Kerio Valley: A beautiful land with an amazing culture


By mugonya John 

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Mr. Mugonya

In September this year, I received communication from the International Crop Research Institute for Semi_Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) that my application for an internship placement had been successful. Getting an internship opportunity soon after defending my Master’s thesis at Gulu University, was exciting and double blessing. I looked forward to working with a multi-disciplinary team from various countries. I was selected to work in the Markets Institutions Nutrition and Diversity program, particularly on analysis of livestock market systems among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in the Kerio Valley of Kenya. The internship was supported by the MasterCard Foundation (MCF) through the Regional Universities’ Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

I reported for the intership at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi which hosts the Eastern and Southern regional office of ICRISAT. The center is home for nineteen international organizations many of which are under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium. I was warmly welcomed and given adequate support beyond my expectations.

I started the preparation for the Kerio Valley study with a voracious review of literature related to livestock market systems’ function and structure. Given the time and financial resources availed, qualitative research methods were preferred over quantitative. I was not acquainted to qualitative research methods, therefore I was supported by my line supervisor and other team members. I was also supported by two experts in qualitative studies notably Caroline Hambloch and Emma Elfversson particularly in designing the study methodology. I have gained a lot of knowledge, skills and insights in qualitative research especially in methodology development, data collection and transcription.

During data collection, I was pleased to see a beautiful part of Kenya, the Kerio Valley. The valley is geographically shaped like a triangle and it touches three different counties which include; Elgeyo-Marakwet, West Pokot and Beringo.  The valley is home to majorly two tribes; the Marakwets and the Pokots. The Pokots are pastoralists while the Marakwets are agro-pastoralists. In Kerio Valley, livestock is very important for people’ livelihoods and as a means of transport given the terrain of the land. A striking attribute about these people is the social capital amongst them. For example, I witnessed the community contributing towards education of three children two in high school and one at the university who belonged to a teacher within the community. This internship is a great experience both in terms of developing my research skills and in appreciating various cultural practices.

I will forever be thankful to RUFORUM, the MasterCard Foundation and ICRISAT the opportunity they have accorded me to learn and grow through valuable and spectacular experiences.

Contact: Phone: +256 771890353, Email: mugonyajohn@gmail.com, Twitter: @mugonyaj

Figure 1: A truck loading mangoes in Sangach center, Elgeyo Marakwet County

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Figure 2: Donkeys carrying luggage across a stream near the cattle trade area in Lomut, West Pokot County

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Figure 3: Goats moving to the grazing area along Tot-Kolowa road

 

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Figure 4: Female traders selling milk in Chesegeon livestock market in West Pokot County

Walking the talk; Student’s loan helped us scale from an idea to a sustainable Agribusiness in Gulu


When we talk of the phrase “from theory to practice”, these guys have it all. A group of highly esteemed Mastercard Foundation at RUFORUM sponsored students pursuing Masters of Science in Agri-Enterprises Development at Gulu University has proven beyond reasonable doubt that opportunity resonates where there is distress. Muteti Francisca Ndinda (Kenya), Mainimo Edmond Nyuyki (Cameroon) and Mpofu Taddias Prince (Zimbabwe) are the co-founders of Hallmark Bio-Enterprise, a successfully implemented venture based in Laroo division, Gulu municipality. The aforementioned are not only trained on entrepreneurship, but also have been adequately prepared to be successful change makers in the real business world.

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The trio Nyuyki, Ndinda and Mpofu before a Mushroom Harvest

Hallmark Bio-Enterprises is an organic based social enterprise aimed at supporting rural women, refugees and out of school youths, the African girl child in particular, through capacity building in climate smart agriculture. Hallmark intends to contribute to unlocking the economic potential of the students through training on producing high quality, organic oyster mushrooms as a business. The motivation behind this initiative stems from the realization of the potential that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have in transforming rural communities. With the proliferating dependency syndrome on food aid in northern Uganda steming from two decades of prolonged conflict and civil unrest by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), it has been noticed that the economic development of many households is at a very slow rate. Cognizant of the above, the entrepreneurial mindset in many has been brought to a halt, leading to a drastic drop in their daily earnings to the extent of being unable to afford a balanced diet in their daily dietary intake. Moreover, erratic rainfall patterns in the region and ever-increasing global temperatures have stirred the need for promoting this climate smart initiative.

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Mastercard Scholar Mpofu Taddias Prince from Zimbabwe harvesting Mushrooms

Considerate of this, Hallmark’s operations model aims at empowering their target group “rural women, refugees and out of school youths” through trainings on sustainable organic oyster mushroom production, quality control and providing reliable market by making them out growers. In this way, the beneficiaries will not only consume the highly nutritious mushrooms, but also earn income and improve their livelihoods, reducing the dependency syndrome. As part of her sustainability plan, Hallmark intends to train and promote the use of its affordable solar drying system amongst her target group as a way of maintaining product quality while minimizing post-harvest losses. In addition, the enterprise plans to promote the use briquettes made from the final waste as an alternative cooking energy source through trainings and exhibitions.

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Muteti Francisca Ndinda carefully puting the harvested Mushrooms together

The three Scholars who received a training on Mushroom growing from a fellow student from Uganda, Walter Amuko who was growing mushroom but could not satisfy the demand have currently established, through the enterprise, contractual arrangements with restaurants within Gulu municipality where they supplies high quality fresh and dried organic oyster mushrooms. Gulu university staff and students also constitute the customer base for Hallmark. It is worth putting on record that feedback from their customers has been phenomenal and it is motivating the team to scale up.

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Mainimo Edmond Nyuyki waters the mushroom. an activity they all do in turns.

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The trio explaining their business to Mr. Samuel Elolu the TAGDev Coordinator at Gulu University

From a student loan of 1.900.000ugx (Aprox. USD525) given by the University through the Faculty of Agriculture to students with promising enterprises and payable after breaking even, the students have managed to build a big clientele base and are failing to fullfil the high demand for the Mushrooms in Gulu town. They are overwhelmed by the potential of the business and are looking forward to scaling it and replicating it in their own countries. The scholars appreciate the teaching model used by Gulu University to equip them with practical skills that are relevant not only to them but their communities. They are thankful to the Mastercard Foundation through RUFORUM for the investment in their education and look forward to giving back after their education.

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The packaged Mushrooms (Oyester Mushrooms) as the final product ready for the Market

For More Information about RUFORUM Contact;

Maureen Agena
Corporate Communications and Advocacy
communications@ruforum.org
Tel: +256-417-713-300 (Office)
Direct Line: +256-417-713-326

To our Readers, Families and Communities


The Office of the RUFORUM Executive Secretary and on behalf of RUFORUM Secretariat wishes our readers, families and communities good health and wellbeing. The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID 19) has undermined many activities from which many people derive livelihoods and it has limited access to most of essential services. We continue to pray to God that this situation ends soon. In the meantime, we encourage you all to adhere to the Standard Operation Procedure (SOPs) set up by relevant authorities in managing the pandemic and to follow government rules and regulations to minimize the spread of the pandemic and to protect yourself and others. Once more we wish you all good health and wellbeing.

May God bless you all

Prof Adipala Ekwamu,
RUFORUM Executive Secretary; Email: secretariat@ruforum.org

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RUFORUM Young Innovators wards inspired me to start my company ‘Fruition Crushed’


My name is Oforiwaah Kukuwaa Smith, a Food and Postharvest technology student under the RUFORUM CARP+ project and Chief processor at “Fruition Crushed”. Fruition Crushed is an Agro-processing company providing fresh fruit juice, dried chips and fruit leather to the Ghanaian market.

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Oforiwaah Kukuwaa Smith harvesting Pineapples

In October 2018 I attended the RUFORUM higher education conference in Nairobi, and one of the things that caught my attention during the conference was the RUFORUM young innovators award which comprises of young African entrepreneurs who are adding value to agriculture products and creating opportunities for other young people. The awards in Nairobi during the 6th Biennial conference were the second of the kind following the first awards in Cape town during the 5th Biennial Conference.  I had the opportunity to interact with some of the young innovators and it was during these interactions that I realized that majority of them were into agri-tech, trying to find solution to challenges farmers faced. So when I got back to Ghana I thought through my interactions and I decided to establish something related to agriculture.

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Transportation of the Pineapples

I decided to create a business from the mastercard supported project at the University of Cape Coast for which I was privileged to be placed. Working on the Pineapple Value Chain for my Master’s thesis, I saw first-hand the huge post-harvest loss and loss of investment by small holder farmers.

I then got working on a business model and started playing around with the idea of setting up a mini processing centre. I got some pineapples from local farmers which I then processed. Already I had some experience in pineapple juice production during my undergraduate studies, so upon the feedback I got from the sensory evaluation I conducted, I decided to go into mass production of the pineapple juice for events at the University, with in Cape coast and surrounding regions.

‘Fruition Crushed’ the company that I founded now provides solution to the average local farmer who would normally lose 50-70% of his harvested produce and also a healthy sensational juice, chips and fruit leather for consumers who purchase them for their households, ceremonies and various events.

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Juices from Fruition Crushed

Presently we have 5 small holder pineapple farmers in our portfolio that we source our produce from and these farmers are paid in cash before we get the pineapples from and have raised over $1000 in revenue over the past 14 months.

Consumers are able to simply place an order using WhatsApp and through our social media platforms.

I am poised to provide a healthy beverage and food for consumers while solving a key challenge of smallholder farmers.

Cassava offers under exploited alternative livestock feeds to farmers in Kilifi and Taita Taveta Counties, Kenya


My name is Elijah Mwangi, I have a background in Animal health undertaking MSc in Animal Nutrition and Feeds Sciences. After completing the mandatory course work for the degree at the University of Nairobi, I got lucky as one of the third cohorts for the RUFORUM funded CARP+ program under stewardship of Professor Mwang’ombe.

My clear cut-out role was to look into the use of cassava or by-products of cassava processing that could be used in animal feed industry in Coastal Kenya. With the increasing human population in mind and consequent competition with animal feed manufacturing, I settled on cassava peels. These are not only highly nutritious but also easily accessible for use as animal feeds that could partially replace maize/maize by-products in animal feeds hence releasing the maize into human consumption.

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Cassava peels preparation

To effectively utilize the cassava peels, the hydro-cyanide (HCN) content has to be reduced to safer levels to avoid deaths as a result of consumption of large quantities of fresh peels within short time. Various methods have been used including sun- drying, ensiling, retting and microbial fermentation. All these having variable improvements in nutrition composition and reduction in HCN.

In November, 2019 Prof. Mwang’ombe organized a field visit for me and my colleague Mr Samuel Mwathi from the Food Science and Technology Department to undertake a study on cassava and cassava by-products in Kenyan Coastal Counties of Kilifi and Taita Taveta. This was both an eye opener and had first-hand understanding of the situation on ground regarding cassava production and utilization both for human and animal feeds. Given my background in Veterinary Medicine, and zero experience in plant production, I had to keep abreast with cassava production, pests and diseases, intercropping and utilization for human consumption. It was also my first time working hand in hand with colleague from human food sector as we shared different experiences and scenarios for combating food insecurity in our country.

Analyzing the broad scenario of cassava production and use in both Counties; they have sizeable land under cassava cultivation but I observed higher production and use of cassava use in Kilifi compared to Taita Taveta County. The hilly Wudanyi sub-county of Taita Taveta has smaller area under cassava cultivation compared to the low and drier areas of Mbale and Mwaktau where being drought resistant acts as a cushion to the poor farmers in prolonged dry spells. The areas of Kilifi County that we visited (Kibarani, Tezo) has hot and wet climatic condition with prolonged dry periods necessitating the growing of drought resistant crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes intercropped with cashew nuts and coconuts. During dry periods the village elder of Kinangoni village, Kaloleni Sub-county of Kilifi reported to have had cases of livestock straying into cassava plantation and destroying the crops in their early stages of growth.

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Group farming of cassava in Kilifi County

Most families had one to three heads of goat, cow or sheep with several chicken or ducks. They use to graze around the homesteads and some owned/rented farmland nearby. Women mostly have to cater for the small herds ensuring that they are fed, milked and given water. The main livelihood activity for the communities in both Counties is subsistence crop farming with maize, beans, cassava, cashew nuts, coconuts and vegetables being intercropped plus livestock keeping.

My prime focus during the survey was obtain farmer’s insights on utilization of cassava, peels and leaves as animal feeds. I was eager to learn if they fed the peels to livestock, prior processing, type of livestock feed on peels (poultry, cows, goats, sheep and ducks), any challenges encountered and how they mitigated them. Mrs Pauline Mwamburi from Mwatate had two cows and five goats is an example of cassava farmers who used cassava peels for their livestock. She used to give the peels to the goats freshly directly and luckily enough she had had no incidence of HCN most probably as the amount of peels were less and the variety she grew on her farm (Kibadameno) has low levels of the poison. She had heard cases of “cassava and peels” poisoning from her friends and was very grateful to get more guidance on safe use of the peels for livestock feeds.

In Kilifi County, Tezo location, we met with Mama Serah Nzarambi a retired teacher who had quite some knowledge on cassava use in livestock feeding. She had a good number of ducks that freely fed around the homestead and she would occasionally dry the cassava tuber to supplement the maize grain. This reduces the cost of production without adverse effect on reproduction, growth, health and egg production.

I also met a Mr Mwaduza in Kilifi County Kibarani who kept a herd of pigs in his small farm. I got him feeding fresh unpeeled cassava tubers that he had harvested earlier in the day. On further enquiry, he says that they are used to eating cassava and sometimes he even gives them the leaves to supplement the purchased feeds. He had not had any case of poisoning and was grateful for the guidance that I offered on safe use of the cassava in his pigs business.

I noticed that a lot of sensitization, education and animal health extension services is required on safe use of cassava and by-products in livestock feeding. Indiscriminate use of large quantities of fresh cassava peels leads to the cases reported of HCN poisoning. At least drying for several days, retting and parboiling could lessen these.

My utmost gratitude to goes the RUFORUM, MasterCard Foundation and the University of Nairobi  for offering me this opportunity working in the cassava value addition project, my supervisors, technical coordinators and colleagues for this informative and crucial survey. My wish is to work further with the cassava farmers and livestock keepers in both counties and beyond as we look into sustainable animal production using cassava peels ensuring communities are food secure though environmentally friendly means.

Learning with and from smallholder cassava farmers of Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties, Kenya


Being raised in the Kenyan coast, cassava roots is amongst a familiar food that I had interacted with as breakfast, lunch and supper in most cases. Cassava production practices are less since now that I used to be sent by my mother to source them at Bomani (Likoni) or Kongowea market. The memorable part for me with cassava is during its peeling because I enjoyed eating them raw before being cooked or roast.

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Kibandameno cassava roots

However, a privilege of interacting with cassava farmers especially on their planting materials and production practices in coastal Kenya was an eye opening for me to further embrace the precious crop. Furthermore, while I was in high school we were taken for a one week agricultural trip at Egerton University. I was shocked and disturbed when Prof. Lee at Egerton University showed to us a plant raised in a test tube (Tissue culture). I was curious to ask various questions like how is it possible, how does it eat, breath? I prayed that one day I could be the one able to do that. It was a dream come true when I was awarded the opportunity to work in the line cassava tissue culture and to further explore its production through engaging with cassava farmers and laboratory work.

I was involved in focused group discussions and a survey to determine the cassava value chain in Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties . Although I had read in the literature that there are various local and improved cassava varieties, but actuality I had no clue to distinguish one from the other. No one understood my curiosity than farmers whom I did interact in their farms following a lot of questions on differentiating different varieties and their characteristics. I did remember one farmer who told me that Kibandameno despite being a low yielder it is the sweetest of all. Due to that I had to pay to be uprooted the entire crop for Ksh 250 to quench my thirst and for learning as well. Initially, I used to know that there is one cassava, and all have one name, “cassava”.

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Mr. Patrick Kidasi administering a semi-structured questionnaire

Through the interaction with farmers I was able to distinguish Kibandameno pink and white in terms of their cortex colour. However, Tajirika is amongst the improved variety that is preferred because of its high yields . Notable, farmers preferred the Kibandameno variety because of its keeping quality in the soil without altering its taste and size however; Tajirika when left in soil for long it results to bursting of roots therefore results to rotting and bitterness. Other interesting variety in Taita Taveta County is Biti Asman. Mr Mwamburi, a farmer in Mwachawazi told me that variety was used to be grown by his grandparents and still continues planting it in his farm. Recent cases had associated with cassava poisoning consumers but this was clearly and practically explained to me by Mr Saidi who told me that, there are varieties that are poisonous and we farmers know them. “Mpira” is the local name of the variety that a sad case of a family of four died after consuming it . The cassava grows tall with long internodes where residents used it as shade.

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Tajirika cassava stem cutting held by a cassava seed entrepreneur

In literature, cassava had been associated to yield decline as a result of viral diseases that are distributed through vegetative cuttings from infected crops. Currently, use of clean cassava planting materials is amongst the management practices. However, a farmer in Chala, Taveta Sub County told me that when the manifestation of “kitenge” is more on the younger top leaves, she prune the twigs to manage the disease. The “kitenge” is the term she used to describe the mosaic symptoms . I was trying to relate the science behind pruning in managing viral disease but I thought it do have a relation in reducing the viral pathogen in the crop. Although I doubt my explanation, I do remember my classmate who once says that farmers do things mysteriously but they do work despite luck of scientific explanation.

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Cassava mosaic symptoms (Kitenge)

During focused group discussions in Tezo, Mr Nyinge a proactive sub-county agricultural officers, had developed a strong bond with the farmers through his motive in transforming cassava production into a life sustaining activity. He could share success story of cassava that are testimonials by farmers themselves. Mama Patience Dhahabu was amongst the active cassava seed entrepreneurs who was able connect electricity and piped water through the cassava business venture. Currently she had been contracted by Ustadi Foundation to produce cassava seed for other farmers to source. The number of women seed entrepreneurs is increasing where another farmer Caroline Dama had also ventured in this lucrative business. The interaction with farmers had facilitated the awareness of pests and

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Mpira cassava variety

diseases to the extent of farmers themselves cautioning University of Nairobi during distribution of cuttings that make sure you are not giving us diseased planting materials because I will take a picture and share on the WhatsApp platforms (for both counties) before uprooting it. Implication of this is that, the custodianship of clean planting materials rests solely on farmers and their reactiveness has a potential in increase the cassava productivity and acreage.  Although the two counties are different levels of cassava production, the demand by farmers is that “give us cuttings to plant and assure me of market”.

I had further extended my project findings in rapidly availing cassava planting materials through minisetts technology. I had sell 100 minisetts to a farmer in farmer in Kiambu County and 500 minisetts to a farmer in Lodwar, Turkana County. I was impressed when these farmers shared with me their success story having knowing that I can avail a solution to a farmer.

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Cassava minisetts transplanted in Kiambu County

I do thank and acknowledge the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), the MasterCard Foundation, the University of Nairobi and the Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties farmers who made this a success story. The two counties had been selected due to being noted as amongst the hunger prone counties in 2017. Therefore, the cassava project tries to address the food insecurity issue through the promotion of the cassava value chain.

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Eight months old cassava minisetts in Lodwar, Turkana County

Contact Kidasi Patrick Clay via  patrickclay001@gmail.com; patrickclay@students.uonbi.ac.ke

 

“Go and serve the community” is my mantra as I give back after education


Kasima Junior Senyonga, is the Research Assistant for the CARP+1 Pig value chain, and a second year student offering Msc. Animal production and marketing at Gulu University. He graduated in January 2018 with a first class in Bachelor of Agriculture at the same University, before joining the CARP+1. He shares his journey so far.

MAKING LOCAL FEEDS

Kasima (in blue shirt) mixing feeds from local feedstuffs with farmers in Unyama. In circle is Mr. Komakech, the host farmer.

How I joined CARP+1_ Pig value chain

Shortly after graduation, I got a part time job with the International College of Agricultural Sciences, Kawanda. I was teaching in the department of animal production at diploma and certificate levels. In April of the same year, I got to know of the position of Research Assistant in the CARP+1, one of the projects at Gulu University which are supported by MasterCard foundation through RUFORUM. I applied and I was successful. The Principal Investigator (Dr. Elly Ndyomugyenyi), after reporting to the job, told me to apply for a master’s programme which I did, I was admitted. Despite being admitted, I could hardly sustain paying tuition and other charges required for the MSc. programme. Dr. Elly therefore, told me to develop a research concept and submit for possible funding. I developed the concept and successfully got my scholarship at the project. I therefore had to run the project work and at the same time do class work.

PREPARING IMO UNIT

Kasima (with a spade) participating in the preparation of IMO unit at one of the farmers’ places in Labora. In red shirt is Mr. Owacgiu Edward, a B. Agric student who did his research under the CARP+1

The experiences with farmers
I have loved working with farmers since I too grew up from a farming household. I have interacted with them during data collection while assessing their acceptance towards the three technologies being implemented by the project (Use of local semen extenders in Artificial insemination, formulation of feeds from local feed resources and use of Indigenous Micro-organisms (IMO) to reduce smell in pig houses). As the Research Assistant, I have to make follow-ups to the farmers concerning the use of technologies. I have also interacted with them during trainings on use of IMO technology and feed formulation and mixing using local feedstuffs. They have fully participated in the different activities and shown interest in the technologies. The project work has given me chance to deal with the diverse kinds of people in the community, something I had never done before. I have always felt the joy especially, when I see the “poor” in the community smile some of whom are having hope in piggery production but are constrained mainly by the high feeding costs. These smiles have always made me love to work more with and among them for their betterment.

WITH A FARMER DURING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

With one of the farmers during the survey to assess the acceptance and use of the technologies being implemented by the CARP+1

 

Preparation of the local feed and IMO
The local feed formula constituted of rice bran (25%), cassava (25%) and sweet potato vines (25%)- all on dry matter basis. The cassava and sweet potato vines were chopped and mixed with rice bran. These were then set to ferment for three weeks before being fed to the pigs.
The IMO were trapped using rice (a carbohydrate source) which was boiled and cooled. This was wrapped in a net and buried in a cool place for a week. It was then removed, mixed with maize bran and sugar in a tank which was then filled with clean water. After seven days, the solution was ready for use. It was applied on to a deep litter bedding laid in the following order charcoal as the first layer, medium-sized logs, maize stalks, wood shavings, dry anthill soil mixed with lime and finally another layer of wood shavings.

AT ONE OF THE FARMER'S IMO UNIT

Kasima (right) with one of the farmers (Mr. Odoch Moses_in the middle) who had started using the IMO technology after the training by CARP+1. On the left is Mr. Ocera Denis, the leader of the group where Mr. Odoch was trained.

Achievements
As of now, I have interacted with over 300 farmers (through trainings, dissemination and community engagement exercise), about 52% of which are females. I have submitted my thesis for examination. The results for my study, together with those of other Msc. students who did their research under the CARP+1 were disseminated to the farmers and below are some of the comments from the farmers during the dissemination exercise:

WITH FARMERS AFTER DISSEMINATION

PI, Dr. Elly (3rd from right) and Kasima Junior (extreme right) with farmers in Labora after dissemination of findings

  • I’ve learnt how to preserve feeds during time of plenty in preparation for dry season
  • The finding on the fermented feed has enlightened me on how to use feeds.
  • I have learnt how to formulate feeds for pigs.
  • Deep litter treated with IMO is very good for pig production and it’s the way to go
  • The dissemination of the research findings will impact great change in the lives of the villagers especially to those who will practice it.
  • Bringing back results to farmers should continue and more training should also be done

Conclusion
As I was coming for this job, my elder brother Kisaame Marx told me, “go and serve the community.” This statement has always kept me going, and it is my joy whenever I see farmers happy. I feel the satisfaction of giving back to farmers of Gulu and Omoro for the education I have had from here right from my undergraduate to-date. I had my field attachment with in Koro (Omoro) during my undergraduate, and I was studying in Gulu. Whenever I go back to them, I feel the knowledge they gave to me during attachment was of importance and its results are being visibly seen. My passion is to help smallholder pig farmers sustain and improve their production level, basically with reduced feeding costs.

Thanks to my research supervisors Dr. Elly Kurobuza Ndyomugyenyi and Dr. Basil Mugonola for the time they have invested in guiding me through my research process. The PI of CARP+1 gave me the opportunity to further my education. I am also grateful to RUFORUM and MasterCard for funding the CARP+1 which is employing me and funding my MSc.

Email contacts kasi95js@gmail.com

 

The origin or language of a student should not hinder access to higher education: Uniqueness of MCF-RUFORUM scholarship


Olivier Nihimbazwe grew up in rural north-western part of Burundi (Mabayi). Growing in a big sized family (12 children) under the care of a single mother. Luckily, this mother had much interest in education hence she always encouraged him and his siblings to study hard and perform well in class.  He shares his story of how the mastercard scholarship that he got through RUFROUM has transformed him.

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Olivier Nihimbazwe in the teaching Laboratory at Gulu University

My humble beginnings and the challenges of Language

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Being part of the solution to Climate Change after planting a tree

Since I entered the university, I had already set my mind that I would not just complete my bachelors and look for a job thereafter as it is the case for most Burundian graduates. Instead I set a goal of getting a master’s degree. I knew that getting a good grade was one of the requirements for admission and sponsorship in graduate programs in my country which were by the way so limited in number, and so I worked hard and completed my first degree with Distinction. However, this was not enough for my former university to admit me in the single master program that was recently launched because only candidates with 5 years’ work experience were eligible. There was no way out for me! I then realized that only a scholarship could enable me to further my education outside the country. My performance at the first-degree level had given me enough confidence about getting a graduate degree scholarship. Unfortunately, the reverse was true when I spent sleepless nights on internet applying for scholarships but all in vain. It is worth to note that most scholarships are offered in English speaking countries. As a result, the most common criteria that constrained me was that all scholarships required fluency in English, something that was not easy to prove since I had studied in a French system and all subjects except none were taught purely in French. Even if I were fluent in English, I could not afford the costs of the required certificates such as TOEFL, IELTS which require in addition to the test fees, the costs of travelling outside the country to sit for the test.

My application for the Mastercard Scholarship at RUFORUM

The application process for MCF@RUFORUM scholarship is generally competitive, but this time round I qualified for all criteria. Academically competent yet economically challenged applicants from all over Africa were encouraged to apply irrespective of their origin or language. Fortunate enough, I was selected as the first Burundian in this scholarship program. Getting this award was indeed a dream come true and is one of the best things that have ever happened in my life. It was hard for me to believe that I was one among the five students who were offered this prestigious scholarship. The excitement I had when I received a congratulation message from RUFORUM office was unimaginable. This Scholarship offers benefits beyond my expectations. Apart from providing each and everything that a student needs to achieve academic goals, this scholarship also offers leadership and entrepreneurship trainings to beneficiaries. In fact, the two weeks orientation program that we had at Egerton University (Kenya) prior to starting our academics was another unique experience. Through interactive and participatory sessions, the training covered a number of topics ranging from leadership, communication, personal mastery, entrepreneurship among others. I was able to understand the concept of transformative leadership which I had never understood before. I learned that transformative leadership is all about making positive impact by addressing a problem in the society and improving the life of others. I still recall the motivational speeches that have changed my life during this training. This orientation program also allowed me to have my first ever adventure out of my country where I got the opportunity to network with people from different parts of the continent. Though I could read, listen and understand English, I was unable to hold a long conversation owing to the fact that I was not used to speaking English. Fortunately, networking, something that I value very much, has helped me improve my speaking skill and integrate effectively in the new environment.

Life at Gulu University and learning English

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Community outreach in Gulu with fellow MCF Scholars

Up on reaching at Gulu University, myself and another colleague who was also coming from a French speaking country (Benin), we were provided with an English training support. The training was mentorship-oriented and this style impacted on our quick language improvement and confidence building. I must say that I faced challenges while I was undergoing academic transition. It was challenging to manage academics and English learning simultaneously. I was worried about the results I would get at the end of the semester. Nevertheless, I performed quite well. Today I do believe and testify that access to education should not be hindered by the origin and language of a student. Universities and scholarship programmes should review their admission requirements related to language proficiency of applicants if we are to achieve the fourth global sustainable development goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all especially by increasing the number of scholarships offered to students coming developing countries. MCF@RUFORUM Scholarship program strategy is in line with this global goal and has given hope to my life and indirectly to my community. This scholarship is fulfilling my dream of pursuing my postgraduate studies in an English-speaking country which I consider as an invaluable means of becoming a multilingual as well as multicultural person. I believe that this will enable my impact to reach different communities across Africa. I am forever grateful to RUFORUM and MasterCard Foundation for trusting in the potential of francophone students and supporting our education.

Conclusion

Reflecting back to what I went through to get this privilege, I have taken a resolution of supporting and mentoring youths who are eager to further their education yet unable to make it due to either unawareness of scholarship opportunities or unfamiliarity in the use of ICT. Mentoring through social media is a time-consuming task, nevertheless, there is a satisfying feeling I get when the person I mentored succeeds. I am very proud of one of my mentees who recently made it for the Pan African University scholarship program. I conclude by encouraging young people to set a purpose roadmap towards their vision and to stay focused because as said by Lewis Carroll, ‘’if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there’’. Most importantly, do not forget to PUSH i.e. Pray Until Something Happens.

God bless Africa! God Bless MasterCard Foundation! God bless RUFORUM!

About the author

Olivier Nihimbazwe, holder of Bachelor’s degree in environmental Health Science from National Institute of Public Health, Burundi. MCF awarded me a scholarship through RUFORUM, to pursue a two years MSc program in Food Security and Community Nutrition at Gulu University (Uganda).

Email: olivierniimbazwe@gmail.com

Twitter: @onihimbazwe

Laying Foundation for Strengthening Delivery of Quality Packed Milk in Northern Uganda


Robin

Robine Okello at Voice of Lango FM a local radio station in Lira district

The first two months of the Field Attachment Program Award (FAPA) was a unique opportunity that provided me with the opportunity to disseminate my research output with the aim of promoting packed milk product consumption for good health in Northern Uganda. The field activities started in November 2019 and lasted for a period of four months until February 2020. In this period, I had the opportunity to hold inception meetings and mobilized targeted project beneficiaries through media communication. The development partners such as Global Forum for Development (GLOFORD), ADINA FOUNDATION, and district health departments in districts of Lira and Gulu promoting public health education in the communities as well as media (Voice of Lango FM) were involved. The meetings yielded setting up implementation strategies, monitoring, and evaluation, identification of unique dissemination and sensitization needs relating to the project objectives. Through these, I have acquired a field-based experience of working at the community level and engaging with communities at various levels including working with the Non-Governmental Organizations as part of the wider sustainability plan. Cross-cutting skills and competencies such as initiative and leadership, networking and advocacy as well as teamwork were among other skills gained.

 

The above-mentioned stakeholders had different unique engagements and projects that supplemented our on-going project of promoting packed milk product consumption in Northern Uganda. The Global Forum for Development (GLOFORD) is a youth-focused NGO that operates in the Lango sub-region of Northern Uganda; with areas of focus on children and youth, community development, education, and health. This justifies why it was chosen as one of the partners in this implementation. ADINA foundation is also another NGO operating in the Lango sub-region of northern Uganda, mainly dealing with children having disabilities as well as rehabilitating formerly abducted children during the war. They as well do community outreaches especially because of community-based rehabilitation of children. The district health department was involved as well because they do community education on health-related issues. The health department in Lira district had received sponsorship RHITES north –Lango project for running health education activities, hence justifying their engagement as we believed this could be a potential avenue to ensure the sustainability of the project.

As part of the mobilization and community sensitization strategy, a radio talk show was held in November 2019 for 30 minutes hosted by Voice of Lango FM in Lira district. The radio station covers the entire districts in Acholi and Lango Sub-regions, broadcasting mainly in “Luo”, the language commonly spoken in the region. The talk show was moderated by Mr. Elvis Ogwang and guest speakers were Mr. Robine Okello, FAPA awardee, and Mr. Bonny Aloka, a nutritionist Lecturer in the Department of Public Health at Lira University. Listeners were made aware that this dissemination was being sponsored by RUFORUM, a body that supports agricultural sciences research and development in Africa. Contents of dissemination results were delivered according to the research output. Information on milk products existing in the market, production, processing and preservation technologies used to produce these products, quality, and safety of milk was thoroughly explained. One assurance Bonny told listeners is that packed milk is safe to consume as it undergoes heat treatment processes that kill/reduce the population of pathogenic micro-organisms in milk. Answering some of the questions such as “are packed milk products safe?” lactose intolerance! Fostered deep understanding among the listeners.Food values and their importance contained in packed milk products such as protein, calcium, energy, carbohydrates, fats and Vitamin A have been explained accordingly.

farmers

Traders and consumers of Comboni Anyang Rwoc Cura A village during sensitization

The field attachment engaged a total of 210 (beneficiaries/participants), out of which 160 were female while 50 were male representing 76% and 24% respectively. The representation of participants comprised of all the target categories of participants as consumers, traders, processors, and Non-governmental organizations of the communities of Kirombe, Teso Bar, Ngetta and Comboni Cura A village in Railway and Adyel divisions in Lira district, and Unyama trading center in Gulu district. The consumers in these areas had similar perceptions in regards to packed milk products in the markets. The testimonies during experience sharing sessions were alarming! Why one prefers locally produced milk to processed ones. For instance, a member from Kirombe had to say this;

I am suspicious of certain kind of packed milk products because of treatment with Varma-line, a chemical used to preserve dead bodies, that is why I like buying local produce fresh milk

On another hand, those who prefer packed milk products expressed their suspicion of local liquid milk sellers add some additives such as “Ngano”, a cassava flour used in making chapatti bread into milk to increase its volume. A participant had to say this;

I don’t trust local milk traders as they add Ngano to fresh milk to increase the volume after more water is added in to

Some of the accusations included adding swampy water to fresh milk as the sellers take them to the nearest market in the evening. These concerns are critical in the dairy industry if milk and packed milk products are to take root to gain a competitive edge in the market place.

For the above reasons, I was prompted to take spot market visits in the evening. Indeed, to confirm all these allegations, I took a survey to monitor liquid fresh milk sellers specifically those selling on spot market along the roadside in the evening in Teso Bar, a suburb in Lira Municipality. It was not surprising that there were more than 15 sellers standing in line with liquid fresh milk tight in measurement Jerri-cans of three, five, ten and twenty liters respectively. Through interactions with the sellers, I asked them questions regarding whether well water is added into milk to increase the volume. Whether they add Ngano into liquid fresh milk to increase its volume? Unfortunately, none of them could give a straight forward answer in regards to sanitation and hygiene of the process from milking to selling the product. Undoubtedly, one could say these bad practices could be true as liquid fresh milk is sold in the evening hours from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM; a strategy that could be in use to ensure consumers don’t observe what is being sold properly.

Milk Vendros

               Roadside vendors selling local fluid fresh milk in the evening at Teso Bar, Lira

This calls upon all stakeholders promoting dairy farming in the region to design training programs in regard to the safety of milk and milk products. Due to limited nutritional knowledge evidenced among the consumers of food and dairy products. This needs aggressive actions taken to improve consumer health, nutrition, and food security. One such recommendation is advancing deeper understanding and knowledge generation on consumer behavior sciences at the Ph.D. level in regards to the coordination and performance of the dairy industry in Uganda. This could allow streamlining marketing and choice of coordination mechanism of fresh milk and packed milk products supply chains in the informal market. We, therefore, call upon development partners to join hands to fund this further studies.

I am grateful to RUFORUM, Gulu University and the Field Attachment Program Award (FAPA) grant to allow me to disseminate the research output back to the intended stakeholders in the community.

About Robine Okello

He is a beneficiary of the MCF@RUFORUM Scholarship and was among the first cohort who graduated with a Master’s degree in Agri-enterprises Development at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Gulu University.

Contacts: okellorobine@gmail.com Tel: +256-781125239

 

Research was my calling, mastercard foundation is helping me achieve it


James

James Akuku in the Laboratory and the Faculty of Agriculture of Gulu University

Akuku James is from Adjumani district of the west Nile region of Uganda, a fourth born in a family of six children and the only graduate in his family,  Akuku holds a bachelor of science in Agriculture from Makerere University where he graduated with a first class honors in 2018. Now a beneficiary of the mastercard foundation scholarship through RUFORUM and forming part of the third Cohort in 2019, he is forever grateful to MasterCard foundation and RUFORUM for giving him an opportunity to undertake his graduate studies.  He shares his story of his academic journey so far.

The course

I currently study Masters of Science in food security and community nutrition at Gulu University. This degree program is giving me advanced skills and knowledge to support my community in improving food and nutrition security. I thank Gulu University department of Food science and postharvest technology for designing this unique degree programme whose emphasis is on integration of nutrition in farming systems and agribusiness which provides opportunity to ensure that future food systems and agri value chains are nutrition –sensitive

My research

My research focuses on evaluation of local rice varieties and released varieties for acceptability.  I realised that it has become a big concern that many new rice varieties that are released are not adopted well by farmers, as researchers, we think that this has something to do with the sensory properties of these rice varieties. My research will study physiochemical and sensory characteristics of selected rice genotypes in the Uganda germplasm and relate them to the acceptability.  The intention is for this study to inform future rice improvement programmes in developing varieties which are not only with good agronomic characteristics but also good sensory features which can be accepted by the target population. The academic staff at Gulu University are extremely supportive and are qualified. I believe that Gulu University has the ability for high quality graduate training because they have the facilities and experienced staff for the training.

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Akuku in the rice field

My academic Journey

I never thought that I would ever have graduated with a first degree let alone with a first class  honors. This was because, as a child, I hated school and with a father who served as a police office Mr. Mindra Francis (RIP), we, as a family, spent most of our life moving from one police barracks to another. When I joined primary one, my father was transferred three time in that year, so my siblings and I had to change school based on our father’s transfers. I must have studied in a different school every single term, this got me so confused that I barely knew anything in school.

 In 1999, my fathers was transferred to Kaberamaoido in eastern Uganda and it was now third term which was the promotional term, we had joined a school known as ‘Township Primary School’ and I was in primary one, I tried as hard as possible to avoid my teacher for fear of being asked questions in class. Whenever I was given money to buy a snack at school, I always bought roasted cassava which was really delicious. I often left some to be eaten on my way home at lunch time. I would always remove all the items in my mathematical set and place the cassava inside the set case and put my pencil in the pocket together with my counters.

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Samples in the field

One day, as always, I had placed my cassava in my mathematical set case which went missing as the teacher was teaching, I never saw it next to me, we used to study under a mango tree and used to write on the ground under that mango tree only bright pupils would be served with potable chalk boards for writing while us the dull ones wrote on the ground. I had to leave the class and went in search of my set which contained my cassava which I treasured more than anything, I started looking for every young pupil who had a set similar to mine, opened it and saw what was inside, fortunately I found one pupil with it, he said he had picked it from down, but the cassava was still inside, I got my set and went back to class,

My class had 50 pupils, and one day, one of my teachers said every pupil was going to answer a question before leaving the class for lunch, every pupil who was asked did pass their question but I was the only one who failed to answer even the simplest question, every time I tried to answer,  I failed, I would be asked to read the alphabet [A, B,C,D] and I would still fail, read 14, the teacher would say, and I would fail, spell cat , I failed, I knew nothing while my fellow pupils all passed and I  was left alone in class with the teacher. I think the teacher thought I was a pupil who needed extra attention so he called me to his table which contained a lot of charts, alphabetical later charts, names of animals, numerical figures and many other learning tools.

He started talking to me slowly in a friendly manner, he started teaching me the alphabets from A,B, C , he then  taught me vowels and how to join vowels and consonants, and how to form a word and read local language. As for me what I was taught was immediately forgotten to the annoyance of the teacher. Thanks to his patience, he never gave up on me.

Repeating Primary one

I really knew nothing in school, my foundation was poor and my school was not helping either. On the day of the final exam, I sat next to a girl called Ate. Ate was the daughter of our neighbor at home, I really hated Ate because she reported me to mother whenever I mis-behaved at school, I often fought with and my mother would beat me whenever I beat Ate.

Ate was the reason I repeated Primary one,   On the day of the final exams, I was sitting next to her inside one of the class rooms preserved for such days. Since we used to sit on the floor  the class was congested, Ate had sat on my exam paper and as she was trying to move her body, my exam paper tore, I was upset and the teacher said there was no extra paper for anyone who had torn his/her paper, and  he cannot accept a torn paper for grading. Amidst the confusion, I knew that deep down, I would not still have made it to Primary two because I still had a lot to learn. Being unable to do the exam as a result of a torn paper was a perfect excuse for me. I repeated primary one.

Research was my calling

In Kaberamaido the Military Barracks was not far from our home, the Military used to do their routine, physical exercise or jogging called ‘mchaka mckaka’, we always loved it every evening when this group of solders ran along  the main road up to the town Centre singing patriotic military songs, we really loved these songs, and joined these solders in the jogging and I was greatly inspired and I thought that when I grow up I would join the army. That was far from the reality, as Our Lady of Africa Secondary School in Namilyango gave me  a school bursary for my Adavnced Level education and I managed to get a Government Scholarship to study my first degree at Makerere University in Agriculture where I saw vast opportunities and challenges. I realised a big gap in scientific research and promised to perue that path if I got the opportunity to progress beyond my first degree. And now through RUFORUM with support from the Mastercard Foundation, I did get the scholarship to study for study Masters of Science in food security and community nutrition. I believe that my findings will greatly contribute to a pool of knowledge on rice research in Uganda and Africa.

About James Akuku

He is a beneficiary of the MCF@RUFORUM Scholarship and was among the third cohort scholarship recipients undertaking Masters of Science in food security and community nutrition at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Gulu University.

Contacts: jamesakuku@gmail.com

 

RUFORUM trains Mastercard Scholars at Gulu University on Communication and Writing


It was a Saturday, a non-class day for many and students were requested, on an optional basis, to attend a training on Communications and writing which was organised by RUFORUM. As organizers, we expected to train, at most, 40 students. We were pleasantly surprised when the number that showed up doubled our expectations. Mr. Samuel Elolu, a Lecturer at the University who mobilized the students had this to say about the turn-up

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Group work

This is proof that many students have challenges in writing and communicating and are therefore yearning for that knowledge. Soft Skills helps students even beyond their education at Gulu University.

Under the auspice of the project “Transforming African Universities to Meaningfully Contribute to Africa’s Development (TAGDev)” with funding from the Mastercard Foundation, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) organised a training on writing and documentation for mastercard scholars at Gulu University. The training took place 29th February 2020 at the Faculty of Agriculture of Gulu University. As the next generation of academic leaders and researchers, RUFORUM recognizes that equipping the students with practical and soft skills in communication and writing will prepare them for the labor market. The training was delivered in a practical with exercises on writing skills, documentation, group discussions, presentation skills, identification and use of the different communication channels as well as the use of new media in communication which were informed by the need to improve students writing and presentation skills as well as motivate debates through discussions and sharing ideas among students.

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Team work

The students were pleased with the training but requested for more of such soft skills trainings with the following priority areas of focus; Learning to write project proposals, writing officially, how to blog and write good stories, how to document their work through reports and research papers, how to present to audiences and most important, scientific writing.

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They thanks mastercard foundation through RUFORUM for the continuous skills development and they were all tasked to write a story about their academic Journey so far.

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Some of the students during the training

RUFORUM 16th Annual General Meeting (AGM) to be held at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), Morocco


Kampala – 3 March 2020. The 16th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) will be held at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Marrakech and Ben Guerir, Morocco from 18th to 20th November 2020.

UM6P is an institution set up by OCP in the municipality of Ben Guerir, the heart of the Green City, with the aim of positioning itself among world-renowned universities. The university aspires to leave its mark nationally, continentally, and globally and is therefore dedicated to research and innovation. The University is also engaged in economic and human development and puts research and innovation at the forefront of African development.

The 2020 RUFORUM AGM comes a year prior to the Triennial Conference to be held in November 2021 in the Republic of Benin. It will be the first AGM to be hosted in North Africa since 2004 when RUFORUM was set up. It is a confirmation of the expansion of RUFORUM’s geographical footprint across the continent. The 2020 AGM will be held under the theme Higher Education- Private Sector Partnership: Harnessing Opportunities for Agricultural Transformation in Africa.

The AGM falls under the RUFORUM Vision 2030, Knowledge Hub flagship. It is an opportunity to forge new partnerships, network, discuss emerging issues, share lessons and establish the potential to adopt best practices across the 126 RUFORUM member universities from 38 African countries. This year, the AGM provides a uniquely Moroccan experience with greater emphasis on the private sector, the link between university and agriculture as well as the potential for agricultural transformation through higher education.

By RUFORUM constitution, the AGM is attended by Vice-Chancellors, Rectors, Presidents and Principals/Deans from member Universities and representatives from other institutions of higher learning such as the Technical and Vocational Training Institutions (TVETS). The RUFORUM AGM has established a reputation as a platform for dialogue on issues impacting Agricultural Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa. This year, the AGM will bring together the academe (staff and students) with local, national, continental and global players. The 2020 AGM in Morocco is structured to tap into resources and technical expertise from policy makers, the private sector, development agencies and regional bodies that focus on agricultural transformation and the contribution of higher education towards the realization of Africa’s Agenda 2063 the Africa We Want.

The Post Doctoral Fellowship supported by Carnegie kick-started my career as a Scientist


Picture Eric 1As Dr. Eric completed his PhD, he needed a platform to begin his career as scientist. Most early career scientists have to travel abroad to hold a PhD position. Through the Carnegie supported Postdoctoral Fellowship, RUFORUM gave him the opportunity to begin research in his home institution and more importantly to build a research team and develop skills in supervision of graduate students. Wanting to make it an opportunity of two birds killed with one stone, he chose to put up a breeding program on kersting’s groudnut [Macrotyloma geocarpum (Harms) Maréchal & Baudet]. It is a neglected crop of importance in West Africa and Benin.

The fellowship project  

Themed “Towards developement of market-led kersting’s groudnut [Macrotyloma geocarpum (Harms) Maréchal & Baudet] varieties in Benin”, the project aims to produce knowledge that will enable develop improved cultivars of kersting’s groudnut that meet the market demand. The project i) assessed genetic diversity within the available germplasm collection, ii) screened for resistance to storage bruchids, iii) used DArTseq platform to genotype kersting’s groundnut accessions and study diversity, iv) assessed prospects for high throughput phenotyping of yield parameters, v) studied the crop’s phenology and reproductive biology that would inform best ways to perform crosses vi) investigated techniques for kersting’s groudnut seed production, testing seed health, keeping ability to storage and germination capacity and vigour, and vii) investigated ways to expand shelflife of grains in storage.

These inclusive activities toward the achievement of the overall goal are implemented by graduate students, each handling different components of the overall work. That approach has been chosen for its double benefit, as it enables graduate students to implement their Thesis research while contributing to the achievement of a development goal as a whole.

In pratical terms, one PhD research focusing on inheritance of yield and yield components of kersting’s groundnut, used the most current genomic tool Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT) to genotype 237 DNA samples isolated from the same number of accessions. The accessions were collected from different countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Togo with Benin being the main provider (over hundred and fifty accessions). The genotype data generated is useful to assess genetic diversity and conduct genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on specific traits of importance, including yield components. Besides, the student conducted surveys among 305 kersting’s groundnut farmers to understand the constraints hindering the crop’s production and how much yield is achieved by farmers and the socio-demographic factors that influence cropping system of kersting‘s groundnut. He deployed Unmanned aerial vehicle (drones) to provide high throughput phenotyping tools using (UAV)-based multispectral imagery. He investigated the phenology of kersting’s groundnut at both vegetative and reproductive phases and how flower is initiated, develops, matures and fruits. He investigated pollen maturity and germination periods.

PhD student 1_ making crosses on Kersting’s Groundnut (Macrotyloma geocarpum)

PhD student 1_ making crosses on Kersting’s Groundnut (Macrotyloma geocarpum)

The second PhD student surveyed over 300 famers to understand the kersting’s groundnut grain storage conditions in rural settings. He collected 80 samples from farmers’ granaries which he assessed for seed physiological quality, seed germination and vigour tests in laboratory. Also he conducted lab experiments for seed health analysis (fungi and bacteria infestation) to evaluate the infection frequency and incidence as influenced by the handling technics and the collection location. He also assessed how long can be the shelflife of kersting’s groundnut grains using the traditional techniques. He tested seed morphology versus germination characteristics, effect of seed size on viability and vigour, effect of production techniques on seed yield, quality and storability, effect of harvest period and drying methods on seed composition and physiological quality. The student investigated which local storage technics proove the best, how long do the technics keep the grains and how much germination capacity and vigour seeds can keep under such conditions.

PhD student 2_Incubating plates for seeds pathogenic fungi and bacteria detection on Kersting’s Groundnut (Macrotyloma geocarpum) collected from the informal seed system

PhD student 2_Incubating plates for seeds pathogenic fungi and bacteria detection on Kersting’s Groundnut (Macrotyloma geocarpum) collected from the informal seed system

One Master student has completed his research Thesis on morphological characterization of kersting’s groundnut. He conducted field experiment in Djidja, the most important kersting’s groudnut producing area of Benin and collected data on thirty four (34) morphological descriptors, including 22 quantitative and 12 qualitative traits. He defended brilliantly his Thesis and received the highest distinction.

Another Master student collected grain samples from the main kersting’s groudnut markets of Benin, the samples were kept in laboratory for about 80 days to identifiy invading insect-pests. Insect-pests identification was done in the Insectarium at IITA-Benin. Thereafter, he screened 86 kersting’s groundnut accessions for resistance to bruchids (callosobruchus maculatus), the identified most harmful storage insect pest. This was done using mass rearing of insect in Lab conditions at the University of Abomey-calavi. Activities in the Lab include eggs and insect counts to compute medium development period (MDP) and Dobbie Susceptibility Index (DSI). These enabled identify two accessions with resistance to bruchids. He also defended brilliantly his Thesis. In addition to the graduate students, four memories from undergraduate students have been developed and brilliantly defended.

 

The Project’ outcomes

This postdoc project has enabled achieve good results: UAV experiment was carried out and it came out clearly that multispectral imagery has potential to allow estimates of vegetation indices (VIs) yield components at different growth stages of the crop, thus enabling high throughput phenotyping of yield traits in kersting’s groudnut. Floral biology and phenology study was performed and showed useful information on size, anatomy and development scheme of reproductive organs. The various stages of floral development and fruiting have been described and illustrated. The optimum moment for emasculating flowers and making crosses is understood. Surveys with farmers revealed that kersting’s groundnut cropping system is influenced by sociodemographic factors and calendars for cropping activities slightly vary from one production zone to another. Also it was found that constraints to be addressed include the development of improved varieties and sustainable seed system for the crop. The development of proper agronomic practices and steady cropping calendars that allow cultivation in the longer rainy season would reduce loss due to difficult harvesting during dry season. Identification of storage pests of kersting’s groudnut revealed bruchids callosobruchus maculatus and its parasitoids dinarmus basalis as the main insect species that populate kersting’s groudnut grain in storage. Besides, two accessions were found to show resistance to storage bruchids. TK9-1 from Ghana was highly resistant and Sag1 from Benin was moderately resistant. These accessions are potential parental lines that can be used in breeding programs. Morphological characterization of 81 accessions was also done, which exhibited four clusters based on the 34 quantitative and qualitative traits. Experiments on seed production techniques has shown some significant insights in plant spacing, fertilisation regime, harvest periods, weeding periods, planting season, etc.

As for the deliverables, the project has generated so far, two Master Theses, four Memories from undergraduates, four scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals, five manuscripts under peer-review and six other manuscripts under active preparation. Beyond the routine Research implementation and Thesis preparation, during this fellowship, specific emphasis was put on mentoring the PhD students to chase for additional funds and attend workshop trainings and short courses for their professional growth. Hence, so far the two PhD students have benefitted from grants from four donor institutions such as TWAS, IFS, RUFFORD, Global Partners. They both have attended four workshop trainings viz Molecular Biology Training & Open Labware Building Workshop from 1st to 5th April 2019 at University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, Integrated Seed Sector Development course from 06th to 24th May 2019 at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation in Netherlands, Marker Assisted breeding and Genomic selection training from 1st to 30th September 2019 at BeCA- ILRI in Nairobi Kenya, and Complex Traits Analysis of Next Generation Sequencing Data from 11th to 15th, November 2019 at Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medecine Berlin, Germany. Also they participated in international conferences to deliver oral and poster presentations in Nairobi, Kenya, and Montpelier, France.

Insights for the Postdoc Fellow

Walking through this journey is a continuous learning process that is leading to my rapid professional growth. I had to deal with some conflictual and difficult situations, some of which: arguments between fellow students or between students and workers, contradicting advise/comments from co supervisors, failure to meet deadlines and in some instances students tend to be very slow or show inaptitude to deliver a planned milestone, etc. I was able to deal with such situations drawing from the close mentorship I have received and more importantly, using the tools I have acquired during the Leadership Enhancement Program for Agricultural Research and Development (LEPARD) course that RUFORUM has sponsored me to attend. Also through this fellowship, I had the opportunity to develop professional networks during gatherings, and through exchange with senior colleagues to seek for lab facilities or outsource lab services from renowned institutions such as African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA) of UC Davis, ILRI-BeCA, Labs in the US and other CGIAR and NARs within and outside the country. My supervision skill has been thoroughly enhanced and I got more visible to the National Agricultural Research System in Benin and other well known research institutes worldwide. This fellowship also put me in light to the actors in NARs and this has led to bigger research opportunities.

Conclusion and recommendations

Overall, the fellowship has been a great opportunity that enriches the career development of fellows. It is a well thought funding scheme that has a double advantage of providing research platform to both graduate students and Postdoc Fellow, but also enables the Fellow to handle students, develop strategies to deals with difficult and conflictual situations and above all enhance his supervision skills. In addition, in the case of Benin, it is a good starting point for a research career, as this offers opportunity to justify the Fellow’s ability to manage grants and be a research PI. Hence, the Postdoctoral scheme is a boulevard to career development for me as a young researcher. It would be useful to allow more time for the fellowship, so as to enable completion of the PhD Theses, and to enable Fellow to have more time to push to publication most of the papers that are been generated from the research project. Pushing forward, this fellowship could lead to release of some of the promising kersting’s groudnut lines that have been identified. It would also provide opportunity for more Master students to get on board, hence more Theses and papers to be generated.

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