M A Mohamed Saleem: A tribute
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is sad to report the death of its long-time friend and colleague M A Mohamed Saleem, who suffered a stroke and passed away on Monday, 20 February 2023.
After graduating from university in his native Sri Lanka, Mohamed Saleem took up a Commonwealth Scholarship at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan, where he graduated with a PhD in agronomy and embarked on a lifelong commitment to agricultural research, particularly in West and East Africa.
In 1978, while Mohamed Saleem was still at the university, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), a predecessor of ILRI, and the government of Nigeria established an ILCA Subhumid Research Programme based in Kaduna, in central Nigeria. This programme set out to improve the quality of feed for the region’s millions of ruminant animals. Mohamed Saleem joined the team as a forage agronomist, bringing pertinent experience and extensive networks of international and Nigerian forage agronomists with him.
Although pastoral Fulani livestock herders, who were the target beneficiaries of ILCA’s Subhumid Research Programme, lacked land, labour and capital—and indeed any experience of growing forages—Mohamed Saleem sought to find ways for these traditional pastoralists to do just that—to grow forages.
And so he did. After evaluating the adaptability of various forages to the local soil and climate conditions, Mohamed Saleem introduced Stylosanthes hamata (‘stylo’)—a tropical forage legume that remains green under dry conditions, fixes nitrogen in soils and provides high protein feed for stock—in so-called ‘fodder banks’. In addition to providing nutritious animal feed, stylo improved soil conditions by making soils easier to till and contributing to higher yields of subsequent cereal crops. And since planted stylo was, to some extent, considered a ‘crop’, it could be protectively fenced whereas pasture could not, thus creating a win-win for both the region’s crop cultivators and livestock herders.
Mohamed Saleem’s success in Kaduna led to his promotion at ILCA headquarters, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, first to head up all of the institute’s forage research and then to lead the institute’s mountain research. In the latter work, Mohamed Saleem brought his deep knowledge of agronomy and farming systems to lead a team focused on improving the livelihoods of mountain peoples in collaboration with partner institutions in East Africa, the Hindu Kush Himalayas, the Andes, and Central Asia and the Caucasus.
While Mohamed Saleem faced periods of national turbulence in Nigeria, Ethiopia and his home country of Sri Lanka, throughout his life his holistic Muslim faith guided his warm and productive relations with his many friends and colleagues of all faiths and nationalities.
While based at Kaduna and Addis Ababa, Mohamed Saleem and his wife Bathool raised a daughter, Husna, and a son, Amjad, both of whom he was very proud.
M A Mohamed Saleem (in light blue t-shirt) surrounded by his family (image care of Amjad Mohamed-Saleem).
‘Mohamed would not have wished to be singled out from a close-knit research team in which every scientist played a critical role. However, writing on behalf of his colleagues, I humbly acknowledge how much we owe him. As the Kaduna team leader, I have special reason to acknowledge the debt that I owe Mohamed for his companionship, wisdom and especially his forthright counsel. His contribution to the team was a definitive demonstration of the strength that stems from diversity.’
—Ralph von Kaufmann, former ILCA Subhumid Programme team leader, Kaduna
‘Mohamed was a good scientist and team member with a great sense of humour. I recall his gift for making witty remarks to douse tensions during difficult team meetings. Once more may Allah have mercy on his soul and comfort the family and friends he left behind.’
—Junaidu A Maina, Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) board vice-chair
‘A great colleague and friend has fallen.’
—Jimmy Smith, former ILRI director general, 2011–2022
‘Mohamed Saleem was a positive influence during my early career. I admired his energy, ingenuity and dedication to science.’
—J Mark Powell, University of Wisconsin at Madison emeritus professor
‘Mohamed Saleem was our boss and mentor as we started our careers; he made a lasting and valuable contribution to forage agronomy over many decades.’
—Shirley and Gbassay Tarawali, respectively ILRI interim director general / Global Alliance for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) chair and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Abuja Station
‘Sad news indeed. He was such a wonderful colleague and friend. May he rest in peace.’
—Hugo Li Pun, Regional Fund for Agricultural Technology (FONTAGRO) executive secretary
‘Real sad news. I last exchanged words with Mohamed Saleem on 27 January of this year, after he sent me a warm and powerful message following my appointment as director general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). I will treasure that message. I had the opportunity to visit Mohamed Saleem at his beautiful house in Colombo when I was working om South Asia. May his soul rest in peace.’
—Simeon Ehui, World Bank regional director for West and Central Africa and designated IITA director-general and CGIAR regional director for continental Africa
'The international tropical forage research community will never forget the father of the fodder banks.'
—Rainer Schultze-Kraft, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) emeritus fellow
'Mohamed Saleem was a courteous and gracious scientist, always with a kind word and advice to younger colleagues. My sincere condolences to his family. May his soul rest in peace.'
—Tim Williams, former ILRI West Africa Regional Representative
Note: If you would like to send a message to be shared here and with Mohamed Saleem’s family, please send an email to Susan MacMillan at s.macmillan [at] cgiar.org