School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Student Training In Africa (Report)

Uganda - Makarere University

Makerere holds a two weeks workshop to train scientists in Quantitative Genetics and Advanced Statistical Plant Breeding

  • Course draws 80 students from the East, South and Western Africa’s Regional Centres
  • The training is financed by AGRA and Next Generation Cassava project
  • United States experts Prof. Bruce Walsh and Prof. Mike Gore to conduct the training
  • Deputy Director NARO, Dr. Yona Baguma and Principal CAES, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha Officially open   the training at Royal Suites, Bugolobi in Kampala – Uganda
  • Training is to broaden breeders’ knowledge to lead innovations that address increasing food insecurity and other livelihood issues facing Africa.

Plant breeding continues to remain a highly dynamic field with a constant flux of new technologies for plant improvement such as advances in genomics, bioinformatics, throughout phenotyping, and new statistical approaches for selection, gene mapping, and GxE interactions.

Tucson Plant Breeding Institute Training Course

It is within this background that Makerere University’s Coordinator for the Regional Programs in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems Dr. Richard Edema proposed and initiated an intensive breeding training workshop for 12-days facilitated for students and Professors of Makerere University and scientists of the Next Generation Cassava project at the National Agricultural Crops Research and Reseources Institute, Namulonge (NaCRRI).

The training is sponsored by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the NEXT Generation Challenge program – which is a new project funded by the Gates Foundation through Cornel University but also involves Namulonge and Makerere.

The course dubbed the “Tucson Plant Breeding Institute Training Course in Quantitative Genetic and Statistical Plant Breeding” was officially opened at the Royal Suites, Hotel, Bugolobi in Kampala from September 21 to October 2nd, 2015. A part from the technical aspects, course organizers have also arranged for excursions to The source of the Nile at Jinja and a workshop dinner to be held at Ndere Troupe Centre in Kampala. At the end of the course participants will be awarded certificates of attendance.

The goal of the Tucson Plant Breeding Institute (TPBI) is to offer state-of-the-art instruction and training in modern plant breeding tools such as statistics, molecular breeding, and computation.

The TPBI offers breeders state-of-the art training in these modern tools. By offering modules on different topics, the Institute allows a breeder to choose courses that best fit their specific needs. The mission of the institute is to transfer current technologies to a wider audience of users, be they commercial breeders or academics interested in plant science improvement.

The course is being facilitated by Professor Bruce Walsh of University of Arizona- TPBI and Professor Michael Gore of Cornell University. The purpose of this particular training course is to give the M.Sc (Plant Breeding and Seed Systems-NextGen 2 students and scientists an opportunity to broaden their knowledge in breeding. This way, they are better able to lead innovations that address the increasing food insecurity and other livelihood issues facing the continent.

Participants


Makerere University has been mandated by AGRA to train people from Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania and students from Western Africa that is Ghana, Benin and Liberia. The program in University of Kwazulu Natal trains for the Southern region that is South Africa, Zambia Zimbabwe Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambigque. In West Africa, the University of Nkwame Nkuruma trains for Borkinafaso, Mali, Ghana and Nigeria.

Opening the training on behalf of Makerere University, the Principal College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha welcomed the participants to Uganda and Makerere University in particular.

Prof Beranard Bashaasha giving his remarks to open the training

Prof Bashaasha appreciated the instructors from the United States for their love and dedication to train and enhance the understanding of Plant Breeders in Africa. He also thanked AGRA and Next Generation Cassava project for providing the funds.

“Makerere University is proud of this training program. I hope you students will pay attention and benefit because you are the future of Africa. For me, and most of the professors, we are graying and the future of Africa is with you the young people. I saw the program and really liked it. It is full of new things, a lot of mathematics signifying how science has changed,” The Principal said.

Makerere University’s Coordinator for the Regional Programs in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems Dr. Richard Edema who is the brain behind this training explained that Tucson Course is a series of courses offered by the University of Arizona and normally designed to be given to the US University students, researchers and practitioners in seed companies to quickly catch up with some of the difficult areas in Plant Breeding.

Dr Richard Edema

Dr Edema described the inception of the training as a special case for Makerere and a fruition of his dream which started with his visit to the United States and attending one the courses a year ago. He said he was impressed by the competence of these professors who were doing it and that prompted him start thinking of ways the course could be convened and taught in Makerere University targeting the regional program.

He said this course is rarely given anywhere, so for Makerere University to be considered, it is a special case.

“So today is a big moment where this big dream has come to a conclusion. To have it here in Makerere University by extension is the biggest thing that has happened because normally this kind of courses is conducted in US for PhD breeders”, he said.

Why the training is important

Makerere University offers an MSc and PhD in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems and has completed the syllabus; therefore, this additional knowledge on these core competences is a good finish up.

According to Dr Edema, the advantage is that the university is going to get out breeders with the complete understanding of the subject matter. This will be beneficial to the trainees’ respective work places in their countries.

Dr. Edema noted that Statistics and quantitative genetics is a weakness in most African Universities due to inadequate or lack of human resources and expertise to deliver the subject.

He said when African countries get well trained students who understand their work well, they will run breeding programs with efficiency, knowledge and increase efficiency of turning products which can reach farmers in terms of new crop varieties and eventually translate down to entire value chain.

“We need these new varieties in countries like Uganda now because this is the beginning of solving some of the key issues in Africa like food security. The population of these countries is increasing. Uganda’s population is projected to be at 60 million people by 2050 and that means that our agricultural innovation and research systems need to be maximized. We need to produce new varieties that yield high and nutritious to help us solve the nutrition issues and meet the farmers’ economic needs”, the Doctor further elaborated that:

“With that money, farmers can buy clothes for their children, send children to school, pay for their health, the livelihoods of our people is going to improve but the beginning of it with new varieties”.

This kind of training according to Richard Edema also means that universities are creating scientists who are very competent to address climate change issues. He noted that the continent needs varieties that can survive with little water, varieties that can survive in places which are highly flooded and varieties that can withstand high salty water.

Climate change also comes with incidences of new pests and diseases. These reduce the yield of crops but when Africa has competent breeders, Dr. Edema said, the problem of crop pests and diseases could be minimized or solved.

“One of the biggest problems in Africa is the number of crop pests and diseases. Uganda for instance looses half of its crops to diseases and pests. So when you control diseases and pests through breeding, you are going to secure 50 percent of what would have been lost which translates into more food production, yields and more sales”. Dr. Edema explained.

The don recalled that Makerere University was referred to as “The Harvard of Africa”. To him, attracting Professors of repute from reputable universities and students from various parts of world like in this training increases Makerere University’s profile. In addition, he said, this interaction enriches the universities training for all collaborators.

“It is good to have students from various parts of Africa coming to one place to get to know each other. Africa will need to work with neighbors and when these students who are scientists get to know each other, when it comes to varieties or consulting each other, they go to their neighbor who can be a Kenyan, a South African or Nigerian; and it is enriching them”. Dr. Edema stated.

The Critical shortage of Plant Breeders in Africa

Dr Richard Edema was concerned that Africa and Uganda’s shortage of Plant Breeders in particular is not only very critical but critically short. Referring to his visit and training in one of the modules in Plant breeding in the United States, Dr. Edema reported that one seed company in the United States had 3000 PhDs as plant breeders.

“When you come to Uganda, I can assure you that NARO has less than 100 PhD Plant breeders. Uganda as country has very few PhDs so the shortage is very huge. There are even crops of importance that we are not attending to, yet they are affected by diseases and pests, so their value for making money is even less. Uganda’s expertise in breeding is minimal and I wish we can increase it”, he said.

In the last 10 years using AGRA and other funding agencies, close to 15 Ugandans were trained in Plant Breeding at the University of Kwazulu Natal. And some of the breeders in research institutes working on Uganda’s main crops like rice, maize, beans, simsim, and sorghum are funded by AGRA programs.

The agricultural systems like NARO has released a lot of varieties for key food crops and these are all through the work of the breeders hence, the more breeders Africa and Uganda will have, the better the livelihoods.

Agriculture in African countries is so important because of the economies of scales. Uganda in particular is blessed by nature with good climate and soils and in most cases fertilizers are not even known or used. However, most of the arable land is underutilized.

Agriculture in Africa is not only for feeding her people. It is important for agro industries. Recently, NARO worked on cassava and they were able to make paper- bags out of cassava starch. So, when Africa links her indigenous crops to industrial scales it will improve the economies and give more money to farmers.

Also important to note is that Uganda is the agricultural food basket which has not realized its potential. It is now feeding South Sudan and tonnes of cereal foods leave Uganda for Kenya and Eastern D.R Congo. A lot more can be done to get money out of agriculture but it all starts with competent breeders, good varieties and traits.

 


 

Report compiled by Jane Anyango

Makarere University
Communication Officer
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES)