I will contribute to the fight against infectious diseases in Africa

Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana is a Rwandan pursuing his Ph.D. studies in Food security and Agribusiness at the Southern African Centre for Infectious Diseases Surveillance (SACIDS Foundation for One Health) hosted at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania under a scholarship awarded to him by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, icipe, through the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF).  The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), one of PASET’s flagship programs is the first Pan-African science fund that provides doctoral scholarships for African scientists aimed at catalyzing the training of 10,000 PhDs in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields.

Hakizimana in the Laboratory

To Hakizimana, getting the PASET-RSIF scholarship for his Ph.D. meant so much for his career and personal development. The Ph.D. whose scholarship confirmation letter he received on 21st March 2018 and accepted, is to-date, he believes, the best career decision he ever made. The excitement was palpable and the enthusiasm about the offered opportunity was commitment towards achieving his career goals and professional growth.

Hakizimana’s research in his Ph.D. project was built on his previous research experience with Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) but this time with special focus on genomics and molecular epidemiology of viral diseases of food security and livelihood importance. TADs hinder poverty and hunger alleviation, an important component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (SDGs) and the African Union Agenda 2063. Jean’s Ph.D. project exploits the advances in genomics and molecular epidemiology technologies and innovations to mitigate the effect of these diseases for an improved livelihood and well-being of livestock farmers.

Under the supervision and mentorship of senior scientists at Sokoine University of Agriculture one of the RSIF African Host University (AHU), Ghent University an RSIF International Partner Institution (IPI) and the Rwanda National Industrial Research and Development Agency, he has no doubt that the outcome of this study will positively impact on Livestock farmers and contribute to food security and livelihoods.

To-date, Hakizimana  has published in high impact factor peer-reviewed journals, for instance Viruses (impact factor of 3.816; Hakizimana et al 2021; see link), Frontiers in Veterinary Science (impact factor of 2.245; Hakizimana et al 2020; see link) and BMC Veterinary Research (5-year impact factor of 2.179; Hakizimana et al 2020;see link) as outputs emanating from his Ph.D. research.

In addition, the experience and expertise gained earned him a research grant (grant NO. I-1-B-6269-1) from the International foundation for Science (IFS) to advance his research on African swine fever in countries neighboring Tanzania and his abstract has been selected for a travel grant by the United States of America Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) to share his research findings with the international scientific community during the Global African Swine Fever Research Alliance (GARA) scientific meeting.

With the high-quality skills and specialized knowledge gained during his Ph.D., Jean hopes to contribute to the training of the next generation of students, researchers and innovators in his area of expertise. He intends to contribute and get involved as a researcher and teacher in the fight against infectious diseases so that he can contribute to the alleviation of the burden of these diseases in Africa where their impacts are greatest.

Despite the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, Jean kept moving forward but at a slower speed compared to the momentum he had garnered prior to the pandemic. Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted his research activities involving collaboration with other institutions where physical presence was required. By working from home and going to the laboratory only when necessary as well as adhering to the travel restrictions, he managed to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19. All the Conferences he was supposed to attend were moved to online, thus during the lockdown, the online alternative was used for specific trainings and conferences in his research area. Positively, the University administration was very supportive with the adoption of the Regulations and Guidelines for Higher Degrees to support online training and management of postgraduate studies in April 2020.

According to Hakizimana, Africa needs home-grown expertise that can tackle new risks such as climate change and global pandemics. RSIF, as an Africa-led initiative with the objective of strengthening the science, technology, and engineering capability in sub-Saharan Africa for its socioeconomic transformation, is useful to advance knowledge, promote research and help the African society discover innovative solutions to overcome its most pressing problems. Clearly, the RSIF program is increasing the quality of scientific research in the region, and Jean is happy to be associated with this initiative and what it stands for.

Conact Mr. Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana hakizimana.jean@sacids.org

RSIF Scholar Mabwi Humphrey desires to use his PhD to find solutions linked to food, nutrition and health

Mabwi Humphrey’s journey to his PhD studies began with his desire to join academia as a teaching and research -scientist. Upon completing his MSc degree in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry from the Northeast Normal University in China in 2015, Mabwi took up a teaching/research assistant role at his alma mater, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya. This is the same university where he had completed a bachelor of science degree in Biology/Chemistry. However, one of the key requirements for being a teaching/research assistant was to pursue a PhD. Fortunately, this was in line with his long-term goal of becoming a full time academic and researcher. However, despite this zeal, he lacked the funding to purse a PhD. His dream became closer to reality, when he came across the PASET RSIF PhD Scholarship in 2018! Since 2018, a total of 184 PhD Scholarships distributed across 20 countries in Africa, have been awarded. The first cohort in 2018 had 15 students and one of them is Mabwi Humphrey a Kenyan.

Mabwi busy in the Laboratory

Mabwi, who was part of the first cohort of 15 PASET RSIF students, is currently at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Gangneung Institute of Natural products undertaking his research as part of his PhD in Biotechnology at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

Managed by icipe, The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), one of PASET’s flagship programs is the first Pan-African science fund that provides doctoral scholarships for African scientists aimed at catalyzing the training of 10,000 PhDs in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields. Priority is given to contributing member countries, the faculty of universities who lack Ph.D. Because funding for PhD training in Africa is very rare, RSIF has provided an excellent opportunity for them  to pursue their PhD training and advance research careers.

Joining the PhD Program

Mabwi started his PhD journey in 2018 when he received the RSIF Scholarship and he expects to graduate in 2022 and became RSIF’s first cohort of Alumni. Sokoine University (SUA), his host University in Africa, academically enjoys a good reputation in Tanzania, especially because its curriculum features comprehensive professional training in agriculture courses in diverse fields, ranging from veterinary medicine, food processing, food bioengineering, to food quality analysis courses. However, the PhD curriculum lays special emphasis on research and there is less emphasis on coursework, as part of the PhD training. The Southern African Centre of – Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS-ACE) at SUA, which hosts the RSIF program at Sokoine university has exposed Mabwi to various practical laboratory and transferrable skills training opportunities.

Mabwi’s PhD thesis is on Functional Foods against Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is associated with a number of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, colon cancer and diabetes mellitus – modern-day Lifestyle diseases. The purpose of his research is to discover novel functional foods against dysbiosis. Because of the exposure at SACIDS-ACE, Mabwi initially developed his study on Bovine microbiomes with a purpose of tracking pathogens in beef industry. However, upon joining the sandwich program at Korea Institute of Science and Technology, he felt the need to amend his proposal from bovine microbiomes to study human microbiomes in order to align it with requirements of both his supervisor at Sokoine University and at Korea Institute of Science and Technology. To-date, he has published a paper in computational and structural Biotechnology journal and submitted his second paper for publication.

Catching the Dream

Upon completion of his PhD study, Mabwi would like to pursue a postdoctoral research to build his nascent career in academia and research and prepare him for leadership and management roles. He is glad for the funding from RSIF as well as the opportunity to study at both Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. He also appreciates the RSIF seminars, webinars, courses and soft skills coordinated by icipe which equipped him with various important skills not only academia but also for careers in biomedical research, food biotechnological, pharmaceutical/nutraceuticals industries and management positions with the aim of improving food and health systems in Africa.

He admits that Covid 19 has greatly impacted on his academic and social life. It has changed how he works and spend his extra time, which inevitably has impacted his studies. Delivery of some of his laboratory reagents have been delayed. He has also been required to work from home or in the laboratory in shifts. More recently he was forced to quarantine for almost two weeks after a lab mate tested positive for Covid 19. Further, opportunities for conferences and seminars to present his research findings are now limited.  The limited time with his supervisor, having fitness rooms closed and sports activities cancelled has had a toll on him and many other students. These have delayed his experiments and changed his day-to-day routine hence impacting on my PhD progress.

Based on his experience, he would advise the more recent RSIF scholars to ensure that they commence their matching discussions with IPIs as soon as possible, i.e. when the student joins the RSIF funded PhD program to eliminate major proposal amendments upon transitioning to the IPI.

Contact Mr. Humphrey Andalo Mabwi mabwi.humphrey@kist.re.kr

Technology and education are the foundation to bettering life in society

According to the Gender strategy of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), the program has set an ambitious target for women’s representation among its PhD scholars (50%) based on a commitment to gender and social inclusion and excellence in Aplied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields to support Africa’s socio-economic transformation. Enhancing gender inclusiveness in the sciences will require significant investment and deliberate efforts at various levels by various actors, including by universities, governments, and other institutions. However, the important payoffs from this investment justify the costs: removing existing barriers to women’s entry and advancement in ASET fields will increase substantially the number of intelligent, talented people making important scientific innovations. To date, since the award of the first scholarships in 2018, RSIF has awarded a total of 184 PhD scholarships, 71 of these going to female scholars, representing 39 percent of the total scholarships. In an interview with RSIF Manager Dr Moses Osiru, he shares about Fund’s tremendous growth over the past two years.

During the 12th RSIF Monthly Webinar Series held on 9th June 2021, RSIF hosted Ms. Aicha Evans, CEO of ZOOX an American autonomous vehicle technology Company which is head quartered in California, to a chat on “Women Leading in Science and Emerging Technologies”. icipe’s scientist and postdoctoral Fellow  Dr Fathiya M. Khamis moderated the conversation, which was attended by RSIF PhD scholars, RSIF host Universities, International partners, World Bank group representatives including Diariétou Gaye the Vice President and World Bank Group Corporate Secretary and ZOOX innovators. The vote of thanks to Ms. Aicha was given by Cohort one, RSIF PhD Scholar, Fatoumata Thiam from Senegal who is undertaking valuable research in designing self-optimized irrigation in the Sahel area based on the Internet of Things at the University of Gaston Berger (UGB).

In the chat below, Ms. Aicha answers some of the fundamental questions on why Science and emerging technologies should matter to everyone but especially to women.

Q. Why should Science and emerging ttechnologies matter to Women?

A. Oh, you know, Women are kind of the core of society, we make a lot of things possible, we also have the population. I think that some of the experiences that happen though growing up as women and expectations that are set on us, actually are very very conducive to technology. I do not believe in technology for the sake of geeking out, I believe in technology for the sake of really helping the world. That is what technology has done for thousands of years and will continue to do, and I think that women can bring the aspect of solving problems for society and advancing society as opposed to just geeking out when it comes to technology. The other thing is, I truly believe that we experience a lot of things at a young age from a societal standpoint, that if we apply technology to that, everybody meaning, men, women, however you identify yourself, will all benefit and this is something I am passionate about and committed to.

Q. What inspired you to get into science, engineering career path?

A. Well, very early on in my career, I could see the difference of when you have a lot of technology verses when you don’t have a lot of technology. Whether it is through telecommunication, when I was bouncing between Paris and Dakar, and just the ability to remain in touch with my friends. I know everybody has smart phones right now, that’s not the way it was back then. Back then there was a little box with a handset and rotary phone. It was super expensive. And so, in terms of hacking my basic phones to be able to stay in contact with people, it wasn’t hacking so I could be known as a hacker, it was really in service of staying in touch with my friends.

Second of all, when I looked at education, when I looked at just life in Darker, education is really part of the core of the society in Senegal. But still I could see like living in France and seeing what technology was making possible. I was very lucky and fortunate at a young age to be in a situation where I could travel and see a lot of the world, and you could see that basically Technology and education are the foundation to bettering life in society no matter where you are. And it doesn’t have to be the same kind of education. For example, e-commerce being born or spearheaded in Kenya was not surprising. I love the creativity of saying no, we are not going to replicate the backing infrastructure as it is known in the rest of the world, we are going to leapfrog and figure out another way to distribute money inside of the country and so e-commerce and the technology around that was born.

When it comes to technology there are usually two phases; there is an inflection phases where a wave is being born. Think about computers, telecommunication, cellular technology, the smart phone, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) or exploit phases where the inflection point has already happened, and you are just basically milking the situation and are creating derivatives at iterating. You are all getting educated at a time of an inflection point. What is happening through computers, AI, robotics? These are technological inflection points that are going to affect every aspect of life, from transportation, agriculture, medicine, banking like what is happening to crypto for example and you all get to participate in that. Pick your field and make the world better. I do not know what could be more exciting. And as women, you have an advantage, you see societal things that others don’t, and you have the opportunity to ride this, make the way, do things that are unimaginable today, take advantage of it.

Q. Do you think STEM fields are at a disadvantage because of the limited involvement of women?

A. We should turn it from a challenge to an opportunity. By the way, it starts very early on when you just watch kids in elementary school. We need to demystify STEM. We really do. It is almost like by making it so special, we are already telling young girls, oh it is not for you or it is going to be difficult and so on. We need to look at how we are teaching STEM, and early on sort of help young girls see that this is not about being the special one or the geeky one or ‘you are like the boys’. This is a tool or and an opportunity to basically solve the problem whichever one you want to solve. And to grow up and make a good living, because independence has never been a bad thing. I think that there are a lot of things we do very unconsciously in language, how we talk about it, how we even reward young girls who are doing well, and to me the demystification and democratisation of STEM is absolutely critical. The world bank and all these organisations should look at it from that standpoint and encourage the numbers. Once you go through that and see what is possible, you don’t have to convince people anymore because they see the value and human beings are driven by value.  There is a shortage, we make it too difficult and too special today and we need to change our mindset including how we talk about, how make it available, how we present it. I would live the first experience of a young girl with math to be around solving problem as  opposed to learn the methodology, learn this equation, the stress of your multiplication tables. Let us start with what becomes possible, and then from there, the kids will say well, STEM is making that possible and then I think we will increase the numbers dramatically.

Around the world, let us apply STEM to the local problems and the local opportunities. Let us use local event, problems, things that people can relate to and then STEM attaches to the emotion of the person, and I think great things will happen.

Q. If you were to sum up, based on your career and experiences, what two messages would you give that have been instrument to you as a successful science leader.

A. I would use three if I may.

First of all, Demystify, you are the boss of you, demystify! don’t let anybody define things for you. You define things, you define people, you happened to things.

Second of all, be resilient. Look, one days maybe I will write a book or something, I think we tend to focus on the destination once we have already arrived, and we don’t look at the Journey and the ups and downs. I wasn’t born with the God given right to achieve what I have achieved, and by the way, I have a lot more that I want to achieve. Be resilient and understand that it is a Journey. Successes are supposed be celebrated, failures are supposed to be acknowledged, understood and learning applied and then we move on to the next things. And by the way, if you are not failing, you are not doing anything meaningful, you are not finding root.

Last but not least, have some fun, enjoy the journey. We are so serious about things, I promise you, you all have long lives ahead of you, by and large, when you look at the normal distribution of the curve. You will have ups and downs and joys and failures. And by the way if you don’t have failures, you also cannot enjoy the successes.

Q. The leaky pipe for women starts right from lower levels of education and through to higher education, I think especially in Africa thereby reducing the numbers in science significantly, what do you think are the key differences, if any, for women perusing science careers in the global South Vis-a vis the global North

A. The global north is a little bit ahead but let us not exaggerate it, it’s not like they are doing super well. Every time I look at “diversity and inclusion” we seem to be stuck at 20-25% women in the North and so it is not like they are doing awesome. Now, we should take some learnings from that and we should accelerate. When it comes to Women or Girls and STEM, we should focus on the person, there is no question about it, but we should also focus on the value system and society. I think that having people, teachers, educated family members, explain in a positive non-arrogant way, to the units of family and the units of society how beneficial it will be for society at large, for girls and Women to be in STEM, is really important. Because you do need a support system. I have had very tough patches in my career or actually even as a student, as a teenage and then as a young adult, that if I didn’t have a support system that made it okay and that sponsored me that was there for me, I don’t think I wouldn’t have made it. So that expression that ‘it takes a village………’. I think we are focusing a lot on the individual and not on the village. We need to focus more on the village, such that the village has a vested interest in the individuals staying in STEM.

For more information and the engagement with Ms. Aicha, Please Listen to the webinar recording through this access Link and Passcode: Z00XRS1FRec*






Building Innovative Systems and Adoption of ICTs for Agriculture in West Africa

The Inception meeting for the project on Accelerating inclusive green growth through agri-based digital innovation in West Africa (AGriDI) took place from 2-4 June 2021 in a hybrid style, at icipe in Nairobi and virtually. The meeting’s objectives were to welcome and introduce the core project team and parties, get a shared understanding on the AGriDI project vision, goals, key outputs to be delivered and implementation arrangements. Partner roles and responsibilitiesguidelines and manuals were also discussed.

AGriDI is a 4-year intervention that will be implemented in the ECOWAS states in Western Africa region and is expected to lead to; (i) increased uptake of agri-based digital technologies by farmers and SMEs especially women and youth in the region; (ii) strengthened linkages between research communities, industry and policy actors in digital innovations in the region and (iii) a strengthened policy environment for scaling agri-business digital innovations in the region. A call for proposals is currently open.

In the opening session, Dr Moses Osiru the Manager of The Regional Scholarship, and Innovation Fund (RSIF) at icipe welcomed participants and gave an overview of the AGriDI project. He said that its  implementation model involves a competitive grants scheme that will award grants to stakeholders in the various categories of agri-based digital innovations in West Africa. Grantees will benefit from technical assistance support and know-how towards the successful development and scaling the use of the digital technologies in the countries and West Africa region.

Dr. Sunday Ekesi, the Director of Research and Partnerships at icipe reiterated the importance of digital innovation in agri-business and emphasised the need for reforms that address digital infrastructure gaps and make the digital economy more inclusive –ensuring affordability but also building skills for all segments of society, with deliberate efforts towards improving connectivity, boosting digital technology adoption, and generating more and better jobs for vulnerable groups like youth and women. He thanked the ACP Innovation Fund, which is implemented by Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) Research and Innovation Programme, with financial contribution from European Union.

AGriDI is jointly implemented by the icipe as the Lead and its partners, the University of Abomey Calavi in Benin, Agropolis Foundation in France and Gearbox Pan African Network in Kenya and is one of the 8 granted projects financed under the ACP Innovation Fund.

Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Benin for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Prof. Rogatien M. Tossou said that

We believe that the AGriDI initiative will build innovative systems and adoption of ICT innovations for Agriculture in Africa

He was pleased that special focus was given to West Africa and he said he was optimistic that the solutions from the project would help Africa connect with the rest of the world and compete favourably.

A baseline/scoping exercise on digital solutions in ECOWAS will be undertaken, led by the university of Abomey Calavi and supported by the Agropolis foundation, Gearbox Pan African Network and icipe to understand the digital eco-system of the region and enable AGriDI achieve its intended objectives aimed at transform the livelihoods of youth and women through the use, application and uptake of agri- based digital innovations.

While closing the meeting, Dr Julius Ecuru, Head of Bioinnovate Africa at icipe, thanked all the partners for their active participation and contributions.

Find the Call for proposals here




RSIF 10th Webinar: Potential of underutilized food resources: Insects for food, feed and other uses

Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa region is highly biodiverse with large rural populations that are highly dependent on nature, livestock, agriculture as well as consumption of insects and wildlife products. This not only creates a heavy burden on the biodiversity, it also threatens livelihoods because of the human activities that contribute to climate change and Food insecurity.

Through the flagship programme of the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) runs monthly webinar series aimed at promoting information and skills sharing in its five thematic areas.

The 10th webinar of its series which took place on 28th April 2021, aimed at helping participants understand the under utilised food resource potential in insects and their other uses. The webinar was based on research conducted on insects as a very important source of protein in the wake of food insecurity.

The guest speaker Dr Chrysantus M. Tanga a research scientist with the Insect for Food, Feed and Other Uses (INSEFF) programme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) started by introducing participants to icipe’s research for development framework on Insects as Food and Feed,then general understanding of edible insects and the role they can play as an alternative source of protein to both human beings an Animals.

The Value of insects for food and feed

He could not emphasise enough the importance of insect protein, saying that research had shown that it was between 28-73% higher than plant protein and more superior to animal protein, in addition to being rich in iron and zinc. There are 1900 species of edible insects being consumed by approximately 2 billion people globally and Africa is the hotspot, with 45 countries and approximately 330million people actively consuming 552 species of insects as food. He added that two news edible species of crickets (Scapsipedus and Gryllus madagascariensis)  have been discovered and research is being conducted.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are some of the biggest consumers of insects in Africa. Understanding how different communities use insects for food and feed is critical in informing research on consuming patterns, seasons, benefits and cultural norms around both edible and non-edible insects.

For communities that eat insects, we promote them as food and for communities that do not eat insects, we promote them as animal feeds, so that we enhance mass adoption across the board without leaving anyone behind, said Dr Chrysantus M. Tanga

Some of the benefits of insects include the fact that they are an excellent alternative source of protein, extremely rich in minerals, excellent source of oils for bakery and other nutraceutical products, excellent source of therapeutic sterols in addition to having the potential for development of innovative products and income generation.

Grasshopper widely eaten across Africa

The RSIF webinar series are important forums for capacity building and creating synergies for partnerships and collaboration. Listen to the complete 10th webinar Serie on the Potential of Underutilized Food Resources: Insects for Food, Feed and Other Uses” by clicking this Link (Access Passcode: SU^%X^N3).

 For more information of how to participate in the RSIF webinar series, please contact Mr. Nyagah Bonface Karugah via bnyagah@icipe.org