Category Archives: Kenya

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

 

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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Read related stories:

Elisabetta Ullu – Celebrated  by Appolinaire Djikeng, Director of the Biosciences eastern and central-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Elisabetta Ullu

Elisabetta Ullu, Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and of Cell Biology at the Yale School of Medicine (photo credit: Yale School of Public Health)

Last year I lost my postdoc mentor Dr Elisabetta Ullu to breast cancer. She endured it silently for close to 20 years. Only her husband and one of her close friends knew that she had cancer. She did so, I was told, because she wanted to succeed on her own merit and not because she was favored out of someone’s pity for her.

I worked with Elisabetta at Yale University for five years, and I consider them my best professional years. They were the best years of my career life because I was working with a true role model.

Elisabetta was smart and knew her stuff, a very critical attribute to have in an Ivy League school. She taught others without prejudice and with humility. She was always happy, knew how to cheer people up…and she was beautiful and a sharp dresser! One can hardly find such a combination in a single individual, but Elisabetta had it all.

When Elisabetta passed on last year, I was unable to make it to her memorial. A friend who knew my special bond with her, and who was at the memorial told me ‘Elisabetta was who she was to you, to hundreds other people’ — amazing! That statement made me cry, because I missed her even more, knowing what an asset she had been to so many people around the world. Elisabetta’s mentees are all leaders in different areas of research and development across the globe.

This year, as we celebrate International Women’s day, I want to pay special tribute to this great woman. Elisabetta has made immeasurable contributions to the world of science through her professional accomplishments and by being ‘who she was to hundreds of people.’

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

 

“There is need for us, African scientists to design research to suit our own context so that we can get the real picture of what we have on our continent.”

This was the powerful message delivered by Getinet Mekuriaw, an Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund (ABCF) research fellow at the BecA-ILRI Hub, during the Sixth All African Conference on Animal Agriculture in Nairobi on 27 October 2014. Mekuriaw’s presentation titled “A review of genetic diversity of domestic goats identified by microsatellite loci from global perspective” was based on a paper authored together with five other scientists from the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and ILRI. The paper was an evaluation of the research that has been done so far in establishing the genetic diversity of domestic goats globally.

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund fellow, Getinet Mekuriaw at work at the BecA-ILRI Hub. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Marvin Wasonga)

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund fellow, Getinet Mekuriaw at work at the BecA-ILRI Hub. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Marvin Wasonga)

Genetic diversity holds the key to animal breeding and selection. Accurate information on the observable characteristics or traits of a species, their form and structural features and how this varies amongst different populations in a given region is crucial in the development of appropriate breeding strategies for the improvement and for the conservation of important breeds.

In Africa, the role of indigenous goats in smallholder livestock production is growing rapidly as keeping them is often the only practical way to use vast ranges of grasslands that cannot be used for crop production. There is evidence of local goat breeds being better able to withstand the increasingly harsh environmental conditions that come with climate change including higher temperatures, lower quality diets and greater disease challenge.

Unfortunately, not enough has been done to generate information about the genetic resources available and it is feared that many goat populations could disappear before they are even identified. Mekuriaw attributed the gaps in knowledge on goats globally, and in Africa specifically, to deficiencies in research methods. While it is indeed possible that there is low genetic variation between goat populations in Africa and beyond due to uncontrolled and random mating within flocks as well as huge population movement in between regions, inefficient technical and statistical data management have contributed to conclusions drawn from research so far.

Mekuriaw, a PhD student from the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, is currently attached to the BecA-led research project “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” under the ABCF fellowship program. Through this component of his PhD research which is supervised at the BecA-ILRI Hub by project Principal Investigator Dr Morris Agaba, Mekuriaw hopes to establish the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in Ethiopia. He also hopes to map out the genes responsible for growth and twinning and thus contribute to the establishment of a breeding strategy that will select goats for those traits. In addition, he is also developing a molecular tool, DNA profiling, which enables the determination of pedigree of the animals which will also be used in the establishment of the breeding strategy.

Mekuriaw’s research is helping the BecA-led project to achieve its overall goal which includes empowering goat breeders in Cameroon and Ethiopia to develop better goats suited to resource-poor farmers and to develop ICT based tools to support management decisions throughout the goat production chain.

“The hitherto overlooked Brachiaria grasses have returned home to Africa and have been warmly embraced by smallholder dairy farmers in eastern Africa.”

Presenting a paper co-authored by nine scientists from seven institutions including the BecA-ILRI Hub, Dr Brigitte Maas from International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) gave an overview of the research, successes and challenges of adopting improved Brachiaria hybrids Mulato and Mulato II in the African context during the 6th All Africa Conference of Animal Agriculture in Nairobi on 27 October 2014.

Brachiaria grasses have higher nutrient content than most commonly used forages. They are adapted to drought and low fertility acidic soils. These grasses are good for the environment as they enhance nitrogen use efficiency, sequester carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emission and ground water pollutions. These attributes make Brachiaria one of the most widely cultivated forages in South and Central America, and Australia where they have been shown to increase milk and meat yields in cattle.

Farmers participatory selection of brachiaria grasses

Farmers select their preferred variety of Brachiaria grasses at the KALRO-Katumani experimental plot in eastern Kenya. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Re-introducing Brachiaria grasses to their native home
Despite the fact that they are native to Africa and that they occur plentifully across many regions of sub Saharan Africa, these grasses are yet to be explored and fully utilized as forage on the continent. However, thanks to the implementation of a Swedish funded research program “Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa” which is led by BecA-ILRI Hub in partnership with CIAT; Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB); and Glasslanz, the anonymity of these “wonder grasses” is coming to an end. The heightened publicity of the importance of Brachiaria grasses and as a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change has resulted in substantial interest in these grasses among farmers, researchers and policy makers across the continent.

While improved varieties developed in Latin America are being tested in Africa, challenges from pests and diseases have been observed on these imported varieties. The grassed developed in South American conditions have already been observed to be vulnerable to spider mites; sorghum shoot fly, and a number of fungal diseases that are currently in the process of identification. This has necessitated a deeper investigation into locally available diverse genetic resource in Africa to identify the pest and disease resistant varieties.

Finding the best local varieties for the African context

Dr Sita Ghimire, lead scientist in the BecA-led project on Brachiaria, examines one of the varieties under testing at the KALRO-Katumani experimental field. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Dr Sita Ghimire, lead scientist in the BecA-led project on Brachiaria, examines one of the varieties under testing at the KALRO-Katumani experimental field. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Since Africa hosts a high genetic diversity of Brachiaria, the way forward would be the utilization of this untapped genetic resource to breed varieties that are suitable to the African context. The BecA-ILRI Hub-led project is exploring local ecotypes and gene bank accessions of African origin for drought tolerance, pests and disease resistance and biomass yields. This program consists of four main components – evaluating Brachiaria genotypes for drought tolerance and adaptation to marginal soils; evaluating varieties for biomass production, animal nutrition (including feeding experiments) and seed production; identification and use of phytobiomes for potential agricultural applications as bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and bio-yield enhancement agents; and the building the capacity of African scientists to conduct research on Brachiaria grasses.

This collaborative research effort is giving renewed hope to millions of smallholder livestock farmers across eastern Africa who operate smallholder crop-livestock mixed farms on less than 10 ha and are at pains to increase their production in a set up where natural grazing is limited or no longer available

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Read related story: Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses: livestock feed, household cash
View a poster on the project here:  Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

 

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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.

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.

Researchers from Kenya, Uganda and Australia chart the way to control African swine fever in East Africa

On 2-3 October 2013, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who have been studying the patterns, causes, and effects of African swine fever (ASF) in Kenya and Uganda, shared their findings at a project closing workshop.

During the workshop held jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases Operations (FAO-ECTAD) the team of researchers from Kenya, Uganda and Australia led by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute shared data from their two-year long study.

African swine fever, which currently has no treatment or vaccine, is a highly contagious disease in pigs that causes nearly 100% losses in pig herds. Although it does not cause infection in people, outbreaks of the disease cause devastating income losses to farmers, and pig/pork traders. The project, “Understanding ASF epidemiology as a basis for control”, was funded by the Australian government as part of a research partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s national science agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The discussions generated at the workshop are expected to mark the beginning of a concerted effort to improve pig farming and expand the pig industry in eastern Africa.

Presentations from the workshop can be viewed here:http://www.slideshare.net/ILRI/tag/asfoctworkshop