Strengthening the capacity of African women scientists
Over the years, the ABCF program has supported several researchers who have now grown into positions of influence within their institutions. This week we feature two scientists from the national research organizations and are doing great things for agricultural development.
Nina Wambiji, Kenya
As the assistant director of the fisheries program at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) headquarters based in Mombasa, Kenya, Nina Wambiji is the epitome of a scientist who has grown in leaps and bounds.
As a young researcher, Wambiji was able to secure the African Women in Agricultural Research for Development (AWARD) fellowship and advanced science training placement at BecA-ILRI Hub with the support from the ABCF program. The opportunity gave her the chance to conduct her research on the application of next-generation sequencing approaches to assess the genetic diversity of Siganus (rabbit fish) species from Kenya. Her interest to work on this species of fish also called tafi by the coastal people is because it has no scales or bones which makes it easy to prepare and eat. At the time of doing this research, there was no data on rabbit fish.
Dr. Wambiji (left) and Dr. Mukhebi, the Deputy Director of AWARD at a previous seminar held at the BecA-ILRI Hub.
She says, “If we are to identify the cause of dwindling populations beyond overfishing it is important that we also understand the fish physiology and genetics, their movements as well as the effects of climate change”.
From this work, she was able to successfully barcode different Siganus species caught along the Kenyan coast. In addition to acquiring molecular biology skills, Wambiji was also able to gain skills in research communication and public speaking which has greatly helped her in her line of work where she engages various stakeholders. In addition, she supervises undergraduate students taking up coastal and marine sciences subjects. She continues to apply the molecular techniques of extracting and processing of total RNA, cDNA synthesis, DNA, gene expression analysis, cloning procedures, sequence analysis through partnering with colleagues attached to molecular laboratories.
Wambiji is responsible for contributing to the development of the research agenda of KMFRI Strategic plan by contributing to research knowledge, data and projections needed for strategic planning to make KMFRI undertake research as per her mandate and Strategic Plan. She also manages research programs by coordinating proposal developments for research work, planning research teams, coordinating research reporting and reviewing research performance.
As a senior scientist, her research areas are on fisheries biology and ecology, stock assessment, fish genetics and impacts of fishing gears on marine mammals. She is also the Country Coordinator for the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, an organization that aims to promote the educational, scientific and technological development of marine sciences throughout the Western Indian Ocean.
Barberine Assongo, Cameroon
Barberine Silatsa Assongo grew up in a small village along the Cameroonian coastal region where her family farmed cacao and maize. Her love for farm animals made the dream of becoming a veterinarian. But as fate would have it, circumstances could not allow Assongo to enroll in the only school of veterinary medicine. Instead, she enrolled for a course in biochemistry at a local university in Cameroon.
While doing her Ph.D. at the University of Dschang, West Cameroon, Assongo understood her need to gain access to a well-established laboratory where she could do her research. She came across the ABCF fellowship call during her search for scholarships and successfully put in her application.
At BecA-ILRI Hub, Assongo investigated ticks and tick-borne diseases among the cattle population in Cameroon. Within the context of global warming and conflicts that trigger livestock movements and disease dissemination across the region, her aim was to evaluate the current epidemiological status of ticks and tick-borne diseases of cattle in Cameroon with a goal of assembling baseline data and evaluating the risk of disease outbreaks.
She established that Rhipicephalus microplus (Asian blue tick), one of the most important ectoparasites and livestock disease vectors globally, is now present in Cameroon. This species is known to invade and displace endemic species of the same genus, can transmit a broad range of parasites as well as develop resistance against acaricides.
Since its introduction in West Africa a decade ago, R. microplus has been reported in Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria with potentially far-reaching adverse impacts on the livestock sector in the region. Because of its strategic location in the central Africa region, Cameroon plays a pivotal role in livestock trade both within the region and between Central Africa and West Africa. The study has highlighted the future importance of the control of R. microplus in Africa and illustrates just how rapidly it is spreading.
Her research findings have already been published in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases.
Assongo is now back at the University of Dschang as an assistant lecturer as well as a researcher. She continues to acknowledge BecA’s role in helping her grow and reiterates that she would like to be the ‘Tick Woman’ who is significantly involved within the community of African scientists that safeguard the livestock sector in Africa. She is also very vocal in her gratitude to BecA ILRI Hub and the opportunities she has been able to get along the way.
“The program helped improve my communication skills, I won a prize for the best oral presentation at the International Congress on Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Buenos Aires in 2018. Thanks to BecA’s ABCF seminar series”.