A regional biosciences hub in and for Africa: One woman’s personal, and institutional, odyssey

Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) is a regional research platform located in Nairobi, Kenya, that was officially launched by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and other dignitaries in November 2010. The BecA Hub gives scientists and students from across the region access to state-of-the-art facilities in the life sciences.

One woman’s long-term commitment is responsible for much of this achievement. Gabrielle Persley is an eminent Australian plant scientist who directs a Doyle Foundation, named after her late husband, Jack Doyle, who for some two decades served as deputy director general-research of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, a predecessor of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. For the last several years, Persley has served as senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré.

In this 15-minute ILRI film, Persley describes an eventful, multi-year, and at times seemingly heroic, odyssey as she and others at ILRI, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Canadian International Development Agency, along with other organizations, nursed the BecA Hub project at ILRI from the drawing board through political deliberations and, finally, into a brand spanking new laboratory complex on ILRI’s campus serving as a regional biosciences resource.

This was Persley’s last seminar at ILRI, before she left to return to her native Australia, where she is continuing her life-long work for international agricultural research for development with Australia’s Crawford Fund and other institutions and initiatives.

For more about the BecA Hub, visit the BecA Hub website.

Or watch this 7-minute ILRI film describing the work being done at the BecA Hub done by young scientists and students.

Or watch this 3-minute ILRI photofilm that, through photographs and quotations, sums up the November 2010 opening of the research facility by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and other dignitaries.

Senior ILRI advisor takes up new work in Australia for agricultural development

Bio-Innovate launch: Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI's director general

Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is leaving her position at ILRI this month to take up work for Australia’s Crawford Fund.

Persley has a rich knowledge of African agriculture and food security and the transformative role agricultural science, and biosciences in particular, must play in Africa’s economic development. Persley contributed to development of a Bio-Innovate Program, officially launched yesterday with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency and co-located at ILRI’s Nairobi laboratories. She helped to bring another joint initiative, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, also located at ILRI, from infancy to young adulthood, helping to secure original funding from the Canadian International Development Agency and then the Syngenta Foundation and supporting the resulting transformation of existing laboratories into state-of-the-art facilities for the whole region. These flagship platforms will help accelerate biosciences innovations in and for Africa.

ILRI director general Carlos Seré writes:
‘Gabrielle has had a long association with ILRI and its predecessors—the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA)—going back to the mid 80s when she first started visiting both institutes as the Australian aid representative responsible for Australian contributions to these and other centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). She has returned on many occasions over the ensuing 25 years to help us face new challenges and mobilize support for our work.

‘Gabrielle will be leaving ILRI at the end of March to take up a new assignment with the Crawford Fund in Australia. Her work will focus on “Expanding the horizons in International Agricultural Research”, as part of enhancing the Crawford Fund’s role as a think tank on Australian aid policy, particularly in regard to identifying new investment streams for international agricultural research, and in working with like-minded foundations internationally.

‘Gabrielle has spent many years supporting the growth of science and technology in Africa, most recently at ILRI through her current role as senior advisor to the director general. In other incarnations, she has been the architect of an Intermediary Biotechnology Service of the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), now a Program on Biosafety Systems at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)), biotechnology advisor for the World Bank in Washington, D.C.,  for almost a decade, and chair of the Doyle Foundation in Scotland.’

Persley is giving a farewell seminar this afternoon (17 March 2011) at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters.

Synopsis of Gabrielle Persley’s seminar today
Africa, science and agriculture: a 25-year perspective,’ through the eyes of Gabrielle Persley, who has been a scientist in Africa, a donor, a partner, a senior advisor and a friend of ILRI and its predecessor, ILCA and ILRAD, and the CGIAR, and who is a friend of Africa and Africans.

At the seminar Gabrielle will share reflections about the co-creation of BecA by ILRI and its partners in Africa and internationally over the past several years; a vision of where BecA may go in the future, including through partnerships with new programs such as Bio-Innovate on product incubation; looking further into the future in broadening the horizons of international agricultural research by identifying emerging issues and new funding streams beyond the traditional CGIAR investors; and the enabling environment necessary for creating a vibrant research-for-development culture on campus.

New Bio-Innovate Program is good news for bio-scientists in ‘bio-rich’ eastern Africa

A new program called Bio-Innovate, which stands for ‘Bioresources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development,’ is being launched tomorrow (Wednesday 16 March 2011) at the Nairobi, Kenya, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), Bio-Innovate offers competitive funding for biosciences and innovations in six countries of eastern Africa through a Bioresources Innovation Fund. The program accepts applications for regional, multi-disciplinary innovation projects in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

More than 80 people—including scientists, policymakers, development practitioners and staff from private companies, donor agencies and diplomatic missions—are expected to participate. They represent national agricultural research organizations and universities, national councils for science and technology, regional bodies and international organizations from within and outside the region.

We interviewed two of the key people, Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate’s program manager, and Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, to tell us what Bio-Innovate is all about. Watch these short interviews below.

And follow the launch tomorrow on the web using the search term #BioInnAfrica2011.

Bio-Innovate Bean Technology Consortium

Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate program manager, is interviewed in the following brief films.

Film 1—Bio-Innovate: Addressing the missing link between research and innovation
East Africa has never had the facilities, funding or skilled manpower to undertake agricultural science on a scale that could move from research all the way to new technologies for farmers. Bio-Innovate is a new program aiming to provide that ‘missing link’. It will tackle the big regional problems such as climate change results, and environmental degradation, by the application of bio-sciences, with the direct aim of helping small-scale farmers.

Film 2Over 3 million farmers could benefit from the first projects of a new initiative
Small-scale farmers in 6 East African countries will be the first in the region to benefit from the new Bio-Innovate program. The first projects in the scheme will tackle challenges like the development of more productive varieties of staple crops, and waste re-cycling. Over the next 5 years, the numbers of projects will expand, using Bio-Innovate’s promotion of improvements in policy frameworks, its networks of scientists and research organizations, and the novel links it is building with private sector companies.

Film 3Launching a unique African-based and African-led program on innovations and policy analysis in eastern Africa
16 March 2011 is the official launch date for Bio-Innovate, a unique regional agricultural research initiative that is Africa based, Africa led and focuses on innovations for farmers.

Gabrielle Persley, Senior Advisor to the Director General

Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, is interviewed in the following brief films.

Film 4New phase of African Bio-Innovate Program will soon deliver solutions to farmers
Bio-Innovate is building on a previous project that trained 20 regionally recruited bioscientists to PhD level. Now the new program plans to move from research outputs into partnerships with private sector players and other delivery mechanisms. The real focus and the success of Bio-Innovate will be delivery of products to African farmers.

Film 5New science program makes use of facilities and expertise at the first biosciences hub in Africa
The choice of location for the headquarters of Bio-Innovate depended on access to the best bioscience facilities and expertise in the region. The Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, at the ILRI Nairobi campus, provides a vibrant biosciences research platform for advanced research into crops and livestock.

Film 6Bioscience support plus field trials will lead to the development of practical technologies for farmers
Core elements of the work of the Bio-Innovate projects will be done in the field. Through building partnerships within the participating countries, national research programs and the local private sector, evaluation of potential products in the field and scaling up can be targeted to local needs.

Film 7Large African bioscience-based agricultural project targets key famine-type foods and environments
Funding of USD10 million over 5 years will allow projects sponsored by Bio-Innovate to reach the critical mass of financial, agricultural and research resources needed to tackle large-scale regional challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation. In this way Bio-Innovate will help improve food supplies and incomes for small-scale farmers.