The Journey was Long and Enriching, and It is Still not Coming to an End!!!

It was a maelstrom of thoughts flying through my already fatigued small head, torn between the need to return home and the exhilaration of grasping a golden opportunity for career growth. Even though the opportunity was appealing and timely (I was just completing my Ph.D. studies), seizing it on the spur of the moment was not evident after almost six years spent in a foreign country instead of three as intended. This conundrum persisted until the very last moment; I wanted to drop everything and leave, to leave this country I love for the one that gave birth to me and all I have, even yet I instinctively knew that I could not pass up the chance that fate had provided to me.

I suppose fate is obstinate, and I could not fight it since making that decision had several implications down the road. So, reluctantly, I decided to stay, to continue the adventure, for another two years, to make eight years in all. My whole focus was on this new reality and how to marry the new contours of my future—contours that had always existed without my awareness. It was hard, but the trip that I made to Senegal, although chaotic (I will spare you the long and haunting details, maybe a good driving idea for another piece of writing), to renew my passport (it had expired a year ago), allowed me to reunite with my motherland and to recharge my batteries, to draw enough resources to face the new challenge that was in front of me, a challenge that I had to take up at all costs.

Fast forward, I am finally about to be done, and I am about to start again, discussing other options of continuing the journey, as if, in 2020, I was not so reluctant to spend more time in this beautiful country. But man/woman, no one can escape from destiny, especially when destiny is epitomized by opportunities and prospects of success and scientific, professional, and social growth. Staying a few more years within these prestigious institutions and collaborating with top-notch scientists and researchers was not easy to remain indifferent about. Therefore, I must admit that I may stay in Uganda for some more years, which is no longer repulsive; I look forward to that possibility. My motivation should have stemmed from the propositions presented to me during several discussions I had with Dr. Edema and the possibility of reinforcing the collaboration between Makerere University Regional Center for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI) and National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), which I believe will lead to outstanding scientific achievements with more social impact.

But, Hey!!! Let us not forget the purpose of this storyline… My Post-Doctoral Fellowship (PDF)…

Yeah, this is about my Post-Doctoral Fellowship (PDF) journey at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) and Makerere University (MAK) of Uganda. A PDF generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York under the excellent management of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture in Africa (RUFORUM), under the brilliant mentorship of Dr. Stanley Nkalubo (NaCRRI) and Emeritus Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo (MAK). My PDF started in October 2020, with the support of my two mentors at NaCRRI and MAK.

My first task, though not easy, was to find and select Ph.D. and MSc. students that could effectively take up the different project activities and successfully conduct them. I repeat, it was not easy since I was attached to the legumes program that had some projects running; it was logical that my PDF included students working on legumes. Therefore, the two Ph.D. students of the PDF, Eunice Vasiter Kesiime and Winnyfred Amongi, are working on genetics and genomics of bean seed quality traits such as cooking time, canning quality, and iron and zinc content and bioavailability. Eunice is affiliated with NaCRRI/Legumes Programs, while Winnyfred is working with the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT (ABC), a key collaborator of the Legumes Program of NaCRRI, both being co-supervised by my mentor, Dr. Nkalubo. We recruited an MSc student under the Bean Beetle project led by Dr. Michael Otim (my on-station supervisor during my Ph.D. studies). Phillip Sekitoleko, unfortunately, is not making significant progress owing to several challenges he is faced with, although his work seems to be straightforward since all he needs is to analyze the already available genotypic data of beetle populations collected across Uganda. I recruited two other MSc. students working on maize Striga-resistance and ProVitamin A content and Sorghum resistance to Anthracnose, Fiston Tambwe Masudi and Marie Claudine Mukashema, respectively. Therefore, for the PDF, I am working with five students (two Ph.D. and three MSc), on three crops (beans, maize, and sorghum), essentially on seed quality traits and resistance and management of insect pests, besides my own research activities.

I am running two research projects on bean cooking time and seed coat postharvest darkening (SCPHD) on behalf of my NaCRRI mentor (what a generous man and a prolific scientist!!!) and his collaborators. I actually discussed with my mentor the requirements RUFORUM had set for the post-doc fellows, which is having to publish scientific papers in reputable journals as a first author, and we agreed on me conducting these projects with prospects of publications to fulfill the requirements.

Arfang BADJI, Post-Doc Fellow

Unfortunately, we are faced with seed quantity and funding issues in achieving our targets. First, we had to increase the seed to have enough for our experiments, which we failed to accomplish in the second rainy season of 2021; thus, we had to repeat the seed multiplication process, which is still underway. We also made some changes to the objectives of the SCPHD, which resulted in needing additional funds to achieve these.

Nevertheless, I have managed to hit some milestones toward satisfying the RUFORUM requirements, with the publication of a book chapter in April 2022 (, which was spurred by a collaboration with two colleagues from Universite Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), namely, Dr. Issa Diedhiou and Abdoulaye Fofana Fall (currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the Uganda Martyrs University). I am also preparing several publications regarding reviews and research on diverse topics related to beans and maize QTL comparative analysis, Genetic diversity, Association mapping, Seed quality traits, and comparative evolutionary studies of potyvirus genomes in collaboration with many top-notch scientists from various research and teaching institutions. I am preparing a review paper on bean seed coat postharvest darkening is being internally reviewed and will soon be submitted for consideration in the African Journal of Rural Development (AfJRD). Besides, I am very proud of the PDF’s students, who have made remarkable achievements, especially in answering some of the questions their studies were investigating.

Winnifred Amongi, a Ph.D. student, found out that bean genotypes she studied exhibited a high diversity level and thus could be used in plant breeding to improve cooking time, iron and zinc content, and bioavailability. She also unraveled the structure and polymorphic information within the population, which provides valuable perspectives for genomic breeding and genome-wide association for the studied traits.

Winnifred Amongi, a Ph.D. student

Eunice Vasiter Kesiime, Ph.D. student, also worked on beans and identified 11 bean genotypes that cooked in less than 60 minutes and 31 genotypes that scored 75% and above for canning quality traits, availing invaluable material for households and processors. She also mapped 42 significant SNP markers for use in selection for cooking time and canning quality traits in future breeding activities.

Eunice Vasiter Kesiime, Ph.D. student

Fiston Masudi Tambwe, MSc. student, works on maize. He revealed the preponderance of additive gene action in controlling Provitamin A accumulation in Striga-resistant maize available in Uganda. He also identified two single-cross Striga resistant and highest yielding maize hybrids that should be further tested for consistent performance for commercialization. Similarly, the Striga resistant STR1004 and the Provitamin A-rich CLHP0352 inbred lines were identified and availed as outstanding parents to use in breeding. He informs future breeding efforts that the population of inbred lines he studied holds significant genetic variability for developing stress-resistant and nutritionally improved maize in Uganda.

Fiston Masudi Tambwe, MSc. student

Marie Claudine Mukashema, MSc. student, was not very lucky. Her laptop was robbed with all the output of the analyses and results of her study. Unfortunately, not backing up her information obliges her to repeat the investigations. Preliminarily, she has identified 20 high-yielding sorghum genotypes with high resistance levels to anthracnose, and several SNP markers associated with resistance and yield traits were mapped, although the analyses are still being optimized.

Unfortunately, one of the greatest weaknesses of the PDF is Phillip Sekitoleko, MSc student, who is facing many challenges, making his progress very chameleonic. He is still lagging far behind his colleagues, not having even defended his proposal yet, left alone starting his analyses, although all the needed data is already available. However, this experience taught me a lot, especially about being patient with students while remaining firm and exigent to avoid being taken for granted. We are still working towards helping him advance in his studies, and we firmly believe he will turn his challenges into opportunities for outstanding scientific achievements, just like his other colleagues.

Marie Claudine Mukashema, MSc. student

Besides, this PDF allowed me to sharpen my research supervision and teaching skills by monitoring and guiding postgraduate students’ research under my mentors’ guidance at NaCRRI and MAK. Besides the students in the PDF, I have interacted with several other postgraduate students on issues related to their studies. These interactions have allowed me to appreciate how much work it takes to supervise and guide a student, making me more grateful to my supervisors at the Ph.D. and MSc levels. I would like to once again, in a revering way, tank them and tell them how grateful I am. These humble words of thank you are extended to my current and future near-future mentors.

Furthermore, I have made great strides towards perfecting my skills in data analysis in various platforms such as R, Linux, and Python programming languages and crop modeling software, which is instrumental for my career growth in terms of publication capacity and consultancy portfolio. Under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Lapaka Odong of the Department of Agricultural Production of Makerere University, I have handled tutorials on the practical utilization of these skillsets in using Functional Genomics and Bioinformatics tools to solve Plant breeding problems, activities I undertook with the Ph.D. students pursuing a degree in Plant breeding and biotechnology at MAK.

In addition, I am developing several local and international collaborations to develop and implement digital farming systems involving online investments for agricultural commodities farming, distribution, and commercialization, research and extension frameworks for digital commodity farming activities,  agricultural data collection and management systems etc. In addition, with MAK alumni of Ph.D. in plant breeding and Biotechnologies, we are registering a collaborative network in Uganda and across several African countries to engage in research, education, and consulting on agriculture-related development activities.

Additionally, as I alluded to earlier, I am actively discussing with Dr. Richard Edema and the MaRCCI team the possibility of my joining this organization as a post-doctoral scientist as well as the best means to find funding for the fellowship’s sustainability and research funding. In light of this, I am generating a grant proposal for sustainable cropping systems of monocropping and intercropping cereals and legumes that utilize the soil microbiota symbiosis to increase tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses, improve nitrogen use efficiency, and increase carbon and nitrogen sink capacity. Our book chapter, by the way, you should read it, along with extensive scientific literature freely available online, are a good illustration of how the soil microbiota could be used to improve the overall service crops could provide to human beings and the environment at large. Different breeding strategies supported by tremendous cutting-edge technologies and skills provide a breeding perspective for improved symbiotic capacity.

So, again, fast-forward to August 2020, and here I am, looking forward to joining MaRCCI and setting collaborations with NaCRRI legumes, cereal breeding programs, and other local and international research and teaching institutions. These collaborations will be focused on developing climate-smart breeding pipelines for the development of climate-resilient and climate-supportive crop technologies that will have the dual purpose of boosting economic growth and doing a better service to the environment at large in the context of changing climate and land degradation scenarios.

However, if I finish this story without mentioning how lovely Uganda and its people are and how much peace and hospitality Ugandans are filled with, I would not be doing justice to myself, RUFORUM, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Makerere University, NaCRRI, and Uganda in general, present from the beginning, from the time of my Ph.D. studies to the period of my post-doctoral fellowship. In addition, thanks to my stay at MAK and to RUFORUM’s gracious facilitation of the several conferences I attended, this extensive and fascinating journey has allowed me to get to know, engage with, and appreciate the diversity of hundreds of individuals from Uganda and other countries in Africa. I can assure you that nothing could have taught me better the life lessons I learned through interacting with people from all walks of life than these eight years of piligrimage. This life-changing journey has, therefore, deepened my humanity and filled it with more understanding, empathy, and tolerance towards people and their differences. These social, ethnic, cultural, religious, and scientific diversities and enrichments have significantly altered my perspectives on many global issues.

I am still not a perfect human being, but one thing I am sure of is that I am socially, scientifically, and professionally perfecter than I was when I first landed, in October 2014, on the rich and prolific lands of the Pearl of Africa, with its paradisiac landscape and whether. And the journey is likely to still continue, hopefully, toward more impactful research and scientific excellency…

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