Category Archives: East Africa

A partnership catalyzed by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub to improve testing for aflatoxins in maize flour will feature at a side event during the 7th Africa Agriculture Science Week and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) general assembly, next week (from 13-14 June 2016).

The partnership brings together the Kenya Cereal Millers Association—which has over ten million customers, including the urban poor—and the Texas A&M AgriLife laboratory which is hosted at the BecA-ILRI Hub. It is enabling millers to accurately perform their own tests for aflatoxins in maize flour, reducing aflatoxin risk and improving food safety for an estimated 16 million Kenyans.

Members of the Kenya Cereal Millers Association visit the BecA-ILRI Hub facilities

Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic by-product of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts. Highly carcinogenic, aflatoxins are lethal in high doses, with chronic exposure potentially stunting infant development, blocking nutrient absorption and suppressing the immune system.

Preventing human exposure to aflatoxins involves removing crops with unacceptable aflatoxin contents from both foods and feeds.

Paloma Fernandes, the chief executive of the Kenya Cereal Millers Association, will give a presentation on industry-led approaches to controlling aflatoxin in the country’s food supply chain at the ‘Strengthening systems to optimize agriculture and nutrition outcomes in Africa’ side event.

Read event concept note: Strengthening Systems to Optimize Agriculture and Nutrition Outcomes in Africa

For more information on the Africa Agriculture Science Week visit: http://faraafrica.org/aasw7/

Follow the event on twitter: #AASW7

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A vision for safe, affordable and adequate food

Providing safe maize for Africa: Aflatoxin Proficiency Testing and Control in Africa project at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Regional Aflatoxin control organization recognizes role of the BecA-ILRI Hub in fighting aflatoxins

 

By Paloma Fernandes, CEO of the Kenya Cereal Millers Association

PalomaHaving a milling capacity of 1.6 million tonnes of maize per year and constituting 85 percent of the commercial flour on the shelves sold to about 10 million consumers annually, the Cereal Millers Association (CMA) bears the heavy responsibility of providing safe, affordable and adequate food for their consumers. This responsibility is at the heart of our vision as an association which comprises 27 of the largest millers in the country.

Our four-year relationship with the BecA-ILRI Hub’s aflatoxin research project was borne out of our quest to bridge the existing gap in best practices for diagnosis of aflatoxins at the millers’ level. In efforts to find a solution, we participated in various national forums on the control of aflatoxins in the food value chain in Kenya and eventually made the connection with the project.

Through our collaboration with the BecA-ILRI Hub, CMA staff members have received training on the proper use of aflatoxin diagnostics equipment to get the most accurate results.Visits by the BecA-ILRI Hub scientists, research technicians and project collaborators to three CMA mills has helped us ascertain the levels of testing, training needs and ways in which we can improve our storage, transport and testing facilities.

In order for us to take adequate measures in providing safe food for Kenyans, we have extended
our collaboration to exploratory research on the types of aflatoxins we are dealing with at our mills and will provide samples of both wheat and maize to the BecA-ILRI Hub for analysis.

Through this partnership, we have also identified a consultant from Texas A&M University, USA, to
develop and test the feasibility of maize sampling and aflatoxin testing protocols for use in Kenyan maize mills – an initiative in which many of our mills are involved.

The dream of CMA is to have a fully-fledged laboratory for testing of aflatoxins and we believe with the support of research institutions like the BecA-ILRI Hub, this dream is not very distant. Ultimately we hope that we can achieve our goal to provide safe, affordable and adequate food for all our consumers.

downloadThe United Nations Institute for Statistics’ reports show that only 28 per cent of the world’s researchers are women. It also reveals that many of the women who enroll for science careers in university end up choosing not to advance their science careers.

The scenario at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub in Kenya is however quite different. With 50 percent female staff, the African centre for excellence in agricultural biosciences has proven that women do have a significant contribution to make to research for development in Africa and beyond.

As we celebrate the International Women’s day 2016, the BecA-ILRI Hub pays special tribute to all the women who are part of a dedicated team of scientists; technical staff; and administrators playing a vital role in empowering African scientists to use biosciences in transforming African agriculture.

In this article, you will meet two out of 22 remarkable women who represent the skill, passion and determination of women in science at the BecA-ILRI Hub and of many more across the globe.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Agnes Mburu
Technical management assistant

A trained electronics engineering technologist, Agnes is driven to ensure the efficient management and use of the electronic equipment at the shared research platform.

IMG_8478“I got the greatest encouragement in choosing a career in Electronics Engineering from my high school physics teacher. He had only two girls in his class—the other 38 opted to take geography instead.

I have a passion for all things ‘electricity’ and what I love most about my job is that I am always learning new things. But more important to me is the fact that as I learn, I am able to support researchers in the proper use of equipment to ensure their success.

Although mine is a male dominated field, this has never stopped me from being the best that I can be. Being open to new ideas and new ways of doing things has helped me overcome the negative attitudes I faced when I chose my career.

The greatest challenge I have faced is getting the resources to finance my learning and career growth. It was a tough choice to make—progressing my career while at the same time, providing for my family. What kept me strong is the understanding that whatever we do in life never goes unnoticed.

I plan to start a group to support the young people in my village who did not get an opportunity to go to high school. There are many opportunities for hands-on training at the polytechnics in Kenya which they can benefit from. Maybe given an opportunity, more women from my village will join my profession.”

Everline Atieno
Acting Central Core Unit Coordinator

Trained in laboratory technology and biotechnology, Everline manages a team providing essential services to all laboratory users at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

IMG_8448“I developed an interest in science at a very early age and therefore I had a bias towards science subjects in high school.

The most exciting thing about working at the BecA-ILRI Hub is that I am adding value to research done by national, regional and international scientists. I get to meet top notch scientists, students, research associates, and suppliers from all over the world. I belong to a big community that is making a difference in Africa!

I have never really been made to feel out of place in my career choice. On the contrary, I have been made to feel important for having developed an interest in science as a woman. The greatest challenge I have experienced though, was the struggle to have my skills and contribution recognized before I got a college degree. Some people have the wrong perception that anyone without a college degree is a failure–that is not true, I think my work spoke for me long before I got my degree!

There is need to encourage people to grow no matter what their background is. Some people simply lack opportunities or an enabling environment to help them excel. More people should stand out as role models and motivate those in the lower cadres who have the potential and are willing to grow in their career.

My greatest drive has been my ambition to progress and the encouragement I have received from other women who have made it in the world of science like the BecA-ILRI Hub technology manager, Josephine Birungi. I have also benefited from the support and flexibility of my supervisors and the encouragement from my peers.”

Farmer harvesting Brachiaria grasses in Kenya

Albernus Mulwa harvests Brachiaria grass at his farm in Machakos County, eastern Kenya
(photo: Nation Media Group\ Sarah Ooko).

The meat and milk production of a cow is only as good as the feed it gets. Through a project led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, dairy farmers in the semi-arid regions of Kenya are discovering that Brachiaria, the grass which transformed the livestock industries of Brazil and Australia, can turnaround their low production levels.

Brachiaria grasses are highly nutritious, possessing about 12 per cent protein at harvest which can be sustained over a long period as compared to the commonly used Napier grass whose protein concentration starts diminishing after about four months. The leaves, which form a greater proportion of the plant, are also more palatable and easily digestible. Since Brachiaria grasses thrive all year round, farmers are able to enjoy a constant supply of animal fodder. After a bumper harvest, Brachiaria can easily be dried in the sun and conserved as hay for sale or future use.

Brachiaria grass is not only good for livestock, but has proven useful in the alleviation of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and ground water pollution. The high amounts of biomass produced by the grass sequester carbon and enhance nitrogen use efficiency through biological nitrification inhibition (BNI).

Through the Swedish funded research project, scientists from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Rwanda Agriculture Board, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Grasslanz Technology Limited and AgResearch (New Zealand), are developing varieties of Brachiaria grasses that are well suited to different local environments across eastern Africa. The project aims at promoting the mass cultivation of the grass in Kenya and other African countries so that the continent can eventually also reap the benefits of her native grass.

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For information on the Brachiaria grass planting materials and the field trials being coordinated by KALRO Katumani research center, call Tel: 0722206986

For more information on the research project, contact program leader Sita Ghimire — s.ghimire@cgiar.org

Read original story by Sarah Ooko: Wonder grass back in Africa, opens new horizon for Kenya’s livestock sector
Read related story: Change of diet opens cash taps for milk producers
Visit the project page: Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

 

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

K24 Journalist Violet Otindo highlights the changing fortunes of dairy farmers using Brachiaria grasses to feed their animals in Kenya.

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Preliminary data from dairy farmers participating in on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses in Kenya shows that the nutritious grasses contribute to increased milk production.

The on-going research program on Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses to Increase  Livestock Production in East Africa conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) ; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia; and Grasslanz Technology Limited, New Zealand has engaged smallholder farmers in cultivating the grasses as major livestock feed sources and as a source of household cash income through the seed production.

The Swedish funded program has been successful in, together with farmers, identifying best bet varieties for different agro-ecological regions and creating awareness among the farmers, researchers, extension agents, policy makers and politicians on the significance of Brachiaria grasses to support a growing dairy industry. Through the project, farmers have discovered that the Brachiaria grasses not only preferred by animals but  also grow better than most forage in marginal soils of semi-arid and sub-humid environments that are common in most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this four minute video, K24 journalist Violet Otindo talks to Albanus Nduva from Kanzalu village of Machakos County in eastern Kenya, one of the 1200 farmers in Kenya who have been involved in participatory on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses as pasture and recording the milk production data Otindo also gets insights from BecA-ILRI Hub scientist Sita Ghimire who leads the program and Donald Njarui from KALRO, Kenya as to why Brachiaria grasses are good for the environment.

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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.

Dr Charles Masembe, Assistant Professor in the College of Natural Sciences at the Makerere University in Uganda

Dr Charles Masembe, Assistant Professor in the College of Natural Sciences at the Makerere University in Uganda

Dr Charles Masembe, an veterinerian, molecular epidemiologist and Associate Professor at the College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University in Uganda has been awarded a five-year Wellcome Trust Public Health and Tropical Medicine fellowship.

Building on discoveries he made while conducting research on genetic factors linked to the transfer of African swine fever (ASF) at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, Masembe has continued to lead key research efforts on understanding the devastating viral swine disease.  African swine fever periodically kills 90-100 per cent of herds affected, threatening the thriving pig production industry in Uganda. Masembe will use the Wellcome Trust award to investigate the distribution patterns, and full genome characteristics that influence the maintenance and transmission of African swine fever at the livestock-wildlife interface in Uganda.

Masembe’s research at the BecA-ILRI Hub in 2010 and 2011, Masembe, shed light on the existence of the Ndumu virus in domestic pigs, a phenomenon which had not been previously observed. The virus had previously been isolated only from culicine mosquitoes. The results of his research will contribute to the development of effective control strategies for this disease that threatens the development of Uganda’s pig industry, the the largest and most rapidly growing pig production in eastern Africa with a pig population of 3.2 million.

Read similar story by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)

Read more about Masembe’s research at the BecA-ILRI Hub: Viral metagenomics demonstrates that pigs are a potential reservoir for Ndumu virus

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!

Men leading research at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub pay tribute to women who influenced their career

A lot has been said about the under-representation of women in the field of science and technology; something has been said about women who have made significant contributions to science; but not enough has been said about the women who motivated men to become leaders in science.

Girls at research facility ILRI Ethiopia

Introducing girls to agricultural research in Ethiopia. (photo credit: ILRI\ Apollo Habtamu)

This is the introduction of a four-part blog series to mark the International Women’s Day and to celebrate the achievements of women in science worldwide.

Science leaders at the BecA-ILRI Hub pay tribute to the women who played a key role in shaping their career. Each man speaks from his heart about a woman whose expertise, ability to share knowledge and tendency to inspire the inner person, imparted principles which are guiding them as they reach out to and inspire the next generation of science leaders in Africa.

Part 1: Judith Anne Francis – Connecting people, multiplying potential