Testimony of career opportunities for young scholars in agricultural sciences


By Lijalem Gebrewahid, PhD Student at Mekelle University

lijalemI was born and raised in Shire-Endaslassie, a town in the  Tigrai Region of Northern Ethiopia. My love for agriculture must have been borne out of my experience of growing and caring for plants in the backyard of our home during my childhood. After completing high school, I went on to study a Diploma in Plant Sciences at Jimma University, Ethiopia. Thereafter, I served as a Research Assistant at the Tigrai Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) for three years before joining

Mekelle University in 2004 in the same position. Being a staff at the university accorded me the opportunity to advance in my career and, in 2009, I successfully completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from Mekelle University.

The next year, I got a scholarship from the Regional Universities Forum lijalem1for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) to enroll for a Master of Science degree in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems at Makerere University in Uganda. I was delighted to be admitted at Makerere University because it is one of the top ranked universities in Africa. During the course of my masters training and research, I met great people and made lasting friendships with professional peers.  Initially, I had anticipated a great challenge in completing the course, but the load become easier with institutional support as well as support from my peers and supervisors. By the time of completion, the program was less intense than I had earlier anticipated.

I was glad to have the opportunity to undertake the research component of my MSc back in my home country. This accorded me more time with my family as well as the faculty staff at Mekelle University who served as co-supervisors with the team at Makerere University. The exposure to studying outside my home country as well as joint supervision by both faculty at Makerere University and Mekelle University made me appreciate my journey from a diploma certificate to a postgraduate degree. My MSc thesis focused on evaluation of certain barley core collections for stability in terms of earliness, scald disease resistance, and yield performance  in central and northern part of Ethiopia. The study demonstrated that genotypes by environment interactions can be minimized through selection of widely adapted genotypes. This is important for plant breeding programmes focusing on barley and other related crops.

The training exposure at Makerere University energized me to look for opportunities for further studies. Fortunately, I was lucky to merit another RUFORUM scholarship, this time under the Community Action Research Program (CARP), to study for a PhD in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems at Mekelle University.

lijalem2Currently, I am part of a research team working on the RUFORUM-funded project “Enhancing wheat value chain through participatory action research in Northern Ethiopia” Project (RU 2014 CARP 05) of which my PhD research is a component. Led by the Principal Investigator, Assoc. Prof. Dereje Abera Assefa, the research team is focusing on improving yield and yield stability of superior quality wheat, particularly under stress and future climate change conditions. Our overall target is to minimize dependence on local and obsolete varieties through use of improved high yielding varieties to enhance production and productivity of wheat in turbulent environments.

Involvement of farmers in evaluation and selection of wheat varieties helps researchers to have deeper understanding about the existing situations and vice versa. As a result, the right measures can be can be taken to tackle challenges in a relatively shorter time. This participatory approach has enhanced the university’s engagement with the community and promoted ownership of the research agenda by farmers. The team firmly believes that this approach, among other factors, will also facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technologies to other farmers along the wheat value chain.

So far, data for one season has been collected and analyzed, a Farmers Day has been organized, and stakeholders from various sectors including model farmers, Bureau of Agriculture, Tigrai Agricultural Research Institute, researchers from Mekelle University, factory representatives and administrative people have observed the trial sites.

lijalem3lijalem4During the Field Day, a farmers’ research group from Atsela, one of the research sites, welcomed participants, by holding up the motto “From bread in GTP1 to pasta in GTP2”. This was an expression of their wish to have a good life during the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP2) set by the government and perhaps also a reminder to us, the research team, of the impact that we are trying to achieve. I look forward to completing my PhD which will no doubt equip me to make more significant contributions to crop improvement for food security in Africa and perhaps help bring to reality the aspirations of our farmers.

I am greatly indebted to RUFORUM for the financial support for my MSc and PhD studies. I have attained knowledge in plant breeding that is very relevant to my country and I see opportunities to put this knowledge into use for the benefit of smallholder households and farming systems in general.  I would also like to take this opportunity to appreciate my mentors, particularly Professor Paul Gibson, undoubtedly one of Makerere University’s most valuable assets. As an MSc student in his class, I was not only impressed by his expert knowledge, but also by his profound teaching style and readiness to help students even outside class hours.

The RUFORUM Network promotes inter-university collaboration to facilitate quality graduate research and training. This testimony, one among many others, presents evidence of collaboration between members of the Network (Makerere University and Mekelle University) to co-supervise and train proactive graduate students.

Contact the author by email at: lijalemgebrewahid@gmail.com

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