Monday 25 June 2018

Distribution of drought tolerant maize seeds for evaluation and adoption by maize farmers of the southwestern Nigeria in the face of climate change

by Dr. Abimbola  Oluwaranti, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Oluwaranti was awarded funding to carry out activities as part of the CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund. She successfully distributed drought tolerant maize seeds to farmers in South-Western Nigeria, and delivered training on how to plant and maintain the crops for optimum yield. Here, she shares her thoughts on the activity.

Background information and Meeting with maize farmers
The main focus of my CIRCLE research was to develop drought tolerant maize varieties adaptable to the effects of climate change. On returning to my Home Institution after the CIRCLE Fellowship in 2017, I met with maize farmers in four locations of the South-Western Nigeria to determine accessibility to drought tolerant maize seeds. My research group subsequently delivered training for five farmers in each location on how to carry out their maize planting and other agronomic practices for optimum yield of the drought tolerant maize seeds. 

Purchase and Distribution of Drought Tolerant Maize Seeds, Herbicides and Fertilizers.
Based on the twenty trained maize farmers, 3kg of drought tolerant maize seeds were purchased for each of the maize farmers for planting in the later part of the late season (3rd week of September of 2017), which is usually characterized by terminal drought in these locations. For optimum performance of these drought tolerant maize seeds, the twenty maize farmers were also given 1 litre each of pre-emergence herbicide to prevent weed growth at the seedling and vegetative growth stages. After planting, the maize farms were visited by me and my program assistant of the Research Uptake Plan before distributing one 50kg of NPK fertilizer to each of the twenty maize farmers. Some of the pictures taken during the purchase and distribution of the seeds, herbicides and fertilizers are as shown below.

Growth and harvesting of the drought tolerant maize 
As predicted, the rain stopped as from the 3rd week of September in all of these farms’ locations, due to the ability of the drought tolerant maize seeds to tolerate the marginal rainfall conditions, the maize plants were able to withstand the water stress. The maize ears were also well filled compared to the susceptible drought maize seeds that the farmers used to plant despite the water stress on them as shown in the pictures below:

Adoption of the drought tolerant maize seeds by the maize farmers.
The maize farmers were convinced with the good performance of the maize seeds, hence the easy adoption of the maize seeds by the maize farmers for subsequent planting in the different locations of Southwestern Nigeria to enhance food security in the Sub-region of the country.

Monday 18 June 2018

Dr. Afiukwa's Research Uptake Activity

by Dr Celestine Afiukwa, Ebonyi State University, Nigeria
Cohort 1 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Afiukwa was awarded funding to carry out activities as part of the CIRCLE Research Uptake Fund. He successfully organised a meeting with major stakeholders in rice production in Ebonyi State, including rural rice farmers and members of the Ebonyi State Ministry of Agriculture. Dr Afiukwa shares details of the event below.

Dr Afiukwa posing with the Commissioner for Agric, VC's Rep, CIRCLE Coordinator in EBSU (Prof Ogunji) and others

The event was a huge success and a very interesting one. I, Dr. Afiukwa Celestine Azubuike of the Department of Biotechnology in Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki Nigeria and a Cohort 1 CVF, worked on the topic “Screening rice varieties and landraces cultivated in Nigeria for SSR markers uniquely linked to drought resistant traits for accelerated rice breeding for drought resistance in Nigeria” at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. I was awarded a grant by the CIRCLE programme to share the research findings with relevant stakeholders in Ebonyi State for possible uptake. The uptake activity was designed to bring stakeholders in Ebonyi State Ministry of Agriculture, rice farmers from at least ten (10) Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the State, rice researchers/breeders and the Management/relevant members of staff of the University.

The Activity
The event was held between 22nd - 23rd May 2018 in Ebonyi State University and was well attended. Four staff members of Ebonyi State Ministry of Agriculture took part in the meeting, including the Commissioner for Agriculture himself, Hon. Ikechukwu Nwobo, the Permanent Secretary and Heads of Department in the Ministry.

A total of fifty (50) rice farmers were originally selected and invited from ten LGAs of the state for the event, but sixty-two (62) educated farmers attended including a Catholic Priest (Rev. Fr. Peter Azi) and a traditional ruler (HRH Eze Akam Alo) who was my school principal during my secondary school years. Two rice researchers and many members of the Ebonyi State University community also attended. The event was declared open by the Vice Chancellor of the University represented by the University’s Director of academic Planning, Prof. P. E. Nwakpu who disclosed the Vice Chancellors appreciation of CIRCLE and ACU’s supports for EBSU. The CIRCLE Coordinator in EBSU, Prof. Dr. Johnny Ogunji, did the welcome remarks and gave an overview of the event. The program featured;
  1. A keynote speech by the Commissioner for Agriculture on the topic “The prospect of Rice production in Nigeria’s food security: the case of Ebonyi State” during which he highlighted the State Government’s efforts at enhancing rice production in the State and to become a leading exporter of rice in Nigeria. The Commissioner appreciated the programme and expressed the Government’s willingness to support researches that could impact positively on rice production.

  2. A presentation by the Guest Speaker and my CVF Supervisor, Prof. Julius O. Faluyi of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, on the topic “Drought stress as a major constraint to rice production"

  3. A second presentation by the Dean of Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources Management in Ebonyi State University and the LOC Chairperson, Prof. Happiness O. Oselebe, who spoke on the topic “Drought Stress in Ebonyi State: Is it Real?”

  4. A third presentation by me, the CVF and CIRCLE Research Uptake Grantee, Dr. Celestine A. Afiukwa, who presented the findings of my CIRCLE research titled “Drought Tolerant Rice Accessions and Landraces Cultivated in Nigeria and Molecular Markers for its Identification - Towards Molecular Breeding”.

  5. A final session for questions, answers and discussion.
Group photograph with the VC's Rep, the Commissioner & the participants

Dr Afiukwa making his presentation
Dr. C.V. Nnamani (Cohort 2 CVF) reading the guest speaker's citation (Prof. Faluyi)

In the presentations, Prof. Faluyi carefully educated the farmers and the participants on the meaning and implications of this soil water shortage stress (drought) on rice growth and productivity at various stages of the plant life. Having been made to appreciate the meaning and implications of drought stress, Prof. Oselebe in her presentation engaged the farmers in an interactive discussion during which many of them testified that drought stress is real in Ebonyi State and narrated their experiences and losses already recorded. Thereafter, I presented the findings of my CIRCLE research which further clarified the farmers on the effects of drought stress on rice and introduced the identified drought tolerant accessions to the farmers (IJ02, IJ09, IK-FS and IK-PS). My presentation also introduced to the rice researchers/breeders five molecular markers that suggested that these four rice accessions are identical to FARO 11 which is a known drought tolerant rice variety and explained to them how this technology (molecular marker-assisted selection) works to enhance breeding success.

A cross section of the participants
Communiqué Raised
The farmers were very appreciative of the program and together we made the following suggestions to government and the University;
  1. This kind of training/program that brought relevant stakeholders in agriculture (the policy makers or Government, researchers and farmers) is helpful and should be continued.
  2. Ebonyi State Government and the University should endeavor to establish a rice research institute to foster collaboration among the Government, rice researchers and rice farmers in solving problems affecting rice production in the area. The farmers lamented on the losses they suffer as a result of challenges from erratic climate and insect pests and diseases attacks.

A rice researcher, Dr Ogah, making a contribution

Monday 11 June 2018

My experience on the CIRCLE programme

Dr Sandra Ofori, University of Port Harcourt Nigeria
Cohort 3 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Sandra Ofori spent her fellowship year at the University of Ghana. After settling back into her home institution, she reflects on her time on the CIRCLE Programme.

How I felt about getting the fellowship
When I got the offer for the fellowship, I was excited. A little apprehensive but still excited. One year away from home to work with and learn from experts in the field of climate change while getting funds to do your own research felt almost too good to be true. Naturally I worried about some things. What the new working environment will be like? What I would do with my small children at home? What I would do about the on-going projects I had at work etc. Anyway, I decided to keep an open mind and soak-in the totality of the experience.

Introductory visit to one of the community chiefs where we went “empty handed” with just our ethical approval letter. From far left- community liaison, Chief, myself, research assistant.

My study
My background is in preventive cardiology. My interest lies in evaluating the underlying risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). One of the factors that influence a person’s risk for developing CVD is the environment and air pollution. The fellowship stipulated that one’s area of research should focus on climate change, so it was interesting for me to formulate a study that would meet that brief. After consultation with my mentor, I came up with a study titled “Indoor air pollution and its relationship to CVD and its risk factors in a rural community in Southern Nigeria”. The rationale behind this was that sometimes when we talk about climate change, the lay person might not be able to relate to it. But if we can show that some human practices such as indiscriminate wood harvesting for domestic purposes not only degrades the environment by contributing to deforestation, but its improper combustion contributes to air pollution and more importantly negatively affects human health, maybe we can get people to sit up and take notice! Therefore, by studying the effects on cardiovascular health, preventive health physicians can work with climate change scientists towards our common goal of protecting health and the climate.

Conducting the study
One important thing I learnt during the induction workshop that was held in Nairobi in February 2017, was the importance of research uptake. The research one does has to translate to actual change in the community therefore, it is vital to identify early on who the relevant stakeholders are and carry them along throughout the study period. 

Me scanning carotid arteries of participants using a portable ultrasound machine.

After the intended study was approved by my supervisor at my host institution, I travelled back to Nigeria to get the relevant equipment, constitute a research team, train them and head into the field. We held sensitization meetings with the various heads of the communities we planned to carry out the research in. We also had to collaborate with the local health authorities and staff of the primary health facilities in the communities. I learnt some valuable lessons during this period one of which was that you do not head into a village to see the chief empty handed! Anyway, we were able to carry out the research as planned with only a few modifications along the way.

Preliminary analysis of the research data showed that the use of biomass fuels compared to cleaner fuel sources was associated with increased levels of air pollutants and markers of increased CVD risk (increased blood pressure and carotid intima media thickness). We organized a research uptake activity in one of the communities where all the stakeholders in all three communities were in attendance. We discussed the implications of our findings. The participants were engaged and asked important questions. For instance, a woman asked me about what I now expected them to do, having come into their community to tell them that an age-old practice (cooking with firewood) is not only harming their environment but also their health. This was even more relevant especially as the cost of cleaner fuels was so high. Before I could answer, another participant responded by saying that at least they could educate their women to cook in better ventilated kitchens or in completely outdoor areas as that would reduce the amounts of pollutants they inhale. That response was met with wide acceptance. In addition, the head of the women’s group asked that the result of the study be shared with government authorities as it may make them more likely to fund the acquisition of more efficient stoves which they can use to more efficiently burn wood for cooking. 

Outdoor kitchen with the logs of wood to be used for cooking

Women and little children most exposed to pollutants released during combustion of biomass

Support from CIRCLE
The support from CIRCLE was fantastic. Not only were emails and queries answered promptly, the funds were released on time and I had the opportunity to attend a workshop organized by CIRCLE at the University of Lagos. That workshop was invaluable especially because some of the talks were given by members of previous cohorts who shared their first-hand experience in all aspects of the fellowship.

A cross-section of the participants (representatives of the three rural communities) during one of the research uptake activities. Sitting in the front row with me are the community chiefs.
Overall feedback
The training and experience I gained during my fellowship year is invaluable. I have taken back positive attributes I observed in my host institution back to my home institution. One of the more notable ones centres around the open-door policy that is practiced by my supervisor Professor Julius Fobil in his department. It made it easier for his research fellows to get guidance and I observed how many mistakes were averted at an early stage and just how overall more pleasant the work environment was. Prof Fobil was amazing during my stay in Ghana and I owe a lot of gratitude to him for helping me complete my work within the stipulated time.

One thing I would advise anyone taking up research would be to take time during the planning stage. Do not rush into the field to collect data. If I could do it all again that is the one thing I would change.