Emmanuel Afutu, now with a new title added to his name ‘Doctor’, was ecstatic as he and his colleagues joined RUFORUM staff on 16th January 2018 during a lunch get-together organized at the Secretariat to honour the new PhD graduates. He was among the 13 RUFORUM-sponsored students who were conferred with Doctorates during the 68th Graduation Ceremony of Makerere University in Uganda, under PhD programmes of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology (PBB) and Agricultural Rural Innovations (ARIS).
The regional innovative course-work based PhD programmes, one of which Dr. Afutu was enrolled in, were initiated by RUFORUM in order to increase the critical mass of PhD skilled and qualified personnel who will champion the African transformation agenda through quality teaching and innovative research that is responsive to societies. Nine Regional PhD programmes have been established with students registered across the Africa region. Since then, a total of 436 PhD students have been trained under the RUFORUM regional programmes, with 94% Alumni now living and working in their country of origin, 45% of which represent female students.
For Dr. Afutu, it was not only an accomplishment but also a relief from the many years of hard work, resilience, sacrifice, and an opportunity to boost the plant breeding and seed Industry in his home country, Ghana. He came to Makerere University from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, to study his PhD on a full doctoral exchange program in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology under the Department of Agricultural Production. His research title was “Resistance of cowpea to scab disease and diversity of Sphaceloma sp. occurring in Uganda”.
Dr. Emmanuel Afutu’s study was necessitated by the fact that scab disease causes up to 100% yield loss in cowpea yet there are currently no resistant cultivars for production in Uganda. His study revealed that Amuria and Tororo Districts were hotspots of the disease in the country and disease occurrence increased with an increase in altitude. Further, he identified six distinct morphological and three pathogenicity groups among the scab fungus occurring in Uganda, with no regional genetic differentiation. He also identified eight high yielding cowpea lines with wide horizontal resistance to the scab disease. Advancing these eight lines and subsequent release to farmers will contribute to ensuring food and nutritional security. The study was funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York through the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), and was supervised by Emeritus Prof. Patrick R. Rubaihayo and Dr. Moses Biruma.
After completion, Dr. Afutu returned to the University of Cape Coast, a full member University of RUFORUM, where he has been lecturing at the same University since March 2017. Besides lecturing, he is supervising two Masters Students studying Seed Science and Technology as well as plant breeding. Dr. Afutu has gone ahead and started a breeding programme at his Home University based on his research at Makerere. He generated some cowpea lines from his research which he carried with him and is now using them to establish the plant breeding programme in collaboration with one other plant breeder in Ghana who works with the Crop Research Institute (CRI) under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
For RUFORUM, it is a story which encourages the work that we do and most importantly re-emphasizes our core values of “building capacity to build capacity”. We continue to realize the economies of scale through academic exchange including fostering regional centers of excellence to train the next generation of agriculture scientists. Dr. Afutu will continue to be the light among many more who have benefited from our programmes and Scholarships.
While sharing his PhD Journey at Makerere with RUFORUM staff in Kampala, Dr. Afutu recalled how settling in a new environment was rather challenging for him and his other colleagues who were in similar programmes. He admitted that in the beginning, everything was tough, from the climate, to food and different teaching style. When asked how he overcame these hurdles, he smiled and said “We made a ladder out of the stones which were thrown at us”.