I have spread my wings through RUFORUM scholarships

Growing up in DRC Bukavu town, with parents who believed in education being key to my future, has shaped who I am today. In our home region of Eastern DRC, we faced so many problems growing up due to different wars and rape of women. I had to struggle finishing my university education.  After finishing my undergraduate studies, I started working at my university (Université Evangélique en Afrique) as a lecturer in 2010.

Matendo doing her Laboratory Work

In 2014, I was fortunate to merit a scholarship from the INTRA-ACP mobility scheme funded by the European Union to pursue my master degree at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania. Coming from French speaking country it was not easy to study in an English speaking country. After making some more effort to learn English, I thoroughly enjoyed my course, research work and meeting other people in Tanzania. I even undertook my research in Tanzania investigating some natural products that could fight against Tuta Absoluta, which is a common pest of tomatoes. Interacting with farmers while collecting samples in different districts was however my greatest highlight.

After the completion of my masters’ degree, I got an opportunity to pursue a PhD in Food Science and Nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) under the auspices of the RUFORUM Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) Programme. I also won another research scholarship from RUFORUM funded by the Social and Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture (SENTINEL) Project.

For my PhD research, I am studying utilization of local plant-based treatment to mitigate the mycotoxin contamination in some staples food in South Kivu, DRC. This work proposes to address the problem of food insecurity in the DRC through the prevention and reduction of mycotoxin (aflatoxins and fumonisins) contamination in foods commonly consumed in the community. There is still limited information on the contamination of maize with fungi that causes the mycotoxines in foods and how to manage it, yet it is so devastating it is reported to cause yield loss, and the oocurrence of some diseases are correlated with the population to be exposed on those toxins. Aflatoxins cannot be completely eliminated from the food systems. Thus, any effort to prevent or reduce contamination in foods is highly recommended.

This research was my first major experience in plant pathology and was not short of challenges. At the start, the task looked impossible because it was difficult to have the equipment to determine the incidence of those toxins in maize. All the equipment to be used was really costly and was unavailable in the local markets. The financial support from RUFORUM has helped me a lot, to undertake my research. In addition, we had several webinars. One on GIS, which helped me in mapping my research area; the webinar on qualitative and quantitative data helped me in analysing the data of my findings. All thanks to support from the SENTINNEL project through RUFORUM.

The experience in the field was not bad, but we were confronted with a COVID-19 problem and we could not reach certain areas. The research methodology that I used was the survey to understand the perception of farmers, processors and vendors on the mycotoxin contamination of their products and at the same time I collected samples to be analyzed in the laboratory. The main findings I got mycotoxin contamination in South Kivu is evident and occurs throughout the value chain with a high incidence in the market and processors. To solve this problem, we need strategies that take into account the entire value chain. I got a networking space with the African aflatoxin expert which is a good platform where we share the most recent publication on mycotoxin contamination in most African countries. COVID 19 greatly affected my field and laboratory work as I was unable to access the laboratory for almost five (5) months and during sample collection, some areas were not accessible because of lockdown. This affected my academic work as I now had to cover the time I had lost during COVID-19.

Currently, I lecture part-time at both JKUAT and UEA universities. Thanks to the knowledge and skills gained through this RUFORUM-funded training, today I move with my head held high with confidence. I am really grateful to RUFORUM for the support provided to me during my studies and to different lecturers for the mentorship.

My career journey is not yet complete though. I have set my sights on greater things and look forward to pursuing the different objectives of my doctoral degree. Thereafter, I will continue to contribute to science through knowledge generation and dissemination. I also plan to mentor young scientists and contribute to sustainable food production by working on vagaries that hinder increased food production.

For more details please contact Ms. Rehema Matendovia email: rehema_esther@yahoo.fr or vecordcongoesther@gmail.com

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