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Cultivating a new crop of African cassava experts

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  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
  • Climate Change
  • Global Development
  • Development
  • Plants

With support from NextGen Cassava, dozens of young people have turned their passions into career pathways that will build capacity in Africa’s agriculture breeding programs. NextGen Fellows have obtained advanced degrees from Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, the West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI), a partnership between the University of Ghana and Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Makerere University Regional Centre for Crop Improvement in Uganda.

"My experience with NextGen has been amazing," says Lydia Ezenwaka Jiwuba, who earned her Ph.D. from WACCI in 2018 with a full sponsorship from NextGen Cassava. "Within my fully funded PhD program, I had the opportunity to study with great minds from different countries which I enjoyed because these people actually care about your perspective. I was able to learn a lot in a fast-paced environment, and it has sharpened my problem-solving skills - how to break down complicated problems and ability to think on the spot."

An expert in genetic traits linked to green mite resistance, Jiwuba is drawn to cassava for its many uses, for foods like gari and fufu, and for livestock feed and bio-ethanol. She now works on cassava with Nigeria’s National Roots Crop Research Institute.

Of the nearly 40 NextGen fellows, almost all have returned to work in their home countries to make an impact in Africa, like these four PhD graduates:

NextGen Fellows

Elohor Mercy Diebiru-Ojo

Elohor Mercy Diebiru-Ojo (WACCI ’17) is now a vegetative seed production expert at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Abuja. Her advances in cassava plant conservation via tissue culture and cryopreservation earned her selection as a fellow in the prestigious Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP). 

“After my PhD I returned to my home country to continue working on cassava, now geared to seed systems,” she says. “My experience as a NextGen fellow really helped me with my leadership and confidence levels, and I also acquired technical and interpersonal skills, important tools I am currently using to impact food security in my community.” 

NextGen Fellows

Ismail Kayondo

Ismail Kayondo (WACCI ’18) is a post-doctoral fellow with the IITA breeding research team. He first became familiar with cassava growing up on a small farm in Uganda where he said his mother “always insisted on having cassava planted so we could be sure of food security and some income.” 

NextGen Fellows

Paula Iragaba

Paula Iragaba (Cornell ’19) is a postdoc fellow with National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) cassava breeding team in Uganda. Her doctoral work focused on understanding the social dynamics of food choices and analyzing the genetic background underpinning preferred cassava traits of smallholder farmers. 

Alfred Ozimati

Alfred Ozimati (Cornell ’18) is a postdoc fellow with NaCRRI cassava breeding team in Uganda where he is working on the integration of genomic selection into cassava breeding processes. 

“Cassava is our daily food in Uganda,” he says. “It’s what we grew up with and what we still love.”

Elohor Mercy Diebiru-Ojo
Ismail Kayondo
Paula Iragaba
Alfred Ozimati

NextGen Impact Report

NextGen Cassava has blended advanced breeding techniques with market intelligence and community engagement to develop a new model for deploying advanced crop science to solve practical problems.

The result has been a decade of impact: a radical transformation of cassava breeding practices across sub-Saharan Africa that are now in high demand across the continent.

Cassava

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