Mak DVC (AA) Visits MaRCCI; Commends Infrastructural, Research and Innovation efforts

MUARIK Director Dr.Cyrus Okello Robert Ongom, Prof. Bernard Bashaasha, Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba and Dr. Richard Edema visit the stall for sorghum and cowpea value added products

 

Makerere University Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs (DVC (AA) Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba has appreciated the Makerere University Regional Centre for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI) for rendering a good service towards the strategic Vision and Mission of  Makerere University.

Prof. Kakumba was on Friday 5th February, 2021 meeting the Principal CAES, Director MaRCCI and staff from the college and the centre at the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK).

The DVC (AA) officially launched the MaRCCI website and toured facilities including the Biotechnology laboratory, the refurbished Gene Bank and the construction site for MaRCCI Office block and Lecture theatres that is nearing completion.

In his remarks Prof. Umar Kakumba appreciated what was going on.

DVCAA Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba making his remarks after the meeting and site visits

“I am very delighted. I want to thank you and appreciate what I have seen and the achievements presented. I notice that there is project extension and you should utilize the remaining part very well”, Prof. Kakumba stated.

The DVC AA expressed concern that in addition to COVID-19, admissions and student completion rates were affecting the disbursement of resources to the Centre pledging to  work with the relevant university units when the  situation normalizes.

Apart from the usual teaching, research and learning and community service, the Deputy Vice Chancellor commended MaRCCI for her innovative capacity that makes it different.

“We are seeing these two programs MSc and PhD that you are supporting doing very well. The innovations that you are doing and research output coming in through those crop are commendable.

With environmental variability, our science and research must follow that step because we can no longer trust our soils. So, you must be able to prepare our seeds to take care of all those emerging environmental issues. So you guys are doing a great job for the nation”, Prof. Kakumba stated.

The DVC AA inspects in the cold room of the refurbished Genebank

Prof. Kakumba said that now that a lot of research and innovation was coming out from the center, there was need to showcase more by building a strategy in terms of research engagement, documentation and dissemination. Through that strategy, the DVC AA advised the centre to do research and policy briefs that can inform government so that certain things are adjusted.

“If there are too many protocols, if there are too many bureaucracies in the way we do science and research, then there could be recommendations on adjusting policy so that scientists are not encumbered in any way. 

Even at  the university, I think you should inform us by just writing a proposal that we can utilize to engage the organs of the university like the Appointments Board and probably Council to lessen the too many bureaucracies and the conditions that would enable us to appoint these professors and scientists working with NARO and other institutions because there  is so much to cherish working at Makerere.

They have been supervising our students and the same with you, your students whom you send for internship. We need these cross partnerships to be formalized, recognize and appoint individual scientists form NARO  and other  institutions so that it becomes an obligation to supervise  students, but also get easier to send students there for training and research”, Dr. Kakumba noted.

The DVC AA expressed readiness of the university management to support the center to release improved seed varieties to the public once they have gone through the tests, have bigger part of value chain and have them  impact the community.

Prof. Kakumba also said the university leadership is willing to lobby government for grants to roll out   the innovations and incubate business to help the community struggling with crop pests and diseases.

The DVC AA visit the Biotechnology laboratory

“The university doesn’t have that money to do all that but once you have done something and you are sure you have gone through tests, we can arrange a meeting with the Ministers of Agriculture, Science and Technology even Office of the Prime Minister to help us is in dealing with a lot of disasters and food security issues”, Prof. Kakumba pledged.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor also commended MaRCCI in terms of internalization, describing it as   one of the key critical strategies. He advised the center leadership to update the map of Africa to show the number of PhDs and the MScs that have been supported through the center  for demonstration and making a statement on what a center of excellence ought to be.

He informed members that the university senate is soon finalizing the approval of a  a policy of establishment of research centers, research institutes, and centers of excellence for onward submission to Council, that will finally see MaRCCI  approved as a Centre of Excellence.

Prof. Kakumba also urged scientists at the center to make use of the established Intellectual Property Management office for patenting, He also advised the center to touch base with the local governments and farmers to capacitate them through tailored short courses for sustainability.

Dr. Richard Edema and Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba during interact before the meeting starts

Presenting on the center’s major achievements, opportunities and way forward, the Director Dr. Richard Edema reported that the center   was able to develop a proposal on the Establishment of MaRCCI as an entity within the University and approved by University Senate streamlining its governance and sustainability framework and, soon to be adopted by University Council upon finalisation of a new policy on Centers. This he said, will enable smooth functions and clear reporting lines within Makerere organogram and better sustainability of ACE beyond life time of the project.

Dr. Edema also reported that, the center has been able to reactivate research & teaching activities since reopening in September 2020 with 59 MSc and  19 PhD that need to be cleared,  166 attending short courses,  2 graduate programs in final stages of review for accreditation and 37 peered reviewed articles.

CAES Principal Prof. Bernard Bashaasha interacting with the DVC AA Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba

The Director told the meeting  that the  centre has adopted blended learning that is thesis & proposal defense through zoom that has enabled completion interrupted activities in semester II (of March 2020) and, was running a short course in collaboration with University of Gothenburg.

Currently Dr. Edema said, the centre has on going Non ACE grants including USD 512,138 ( in collaboration with Cornell University for graduate training), USD 76,000 (in collaboration with Africa Rice for enhancement of Institutional breeding capacity to develop climate resilient crops), and three proposals developed (- PASET –RSIF- submitted, – Michigan State University – PIRA grant_ submitted and  Challenge grants – with UWA on use of SMART digital technology for smallholder farmers).

The Director presented other achievements in terms of new facilities & infrastructure at MUARIK including the new classroom project, improvement of research fields, including irrigation, Equipping of seed testing & plant diagnostic labs, Seed handling & seed storage building and several housing units. He said the center has Initiated Consultancies for Sustainability and and also  Refurbished Gene Bank.

DVC AA Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba (2nd) clicks the button to launch MaRCCI website flanked by Dr. Edema Richard (L) and Prof. Bernard Bashaasha (R)

The Director said the centre operates on the Performance Disbursement linked Indicators (DLI)  and has achieve on most of the aspects except a  few.

Dr. Edema told participants that COVID has highlighted the increasing vulnerability of agricultural systems with a renewed interest on solutions & innovations He said MaRCCI is positioning to work with & leverage support from partners including the African Plant Breeders Association (APBA) – a continental body as key voice/advocacy for resource mobilization. The APBA was recently nominated by AU to run the Working group on plant genetic resources. Other strategic partners are the MSU PIRA University of Western Australia.

He said there is an opportunity in Restructuring of ACE model into a much more flexible funding model.

The Director however noted that DRLs have been difficult to achieve sometime. He outlined  some of the key challenges affected the centre’s operation including Waving fees for international students, Delays in curriculum review by the department, Delayed students completion time, lack of a Sorghum breeder, Cash flow difficulty due to DLI and Job security of staff & incorporation to university service.

Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba (3rd) on site visit for MaRCCI building

Moving forward, Dr. Edema said the centre plans to hold the Advisory Board  meeting that was disrupted by COVID, Complete the Strategic /Business plan, Receive & Occupy a New Home for MaRCCI, Steering through to release new high performing varieties for cowpea/sorghum and Expecting 22 New students; 15 MSc; 7 PhDs

He said the future strategies for sustainability include:-Running several short courses, Patents of products for seed varieties to be  released, the Discovery of Novel genes, Produce own foundation seed, carry out Seed certification service, Consultancy and Provide Lab service.

Article compiled by;
Jane Anyango
Principal Communication Officer, CAES.



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