In Nairobi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on lab coat, meets young bioscientists fighting hunger in Africa


Lydia Wamalwa talks with German Chancellor (and former scientist) Angela Merkel at ILRI-BecA labs (photo credit: ILRI/Njoroge).

Yesterday (12 Jul 2011), Lydia Wamalwa, a PhD student from the International Potato Center doing her research at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) labs at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave Chancellor Angela Merkel an overview of her research to improve the resistance of sweet potato to the sweet potato weevil, a pest that causes major losses to this, the third most important food crop in eastern and southern Africa.

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: Lab tour

Apollinaire Djikeng, BecA’s technology manager, introduces BecA, which is hosted and managed by ILRI, to Chancellor Merkel (photo credit: ILRI/Njoroge).

On the same lab tour, the Chancellor also heard from Appolinaire Djikeng, a Camerounian bioscientist who is BecA’s technology manager.

Djikeng explained that ILRI established BecA in 2006 with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and funding from Canada. BecA provides state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to African scientists conducting research on the continent’s biggest food production problems.

In its first 5 years of operation, Djikeng said that BecA has:

  • strengthened biosciences capacity in the region and trained hundreds of young African agricultural scientists;
  • generated productive collaborations between dozens of scientists working in Africa with other experts working in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, in North America and in Asia; and
  • convened donor representatives, agricultural scientists and civil society leaders in dozens of high-quality meetings to identify research gaps and ways to close them.

‘You’re now standing in BecA’s crop research laboratory,’ Djikeng said. ‘Many institutes have recently relocated their agricultural research programs here to take advantage of BecA’s resources, unique in sub-Saharan Africa.’

Among the international teams hosted by ILRI-BecA are those leading work on:

  • cassava, banana and yams (IITA [International Institute for Tropical Agriculture], based in West Africa)
  • sorghum, millet and other cereals of drylands (ICRISAT [International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics], based in India)
  • potato and sweet potato (CIP [International Potato Center], based in Peru), and
  • drought-tolerant maize for Africa (CIMMYT [International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre], based in Mexico).

One of BecA’s trainees, Rachel Aye, then told the Chancellor about how German support and BecA facilities are enabling her to advance development of a vaccine against a disease that is ravaging the livestock of Africa, including in her country, Uganda.

Djikeng and Aye thanked Chancellor Merkel on behalf of all their colleagues for making this historic visit and for her country’s longstanding support of agricultural research for development.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits ILRI’s campus in Nairobi, where agricultural scientists are fighting hunger

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: Arrival

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner, and Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at ILRI’s campus in Nairobi, Kenya, 12 July 2011 (photo credit: ILRI).

Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Federal Republic of Germany visited Kenya today (Tue 12 Jul 2011) as the first part of a three-day, three-nation, African tour.

This morning, in the presence of the Chancellor, Merkel’s ambassador to Kenya, Ms Margit Hellwig-Boette, signed an agreement between Germany and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Kenya. The signing ceremony was part of a press conference given by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel.

Germany has been one of ILRI’s top donors for many years, contributing more than USD11 million in just the past six years.

The new agreement Germany and ILRI signed launches a project Germany is funding in Kenya to be led by ecology researchers at ILRI and local partners in Kenya. The study will assess the state of Kenya’s ‘eco-conservancies’, which strive to benefit both Kenya’s wildlife and the pastoral people who have been stewards of wildlife in this country for centuries. The study will examine the benefits accruing from the establishment of these eco-conservancies in terms of both wildlife conservation and poverty reduction among Kenya’s pastoral communities.

Following the signing ceremony, attended by ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and ILRI’s Director of Partnerships and Communications Bruce Scott, Chancellor Merkel attended a State luncheon given by President Mwai Kibaki, to which ILRI’s director general was also invited. Chancellor Merkel then proceeded to the University of Nairobi, where she gave a keynote address.

Later in the afternoon, the Chancellor paid a visit to ILRI’s campus, in Nairobi’s Kabete suburb. Chancellor Merkel was met by ILRI Director General Seré, who welcomed her with a few remarks, noting in particular the key role science can play in helping the world feed its growing human populations.

‘Our challenge over the next four decades,’ said Seré, ‘is to feed another 2 billion people, nearly 1 billion more people in Africa alone, from the same or smaller resource base. As a scientist,’ Seré told the Chancellor, ‘I’m sure you appreciate how important research is to rising to the global challenge to feed the world sustainably.’

The ILRI director general then described the benefits of ILRI-German partnerships over many years in diverse fields, from climate change adaptation to carbon sequestration schemes to vaccine development, all conducted in Kenya; to increasing water-use efficiencies on mixed crop-livestock farms in the Nile Basin; to forestalling parasite drug resistance in West Africa; to ensuring safe milk, meat and egg production and marketing in southern Africa.

Seré concluded by requesting the Chancellor’s help in raising awareness in Germany and elsewhere of the importance of science in helping this continent to become food secure.

‘Please tell your listeners that science partnerships in this matter matter,’ said Seré.

‘Only through such partnerships will we manage to tackle the world’s increasingly complex development problems.’

Madam Chancellor Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi Campus 11 July 2011

Chancellor Angela Merkel making a few remarks at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI).

Chancellor Merkel than made a few remarks to the ILRI and diplomatic communities assembled outside ILRI’s new greenhouse.

After this, ILRI’s Carlos Seré and Bruce Scott led the German Chancellor on a tour of a few of ILRI’s advanced biosciences laboratories, where Merkel spoke to several scientists about their research on the crops and farm animals that are the mainstay of poor people throughout the developing world.

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: Carlos Seré thanks the Chancellor

ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI).

The afternoon ended with ILRI’s Carlos Seré thanking the Chancellor for taking the time in her busy schedule to see at first-hand some of the high-quality and relevant science being conducted in Africa to solve some of Africa’s most intractable agricultural problems.