Benson Onyango: Evaluating contribution of Rhizobium bacteria, which are associated with Bambara goundnuts, to soil fertility
Benson Onyango is a lecturer of Plant Sciences at the Chuka University in Kenya; Co-Principal Investigator, “Bambara groundnuts -sorghum cropping and soil fertility management strategies for improved productivity in semi-arid regions of East Africa” and recipient of the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF)
Benson was awarded a fellowship for a period of six months from 31 April – 30 October 2013, to carry out the genetic characterization of rhizobium, the bacteria responsible for nitrogen fixation in Soybean and Bambara groundnuts.
Bambara groundnut is an important legume crop with a huge potential of providing protein rich diets and improving the food security situation in sub-Saharan Africa. The crop can tolerate the marginal growing conditions of semi-arid parts of Africa while raising soil fertility through nitrogen fixation that can result in substantial increase in crop productivity. However, the crop is currently underutilized in East African agriculture with most farmers concentrating on maize and common beans. Local landraces of the groundnuts are mostly cultivated by women and insignificant efforts have been made to improve them.
This project aimed at evaluating the diversity of rhizobium bacteria which associate with Bambara groundnuts in the soils of Lake Victoria basin; determining the extent to which local Bambara groundnut landraces deliver nitrogen to the soil; and the effect of increased soil nitrogen on the yield of crops grown under intercrop. The findings of this research will provide an opportunity to raise Bambara groundnuts and intercropped cereal crops productivity, expanding the production base in East Africa to enhance food security and reduce poverty among semi-arid resource poor farmers.
About his achievements, Benson says:
"During my placement at the BecA-ILRI Hub, I wrote a joint proposal with researchers from Southern Cross University, Australia; Crops for the Future Research Centre, Malaysia; Washington State University, USA; and Agricultural Research Institute-Ilonga, Tanzania on Bambara groundnuts-sorghum cropping and soil fertility management strategies for improved productivity in semi-arid regions. We used advice given to us by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the proposal and submitted it to a different funding body where it is currently under review. I also got involved in a collaborative project with Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) which will teach farmers in western Kenya how to inoculate Bambara groundnuts with rhizobium bacteria to increase production. The rhizobium samples to be used are those that I characterized at the BecA-ILRI Hub.
I sincerely thank the BecA-ILRI Hub team for developing me as a scientist. I learnt invaluable skills in molecular biology and bioinformatics which I will continue to apply as I develop in my career. I gained massive information during bench-work, the weekly progress meetings and from internal seminars organized at the BecA-ILRI Hub."