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Makerere launches an AGRA funded program worth USD 2.6 million towards training of Plant Breeders for Uganda and other countries

A five year project worth USD 2.6 Million was on 10th April, 2015 launched by the Deputy Director, Directorate of Research and Graduate Training (DRGT) Prof. David Owinyi Okello at Makerere University Research Institute Kabanyolo. Also present was AGRA Program Officer Dr. Rufaro M Madakadze, the Principal CAES Prof. Bernard Bashaasha, staff and students of the Cohort 1V. 


Asection of the beneficiary students

The new project dubbed, “ The Improved Masters Project In Caltivar Development (IMCDA)” funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is coordinated by Dr. Richard Edema and implemented in the Department of Agricultural Production in the School of Agricultural Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). 

Speaking at the program launch, Dr. Edema said the project goal is to train (30) scientists at a Masters level in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology and /or Seed Systems and Technology and Business from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Chief Guest cuts tape to inspect the students unit

He however said the college could not take on all the 30 students from AGRA in this cohort 4 because of the capacity. 

“We took 15 and another 15 will be taken in the next group of cohort V because already we have 9 students supported by the Next Generation Cassava, 4 students supported by Intra ACP Mobility funded by EU and 1 is a private sponsored totalling to a class of 29”. Dr. Edema said adding that Cohort IV has attracted students from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Benin, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda. 

The other goal of the AGRA according to Dr. Edema is to provide shorter term skills enhancement course for staff, support visiting instructors in specialised programs, review the curriculum for wide scale use and accessibility for improving post BSc. training in breeding, establish a cow pea breeding program and manage an internship program for completing students in reputable seed companies. 

Participants pose for a group photo after the program launch.jpg

“New elements are continuously being added to enhance the program with new funding just approved by AGRA. This will focus on development of e-learning materials in cooperation with IOWA State University, Kwame Nkuruma University of Science and Technology (Ghana) and KwaZulu Natal University (S. Africa)”. He said 

Dr. Edema told participants that the five year project offers full scholarship covering two years including six months of internship, stipend, research and health insurance. The research mainly focus on staple food crops eaten in Africa such as beans, gnuts, maize, cassava, bananas, rice etc. 

He outlined some of the successes so far registered including the construction of a screen house for research and establishment of a modern Cowpea project at MUARIK to train interns and to release new varieties. 

Cowpea project established at Kabanyolo.jpg

Participants also toured the refurbished post graduate housing units and a lecture room. 

The project has also secured the modern state-of –the - art equipment for the Microbiology laboratory at MUARIK. This includes the Geno grinder worth USD 21,000. This is an automated system to study genetics and DNA. It has a capacity to grind 380 plant samples in three minutes. Previously, lab scientists used a manual motor to grind and this would take 3weeks to grind the same amount of plants.

The chief guest launches the Geno Grinder

The other equipment acquired are the Polimeris Chain Reaction (PCR) that allows the multiplicity of DNA and the Enzyme Linked Immuno Sombet Assay (ELISA) for routine detection of pathogens that affect plants like bacteria, fungi and viruses. 

Inaugurating the program as Chief Guest, the Deputy Director, Directorate of Research and Graduate Training (DRGT) Prof. David Owinyi Okello thanked the Project coordinator and the Principal for initiating the activity of renovating the students units and the lecture room. He also thanked the Project coordinator and his team for writing the proposal and winning the grant.

Some of the Microscopes for the microbiology lab acquired

“I thank CAES for winning the grant of USD 2.6million. There is someone who sat down and burnt the candle for this money to come to CAES. I thank the PI for the job well-done. We were many universities that applied but only three in Africa succeeded”. Prof. Owinyi said. 

Prof. Owinyi expressed happiness that the funds were being channelled towards food production saying, the population pyramid of African countries is a wedge with a huge bottom representing the youth, implying the need to produce more food. 

“This is a business. It is true that Africa’s need for food is going to increase and therefore we need more research and young people to come on board to produce more food,” 

The chief guest test the microscopes after the launch

He thanked AGRA for providing money to Makerere saying, the university has the capacity for training and mentoring other universities and research institutions. He also noted that Makerere thrives on training and graduate raining was the way to go. 

Prof. Owinyi commended AGRA for the holistic funding covering research and training, curriculum review, refurbishing of dormitories, laboratories, and lecture space, payment of staff salaries and for providing equipment that will provide conducive environment for teaching and learning. 

He urged staff and students to maintain and service the equipment and to use the laboratory facilities to upgrade and produce excellent results above other people. He also urged students to utilise their scholarship to complete their studies in time. 

“Our problem in Makerere is poor graduate completion rates due to lack of funding. For you, you are lucky that you are fully funded and you can complete on time” 

Students demonstartes how the Geno grinder works_1

Prof. Owinyi re - emphasised Uganda’s ability to feed Africa if her land is made productive to produce enough crops and animals. He reminded students that they were in Makerere to get knowledge and skills to increase yields and good quality food that is marketable worldwide. 

He also urged students to use their cultural diversities to share information, build on their networks and to sustain the program. He expressed the Directorate’s willingness to support the program in areas of admission and others that need their intervention.

Prof. David Owinyi Okello giving his remarks

Speaking at the same occasion, the Program Officer, Education and Training AGRA Dr.Rufaro Madakadze said AGRA's vision is a food secure and prosperous Africa achieved through rapid, sustainable agricultural growth, improving the productivity and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa, while the Mission is to trigger a uniquely African green revolution that will transform African agriculture into a highly productive, efficient, competitive and sustainable system that assures food security and lifts millions out of poverty. 

Dr. Rufaro presenting

The main challenges that faced education institutions before the inception of the program according to Dr. Rufaro include low numbers of qualified instructors scientists, relevance of the curriculum and Missing linkages with industry lack of practical exercises and exposure to the industry poor access to good literature, the internet and power shortages. 

“This requires skilled human resources that help develop solutions of smallholder farmer production and marketing problems. Therefore AGRA aims at addressing the capacity gap towards solutions for increasing productivity of smallholder farmers. AGRA training sub programs are imbedded in all the programs at different levels from farmer to PhD level”. 

Dr. Rufaro said that the main goal of this project was to improve the rates of genetic gain in varieties adopted by farmers, through the training of skilled professionals responsive to farmers’ needs and market demands. 

She said the objectives of the new program are to develop relevant web-based curricula for the training of industry-ready plant breeders for both private and public sectors in SSA, with a strong focus on cultivar development and to train 90 plant breeders at the MSc level from 13 sub-Saharan African countries using modern technologies. 

Inside the refurbished lectureroom

Other objectives are to establish cultivar development programs at three partner universities that will serve as training platforms for students; and to establish MSc student internship programs inside established seed companies and/or public breeding programs with breeding pipeline 

“This new program will add on to the training in classical breeding with more focus on data management, logistics, mechanization, and business; Enhance the planning and problem-solving skills through the use of case studies throughout the program; Increase exposure to modern cultivar development approaches through internships with leading seed companies or public-sector program and Prepare a new cohort of “industry-ready” breeders who have a working knowledge of all aspects of running a breeding program and Spur the growth of the emerging African seed industry and make public-sector breeding more effective and relevant in delivering improved varieties “ She said 

She said, the selection of Makerere University among African universities to host the program was based on her demonstrated ability to graduate a big number of well trained plant breeders to the countries of the region creating a significant impact on human capacity development and on delivery of improved varieties to farmers. 

The Principal CAES Prof. Bernard Bashaasha described the launch of the project as a celebration of a decade of friendship looking at what was happening and what was. He thanked the project coordinator and AGRA for the successes registered pledging college commitment to support the program. 

“Your support is glaring . Students have glorified our capacity as glaring and analytical capacity has improved all owed to AGRA and other partners”. 

Prof Bernard Bashaasha giving his speech

Prof. Bashaasha described CAES is one of the biggest colleges in terms of diversity and a force to reckon with as it brings together expertise in agriculture, agribusiness, agriculture economics, food science, human nutrition, geography, tourism, forestry, environmental science and agricultural engineering . 

He said the college handles traditional roles of training, research and outreach expressing happiness that AGRA was supporting all the three pillars, a move that would enable her realise her vision and mission. He urged students to use the opportunity to realise their full potential. 

The Principal informed participants that the university intends to focus on graduate training so that other universities can offer undergraduate training adding that, the partnership with AGRA had demonstrated that Makerere can do it with goodwill.

some of the guests during the function

“The college is on the move. We shall continue to be creative within the law and make things done. We will continue to make the place better, work on electricity and water. We want to enhance connectivity between MUARIK and the university by getting a van. The principal also said that the college was working out to do business with the feed mill but the college dream was to have a Ugandan Agricultural University at Kabanyolo.

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Tel: +256-414-542277

Email: principal@caes.mak.ac.ug