Empowering young intellectuals to tackle Tanzania’s agricultural development challenges-Case of Eliafie Mwanga

Mwanga.JPGMr. Eliafie Mwanga, a Tanzanian, completed his MSc in Irrigation and Water Resources Engineering in 2015 at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, with funding from the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI). iAGRI is a USAID Feed the Future Project aimed at strengthening training and building collaborative research capacities of Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF) with the goal of improving food security and agricultural productivity in Tanzania. In the past five years, the project engaged with RUFORUM to facilitate placement of 31 young Tanzanian scientists to pursue their master’s degrees at nine selected RUFORUM member universities in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Upon completing his studies, Eliafie returned to Tanzania to work with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation as a civil engineer where he has been providing technical support and oversight in construction of earth fill dams for irrigation. With him as a technical leader, he assembled a strong team which constructed a 6,600,000 m3 earth fill dam for sprinkler irrigation and domestic water supply in Sikonge District. This dam is meeting the water needs of the people in the district.



Eliafie attributes his success to the multidisciplinary, practical-oriented and innovative nature of the master’s course at the University of Nairobi and the soft skills enhancement training he received through RUFORUM. He is thus equipped with technical skills in engineering as well as skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork. In the course of his work, he has encountered several challenges, but this strong foundation has enabled him to overcome these obstacles with ease. Without a doubt, the skills enhancement trainings organized by RUFORUM built his leadership skills and have given him a professional edge:

“I am successfully leading a team of professional engineers and surveyors in carrying out feasibility studies and dam construction. Although I am a junior member of the team, I am technically knowledgeable and equipped with leadership skills. That’s what makes me different”, says Eliafie Mwanga.

Eliafie‘s story demonstrates the impact of one agricultural scientist who has been empowered with both technical and transferable skills and is committed to improving food security and rural livelihoods in his home country, but his is not alone. Several of the other alumni of the iAGRI-RUFORUM collaboration are also contributing to this goal. A survey to track their progress after completion of studies showed that they have fully reintegrated into the agricultural system of Tanzania and are stellar performers, contributing to food security efforts in the country.

Skilling graduates to support multidisciplinary research – RUFORUM trains 100

The Master of Science Degree in Research Methods hosted by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) is one of the six collaborative regional master’s degree programmes established by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM). Launched in 2009, the programme was established in response to the large unmet demand in the labour market for professionals skilled in agricultural research methods. In November 2016, the programme graduated 14 master’s students which brings to 100 the total number of graduates who have been equipped with interdisciplinary research methodology skills. The graduates have been drawn from Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The 2016 MSc Research Methods graduates at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology categorised by gender and nationality

No. Name Country Gender
1 Immaculee Abingoye  Mayugi Burundi Female
2 Funga Assefa Ethiopia Male
3 Jirata Megersa Tadesse Ethiopia Male
4 Caroline Oywer Kenya Female
5 Somanje  Chifuniro Malawi Female
6 Sophia Isala Namibia Female
7 Donatien Ntawuruhunga Rwanda Male
8 Christopher  Joice South Sudan Female
9 Martin Mwale Zambia Male
10 Johnson Kimambo Tanzania Male
11 Mdemu  Siha Tanzania Male
12 Efrance  Najjuma Uganda Female
13 Wilson Mambo Uganda Male
14 Alma Muropa Zimbabwe Female

Graduates from the course have returned to their home countries and constitute a pool of mid-level practical professionals engaging in policy analysis, research, graduate teaching in Biostatistics and Biometry, consultancy services in data analysis and reporting, and design of Monitoring and Evaluation tools for impact evaluation. Some of the graduates have opted to further advance their qualifications in the field and enrolled for PhD programmes.

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A mathematician’s passion for simplifying science to catalyse innovation


Savannah (1st from left), runner up during Famelab science communication competition in South Africa

My name is Savannah Nuwagaba, a PhD Student at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Throughout my university education, I have majored in Mathematics where expression is mainly through equations and calculus; not words, and certainly not stories. I did not understand the power of storytelling until I went to South Africa, a country whose stories have shaped communities.

I first went to South Africa to pursue a Postgraduate Diploma in Mathematical Sciences at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).  In our intake year, we were 54 students from 34 African countries and had lecturers from all over the globe. I was particularly fascinated by our lecturers from Cambridge University who did not just teach us about what other people had done, said or thought, but made sure we were actively engaged in learning. Thanks to them, I came to greatly appreciate the importance of scientific evidence. Several pan African speakers also visited us from time to time while I was at AIMS and through them I realised that with knowledge, we can create the Africa we want to see.

After my completing my diploma at AIMS, i enrolled at Stellenbosch University for a Master’s degree in Biomathematics and stayed on for my PhD. During my early years at the university, I began to question how a mathematician like me could contribute to creating the Africa I want to see. The answer came in 2014 when I was invited to give a TEDx talk under the theme ‘Alone in a crowd’. TEDx talk is a platform for speakers to present great ideas in less than 18 minutes. I used the platform to share my life story and realised that my experiences enlightened both the audience and I. Listening to the enthusiastic feedback from parents and young girls who attended, I purposed not to stop telling stories. I had finally figured out how to make a contribution to my continent.

It was not long before another storytelling opportunity came along. I was nominated to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany, the only meeting I know where you can find more than 30 Nobel Laureates from science fields. Listening to the laureate’s stories of why they had opted for careers in science, the ups and downs in their careers and how all these contributed to their ground breaking discoveries, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to share my own science stories with the public in a way they can easily understand. After all, a considerable amount of research funding comes from tax payers’ money.

Although I had previously participated in events where we had to share our science stories with non-specialist audiences, my experience in Lindau created a particular yearning to build my skills in public engagement with science. When I returned to South Africa, I attended as many trainings as my time and resources could allow.

One experience I will never forget was with Famelab, a science communication competition where a scientist is given three minutes to present a scientific idea to a diverse audience in a clear and charismatic way without compromising the scientific content. Through the training we received for the competition, by trainers from both South Africa and the UK, I learnt that we cannot achieve evidence-based policy making unless scientists are able to clearly communicate their evidence in a language that policy makers understand.

For the competition, I explained how evidence from a mathematical model suggested that the way we humans interact with our environment and its resultant effect on the temperature of the earth could determine whether our grandchildren will see some of the animals that we see today or only smaller versions of them, if at all. The first question I received from the audience was “How do you plan to disseminate this piece of evidence to different communities given that every human being contributes to how our environment reacts to our relationship with it?” I did not have a clear answer, but since we had a meeting with the Academy of Sciences of South Africa and the Department of Science and Technology the following week I responded that we could include discussions on how to accelerate the appreciation of science in Africa. Deep down, though, I knew it had to go beyond that.

Why do I share this story?

We often talk about creating people-centred innovative solutions and know that innovation springs from science whether formally or informally yet we still ask, “What can we do about it?” I believe that if scientists in Africa shared their evidence-based stories in ways that can be understood by all stakeholders including rural communities, policy and decision makers, we can create the Africa that we have always wanted to see. Knowledge is power! I therefore call upon graduate students of Africa, from  all scientific disciplines, to build their skills in translating scientific concepts for public consumption and join me in sharing our science for the betterment of the continent.

Savannah Nuwagaba graduated from Makerere University with a Bachelor of Science with Education, Mathematics and Chemistry (majoring in mathematics); completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Mathematical Sciences at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences https://www.aims.ac.za/   and has majored in Biomathematics for her Master’s and PhD training. She can be reached at savannah@sun.ac.za or savannah@aims.ac.za.

Enabling rural women prosper from cassava bioethanol production through university-community engagement

By Settumba Mukasa and Deogracious Opolot, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Makerere University

For decades, women in Apac District in Northern Uganda have produced bioethanol as a means of livelihood. In fact, some women in Chegere, Apac District confess to depending entirely on bioethanol as the source of income. Proceeds from the sale of bioethanol are used to provide basic household needs such as food, medication, soap and sugar, and also to pay for education of their children, some up to university level.

Cassava production in Apac District revolves around five main varieties including both indigenous varieties like Bao and improved varieties. Results from a study by the Cassava Community Action Research Project (Cassava CARP), funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) noted that farmers preferred their own local varieties, especially cultivar Bao, for food while recently released varieties are preferred for processing bioethanol that is sometimes constituted into a local potent drink locally known as waragi or lira-lira. Farmers believe that certain cassava varieties yield more bioethanol than others, and varieties less preferred to be eaten as fresh tubers are the ones used for brewing.

Demand for bioethanol has increased in recent times mainly due to the increased diversity of its uses. Research laboratories use it for preservation of biological specimens, cleaning and as a reagent for laboratory analysis; hospitals as a cleaning agent; schools for sanitary purposes; and brewing companies for making gins and beers. It is also used for making cosmetics, solvents, preparation of essences, and as flavorings in pharmaceutical products. The women of Apac could benefit from this increase in demand.

In recent years, the outbreak of the cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease devastated the production of cassava, the main raw material for bioethanol production. This outbreak almost plunged the rural population into extreme poverty, but was averted through interventions by the National Agricultural Research Organisation Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, and other institutions that provided new and high yielding varieties as well as launching programmes for providing planting materials.

The increased production of cassava, however, paused a new challenge of wastage due to rot especially during the rainy season and periods of peak production. Bioethanol production was one of the pathways to absorb this “excess” cassava, but needed to be optimised. Through engagement with women in Apac District, members of the Cassava Community Action Research Project (Cassava CARP) realized the immense potential of this product in elevating the standards of living of these communities. Bioethanol production was thus identified as one of interventions on which the team would focus.

The Cassava CARP team identified a number of challenges affecting the production and profitability of bioethanol. Firstly, the women got little returns for their labour as most consumers of bioethanol are members of the local community who pay low prices. Sometimes their clients even drink on credit and fail to pay. Poor road and transport networks meant that the market for bioethanol remained limited. Secondly, the quality of bioethanol was low. Preliminary proximate analysis of bioethanol sampled from parts of Apac and Kole districts indicated high levels of methanol and other impurities making the product unhealthy for direct human consumption. Thirdly, the process of making cassava bioethanol was found to be long and tedious thus greatly affecting the quantity that could be produced. This was further exacerbated by the use of rudimentary production methods and processing equipment that were characterized by low efficiency. Fourthly, to enhance hydrolysis and fermentation (key reactions in brewing) farmers use a lot of firewood to roast the cassava mash. This put pressure on the environment by way of cutting more trees.

Traditional cassava bioethanol production in Apac: A) Labour and firewood consuming roasting of pre-soaked cassava flour B) Time consuming distillation ofthe fermented broth yielding 0.5 liters of bioethanol per hour

Traditional cassava bioethanol production in Apac: A) Labour and firewood consuming roasting of pre-soaked cassava flour B) Time consuming distillation ofthe fermented broth yielding 0.5 liters of bioethanol per hour

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