Written by Tim Kloppe, Plant Pathology Ph.D. student
On July 20, CALS Student Association for Interdisciplinary & Global Engagement (CALS SAIGE) had the chance to meet Drs. Richard Edema and Paul Gibson, Directors of the Makerere University Regional Center for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI) in Uganda to talk about the life, the role of agriculture and the university system around Makerere University in Uganda, as well as ways of collaboration between NC State and MaRCCI.
Dr. Richard Edema (Director MaRCCI, left) received a PhD in plant Pathology from Ohio State University and Dr. Paul Gibson (Deputy Director MaRCCI, right) holds a PhD in plant breeding from Iowa State University. Both are outstanding researchers who have dedicated their professional careers to international collaborations and global engagement.
Dr. Edema reported about two seemingly familiar circumstances in Uganda that appear to hold true for most developing countries: (1) the land is cultivated by many, small, traditionally self-sustaining communities which are not organized in a larger corporative union, and (2) urbanization creates high, local demands for commodities, such as agricultural produce. The tradition of self-sustenance and local production is certainly good practice, however, production needs to be intensified, and on that matter also be organized with an united effort to surmount hunger, malnutrition and provide adequate resources for the countries ambition to be a nucleus in the development of the whole continent.
Uganda is characterized by a tropical savanna climate with remarkably consistent temperatures (23°C / 73°F) and an annual rainfall of over 1000mm. According to Dr. Edema and Dr. Gibson, it is always the best summer weather and these are very advantageous growing conditions for the crops cultivated in Uganda, as long as diseases can be kept in check. Dr. Edema notes that he lives in a prosperous part of the Sub-Saharan region – Uganda’s potential just needs to be utilized, and this should be initiated with the development and deployment of improved crop varieties.
This is where Dr. Edema’s and Dr. Gibson’s engagement at MaRCCI comes into play. MaRCCI’s roots are in the 2008 founded Makerere Regional Graduate Program in Plant Breeding, an extension unit of Makerere Universities’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Its mission: fostering post-graduate education and crop improvement programs in Africa in order to secure a sufficient sustainable food supply and agricultural income for Africa.
A great testament of MaRCCIs role for Africa are the 127 Master’s in Plant Breeding & Seed Systems and 57 PhDs in Plant Breeding & Biotechnology who came from all over the whole continent to graduate through MaRCCI since 2008. I feel very fortunate that I could have traveled 70 miles in any direction from my home town in Germany to find a university that would have provided me with a post-graduate education in plant breeding, whereas in Africa there is the need to travel through a whole continent to have research opportunities complete course work for a similar degree. This gives a readily understandable impression of the gap between education in plant breeding and the demand for professionals in this field.
MaRCCI has been addressing this issue through its joint program and has successfully utilized funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank ACE2 project, with which the university infrastructure has been improved and national scholarships could be granted for the MSc- and PhD programs. One essential pillar in this education is the knowledge transfer to students as well as support and mentorship of graduate students in their research projects. In this respect, the staff and professors are easily outnumbered by the potential students. Therefore, Drs. Richard Edema and Paul Gibson intended to improve research and education at Makerere University, and successfully established professional networks with agricultural institutions and universities in the US, of which one is NC State. Along with Chancellor Woodson and CALS’ Dean Linton, It was Dr. Craig Yencho – NC State’s Sweetpotato and Potato Breeding Program Leader – who was an early facilitator of a partnership between NC State and MaRCCI, he currently serves on the advisory board for MaRCCI. I was very excited to hear about Richard’s and Paul’s visit to NC State, who get together with several faculty members of our college to establish new research- and teaching partnerships (e.g. joint research projects, an online course- & guest lecture program, MaCCRI-advisory board opportunities), and explore possibilities for a student exchange program.
Personally, I am very hopeful that collaborations will grow and enrich both MaRCCI as well as NC State’s Agriculture and Life Science Programs in the future.
President of CALS Student Asssociation for Interdisciplinary and Global Engagement
CALS SAIGE online: https://cals.ncsu.edu/international-programs/students/cals-saige/
For more information about MaRCCI and opportunities to get involved, see the presentation from Drs. Richard Edema and Paul Gibson or contact CALS international Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org.