The fruit of my PhD journey: Dr. Janet C. Achora


My Journey into the PhD program began when we were invited by our partners from the School of Agricultural Sciences, Makerere University to partner in the development of a proposal. This proposal was for the competitive grants that had been advertised under the RUFORUM Community Action Research Program (CARP). At that time, I was working with an NGO (Women of Uganda Network), where we used radio, mobile phones, Web 2.0 tools and the Ushahidi platform to engage with and share agricultural information with smallholder farmers in Northern Uganda. I came in as the “ICT in Agriculture” partner working with rural farming communities.

Our Proposal was titled “Outreach Framework for Strengthening University-Farming Community engagement for Improved and sustainable Livelihoods (SUFACE)”, led by Dr. Peter Ebanyat as the Principal investigator. One of the requirements for the CARP call was that the proposal had to include one PhD student and three Masters students. I ended up becoming the PhD student in the project.

Joining the PhD Program

I enrolled for the Doctor of Philosophy in Agricultural and Rural innovations of Makerere University in the academic year 2012/13. It was a three-year program with one year for coursework. We started our coursework year in September of 2012 and I had full sponsorship under the RUFORUM CARP project, so I was not worried about tuition and research funds. The first year started very well until I started facing family challenges. My spouse got very ill with kidney failure and was hospitalized for an entire year. Juggling school, hospital and family became my life. I was determined to keep up with the program but there were days my brain would simply not function. Towards the end of 2013, my spouse lost the battle just as we were completing the first year. My supervisor at that time advised me to take a dead year. But a lot was happening at the same time because immediately after that bad spell, I got called for a job that I had applied for a year back. The job was in Nairobi, Kenya, meaning I was to change geographical location. I had to make a lot of critical decisions and real fast. If I took up the job offer, that meant I was going to have to lose my scholarship.

Losing the scholarship The decisions l had to make were the most difficult at that time. I had very supportive Supervisors (Dr. Prossy Isubikalu and Dr. Bernard Obaa), who counselled me, but at the end of the day, the decision was mine to make. I dropped out of the CARP project, took up the job offer and decided not to take a dead year, but continue under self-sponsorship. I changed my research area from “Integrated Soil Fertility Management and ICTs” to “Conservation Agriculture and ICTs”. That meant I also had to change supervisors and very quickly work on a new proposal ready for presentation to the Departmental research committee. The Department was supportive and I was assigned new Supervisors, Dr Haroon Sseguya and Dr Florence Kyazze. I was now navigating new terrain, new supervisors, new topic, new geographical location (Machakos and Laikipia counties in Kenya) and different language-Swahili. This last one was not a problem since one of my previous job assignments was in Tanzania. I must commend my Doctoral committee and my supervisors, I was able to work hard and have the proposal in time for the scheduled proposal defense. I passed the proposal defense and had to make minor changes before I was cleared for data collection. That also meant I had to make frequent journeys back to meet with my Supervisors and Doctoral committee.

The search for research funding Two years had passed and I was entering into the third year with no data collected yet. I had saved up some funds but not enough to complete the entire data collection process. I used the funds I had to collect data in one county (Laikipia), but could not proceed to the second county (Machakos) as I had run out of money. Meanwhile, I was busy applying for research funding, and could not breakthrough. I continued working with the data that I had collected while sourcing for research funding, and at the same time applying to present my work in conferences. In 2015, I secured funding from AuthorAid and presented my partial findings at the IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society, IEEE ISTAS conference in Dublin-Ireland. That Award grant covered my travel expenses and accommodation, but not research. I was able to publish a conference paper “ICT supported Extension Services in Conservation Agriculture Information Access for Smallholder Farmers in Laikipia County, Kenya” (see Link) in the 2015 IEEE International Symposium on Technology in Society (ISTAS) Proceedings, ISBN: 978-1-4799-8282-0.

Securing research funds and returning to Makerere to complete writing Then towards the end of 2015, RUFORUM advertised for Doctoral finalization grant under the Carnegie Corporation of New York. I applied and was awarded the funding in May 2016. This funding marked a very crucial stage and a turning point in my PhD career. It enabled me to complete the rest of my data collection (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Data collection in Kenya

I realized if I continued working, I would never complete the PhD. Therefore, I made another major decision, I quit my job in Nairobi and returned to Makerere University to concentrate on writing. As part of the funding requirement, I was required to present a paper at the Fifth RUFORUM Biennial Conference in Cape Town, South Africa which I did (see Link) and published another conference paper. Writing, rewriting and presenting to the Doctoral Committee, peers and the Departmental seminars was an ongoing activity for most of 2017 and 2018. Writing Journal papers was also part of the process, since it is a requirement to publish before you graduate. For most of 2017/2018, I did nothing else but “bench” in the University library from 8:00 am/9:00 am to 9:00 pm daily except on Sundays. I almost became a recluse, but I knew I had to pay back to my family especially after all the support they had given me. Finally, under the mentorship of my supervisors in September 2019, I successfully defended my PhD and I graduated in January 2020.

Lessons to share
There is a lot to learn during the massive PhD journey, I summarize and share my own experience and lessons that emerged along the journey: the PhD journey is an interesting one, a lot of learning happens, new networks are formed, new skills acquired and resilience built. It is very important to stay positive, focused and keep going even when there are delays on some issues; the most important lesson is to keep writing even when it looks like you are writing nothing. Some days, I would sit in the library and only come out with a paragraph, imagine a whole day. But all those small paragraphs build up into a page. It is also very important to build social capital and networks. Having a peer group where you keep presenting to each other, reminding and lifting each other
always led me to the next step. Reading other people’s work, contributing to discussions I realized was where most of the learning took place. Of course, if you are in the same cohort, people keep dropping off as others complete or drop out completely; it is therefore important to form new networks and keep going. You may be one PhD in the Department, but not in your general area of study, so connect to others for mutual support, guidance and learning. It is also very important to present your work to professional bodies. Participate in conferences, seminars and accept feedback. It changes the way you think and opens up new ideas you had not thought of.
And lastly, remember to always exercise your body and mind. Pray for your peace of mind and also be thankful that you have reached the epitome of Academics. Not everyone reaches there, but with being patient and the will of GOD you will make it! Never Give Up!

Janet Cox Achora works with the World Bank funded Agriculture Cluster Development Project of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries- Uganda, as the Communication and Knowledge Management Specialist. Previous work experience was with the African Conservation Tillage Network- Nairobi Kenya. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Agriculture and Rural Innovations from Makerere University, A Master’s Degree in International Community Economic Development (ICED) from the Southern New Hampshire University, Massachusetts, United States and a Bachelor’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Makerere University, Uganda. Janet can be contacted at email:

[Issue 63] Media Monitoring: Extract of Press News on Higher Education in Africa

[Issue 62] Media Monitoring: Extract of Press News on Higher Education in Africa

  1. Daily Maverick

Our universities need to change for an as yet unimagined future (South Africa)

South Africa needs to build national capacity for an economy that needs skills that are radical and complex. In order to facilitate this, we need to ‘decolumnise’ campuses from the grand colosseums to a vibrant, insightful, smart network of decentralised partners.  Here is something that should scare and excite you in equal measure; in two years’ time, 27% of our economy will consist of new types of jobs that we can’t even imagine yet – not counting the ones whose extinction will be speeded up by Covid-19 and 4IR. But here’s the thing, our universities can’t imagine them either. The truth is that our education system is archaic, designed for an economy that has changed very little over the past 20 years and as a result, is neither as diversified nor resilient as economies that were far inferior to South Africa’s over the same time frame. The system is in gnarly dysfunction. The universities could change, and many want to, but it would take them between 10 and 15 years. South Africa doesn’t have that luxury — and the advent of Covid-19 has just shortened that time frame considerably — but it does have a raft of TVET colleges across the country; 50 of them registered public institutions operating at 364 campuses across the country that could pivot to do this in anything from 12 to 24 months. TVET stands for Technical and Vocational Education and Training. The colleges provide vocational, occupational and artisan education across an incredibly diverse scope; some TVET colleges offer more than 300 courses from NQF levels 1-8, while what we term higher education, i.e. the universities and universities of technology covers NQF levels 5-10. The TVET system is funded to the tune of R8-billion a year and yet most colleges are defective and ineffective, but none of them need be. We have rampant unemployment, with figures that are expected to skyrocket later this year after the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, but the greatest problem remains the NEET, that cohort of persons Not in Employment, Education and Training. In the last quarter of 2018 that amounted to 3.2-million people out of the 10.3-million in the 15-24 age bracket. They are not just unemployed; they are left unemployable in a world that is changing as we speak. Modern learning is based on three facets: qualifications, credentialisation and lifelong learning. Qualifications traditionally open the door to jobs, but what jobs? It once took 15 to 20 years for the technical skills you learnt to become obsolete, now that’s been cut to two to five years. We’re losing plenty of jobs in the formal sector through Covid-19 attrition on the one hand and the much-storied disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the other. There’s also a high barrier to entry in terms of both cost and geography to universities and universities of technology.

Read more here

  1. University World News

Higher education – The lifeblood of development (Africa)

We are in the midst of a crisis – the crisis of COVID-19 – that has seen Africa lock down, right from Cape Town in South Africa through to Cairo in Egypt; from Djibouti through to Dakar in Senegal. There is a sense in which this crisis is ‘giving back’, one of which includes our inclination to begin to interrogate the role of education in our affairs going forward. And this has come about because during this crisis Africa’s underbelly has been exposed in a number of areas. In the field of health, we have been forced to remind ourselves that notwithstanding the decision of African heads of state in Abuja several years ago to dedicate 15% of national budgets to health, that has not happened, with the consequence that we have seen that our health facilities are below par. It has also demonstrated to us that notwithstanding the position taken by African heads of state in Maputo in Mozambique that we would dedicate 15% of national budgets to agriculture, Africa cannot feed herself. It has also demonstrated that many African governments have in the last many years not regarded science and research and development as key components of development. The net effect is that we have had to rely on other countries to support us even in the provision of things as mundane as masks.  I think that this legitimises the conversation we are having today. Post-coronavirus, what is the role of higher education in Africa’s development? And when we talk about development, we must understand development in its broadest sense. Will higher education help to address Africa’s perennial problems which we have stated and restated numerous times? Will it help us to address the problem of hunger? Will it help us to address the problem of the disease burden? Will it ensure we embrace technology and our diffidence of the fourth industrial revolution age? Will it ensure we create opportunities for our young men and women to innovate and to invent? Will it ensure we use our various resources in the areas of art and performance? In a nutshell, will it help Africa to realise the goals that are identified under the African Agenda 2063 so that Africa will be a mid-level economy which is no longer famous for having people live from hand to mouth? In order to do justice to that conversation, it is incumbent upon me to look back to the past. Because when we look back, we are going to recognise that Africans and African leaders have always understood that education is at the very heart of development. I remember as a young man, institutions within the African continent were identified for their excellence – institutions such as Fourah Bay [College] in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which was referred to as the essence of Africa and was famous for its contribution to engineering; institutions such as the University of Ibadan in Nigeria; institutions such as Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Fort Hare and a series of other universities – and when I talk about that history I remember two important events that took place in Ghana in 1961.

Read more here

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It is beyond high yield when selecting cassava varieties for planting. An experience from Bukedea and Kumi districts in Uganda

As a son of a farmer, I am always compounded and reminded of Bill Gates quotation “Innovations that are guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment will be necessary to ensure food security in the future”. Therefore, I strive to emulate on the farming practices of my fore fathers and at the same time improve on these practices through research, such that farming communities like the ones I was raised from, improve their livelihoods. In 2017, as a volunteer for the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Kawanda, Uganda, I decided to apply for a Masters in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems at Makerere University. I was graced with fruitful opportunity by Dr. Peter Wasswa, a Lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Production, Makerere University. I was to be part of the cassava Community Action Research Programmes Plus (CARP+) coordinated by Professor Agnes Wakesho Mwang’ombe from the University of Nairobi under the banner of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

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A farmer shows Mr. Kasule her cassava plants hit severely with CMD

Growing up as a kid from Lutengo village, Buwama sub-county, Mpigi district in Uganda, I always knew the benefits of growing cassava and now that an opportunity had downed on me in form of the RUFORUM CARP+ project. I ceased it with open arms with good intentions of learning from other cassava farming communities. Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz), is an important staple food crop cultivated in many parts of Uganda, the eastern region being the biggest producer. It is a good source of industrial raw materials, substitute in animal feeds and the chief source of dietary food energy for the majority of Ugandans. In my MSc work, I surveyed sub-county communities in Bukedea and Kumi districts in eastern Uganda, in September 2018 to determine the prevalence of major viral diseases on farmer preferred cassava cultivars and farmers’ knowledge on how to manage these diseases. In Bukedea district five sub-counties including Malera, Kabarwa, Kidongole, Koena and Kocheka were sampled while in Kumi district four sub-counties including Ongino, Kumi, Kanyum and Ngero were sampled. From these sub-counties, I got a chance to visit and interact with 150 cassava farms/farmers; 74 in Bukedea district and 76 in Kumi district with spacing of at least 1 km between farms.

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Mr. Kasule Faizo inspecting cassava field sourced stem cuttings at Samuel’s farm in Bukedea district

From this interaction, I got to know that farmers prioritize tastiness to other attributes such as good cooking quality and tolerance to diseases. Thus, cultivars NASE 03 and NASE 14 were most preferred despite their observed susceptibility to Cassava mosaic virus disease (CMD) and Cassava brown streak virus disease (CBSD). Cultivar NAROCASS 1 which was observed to tolerate the two diseases and known to yield high was least preferred and not widely adopted as farmers claimed it was tasteless! Though this observed trend in preference and disease preference could as well be related to the time these varieties were released. Cultivar NAROCASS 1 was more recently released only in 2015 while NASE 03 was released in 1993 and NASE 14 in 2011.

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One of the farmers in Bukedea showing CBSD root damages

Among the farmers I interacted with was Mr. Ogule Samuel from Bukedea district, Kocheka sub- county, Ariet parish, Omoniek village. Samuel had 8 acres of land of which, 6 were used for cassava cultivation. Like all other farmers in the region, Samuel mostly preferred growing NASE 03. Like all other NASE 03 fields by other farmers, Samuel’s field was severely hit by CMD and CBSD. This captured attention and engaged in a serious dialogue with Mr. Ogule in order to find out the cause of this. I found out that the source of cassava planting material used by this farmer was field sourced (FS) cassava planting materials

These FS materials were obtained from own seed, neighbors, friends, community and NGOs whose virus status is unknown and therefore this caused virus build up in these cassava stem cuttings and hence the increased CBSD and CMD in his field. Mr. Ogule confessed to lose between 60-100% of his cassava produce due to CMD and CBSD, seriously affecting his income but also leading to increased food insecurity in the region and the country. When Samuel was asked why he does not opt for the use of tissue culture (TC) cassava planting materials which are tested for viruses, he said he was willing to adopt TC materials but accessibility was a problem.

On moving further to Kumi district, Magara parish, Angopet village, I came across Ms. Alupo Christine, another cassava farmer with the same problems as the previous farmer, Mr. Ogule. Ms. Alupo had 8 acres of cassava with a number of cassava cultivars like NASE 03, NASE 14, NASE 19, TME 14 among others. This farmer used various disease management practices including intercropping, uprooting and discarding infected plants, spraying among others to reduce on the disease damage. She largely intercropped cassava with maize, sorghum, sunflower, groundnuts, cowpea among others as do other farmers in the region.

Faizo 4

A farmer shows no yield in his cassava fields due to CBSD

However, with the above management practices I noticed that CBSD and CMD were still prevalent in Ms. Alupo’s cassava fields as well as in other farmers’ fields carrying out the same practices.

I observed that farmers in Bukedea and Kumi were not taking into account the isolation distances suggested in FAO convention, 2012. Their cassava fields were located in close proximity to each other and this eased the spread of virus infections from one farmer field to another by whiteflies.

My encounter with cassava farming communities in Bukedea and Kumi provided me with an exciting experience but rather challenging and as a student pursuing plant breeding, I realized the need for more improved varieties not only in high yielding and disease resistance attributes but also ‘good’ taste attributes. I also realized that farmers need to be sensitized on the benefits of starting with clean/virus-free planting materials obtained from credible sources. Such material could be obtained from tissue culture labs as basic seed and multiplied in isolated places before dissemination of material to farmers.

This led me to undertake further research on establishing the effective isolation distance for management of viral diseases in tissue culture-derived material and field-sourced virus-tested material. A manuscript has been developed to this effect and is under review by the African Crop Science Journal.  This work will provide seed multipliers and smallholder farmers in Uganda with effective isolation distances in order to manage CBSD and CMD during seed multiplication thus enabling farmers to start with clean material whenever establishing new fields.

Faizo 5

Cassava intercropped with sunflower

Gratitude to the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) for the opportunity to be part of this project, my supervisors for the proper coordination and the cassava farmers from Bukedea and Kumi districts for their lovely enthusiasm and warm hospitality.

By Kasule Faizo  who can be contacted through this

Farmer Misconceptions of Cassava Diseases, Income and Food Security Opportunities from Cassava Production in Coastal Kenya

Having grown and brought up in western part of Kenya, where cassava is one of the major foods and a week cannot go without ‘Ugali’ made from cassava and sorghum this was my first encounter with the Kenyan coast. I had higher expectations and according to the stories I have been since my childhood about the people in the Kenyan coastal region. This ranging from the low paced life style at the coast, plenty of coconuts, good recipes and beautiful girls along in the Taita region.

Livoi 1

A picture of Antony Livoi, at the background is landscape of Taita-taveta- Mwatate, Voi and Bhughuta hills  taken from the Wundanyi escarpments.

My experience was great and awesome from the long hours of travels from the Nairobi to Kilifi County and the warm high climate temperature. This made me understand why people in this region are used lesos-sheets of cloth as compared to our people in the uplands and the rest of the country.


Illustration of Wesu Hills, a tourist attraction site due to the clean spring waters and endangered tree species

I had a good encounter with farmers in Kilifi County who are growing cassava. To my surprise, cassava is really grown in large quantities in Kilifi than I had ever thought and many local delicacies like ‘Kimanga’, ‘Kibwada Kachiri’, are prepared from cassava as compared to where I come from in western Kenya where we only know of Ugali made from cassava and boiled cassava tubers. The cassava uptake in Kilifi was more high as compared to cassava uptake in Taita taveta counties this was attributed to wide spread Muslim religion in Kilifi where I came to learn that cassava is highly consumed during the Ramadhan season common practice in the among the Muslim community.

Livoi 3

Antony Livoi collecting data on CBB at Farm level in Kilifi County

In my interaction with farmers on cassava diseases in the region, the major cassava diseases cited were; cassava bacterial blight, cassava brown streak, cassava mosaic disease and cassava cesospora leaf spot. Most farmers are aware of the symptoms of these diseases in their fields and to them these symptoms are associated with respective cassava varieties and maturity stages. This showed awareness on cassava farming for optimum production is still very low. One of the farmers we interacted with Ms.Dama Wanje was open to us and indicated that since time immemorial and through her years of growing  cassava, she has known that cassava mosaic symptoms is assign of morphologic variety associated with  Kibandameno. She was greatly shocked to learn that this was a serious cassava disease called cassava mosaic disease. As other farmers in Kayafungo associated defoliation due to cassava bacterial blight as assign of cassava maturity. All in all, this was a great learning experience for them and they enjoyed a friendly discussion on cassava disease explanation.

Livoi 4

Antony Livoi, Scoring for Severity of Cassava Bacterial Blight at a cassava farm in kaloleni, Kilifi County

It was the most exciting moment to note that I was at the lowest altitude levels of 0-5 mm above sea level when I was in Kilifi. This was the most amazing moments when I checked on the GPS which could read as low as 0 m above sea levels something I had never imagined in life could occur. The rich loamy sand soil in Kilifi and massive forest of coconut trees and hot sunshine which could keep on shinning even during the rains were some of the interesting things I was encountering in my life.

Farmers in Taita Taveta were extremely open and welcoming. With a beautiful landscape, nice snaky roads as you ascend the mountains, Taita Taveta County is breath taking. With few coconut plantations, people here are quite active in farming and we could see plantations of maize, bananas, legumes and high forestation activities. This is an area whre I noted that people live in harmony with wildlife since they are surrounded by Tsavo National Park. In one particular incidence we had to close the survey early so as to release the field guide to go home since there was information that lion was spotted roaming aimlessly in the villages. People in the region of Mwatate, Voi, and Dembwa seemed to be used to animals like elephants buffalo something that I found strange since for me I have been seeing this animals only in pictures. To some extend most farmers sited wildlife as a great challenge to cassava farming since baboons could come and uproot their cassava cuttings hence most of them didn’t engage in deeply in cassava farming s compared to the Kilifi people.

Livoi 5

Illustrates a clean plantation of Tajirika (Cassava Variety) at 3 months in Kilifi county

Taveta region which bordering Tanzania was found to be the most active in arming as compared to Taveta region. This was due to availability of the irrigation  scheme that has allowed a number of farmers to engage in massive production of bananas and pulses with little intercrop of some cassava stems mostly at the farm borders just for home consumption in Mboghoni ward of Taveta sub-county. Farmers in this region enjoy a free market access to Tanzania as they can sale their farm produce to Tanzania and access other produce from Tanzania in the larger Taveta market located not far away.

Livoi 6

A typical intercropping of cassava with bananas and cowpea leaves in Taveta sub-county.

In our interaction with farmers in this region, we learnt that cassava has a great opportunity to change people lives by enhancing food security and nutrition, increasing peoples in come in the rural regions. There is much to be done to upscale cassava production so that Kenya can shift from the 1.2 million MT annually to another level and this could be possible by intervention from county government, awareness on business opportunities within cassava farming, support of value addition systems, advocate for improved variety, addressing market fragmentation and provision of sustainable certified healthy planting materials

Livoi 8

Antony Livoi taking a farmer through some of the symptoms of CBB, Mosaic at farm level and highlighting the prevention and control technologies.

Above all I take this opportunity to thank the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), the Mastercard Foundation and the University of Nairobi for giving me the opportunity to work the cassava project. The cassava project is committed to food and nutrition security, eradication of poverty in the rural, knowledge sharing and dissemination and finally to upscale cassava production in the targeted regions. I look forward to participating in such interventions and initiatives with the community of Kilifi and Taita taveta counties.

By LIVOI ANTONY who can be reached via

[Issue 61] Media Monitoring: Extract of Press News on Higher Education in Africa

  1. IAEA News

Benin enhances production and export of soybean using Bio-fertilizers and isotopic technology (Benin)

Poor soil fertility meant low yields and insufficient income for soybean farmers in the West African nation of Benin. Thanks to the use of bio-fertilizers, improved using isotopic techniques, they have increased their production significantly, with the support of the IAEA in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “Inoculation promotes the development of nodules at the roots and thus increases the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. It is a cost-effective way to increase yields, while improving and maintaining soil fertility,” said Nestor Ahoyo Adjovi, Scientific Director of the National Agricultural Research Institute of Benin (INRAB). As a result, soybean production has increased from 57,000 tons in 2009 to 222,000 tons last year, and its value has grown from US$ 6.6 million to US$ 109 million, according to data from a recent industry publication. During the same period, the cultivated area increased from 64,000 ha to 200,000 ha and yield rose from 890 kg/ha in 2009 to 1100 kg/ha in 2019. It is projected that annual soybean production will hit 341,000 tons by 2030 – a six-fold increase compared to 2009. Benin, which did not export soybeans when support from the IAEA and FAO started in 2009, now exports 40,000 tons at a value of US$ 19 million, annually. With support from the IAEA and the FAO, researchers at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, the National Agricultural Research Institute of Benin (INRAB) and several local and international NGOs have helped local farmers to increase the yields of soybean by increasing the nitrogen content of the soil through the natural process of nitrogen fixation from the air, making soybean production environmentally friendly. To facilitate the process of increased nitrogen fixation, researchers at the University of Abomey-Calavi produced inoculum, a biofertilizer that contains microorganisms to enhance the productivity of soil and stimulate crop growth, and also test the efficacy of these bio-fertilizers before releasing them to the Ministry of Agriculture and the NGOs for distribution to farmers. Isotopic techniques were used to establish this efficacy and the ability of the plants to uptake the biofertilizer and fix nitrogen from the air. “Traditional production practices did not allow producers to improve soybean yields above 890 kilograms per hectare, but with current improved production practices, farmers can harvest 1100 kilograms per hectare,” said Ahoyo Adjovi. The improved yield in the farmers’ field is still below the world average of 3370 kilograms per hectare, and scientists continue to work on improving the practices further.

Read more here

  1. University World News

Defying the notion of ivory tower in aftermath of COVID-19 (Africa)

Universities throughout the world and those in Africa in particular have been criticised for being ivory towers: aloof, unaccountable and disengaged from the interests of their communities. African universities especially have been incessantly, unfairly and harshly attacked for not lifting the continent out of its cycle of poverty and economic deprivation – as if they were the only players in the complex web of the development universe. This allegation has been on the table for decades – without any vigorous rebuttal from institutions. In fact, this narrative has been instrumental in shaping the discourse on the contribution of African universities to the development of the continent, supporting the notion that such contribution is insignificant. This article discounts the notion of the ‘Towerisation’ of African universities as the current pandemic is decisively exhibiting their role as frontline institutions in combating the killer disease. In a book chapter in Flagship Universities in Africa, Damtew Teferra observes that the unflattering term ‘ivory tower’ has often been evoked to criticise (flagship) universities as much for their purported inclinations as to what matters most in the international sphere as for their presumed lack of relevance to conditions in their own backyard. Criticism of these institutions has been harsh despite their massive contributions, as measured by the graduates – including doctors, nurses, educators, engineers, architects, accountants, lawyers, and agriculturists, among others – they have produced and their impact on the everyday lives of citizens and nations despite the huge challenges. The long-standing allegations, and charges, have been that the contribution of universities is lacking. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, universities have sent most of their students and staff home. However, many remain involved in a host of activities aimed at combating the disease. Here is a snapshot of direct community-related activities undertaken by universities, in addition to their role in providing life-saving medical services.

Read more here

  1. The Conversation

A big effort to invest in education will pay off in the long term for South Africa (South Africa)

South Africa’s economy has consistently been a two-speed economy. It has one of the highest inequality rates in the world, characterised by gaps in opportunities for its citizens and by severe poverty lasting from one generation to the next. In the middle of a global pandemic, the debate is about handling COVID-19 while saving the economy, and less about promoting fast growth and future prosperity. Yet this is an unfair dilemma. Countries in good shape can more easily handle the costs of COVID-19. We see the pandemic as just one more factor intensifying the differences. In that context, the pessimistic outlook for future economic growth is worrisome. What performance can we expect from a country with South Africa’s income level in these challenging global economic conditions? South Africa’s economic growth trajectory from 1990 to 2018 shows two things: persistent income inequality between countries; and a fall in the country’s world ranking from number 80 in the 1990s to 110-120 in the 2010s. If global economic conditions hurt every country’s economy, why has South Africa performed poorly relative to its peers? History does not support the concept of catching up. Poor countries stay poor, rich countries stay rich, and middle incomes also stay put, unless radical structural changes take place. The central message from empirical economics is that inequality continues both between countries and between households within countries. Poverty traps are observed in most developing countries as one generation’s lack of opportunities constrains the next generation. Increasing investment in capital and human capital is good for economic growth. Low- and middle-income countries stay behind in such investments, not only for lack of funding, but also for lack of expectations.

Read more here

Download  Issue 61 Media Monitoring.Extract for Higher Education news in Africa. 61

[Issue 52-60] Media Monitoring: Extract of Press News on Higher Education in Africa

  1. University World News

Over 100 PhDs face review in single university (Kenya)

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has defended as “meritoriously earned” its doctoral degrees awarded over the past year – despite a recent report by the regulator highlighting inadequate supervision and other irregularities which has thrown the validity of up to 118 PhDs into doubt. The Quality Audit Panel of the Commission for University Education (CUE) conducted the inquiry over two days last month after an “inordinately high” number of PhD awards were made during the institution’s 33th graduation ceremony on 21 June – a number which had become a “matter of public interest”. The audit also included the 32nd graduation held in November 2018 and the 31st graduation in June 2018. The CUE report, a copy of which has been seen by this publication, found that many PhD supervisors had supervision loads way beyond the threshold of three PhDs and five Masters in an academic year as provided under the Universities Standards and Guidelines. One academic, for example, was found to have been the sole supervisor for 41 master’s students – across 10 disparate disciplines – and 14 PhD students. “… In the recent three graduations, three supervisors from CoHRED [College of Human Resource Development] each graduated: 41; 30; 33 PhD students, respectively. In addition, each of the three supervisors graduated 45, 106 and 72 Master’s students … The three graduations took place within a period of 12 months,” the report states. Over 73% of the doctorates awarded during the three ceremonies emanated from the College of Human Resource Development (CoHRED), while only 8% and over 4% came from the College of Health Sciences and College of Agricultural and Natural Resources respectively. It also found that in some cases there was no paperwork to prove supervision had taken place on a required three-monthly basis. “The compromised quality of supervision was evidenced by examiners’ reports and defense committees reports that highlighted fundamental issues in the theses … issues that ordinarily ought to have been identified during supervision,” the report states.

Other problems related to irregular constitution of the board of examiners and a lack of evidence of student seminar presentations. In one case, a student was found to have completed his or research, published, and indicated an intention to submit in less than 12 months following a successful defence of the proposal. The report also found that some Journals in which students had published (PhD students are required to publish two papers in refereed journals) were non-existent and there was “a likelihood of conflict of interest” where the editorial boards of a number of the journals in which students published included CoHRED faculty members.

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   2. Africa News

Liberia president declares free tuition in all public universities (Liberia)

President George Manneh Weah on Thursday declared that all undergraduates public entering universities across the country will enjoy free tuition. “Today, I’m excited to announce that I have declared the University of Liberia and all other Public Universities in Liberia tuition free for all undergraduates,” Weah wrote on Facebook without giving any further details. Reports indicate that he made the declaration before students of the University of Liberia at the Capitol Hill campus located in the capital Liberia. The announcement was met with loud cheers and applause. An undergraduate is a university student who has not yet received a degree. The West African country currently has four public universities. Aside the main University of Liberia, UL, the Booker Washington Institute, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law and the William V.S. Tubman University, complete the list. Students had recently protested against fee hikes accusing the UL administration of unilaterally hiking fees. The students eventually had the audience of the president who promised to look into the issue. It was at the same meeting that Weah announced that he will visit the school, a promise he kept and during which he disclosed the news. Many economic watchers are now waiting to see the costing mechanism and other fine details of the program. Most African countries are grappling with implementing free education even at the basic level. Ghana started an ambitious free Senior High School system which continues to be faced with challenges. Sierra Leone is also in the process of implementing free primary education. The former world footballer of the year won the presidency early this year after leading a coalition to defeat the then ruling party’s candidate, Joseph Boakai. Reports indicate that the University of Liberia took in about half of the expected 20,000 students for the 2018/2019 semester with the main reason pegged on the fee hikes.

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EID MUBARAK to all Muslim communities

RUFORUM Secretariat wish all Muslim communities happy Eid Elfetter

Eid Mubarak

Post-Graduate Student Internship Opportunity at the MOI ACC

Moi University African Cluster Centre (Moi-ACC) is one of the four African Clusters affiliated with the University of Bayreuth Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence in African Studies Initiative. We are pleased to announce a Student Internship program at the ACC.
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Let’s talk agribusiness: Opportunities in the cassava value chain at the Kenya Coast region

Mention to anyone from Kenya that you are at the Coast and quickly in their mind they will think you have gone to relax your mind, enjoy nature and explore the Coast line; basically the Coast in Kenya is synonymous with tourism!. Actually, having pleasure of your life can happen anywhere but this is not what took me to the Kenyan coast this time round. I was there for a serious business, to interact with farmers; mainly cassava farmers, learn how they farm cassava and process different cassava products for the market. This wouldn’t be complete without visiting the cassava markets, interacting with traders along the cassava value chain and consuming some of the cassava products.


Having been raised up in a small village in Western Kenya where majority of the households farm a variety of crops mainly for home consumption, I wouldn’t have been in a better position to experience cassava grow in the farm. However, things change with time and place and therefore bringing new aspects and experiences. I therefore embarked on a background check and literature review of cassava production and utilization in Kenya. Coastal Kenya was ranked second after Western Kenya, in the production and utilization of cassava. However, something that I kept thinking about was the different conditions under which cassava is produced. Though literature had indicated that cassava can do well in dryer regions, it was a great opportunity to go experience and see cassava farming in the field. Western Kenya is rain-fed while coastal Kenya is within the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya and therefore, I wanted to seed the tolerant varieties of cassava. I was so much excited because I knew I was going to interact with farmers and traders in their native working environment.


Cassava Retailer in Kilifi Market

The day came and I had a mission to fulfill; to visit cassava farmers from Kilifi and Taita-Taveta counties and cassava traders in main cassava markets at the coast. When I arrived in Kilifi county, the temperatures were so high and region had just experienced a long dry spell. This was the right timing to get to the farms and actually see if cassava plants had survived the drought. It was time to prove or disapprove what is written in literature. The county extension officer also expressed his fears about the drought and later took me to meet cassava farmers. To my surprise, some farmers were still having cassava plantations and were expecting to harvest. What surprised me more was the local knowledge and skills that farmers used to preserve both the harvested cassava tubers and cassava planting materials awaiting market and rainfall respectively. I learnt that cassava farming is capable of managing the problem of food insecurity during drought spells but most importantly offer alternative and sustainable income opportunities. However, most farmers still insist on farming maize which is easily affected by changes in weather patterns. The main problem that cassava farmers are facing at the coast is the problem of pests and disease attack. Most farmers did not have adequate knowledge on cassava pests and diseases to the extend that they thought this was part of the cassava traits. However, this has changed due to the training provided by the University of Nairobi through the Cassava Community Action Research Programme Plus (CARP+) team and the support of RUFORUM.


Cassava selling in Chumvini market, Taita Taveta

Most of the cassava farmers at the Kenyan coast, farm for both subsistence and commercial purposes. They use different methods to take their produce to the market but mainly make farm gate sales to bulkers who act as middlemen between farmers and wholesalers or retailers. I met different bulkers going from one homestead to another in search of cassava tubers. To my surprise, the bulkers new the villages where farmers had a ready plant in the farm. Farmers complained of the low prices offered but the bulkers but the bulkers complained on the low volumes produced by individual farmers and therefore they had to spend a lot in bulking.


Cassava retailing at Kongowea Market

Another day came and I was asked to wake up at 3:00 A.M so that 4:00 A.M finds me at Kongewea market to experience cassava selling. I tried my best and got there 30 minutes late only to find that the business had already started and money changing hands. One of the traders told me that cassava is usually harvested late evening, transported at night and therefore, wholesaling of cassava usually ends around 6:30 in the morning. I visited different market centers at the Kenya coast but Kongowea market stood out to be the largest seller of cassava mainly as fresh cassava tubers, dried cassava chips and cassava flour respectively. Here cassava is sold both on wholesale and retail terms depending on the quantity demanded. I also visited Mama Ngina Drive market and here is where I experienced real sales men. This market is mainly for cassava fried crisps and since many sellers are located in one place, one has to use different advertising and convincing strategies in order to win customers. If you want to experience how customers should be treated and welcome then you should find time to visit Mama Ngina Drive market. The beauty of visiting this market is that you are given an opportunity to taste the crisps before buying. My trip ended by having a nice experience of eating one of the products from cassava called Kimanga.


Cassava Dry chips retailing in Kongewea market


Cassava Crips at along Mama Ngina Drive, Mombasa

I acknowledge my supervisors Prof. Willis Oluoch-Kosura, Dr. Hillary Nyanganga, Prof. Agnes W. Mwang’ombe and Dr. Dora Kilalo. I would also like to acknowledge the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) for sponsoring my trip and research at the Kenyan coast.  Special appreciation to the county of Kilifi and Taita Taveta, extension officers, farmers and traders who allowed me to have experience of their environment.

By Tirra Nyangira Amos

Cassava, a crop with unexploited opportunities in Coastal part of Kenya

I was born in Central part of Kenya and schooled in the same regions throughout to University. The first time I experienced farming by any other community was when I was employed by Ministry of agriculture livestock and Fisheries back in May 1997 when I was posted to Nyanza Province. Experience in working with different communities have taught me over the years to appreciate the diversity in cultures, way of living and our different foods in our Country, For the first time when I was posted in Nyanza I was taught to cook and eat small kind of fish locally called “omena”, strange to me that I could eat fish while it seems as if it was still looking at me.


Kilifi North focused grouped discussion

It was with the enthusiasm when I was selected as one of the eight student that were to work on cassava value chain as a Master student in University of Nairobi sponsored by RUFORUM in CARP  project. Our greatest task as students were to solve the challenges along cassava value chain and deliver implementable outputs by farmers and other stakeholders along the value chain aimed at solving the identified challenges. The Counties in focus were Kilifi and Taita Taveta in Coastal part of Kenya. Strange as it seemed having been in the Ministry of Agriculture for the last 23 years but had never been in coastal part of Kenya. It was such an excitement to work in different part of my Country and with communities I had never worked with before. On arrival I noticed the tall magnificent coconut trees, lovely sites and beauty to behold, cashew nut were being sold along the roads, A county rich in nuts, I thought, then we were welcomed with tamarind juice called by the name “mkwanju”, honestly I had never tasted that juice neither had I bothered to know the nutritional value and utilization of tamarinds. My curiosity after that grew to know more about the tamarind, where do they grow best, what are the nutritional values of the fruits and came to realize that it is among the traditional fruits that are of high nutritional value that have remained underutilized in my country.


 Rose and farmers enjoying raw cassava during data collection

The next day when we were going to meet farmers, I noticed maize crop that was not looking very good, estimation of yields using my eyes and my extension experience over the years, 1 bag per acre. I did a quick calculation on family utilization, an average family size of six, four children, mother and father, average consumption of maize 1 bag per person per year, the family will require 6 bags of maize and 3 bags of legumes to be food secure, translation of scenario was food insecurity, Then I thought, if only the farmers would have grown cassava which was draught tolerant and not as vulnerable as maize by the harsh weather conditions, then the issue of food security would be at least half solved. I just felt the seal to communicate with the farmers at least to consider planting more cassava instead of maize, my extension passion drove me and all I wanted was just to change a few if not all as I collect my data through focused group discussion.

When I started focused grouped discussions, I noticed that it was not easy to do farming in this environment. Having been born in the Kenyan highlands, where rains were heavy and reliable throughout the year, food was plenty in the house and we used to be forced to drink milk as children. We used to cheat sometimes just to skip a night without drinking milk and would celebrate the achievement. When I started the interview, it hit me hard, rainfall is very low and highly unpredictable, one year it may be there, and it can disappear for the next 3 to four years. Sometimes when it rains it is very heavy it causes floods, when if disappear it is so severe and there is drought, all crops dry and there is hardly anything in the farms. It dawned on me, not easy as I thought, even my cassava can take three years before they can have a successful crop being stablished. I realized it takes more than just a focused group discussion, study of rainfall patterns, amount of rainfall in good years, study all possible crops and precipitation and temperature requirements so that to come with a long term plan and crop combination that can solve the problem of food insecurity in Kenyan Coast. I understood, sometimes you may think that the farmers are not doing enough until you visit the ground, sit with them, listen to then, know the challenges they have experienced over the years then realize that unless somebody above the farmers thinking come up with a strategy the problem of food insecurity in some parts of our country will persist forever.


The green island of cassava in a dry area in Kishushe, Taita Taveta County

Cassava was the crop of target. I had not eaten much of cassava since from the community I come from it was considered as a poisonous crop. Though as a grown up I had learnt to mix cassava flour with millet and cook porridge a skill learnt from my first posting in Nyanza region, but that was all the cassava that was consumed in my house. I learnt that cassava had much more utilization from human food, to livestock and poultry feed. For the first time I knew that cassava is intercropped and rarely grown as pure stand. The entire reason for intercropping cassava was purely small sizes of land and not for other reason like weed management, nutrient utilization and pests/diseases management. I appreciated the farmers’ effort in land utilization and unknowingly practicing other good crop husbandry in cassava farming. But a general observation during interview very few youth were involved in farming activity an observation that was in agreement with other parts of my Country based on my experience in extension. Talking casually with some youth during questionnaire administration reviewed that youth didn’t own land and therefore didn’t feel empowered to plant crop. The other factor was that farming cannot generate a regular income as compared to an activity like motorbike transport system.


Farmers collecting cuttings from neighbors’ farm

In Taita Taveta the weather was quite diverse from highland cool weather at Wundanyi to warm/hot dry weather in lower regions of kishushe. The terrain was also diverse while around Wundanyi was hilly with very steep slopes Kishushe and bololo areas were flat. I noticed the beautiful baobab trees which I saw for the first time. The vegetation was from beautiful big forest in highlands to dry grassland with scattered shrubs in low lands. I realized that Taita Taveta can grow many range of crops since the county is rich in many agro ecological zones from the crops that can do well in temperate climate like Irish potatoes and garden peas to those that do well in dry regions like Mangoes and pawpaw. A county of diversity that is rich in natural resources like rivers that can be exploited to increase irrigation capacity and biodiversity in rich forest, I thought. My attention was in particular drown by very green cassava in Kishushe area which was looking like a green island in the middle of a desert. It seemed so because all the surrounding farms were very dry without life. It was evident to me that cassava is quite drought tolerant and if planned properly so that it is established when there is just enough moisture in the soil, it can be among the best solutions to food insecurity in the drought prone areas.


Just a few challenges experienced during experimental layout

My field experiments gave the best field experience challenges faced by farmers. I established my first field experiments in November 2018. First challenge was cuttings availability, the cuttings were only in Lunga Lunga, Kwale County approximately 170 km from Kilifi County and approximately 360km from Taveta, Taita Taveta County. Transportation of cassava cuttings was the next challenge both the means and the packaging. Later I was to notice that both affected the sprouting of the cuttings. While handling during packing and loading affecting the sprouting points, the time taken to transport the cuttings from Kwale to Kilifi and then Taita Taveta affected the time taken to plant the cuttings. My experience was that the longer it took to plant the poorer the sprouting of the cuttings. The loss of cutting moisture posed yet another challenge. The more moisture was lost the more vulnerable the cuttings became to termites infestation. Some of the unprecedented pests also attacked my experiments sites from monkeys that uprooted all my legumes intercrops looking for seeds, to tortoise that grazed on all my legumes intercrops in another experimental site, to termites that tunneled through my cuttings. Too much rain also affected the sprouting due to water logging that caused rotting. All these challenges made me to plant the experiments 8 different times without success. I imagined the kind of challenges the farmers face each single year and appreciated that they must have very optimistic spirits if they never give up trying. The best experience was that some pests that are never considered or taught as pests may actually be causing farmers harm than those documented and taught as pests.

In conclusion I noticed a few things during my experimental set up, focused group discussion and casual interaction with the community. That they are many unexploited crops that can do well and be promoted in marginal parts of my country. Such are like indigenous fruits like baobab and tamarinds. Some trees can be identified from the rich forest in Taita Taveta County and be promoted as commercial trees for medicine and perfumes instead of them being protected as endangered trees. If farmers are given opportunity to grow such for income generation such trees will never be endangered again and technology like tissue culture can be used to rapidly multiply and propagate them. If tree farming, fruit farming, short season drought tolerant season like green grams, cow peas, pigeon peas e.t.c. and medium drought tolerant crops like cassava can be combined, a farming model can be developed which when adopted by the farmers can solve food insecurity problem while increase the farmers income. Setting experimental plots in farmer’s farms is not easy as compared to controlled environment, but it gives the real case scenario and can reveal other challenges that are faced by farmers that need to be address if the farmers’ situations is to be changed positively. If youth has to be encouraged to do farming technologies that require minimum or no land and enterprise that must ensure continuous and reliable income generation must be developed.

By Rose N. Kamau




University of Free State catalysing quality and increasing profitability of the wool value chain among small-scale farmers in the Free State

The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension submitted a proposal, “Building Competitiveness for communal farmers through developing the wool value chain in the Free State Province of South Africa”, as a bid for a project to The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture. The proposal was selected and the grant was awarded to the Centre.  Subsequently Dr Jan W Swanepoel, the principal investigator, attended a capacity-building workshop for implementation of the project, held at the RUFORUM Secretariat in Kampala.

Project students

Dr. Jan Swanepoel with all die Ruforum project students. From left to right: Andries Strauss (Phd), Ketshepileone Shiela Matlhoko (Msc), Banga Madyibi (Msc), Alina Dimakatso Ntsiapane (Phd), Michelle Marais (Msc) and Dr. Swanepoel.

Small-scale farmers and woolgrowers surrounding Bloemfontein was identified and approached to be part of this project. Community women was also asked to join in, as the wool value chain does not stop at the shearing of the sheep. Since the project is multi-disciplinary, Dr. Swanepoel included the Departments of Consumer Science, the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Science, The Department of Agriculture Economics and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture to identify students to form part of the project in different levels of the value chain. Other stakeholders like Glen Agricultural College and private sector role players were also approached.


Local farmers and community women of Ladybrand listening to Andries.

The students include two PhD and three Masters students. Michelle Marais’ Masters study is focusing on value adding and market access of communal wool growers by developing a niche identity or brand for products. Bonga Madyibi on the developing genetic enhancement solutions of sheep for optimal wool production in a communal farming setup. Tshepi Matlhoko is developing easy and cost effective wool processing techniques for community men and women. These are all students doing research to complete their master’s degrees.


Andries Strauss explaining wool contamination

The two Phd students are Alina Ntsiapane who is designing effective wool farm management principles for communal farmers and Andries Strauss, his topic is building competitiveness for communal wool growers by developing the wool value chain in the Free State Province of South Africa


Andries explaining and demonstrating wool classing.

With the grant received, the first order of business was to upgrade and improve the shearing shed on the Paradys Experimental farm by the University. A Barrier was built between the shearing department and the weaving and spinning department.  The cages where the sheep are kept before shearing were upgraded, and the spinning and weaving area were made dustproof. Spinning wheels and weaving looms were collected from all over South Africa. Mrs Lotte Venter, a wool value chain facilitator was happy to be part of this project with Thabo Madini a local expert in the spinning of wool.

Sheep Handling

Local farmers practicing sheep handling.

On the 7th, 27th of February and on the 6th of March wool sheep information days were held at Glen Agricultural College, Thaba Nchu and Ladybrand respectively for farmers and interns from the community. Basic sheep handling was discussed as well as the negative economic impact of wool contamination and how it can be prevented.  Basic information on wool classing, bailing and marketing was also discussed.   The topics were presented by Dr JW Swanepoel (UFS), Andries Strauss (DARD), Shane van Rooi (DARD) and Jan-Louis Venter from the National Wool Growers Association.

Professor Kay Leresche, representative from Ruforum visited for inspection from the 9th – 11 of March. The visit was combined with shearing and wool classing training, as wool value chain technology transfer. Farmers and women from the community attended training on the 10 and 11th of March.


Prof Kay making notes sitting next to Lotte Venter the Wool-value-chain facilitator.

Unfortunately national lockdown started on the 27th of March as a result of the Novel Corona Virus. All activities were cancelled including the launch of the new upgraded woolshed, because of national lockdown. All national and international wool trading was also stopped. On the 22nd of April permission was granted by the government to do an electronic auction of only the wool that had already been tested and awaiting containerization within the brokers stores. After lockdown eased, trading could continue under strict regulation since the 1st of May. At the moment it is still unclear as to when the students will return to campus. The planning of workshops can be done as soon as there is more clarity on the regulations of COVID19 regarding people gatherings.  Concurrent planning of events and capacity building workshops will then happen.

Below are Shearing cages

cage 1Cage 2

This project is designed to incorporate research and dissemination components. The research component will include the evaluation, testing and further development of certain technologies and social and economic situations. The transformation of communal wool growers’ production from an underachieving enterprise to a profitable, sustainable, and renewable venture to enhance the livelihoods of communal wool producers.

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