As I and my active toddler daughter boarded the flight from the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, I felt nostalgic at first for leaving my family and friends behind, and fear of the unknown. As I got to Kigali International airport, I became anxious of how to manage my work-life balance. As the airplane touch-down at Entebbe International airport, I was determined to succeed in achieving my career goal- as a seasoned plant breeder. Despite the initial challenges most international students face, such as food, language/ accent, and environment/temperature, I knew if I must succeed, I needed to keep an open-mind and adjust as much as possible to enable me fit into my new environment.
You may have wondered why I traveled over 2886 km from University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria to study at Makerere University, Uganda with an active toddler. Well, I made the decision to pursue my PhD education at Makerere University in Uganda because it was one of the premier universities for plant breeding in the region, and was sponsored by Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) as one of its leading Regional Programmes in Africa. It was the best career decision I made because RUFORUM gave me the platform that enabled me to get several prestigious African fellowships such as the African Women in Agricultural and Research Development (AWARD); Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agricultural Programme (Borlaug LEAP) and most recently the African Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF). During these fellowships, I have worked with well-respected and seasoned plant breeders, I visited and worked in several national and international breeding programmes and high-tech genomic labs in the Uganda (Makerere University, National Crop Resources Research Institute [NaCRRI] and CIAT; Kenya (Biosciences eastern and central Africa in the International Livestock Research Institute [BecA-ILRI] hub, UK (John Innes Center) and USA (Michigan State University).
These networks were useful to me as I carried out my research titled ‘Resistance to Rust (Uromyces Appendiculatus (Pers.Pers.) Unger.) in Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) in Uganda’. The common bean, is a major food security crop and source of income for Ugandans for over 40 decades, however, the crop has been experiencing decreasing yields in recent years. These losses are attributed to abiotic and biotic factors, of which rust is one of the major diseases causing up to 100% yield loss. A common remedy in managing the disease are fungicide treatments. I noticed that these approaches are effective but often expensive and leave smallholder farmers with few alternatives for dealing with infected crops. The best strategy was breeding resistant varieties as the most practical and sustainable solution for these farmers. During my research, I identified some sources of resistance that I used to improve four farmers preferred common bean varieties using recent genomic tools. My professional achievements so far are: (i.) identified some common bean rust pathotypes in Uganda, (ii.) developed competitive Allele Specific PCR markers linked to common bean rust resistance, and (iii) developed advanced farmer preferred common bean seeds with resistance to rust disease. These findings contributed to legume breeding program in Uganda and have been published in international journals and also presented at international conferences. Apart from participation in professional international associations, I also volunteer to help others in my community grow their career through a mentorship program. I actively mentored young female scientists and youths interested in any area of the agricultural value chain in Nigeria as a volunteer mentor in the Grooming Leaders for Agriculture (GLA) initiative. I have organized some role-modeling events to various groups of earlier career scientists in agricultural research and development in my home institution. My contributions to agriculture in Africa has been recognized because I was given an award by the center of research management in my home institution, I have been invited to present my research findings at the 2016 Grand Challenges meeting in the UK and will do the same as a Borlaug LEAP delegate at the 2017 World Food Prize! RUFORUM has indeed been a blessing to me and I encourage my fellow career women to dare embracing PhD opportunity such as that that was offered to me by RUFORUM.
Contact: Phone: +256 78389763 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn: Blessing Nwokocha Twitter: @blessing.odogwu, Blog: @blessingodogwu.blogspot.com