Instead, she enrolled for a course in biochemistry at a local university in Cameroon. 

While doing her Ph.D. at the University of Dschang, West Cameroon, Assongo understood her need to gain access to a well-established laboratory where she could do her research. She came across the ABCF fellowship call during her search for scholarships and successfully put in her application.

At BecA-ILRI Hub, Assongo investigated ticks and tick-borne diseases among the cattle population in Cameroon. Within the context of global warming and conflicts that trigger livestock movements and disease dissemination across the region, her aim was to evaluate the current epidemiological status of ticks and tick-borne diseases of cattle in Cameroon with a goal of assembling baseline data and evaluating the risk of disease outbreaks.

She established that Rhipicephalus microplus (Asian blue tick), one of the most important ectoparasites and livestock disease vectors globally, is now present in Cameroon. This species is known to invade and displace endemic species of the same genus, can transmit a broad range of parasites as well as develop resistance against acaricides.  

Since its introduction in West Africa a decade ago, R. microplus has been reported in Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria with potentially far-reaching adverse impacts on the livestock sector in the region. Because of its strategic location in the central Africa region, Cameroon plays a pivotal role in livestock trade both within the region and between Central Africa and West Africa. The study has highlighted the future importance of the control of R. microplus in Africa and illustrates just how rapidly it is spreading.

Her research findings have already been published in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases.

Assongo is now back at the University of Dschang as an assistant lecturer as well as a researcher.  She continues to acknowledge BecA’s role in helping her grow and reiterates that she would like to be the ‘Tick Woman’ who is significantly involved within the community of African scientists that safeguard the livestock sector in Africa. She is also very vocal in her gratitude to BecA ILRI Hub and the opportunities she has been able to get along the way. 

“The program helped improve my communication skills, I won a prize for the best oral presentation at the International Congress on Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Buenos Aires in 2018. Thanks to BecA’s ABCF seminar series”.

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Labs to limelight – scientists take the stage to share vision for a food secure Africa

In an unconventional approach to science communications, a diverse group of scientists at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub take to the stage to illustrate their role in the march towards a food secure Africa.

Performed by the BecA-ILRI Hub staff, research fellows from African national programs and international collaborators, this 25 minute skit sheds light on how technology, partnerships and increased research capabilities of national agricultural researchers and institutions can bring about agricultural development in Africa.

The play dramatizes the role of the BecA-ILRI Hub and its national and international partners in bridging high-end research with practical solutions for smallholder farmers. Established as an African centre for excellence for agricultural biosciences, the BecA-ILRI Hub supports African national agricultural research institutes and universities enhance in harnessing bioscience technologies for sustainable agricultural development in Africa.

Bioscience hub cited among strategic investments for improved livelihoods in Africa by BMGF and DFID

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.

 

Celebrating the woman who inspired me (2) – Anna Nagadya, my inspiration to innovate

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!