Tag Archives: food security

BecA-ILRI Hub partners with scientists in Ethiopia and Europe to help improve Tef production in Ethiopia

In a truly international collaboration, BecA-ILRI hub is partnering with a team of scientists from the John Innes Centre (JIC, UK), University of Bern (Unibe, Switzerland) and the Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR, Ethiopia) to use modern genomics tools to address some of the constraints to tef production.

The team, whose other members include Dr Kebebew Assefa, Dr Solomon Chaleyew, Dr Brande Wulff, Dr Kumar Guarav, Dr Dejene Girma and Dr Zerihun Zadele (Universität Bern), will be sequencing the entire genome of a representative collection of the 200 tef lines from Ethiopia. This will be the first time genome sequencing will be done at this scale in this primarily neglected crops.

In addition to this valuable genomic data, the team will extensively measure different aspects of tef’s growth in the field, allowing them to identify genes controlling different characteristics in tef including grain size and plant height.

Knowing these genes will enable Ethiopian researchers to mix-and-match different essential genes through breeding to develop tef varieties with bigger grain and studier stem.

“We are delighted to work alongside our partners at BecA-ILRI Hub, EIAR and Bern on this important crop. We hope that the use of genomic approaches and training will provide new tools for breeders to develop improved tef cultivars for farmers.”

Prof Cristobal Uauy, Project lead

Tef is an ancient crop grown in Ethiopia for more than 2000 years. It constitutes a large part of the diet of the 112 million people in Ethiopia as it is used to make Ethiopia’s main staple dish – injera, a flat fermented bread eaten daily in virtually every household.

Tef’s ability to grow under harsh environmental conditions and marginal soils makes it a fail-safe crop of choice by many subsistence farmers in Ethiopia.

Tef is also attracting a lot of attention beyond the border of Ethiopia. Over the last decade, tef popularity as a global “superfood” is growing in the western world mainly due to its high nutrient profile with high Fe, Ca, fibre, resistant starch and lysine content. Tef flour is gluten-free.

Although a vital food security crop and an increasingly popular crop, tef is particularly challenging to produce compared to many cereal crops. One big problem with tef production is the very tiny size of its seed small seed.

Tef seeds are (< 1 mm wide and 75 tef seeds weigh as much a single rice grain. The tiny seed size is, however, not the only problem tef farmers are grappling with. Tef plants also have very tiny, slender and weak stems which falls over (lodge) when the plants are ready for harvest causing massive seed losses.

The name tef is actually derived from the Amharic word for lost (“teffa”) bearing reference to the fact that the tiny seeds are lost during harvest.

The project is funded through a FLAIR collaboration grant award from the Royal Society UK to Prof Cristobal Uauy (JIC) and Dr Oluwaseyi Shorinola (BecA-ILRI Hub).

“This is a genuinely equitable north-south collaboration to improve a very important but largely neglected crop in Africa. Our collaboration will produce lasting and valuable genomics resource that Ethiopian researchers can use and re-use for a long time to improve any characteristic of interest in tef.”

Dr Oluwaseyi Shorinola, a co-lead on the project

Enhancing sorghum production for an improved economy in South Sudan

Richard Zozimo begins a journey to unlock the knowledge that could transform his country’s most important food crop

With approximately 330,000 square kilometers of land space, is estimated to be suitable for cultivation and 80% of its population living in rural farming communities, South Sudan has the potential to become Africa’s granary.

Sorghum, the fifth most important grain crop in the world, is the country’s most important food staple
and grows in all its agro-ecological zones. Not only does sorghum have the potential to make South
Sudan food secure, but also to make the country a key player in the US$80 billion a year global cereals industry.

South Sudan scientist Richard Zozimo at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Richard Zozimo conducting research at the BecA-ILRI Hub in 2014 (Photo: BecA-ILRI Hub\ Marvin Wasonga)

Richard Opi B. Zozimo, a research assistant at South Sudan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Cooperative and Rural Development has spent six months analyzing the diversity of sorghum landraces in the country. He believes increased investment in research will help his country benefit from this crop.

Zozimo says “Although it is such an important crop to South Sudan, the genetic information of sorghum is not well documented.”

The research which was funded by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub through its Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship program revealed that the local varieties of sorghum have genetic markers expressing varied unique genetic traits.

“There are varieties of sorghum in my country with traits that can be harnessed to increase productivity, such as early maturation and the ability to withstand flooding,” stated Zozimo, “my research will help unveil all this information for use in national breeding programs,” he added.

South Sudan’s government is committed to transforming the largely traditional subsistence approach to farming into a market oriented, environmentally sustainable profitable enterprise.  With support from programs like the ABCF, national scientists and their collaborators can access the tools necessary to advance agriculture and impact the country’s economy.

Vibrant innovation platforms equals relevant research – sustainable gains in research through community involvement

Often, adoption of new technologies or practices designed to improve people’s, lives does not take place due to various factors including lack of understanding by communities and the absence of support for the innovations from leadership. Félix Meutchieye, Cameroon national coordinator of the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project speaks about the strides being made by the project in involving communities and increasing the chances of adoption of research findings through innovation platforms.

Felix Portrait_Issue3Harnessing the diversity of native livestock in Africa is becoming a pressing need as continual changes in the environment exert pressure on small holder livestock farmers. The higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are contributing to the increased spread of existing vector-borne diseases and the emergence of  new diseases as well affecting the feed production.

Small ruminants play a significant role in livestock production systems throughout the wide range of agro-ecological regions in Africa. For many rural farmers, they are a critical resource of nutrition and income, and goats in particular are more resilient and adapted to different husbandry conditions. It is well documented that genetic variation in ability to various infections and diseases as well as to adapt to harsh environments with higher temperatures and less water, exists between and within different breeds of goats.This adaptation is especially evident in indigenous breeds, but gaps still exist in the knowledge available.

The “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project is focused on bridging this knowledge gap by helping farmers take advantage of the best genetic resources locally available. Our strategy involves working closely with the goat keepers, traders, policy makers and all other stakeholders so that there is collective ownership of the existing problems and in the approach to finding solutions. Through the innovation platform (IP) system, the project is drawing from the existing indigenous knowledge, receiving guidance in terms of farmers’ actual needs and preferences and establishing effective channels that act as vehicles for information on research findings and promotion of sustainable livestock keeping practices.

Already in Cameroon, one regional IP in Kouoptamo (West Highlands) has identified high fecundity as a desirable trait in their goats and are promoting their animals as high value breeding stock for proven twinning ability. Additionally, as a result of close engagement with the project through the
Cameroon National goat IP, the Ministry of Livestock, fisheries and animal industries has recognized the importance of goats and small ruminants as an important resource to grow the country’s rural economy and has started a program to revitalize three small ruminant breeding and multiplication
stations in different agro-ecological regions.

Our counterparts in Ethiopia have established a community based goat breeding initiative where a group of 50 farmers have formed a cooperative society to drive the breeding activities. The cooperative members brought their goats for selection to form the next generation of goat parents in their village and in the neighbouring villages as well.

I see this active participation by communities as a very exciting and practical way of doing research. Through community involvement, the project has been able to stay relevant and ensure that good science supports the things that are most relevant to Africa’s development.

‘Roadmap’ for fight against cassava viruses published

A global action plan to fight cassava viruses was published in the Food Security Journal early this month. The Bellagio Conference Roadmap, was developed at cassava expert meeting that took place in Bellagio, Italy, in May 2013 by an alliance of approximately forty researchers with varied backgrounds – from agronomy to social sciences

Convened by the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), the alliance of experts defined key areas of action needed to eradicate cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease – that are currently devastating one of the most important crops for developing countries.

“Cassava has proven to be a crop that can tolerate poor soils and adapt to extreme climatic conditions such as drought. It now feeds around 700 million people worldwide, in Africa, Latin America and Asia,” said Claude Fauquet, Director of GCP21.

The GCP21 is a partnership of various stakeholders in cassava production working toward a more concerted approach to cassava improvement globally. The partnership aims at tapping the crop’s potential for improving food security and contributing to development in the world’s poorest areas through increased production and consumption.

Next month, the BecA-ILRI Hub will be part of a meeting which seeks to establish the first steps needed to begin implementing the global action plan. The meeting has been convened on the Island of La Reunion from 10-13 June 2014 by GCP21 in collaboration with the Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and Research Institute for Development (IRD).

Experts from RTB, CORAF, ASARECA and AATF, as well as representatives from 13 African countries will be a part of this meeting.

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Read the original post on the RTB website.
Download the Bellagio Conference Road map here.
Read related article here.

Growing healthier sweetpotato – research to combat sweetpotato weevil

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Lydia Wamalwa is a molecular plant scientist with the International Potato Center (CIP) whose research in Kenya is hosted at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi. Lydia and her colleagues at CIP are working to develop sweetpotatoes that will fight off the sweetpotato weevil without using pesticides.

The sweetpotato is an important food crop in developing countries which account for 95% of the over 105 million metric tons produced each year globally. Its ability to grow in marginal conditions and with little labor and inputs, makes the sweetpotato a source of resilience in food and nutritional security to smallholder farmers. Not only is sweetpotato nutritious to humans (contains vitamin A, B, C and E) but it also provides inexpensive, high-protein fodder for animals.

Unfortunately production of this highly adaptable food crop faces a major threat from the sweetpotato weevil, which often causes losses of 60% – 100% during periods of drought. In this two and a half minute video, Lydia Wamalwa talks about the ongoing research to develop sweet potato resistance to sweetpotato weevil which is supported by the World Bank.

The International Potato Center is among the hosted members of the CGIAR consortium which contribute valued crop biosciences capacity to the BecA-ILRI Hub. Other members of the CGIAR consortium whose research is hosted at the BecA-ILRI Hub include International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

For more information on sweetpotato research, visit the CIP website page – Sweetpotato in sub-Saharan Africa.
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About the CGIAR
CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

Celebrating International Women’s Day at the BecA-ILRI Hub

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.

A partnership for the future – Gity Berhavan talks about the BecA-Sweden partnership

During the review of the BecA-Sweden partnership programmes at the BecA-ILRI Hub in November 2013, Gity Berhavan, Senior Research Advisor/First Secretary: Regional Research Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden in Kenya, expressed her thoughts on Sweden’s contribution to research for development in Africa and specifically about the partnership with the BecA-ILRI Hub.

Gity Behrevan

Gity Berhavan, Senior Research Advisor/First Secretary: Regional Research Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden in Kenya during an interview at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Tim Hall)

Sweden’s strategy for development cooperation with Africa, especially in the area of research, is to align itself with the African agenda. For example, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) agenda is to increase the productivity of the food and agricultural systems in Africa.

Partnering with the BecA-ILRI Hub (or BecA) is a strategic way of tapping into the wider African science agenda. The BecAILRI Hub is an African initiative that responds to this agenda by bringing together different national agricultural research institutions in collaborative research based on regional and national priorities, for the improvement of livestock and crop production.

By supporting BecA, the Swedish government is able to provide funding to increase the capacity of an array of African institutions to conduct high end agricultural research. A case in point BecA’s programme to increase the use of bioinformatics to mine genomics and metagenomics data for the development of disease diagnostics tools. Through this programme, the knowledge and capacity in bioinformatics which is already at Hub is being extended to other institutions in the region, ensuring the sustainability of research in that area. The African Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) is another exciting programme which is giving early career scientists in Africa access to training and skills that will enable them to design and lead bigger research projects on their own.

The highlight of the review, however, has been getting acquainted with the kind of research and capacity building alliances the BecA-ILRI Hub is building that are not limited to ‘south-south’, ‘north-south’ but also ‘south-south-north’ collaborations. These broad partnerships are what 21st Century research needs in order to find timely solutions to the challenges of global food insecurity.

Going forward, we would like to see the BecA-ILRI Hub engage more with policy makers and institutions responsible for the development of national Masters and PhD programmes curriculum development. A paradigm shift from training scholars for employment, to training scientists who will create jobs through innovative research will greatly accelerate development in the region.

We would also wish to see the constitution of the BecA advisory panel as laid out in the new BecA-ILRI Hub Business plan for 2013-2018. This panel will play a very critical role in providing dynamic strategic direction in the selection of projects and partners in the future.