Category Archives: People

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

Read related articles:

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

 

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.

 

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.

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.”

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.

Smallholder livestock farming in sub Saharan Africa is associated with considerable risk and vulnerability. The challenging environmental conditions and limited resources available to support large livestock production present a major constraint to the development of this sector on the continent. Yet, Africa holds up to 70 percent of the livestock diversity in the world.

In addition to great diversity, African livestock includes species which possess attributes that give them resilience to diseases and other stresses that present a challenge to livestock production. During the fourth session of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) AgTalks, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub director Appolinaire Djikeng gave his perspective on a fresh approach to livestock production which will help poor and vulnerable farming households in Africa climb up the livestock ladder out of poverty.

The N’dama cattle of West Africa are known to be trypanotolerant, and as such are able to populate tsetse fly infested regions of the continent where the tick-borne trypanosomiasis disease poses a significant challenge to livestock keeping. Still in West Africa, the prolific dwarf goat which produces up to four kids in one kidding has proved to be a great asset to smallholder farmers, enabling them to build large flocks for quick access to financial resources and nutrition. The Red Maasai sheep which are indigenous to East Africa possess resistance to endoparasites and thrive in very challenging arid environments, common in sub Saharan Africa.

In this nine minute video, Djikeng draws lessons from his childhood experience of the difference it made to own Cameroon’s unique ‘ugly’ pig during an Africa swine fever outbreak to address the issue of providing better opportunities for smallholder farming communities by utilizing the diversity of livestock as well as developing alternative livestock production systems in Africa.

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Read the full transcript here: http://ifad.org/agtalks/apollinaire.htm

Read related story here: Livestock, a lifeline for smallholder farmers

 

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

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.

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 Nasser Yao, scientist leading the plant molecular breeding activities at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Mondeil Fanjavola was my MSc supervisor at the University of Abidjan, Cocody (now University Felix Houphouet Boigny). Although she was very rigorous and demanding of her students academically, Mondeil was very caring, just like a mother. To her, supervision of post-graduate students went beyond the science. Mondeil understood that a balanced social life got better results and she tried as far as she could to help her students achieve this.

Mondeil’s charisma is so unforgettable that I still hold on to the concepts and methods of research that she taught me. In guiding my first steps in research, she taught me that everything in science should be questioned. She believes that findings or citations should only be considered as simple hypotheses rather than divine truths. To her, even the most wonderful finding was a truth only at that specific moment that it is discovered, not a static finding that will remain forever. She taught me to believe there is always room for improvement.

As I lead the activities on the BecA-ILRI Hub breeding platform, I am convinced that there is always a more effective, more efficient way to improve crops and I am determined to find it and ensure farmers benefit from advances in research.

Woman with pots-ILRI

Woman carrying traditional water pots for sale in Niger (photo credit: ILRI)