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The first Secretary- General of the African Universities Alliance(ARUA) Prof. Ernest Aryeetey visits the Makerere University’s Regional Center for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI)

Prof. Ernest Eryeetey (center) giving his remarks

The first Secretary - General of the African Universities Alliance (ARUA) Prof. Ernest Aryeetey on Wednesday 16th May 2018 visited Makerere University’s Regional Centre for Crop Improvement at Kabanyolo.

Prof. Eryeetey who is also former Vice Chancellor, University of Ghana was received by the Centre Director Dr. Richard Edema, Deputy Director Prof. Paul Gibson as well as MaRCCI staff and managers of the university farm.

As Secretary –General ARUA, Prof. Aryeetey is expected to drive a collaborative initiative formed by research –intensive universities in Africa to strengthen research and post graduate training on the continent.

Flanked by the the  inchargeMakerere University’s International office Mrs. Martha Muwanguzi, the Professor was given an overview of the MaRCCI programme activities and strategies in terms of capacity building, service delivery and collaboration.

Prof. Eryeetey hailed MaRCCI’s regional training model and collaborative efforts saying, it was in line with ARUA’s vision.

In his key message, Prof. Eryeetey underscored the need to galvanize the strength of research -intensive universities to compete in the global knowledge economy through innovation and technology.

The professor decried the low level of Africa’s generation of new knew knowledge which he said, is less than 1.7% adding that, this was unacceptable. SSA contributes less than 2 percent of the global research output and just 0.1 percent of patents.

“ If we are to transform African economies and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need new knowledge in agriculture, health, energy etc. Without this, we shall continue to be referred to as the Dark Continent. That is why we need centres like MaRCCI.”

Prof. Eryeetey also expressed the need to run universities differently because of the small numbers of post graduate students and expert instructors to address specific country development issues.

Prof. Eryeetey listens to a student explaining what he  is working on  in his reserach

“ No single university in Africa can have solutions for issues because of the small numbers. You find a half  of the staff are very good at what they do and this cannot make a difference in what you are able to change. You need a large number of young people to begin to feel what for example, plant breeding can do”, He explained.

The Secretary-General pledged his support to the African integration and implored  African scientists and students to move within the region and share their experiences.

“The main ambition is to get African universities to work together so that they are self-sufficient in what they are doing and also address the issue food security in Africa. ARUA received a center mainly focusing food security in South Africa and there is a huge opportunity for Makerere to work with Pretoria University”. Prof. Eryeetey went ahead to say that:

“African universities have resource problems. We want to perfect how we handle students to cope while being trained around.  It is very important to have student and staff exchange programmes. I request universities to be more flexible,” Prof. Eryeetey requested.

MaRCCI Center Director Dr. Richard Edema, said the goal of MaRCCI was to train the next generation of plant breeders who are able to design and efficiently conduct variety development activities with minimum supervision.

Prof. Eryeetey, Dr. Edema Richard and Mrs. Martha Muwanguzi at Kabanyolo

Dr. Edema reported that the number of trainees is too small and needs to be even more than 10 times.

He  explained that the MaRCCI programme initiated two breeding programmes on cowpea and sorghum not only for research but to address the issue of nutritional security and increasing income for farmers.

The other component he said was value addition.

“We are looking at value added products from leaves and seeds of cowpea. The cowpea flour can be used for making porridge which is highly nutritious and this is our future prospect. We intend to work with the School of Food Science to see other complements” Edema said.

He said the programme focus on sorghum is a target for industrial beer production where demand for sorghum as a raw material is high. Besides food, the sorghum is can be processed into local bushera for commercial household income.

The other project success story according to Dr. Edema   is the digitalization of data capture and processing.

The Digital Data capture technology is composed of the barcode scanner, weighing scale and tablet acquired  under MaRCCIprogramme to enhance quality of data capture from the field and  fastens the process.

Brunno Awio, an MSc Graduate in Plant Breeding explained that previously, data was captured manually on the paper spread sheet and entered into the computer. This, he said would take a month  and then the accuracy  and quality would be compromised due to human error.

Prof. Eryeetey visited the cowpea demonstration and reserach site under MaRCCI program

Laboratory and field data processing involves taking the inventory of the seed stock for example, weight of every sample so as to track very well and to help researchers to know how the seed is utilized.

Awio said, with the new technology the process is short and produces accurate results.

“We generate data sheets from the computer using programmes like excel, breeding management system. We are able to generate bar codes and data sheets. Barcodes are placed in fields representing specific plots.

Data sheets are uploaded on a tablet and we are able to go with tablets to collect data on disease, pests, yield and yield components. From the field, we transfer data into a computer to analyse.” Awio explained to the visitor.

Prof. Eryeetey visited  the state - of –the-art biotechnology laboratory. Winfred Akech the laboratory technologist in charge of daily operations told the visitor that the major focus  on cowpea and sorghum breeding program is running molecular and micro biology work.

As a lab technologist, she helps students identify what they can do and when its too much .

“We help them if they need to refer samples to NARO facilities, the US or Nairobi. Inside here, they do  molecular characterization of plants, they do marker assisted selection, pathogen identification, multiplication and many others”, Akech explained.

Some of the equipment in the biotechnology lab

Prof. Eryeetey also toured the bio informatics lab. The bio informatics has high throughput computers to big storage capacity servers giving flexibility to run most of molecular data analyses. The laboratory is also linked to other labs in Nairobi Kenya and Michigan State University and can run experiments locally or send out and analyze data.

Prof. Eryeetey also visited the7 acre cowpea research and demonstration field under MaRCCI Programme where most  students on cowpea are embedded.

The cowpea project is addressing the issues of cowpea pests and diseases like thrips and  scab,fusarium  virus, cerospora, leafspot, bacterial blight, pod borer, pod sucking bugs and others.

“ We are evaluating a lot of materials for different traits. We had a global collection of cowpea we refer to as  “a Minicore” of 360 different cowpea lines.

We also have the Multi parent Advanced Generation Intercross (MAGIC) population of 260 cowpea traits. The mini core and the MAGIC populations were obtained from University of Riverside Califonia. Some came from IITA, and we also have 250 Ugandan collection and crosses.

Prof. Eryeetey visited the sorghum demonstartion and reserach site under MaRCCI program

From all those unique crosses, 1000 lines, the one of California are all genetyped (have molecular data) available”, Dr. Patrick Ongom said.

Several similar cowpea experiments are being conducted  in Serere, Arua, Ngetta. Another site of 8 acres of cow pea is at Kyentume still at Kabanyolo.

The Secretary General visited the sorghum research and demonstration site occupying 5 acres where the  MAGIC population of sorghum was obtained from Perdue university USA and the cold-tolerance populations.

“The idea is that we want to see if sorghum adopted to cold can be grown up in cold areas of Uganda like Kisoro, Mt. Elgon area etc. So we are testing lines that can tolerate cold and give high yields” Dr. Dramatri  Isaac Onziga explained.

Students pose for a group photograph with Prof. Eryeetey during his visit to the Biotechnology lab

He said, they are also testing  the pontential of hybrids which are popular in maize targeting the beer industry.

“Food and beer industry are  key priority  for food security. We are trying value addition potential for better products and how to combine sorghum and cowpea with other crop products.” Dr. Dramatri said.

Dramatri explained that MaRCCI breeding program is focusing mainly on cow pea and sorghum because they are tolerant to drought and are semi arid crops that can be targeted  for Northern Uganda and areas prone to drought.

“ We are also feeling the gap in the National Agricultural Research Systems(NARS). We are trying to complement and be part of  NARS to make it more collaborations” . He said.

In addition he said, they want students to have hands on training on how to lay design and experiment uniformity in experiments.


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