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Better bioscience, better lives in Africa: The Bioscience eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub

The International Livestock Research Institution (ILRI) fraternity held its Institute Planning Meeting (IPM) from 4-7 October 2016 at the headquarters in Nairobi. This was an opportunity for staff from all ILRI locations including east, west and southern Africa and south, east and southeast Asia to discuss strategies to provide better lives worldwide through livestock.

Among the presentations made by each program was an overview of the contribution by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI (BecA-ILRI) Hub to livestock, feed and forage research in Africa. 

Technology manager Josephine Birungi highlighted the world-class facilities available through the BecA-ILRI Hub to African and international scientists conducting research on African agricultural challenges.

‘The main driver of the BecA–ILRI Hub is the support and mentoring of African scientists in applying biosciences to their research on food security and agricultural development,’ said Birungi.

‘This is achieved by hosting the scientists to enable them conduct their own projects using the facilities and technology platforms available at the BecA-ILRI Hub,’ she added, referring to the BecA-ILRI Hub’s Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship program model of strengthening individual and institutional bioscience capacity.

 ‘The BecA-ILRI hub’s strategy is to grow science leadership among the national agricultural research system (NARS) researchers as well as foster regional connections that leverage human and institutional resources across countries for joint action,’ added Wellington Ekaya, the senior scientist who oversees the ABCF program.  

Representing the science leaders and alumni of the ABCF program, Getinet Mekuriaw from Ethiopia gave a presentation on research to harness the genetic diversity of goats in Africa for improved productivity. Mekuriaw contributed to the BecA-led project, which focused on strengthening the capacity of national breeding programs in Ethiopia and Cameroon, and is currently coordinating the establishment of a regional community of practice on goat genetics research.

Principal scientist Sita Ghimire’s presentation on the BecA-ILRI Hub led climate-smart Brachiaria program demonstrated how collaborative research with national partners has had impact on smallholder farmers’ livelihoods in Kenya and Rwanda by extending forage availability during dry months. 

‘While the program was implemented with 5000 farmers across Kenya and Rwanda, over 5000 more farmers in western Kenya alone have been reached through farmer to farmer material exchange,’ said Ghimire.

‘There is such great enthusiasm among the farmers−they have realized the potential for increased income through the sale of the grass cuttings or hay,’ he added. 

Tilly Eldridge from the John Innes Centre (JIC) highlighted the mutual benefit of partnerships between the BecA-ILRI Hub and advanced international institutions. 

‘The JIC recently won the prestigious Excellence with Impact award largely due to the capacity building activities at the center of the BecA-JIC alliance,’ said Eldridge whose placement at the BecA-ILRI Hub is part of alliance’s efforts to strengthen research through the mobility of scientists.

Presenting the BecA-ILRI Hub’s overall goal for the next three years, development partnerships specialist Helen Altshul elaborated the program’s plan to contribute to increased access to new technologies for smallholder farmers and adoption of new techniques to improve the safety and quality of their food products. This, she reiterated would be achieved by supporting the NARS to develop more efficient processes and systems that support technology delivery, influence bioscience policy, and disseminate technologies to the end users.

The highlight of the presentations from the BecA-ILRI Hub was the dramatization of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s contribution to the continental agricultural research agenda by the African Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellows. The skit shed light on the critical role in bridging high-end research with practical solutions for smallholder farmers by contributing to increased research capabilities of NARS researchers and institutions. 

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Read related article: An updated look at ILRI research programs - the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub

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