Wednesday April 22 2015

Training young scientists to help farmers

Laboratory equipment purchased through the

Laboratory equipment purchased through the project. PHOTO BY LOMINDA AFEDRARU 

By Lominda Afedraru

Investing in closing gaps in plant breeding and seed systems is critical in combating hunger, malnutrition and poverty. And to address these challenges requires human capital and working systems, among others.
To achieve this goal, Makerere University has developed a curriculum to train students in plant breeding and seed systems.

The aim is to enhance agricultural productivity by training plant breeders to develop varieties with qualities preferred by farmers and markets.
It is a five-year programme in collaboration with Alliance for Green Revolution (Agra), Next Generation Cassava Project (NextGen)—a Bill and Melinda Gates funded project, and Intra ACP mobility project—a European Union funded project.
The $2.4m (Shs6.9b) programme, managed by Makerere University’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is set to train a total of 30 students from different African countries.

So far, 19 students are enrolled, 15 are sponsored by Agra. Two students are from Ethiopia, four each from Kenya and Rwanda, three each from Tanzania and South Sudan, and one each from Benin, Ghana and Malawi. Next semester, 15 students will also be enrolled on Agra sponsorship.
The other universities that have Agra scholarships are: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana for Western Africa and University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Each institution admits 30 students.
Dr Richard Edema, the project team leader, during the official launch at Makerere University Agricultural Research institute, Kabanyolo, explained if more scientists are trained, there will be better varieties of crops, animals, poultry and fish among others.

Better benefits
Dr Bernard Bashaha, college principal, noted that the curriculum for teaching agriculture has evolved. It integrates business, human nutrition, geography, tourism, environmental science and outreach. When this knowledge is shared with farmers, there are better benefits.

Equipment to make the work easier

Equipping laboratories is a component of the project. The biotechnology laboratory at Muarik now has machines such as Genogrinder, which students can use to auto-grind plant leaves such as cassava to obtain gene samples.
Previously, students were using a manual mechanism that would take a long time. Now they can grid 384 samples within two minutes.
Other laboratory equipment includes Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which enables scientists and students to multiply DNA, and the Enzyme Linked Immunosobent Assay (Elisa), which is used to detect pathogens in plants and animals.
Students in the three universities are working on different crops such as maize, cassava, beans, banana, rice, sorghum, potato, groundnuts, sesame, soya bean, pigeon pea, and barley.