Category Archives: Capacity Building

Saving the small ruminant farming sector in DRC: BecA-ILRI Hub supports ‘Peste des petits ruminants’ research

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Birindwa Ahadi is at the BecA-ILRI Hub on a quest for knowledge that could transform his country’s livestock industry.

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Small ruminant farming in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for more than 72 percent of household incomes. However, according FAO reports, this important source of meat, milk, skin and organic manure in DRC is under threat.

An estimated 1,000,000 goats and 600,000 sheep are at risk of contracting peste des petits ruminants (PPR) disease–also referred to as ‘goat plague’ resulting in annual losses of approximately USD 5.3 million.

From December 2015, Birindwa Ahadi, a lecturer at the Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC has been at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub seeking a solution to the challenge facing thousands of smallholder farmers in his country.

Through an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub, Ahadi has been carrying out an in-depth analysis of incidences of the PPR virus in goats and sheep. Ahadi hopes to identify PPR hotspots in DRC and identify PPR risk factors. These findings will contribute to appropriate control strategies and policies to be included in a national program for control and eradication of PPR and other related trans boundary diseases.

‘Being the first published report on the prevalence of PPR in eastern DRC, my research at the BecA-ILRI Hub will make a significant contribution to the Ministry of Agriculture in my country,’ says Ahadi.

Since its inception in 2010, the ABCF program has contributed to strengthening capacities of individual scientists and institutions in sub Saharan Africa and is looking forward to supporting DRC in managing the PPR disease that has a high negative impact on food and economic security for smallholder farmers.

Leveraging institutional networks to advance the search for East coast fever disease vaccine

Written by Milcah Kigoni – Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship program alumni

Cattle at a livestock market in eastern Kenya. Over one million cattle die of East Coast fever each year resulting in annual losses exceeding $300 million (photo:  ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

Cattle at a livestock market in eastern Kenya. Over one million cattle die of East Coast fever each year resulting in annual losses exceeding $300 million (photo: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

As part of ongoing research to develop an effective vaccine for East Coast Fever (ECF), I conducted a study on the interactions between the parasites that cause disease and vectors that transmit them. East Coast Fever is a tick-borne disease that kills over 1 million cattle in East, Central and Southern Africa annually, devastating the livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers. I would like to develop a vaccine that can block transmission of this disease at the vector level.

My quest to apply computational methods to identify potential ECF vaccine candidates however requires a more in-depth understanding of parasite and vector biology, and interaction. A travel scholarship from the BecA-ILRI Hub enabled me attend the 2016, the NIH-Global Infectious Disease Training Program’s Workshop on Biology of Parasites and Disease Vectors. This presented an opportunity to progress my search for a solution to ECF which begun through a fellowship under the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program at the BecA-ILRI Hub (October 2014–March 2015).

The workshop took place at Gulu University in Uganda, one of the regional institutions whose capacity has been strengthened by the BecA-ILRI Hub. It was organized by Gulu University in partnership with Yale University and Biotechnology Research Institute-Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (BRI-KALRO). It was a good opportunity to share the outcome of my work, build my capacity and network with fellow researchers that share similar interests.

I gained different perspectives to approaching my research. For instance, I learned how  vector physiology, ecology, immunity, evolutionary biology and genetics studies are applied in development of effective disease control strategies. Through group discussions, I got new ideas for future ECF vaccine development studies.

Of course, at the end of the workshop, I gave a brief oral presentation about the BecA-ILRI Hub, and the opportunities available for African scientists to build their research capacity while solving major food insecurity causes such as livestock diseases on the continent.

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Read related story by Milcah Kigoni: Opportunities In Research And Beyond: The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship Program

‘Tell the world about your research’ scientists at BecA-ILRI Hub urged

Roger Pelle, BecA-ILRI Hub principal scientist stresses a point during the Science Communication workshop

Roger Pelle, BecA-ILRI Hub principal scientist stresses a point during the Science Communication workshop

Communicating research findings to the general public is increasingly becoming a necessary part of being a scientist. However, the skills to do this are not intuitive to scientists, who have been trained in research methodologies, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate with other scientists. This hurdle is one that the team at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI) Hub sought to overcome as they underwent an intensive science communication course.

‘We have a lot of knowledge in the labs but we don’t get it out for people to appreciate and accept’ said Appoliniare Djikeng, the BecA-ILRI Hub director, at the start of the two-day workshop conducted by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter.

Djikeng acknowledged that ineffective outreach could be a contributing factor to researchers not attracting funding from national budgets. ‘We have not made the case for policy makers to appreciate that what we are doing is useful to them’, he said.

During the training that took place on June 28 and 29 at ILRI’s Nairobi campus, the BecA-ILRI Hub team was joined by researchers from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) working on the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project. While giving an overview of the VIRCA project, field implementing coordinator Hannington Obiero remarked that effective communication is key to the project’s success.

‘We are here to acquire the communication skills needed to complement VIRCA’s research and ensure that our findings are adopted by the end-user’ said Obiero.

Margaret Karembu, Director ISAAA AfriCenter, thanked the researchers for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the training, stating that it was a testament to their commitment to communicating effectively with all their audiences. She lauded their passion for seeking solutions to help African farmers and encouraged them to ensure that their work was well communicated and impacted the very people they work hard for.

The course familiarized participants with various strategies to engage policy makers, the media and the public at large. At the end of the training, participants had learnt how to identify their audiences and develop audience-specific messages.Roger Pelle, a Principal Scientist at the BecA-Hub appreciated the participatory approach to the training which included practical sessions on the use social media for science communication and mock media interviews.

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.

 

Ugandan scientist awarded for research on ‘orphan crop’ yam

When she chose to spend her sabbatical in 2014 conducting research at the BecA-ILRI Hub, Jacinta Akol from the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda had no idea that this research would win her international awards.

Jacinta Akol receives the ‘Pat Coursey’ award from Keith Tomlins, president of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC). Looking on is Claude Fauqet, co-founder of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century (GCP2) (photo: WCRTC)

Jacinta Akol receives the ‘Pat Coursey’ award from Keith Tomlins, president of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC). Looking on is Claude Fauqet, co-founder of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century (GCP2) (photo: WCRTC)

During the First World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops (RTCs) meeting that took place in China from 18–22 January 2016, Akol was awarded the Pat Coursey prize in recognition of her contribution to research on yams in Uganda.

The research done on this under-studied, underutilized food crop by Akol through an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship. Akol reiterated the impact of the fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub in defining her scientific goals and giving her career more focus.

‘While at the Hub, I was able to sharpen my skills in networking, adoption of modern scientific techniques and most importantly effective communication,’ said Akol. ‘This has really boosted my confidence and profile as a scientist’ she added.

Akol stated that the BecA-ILRI Hub is an extremely significant investment in raising agricultural research in the region.

‘At the BecA-ILRI Hub, science leaders who will improve the face of agriculture in Africa are being created,’ she said. ‘It is important that African governments support such organizations which exist to support our national agricultural research systems,’ she added.

Root and tuber crops, including yams, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cocoyams and other root crops are important to agriculture and food security of more than 100 countries. In Uganda, yam is increasingly gaining importance as a source of income for smaller holder farmers.

The RTCs congress aims at raising awareness of the importance of the RTCs in the world. It reviews scientific progress; identifies new opportunities; and sets priorities to tackle challenges including finding the resources to support research and development in areas where it is currently inadequate or lacking.

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About the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund

The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF), managed by the BecA-ILRI Hub, provides fellowships to scientists and graduate students from African national agricultural research systems to undertake biosciences research-for-development projects at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The ABCF fellowship program develops capacity for agricultural biosciences research in Africa; supports research projects that ultimately contribute towards increasing food and nutritional security or food safety in Africa; and facilitates access to cutting-edge research facilities by African researchers.

Opportunities in research and beyond: The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship program

Written by Milcah Kigoni

During my placeMilcah Kigoniment at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub under the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship, I was selected to attend the European Food Security Authority (EFSA) second scientific conference from 14–16 October 2015 in Milan, Italy, through the Young Researcher Initiative.

Being at the BecA-ILRI Hub gave me access to this opportunity as information about the conference came through the capacity building office and my supervisor was very supportive of my application. I was also supported through the financing of my visa application process.

The EFSA conference was an opportunity for me to learn more about food security and safety research and also to interact with scientists from all over the world. The trip to Milan was my first visit to Europe, which was a great experience and I made the most of it by networking professionally and socially.

Although I did not get a chance to present my poster, seeing my work listed in the EFSA Journal book of abstracts, was very uplifting! This goes to show that the research and capacity building being done at the BecA-ILRI Hub is top notch. I am grateful to the ABCF fellowship, because it has opened up many opportunities for me and built my capacity to great lengths.

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About Milcah Kigoni

Milcah Kigoni is an MSc student at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya. She was awarded a six month fellowship from 1 October 2014–30 March 2015 through the ABCF program. Having witnessed farmers from Machakos County in eastern Kenya lose their herds to  East Coast fever (ECF), Kigoni developed the desire to be part of the solution to this challenge. The acceptance of her proposal by the ABCF to use computational tools in identifying potential vaccine candidates for ECF presented an opportunity to build her capacity in bioinformatics while fulfilling her aspiration to contribute to tackling the disease. Although much remains to be done, Kigoni’s work at the BecA-ILRI Hub has provided a better understanding of the parasite and the tick vector, a good start to finding a lasting solution to the ECF problem.

Providing much needed support to African women in science at the BecA-ILRI Hub

The BecA-ILRI Hub fraternity celebrates visiting researcher’s family milestone

On 24 June 2015, the BecA-ILRI Hub team and Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellows from across eastern and central Africa celebrated six-month old baby Rayan BecA Babiker.
Baby BecA who was born to ABCF fellow Rasha Adam from Sudan and her husband Babiker Mohammed is a testimony to the significance that the BecA-ILRI Hub places on supporting women in agricultural research.

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund Fellow Rasha Adam and her family pose with BecA-ILRI Hub communications officer Ethel Makila and capacity building officer Valerian Aloo, Nairobi, Kenya

Adam, a researcher at the Biotechnology and Biosafety Research Centre at the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Khartoum, Sudan joined the BecA-ILRI Hub on 30June 2014 for a year-long placement. Already expectant when she got her letter of acceptance to the highly competitive fellowship program, Adam was not willing to postpone her quest to improve the food security situation in Sudan despite being offered a postponement of the start date till after delivery. The BecA-ILRI Hub capacity building team worked with her to ensure her work-plan guaranteed her safety and comfort, and she commenced her placement in June 2014 as scheduled.

Rasha Adam and her husband Babiker Mohammed cut the cake to celebrate baby BecAAfrica Biosciences Challenge Fund fellows and BecA-ILRI Hub staff share out the cake to celebrate baby BecAAppolinaire Djikeng, director and Valerian Aloo, capacity building officer pose with Baby BecA and proud mother Rasha Adam, ABCF fellow from Sudan‘I am so grateful to all of you at the BecA-ILRI Hub for the support that you gave me throughout my pregnancy,’ said Adam, who gave her baby the name BecA as a reminder of the team that stood with her during a significant period in her career and family life.

In appreciating her co-ABCF fellows, Adam said ‘The ABCF fellows have become like family to me, watching over me throughout my pregnancy and showing me how to hold and care for the baby when she came.’

Appolinaire Djikeng, the director of the BecA-ILRI Hub lauded Rasha as a true example of the resilience of women in science.

‘It is inspiring to see Rasha balance her new status as a mother while conducting excellent science,’ said Djikeng. ‘Rasha is evidence of the heights that women can achieve when they are offered the right support,’ he added.

For the past one year, Rasha Adam has been working to optimize tissue culture and transformation protocols that will facilitate the enhancement of sweet sorghum for drought resistance. Sorghum is an important staple crop in Sudan due to its tolerance to high temperatures and drought. The sweet sorghum is increasingly significant in the country for its use as food, livestock feed and its potential for production of biofuels.

The research being conducted by this first time mother could result in the ground-breaking development of the very first protocol for the transformation of cereals.

For more pictures, visit the Flickr Album: Celebrating Baby BecA

Making agricultural sense of data in Sudan: The BecA-ILRI Hub bioinformatics workshop in Khartoum

From 1 December to 6 December 2014, the BecA-ILRI Hub held a bioinformatics workshop in Khartoum, Sudan. Mark Wamalwa, a post-doctoral scientist in bioinformatics and Joyce Nzioki, a bioinformatics analyst from the BecA-ILRI Hub, in collaboration with Andreas Gisel from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria and Etienne De Villiers from the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Wellcome Trust, Kilifi-Kenya.

BecA bioinformatics workshop in Sudan 2014

(Left-right) Nada Hamza Babiker, director, Commission of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, speaks during opening session; Joyce Nzioki, bioinformatics analyst, the BecA-ILRI Hub, gives support to workshop participants; Etienne De Villiers, scientist, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Wellcome Trust, Kilifi-Kenya prepares to facilitate a session

(Left-right) Ali Babiker, Assistant Professor, Plant Genetics Resources Unit-Agricultural Research Corporation pays attention during a lecture; H.E Alsadig Sabah Alkhair, State Minister of Science and Communications; Prof Migdam Elshekh Abdelgani, Director General, National Center for Research-Sudan; Joyce Nzioki, the BecA-ILRI Hub during the opening session; Mark Wamalwa, post-doctoral scientist in bioinformatics, the BecA-ILRI Hub, facilitates a session on bioinformatics

(Left-right) Ali Babiker, Assistant Professor, Plant Genetics Resources Unit-Agricultural Research Corporation pays attention during a lecture; H.E Alsadig Sabah Alkhair, State Minister of Science and Communications; Prof Migdam Elshekh Abdelgani, Director General, National Center for Research-Sudan; Joyce Nzioki, the BecA-ILRI Hub during the opening session; Mark Wamalwa, post-doctoral scientist in bioinformatics, the BecA-ILRI Hub, facilitates a session on bioinformatics

The workshop which attracted participants from 13 institutions in Sudan received support the Sudan Government and the National Centre for Research (NCR). Participants were introduced to the basic concepts of bioinformatics and the use of various tools for the analysis of complex genomic data; Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies and the tools for NGS data analysis, data integration and visualization; multiple sequence analysis and phylogenetics; and sequence analysis using the eBiokit.

Participants to the workshop received the eBioKit, a complete kit of bioinformatics tools, enabling them to work independently from any location. The system runs multiple open source web services on an Apple Mac-mini where all databases are stored locally. The e-biokit reduces the need for fast internet connection while giving the users an opportunity to incorporate their data sets in widely used web services.

Sudan is among the eastern and central African countries where the BecA-ILRI Hub is expanding the base of expertise in agricultural research. Since 2011, over 10 national scientists from Sudan have had access to training in the latest agricultural bioscience technologies as they conducted research on the country’s priority areas addressing food and nutritional insecurity and livestock health.

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.

Celebrating the woman who inspired me (1) – Judith Francis, connecting people, multiplying potential

Celebrated by Wellington Ekaya, Senior scientist capacity building at the BecA-ILRI Hub

 

JudithAnnFrancis

Judith Ann Francis, the Senior Program Coordinator at Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), The Netherlands (photo credit: CTA)

Judith Ann Francis is the Senior Programme Coordinator, Science and Technology Policy at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) in the Netherlands.

Judith is one of those people with the unique ability to bring people together, who when connected, achieve much more than they would on their own. She is great at brokering partnerships, identifying opportunities, and fanning a spark into a blazing fire.

Judith has been instrumental in the building capacity of women and young professionals in agriculture through the Africa-wide women and young professionals in science Competition which rewards the contributions of women and young professionals involved in innovative research; communicating their research results and technological developments; and advocating for policy change as well as influencing policy processes through their research. Judith has been my mentor and I truly appreciate her contribution to preparing me to manage the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund program which provides fellowships to scientists and graduate students from African national agricultural research organizations and universities mentors them to be leaders in biosciences research-for-development.

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