Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI

10BecA_Opening_CarlosSereBruceScottRomanoKiome

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI; Bruce Scott, director of Partnerships and Communications at ILRI; and Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture; in discussion at the official opening of BecA at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Following are key highlights from speeches read on Friday 5 November 2010 during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, which is hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at its Nairobi headquarters and laboratories.

Mohammed Kuti, Kenya’s Minister for Livestock Development said ‘Kenya is proud to host BecA, a modern research facility for sub-Sahara Africa. I am gratified to learn that this facility has adopted an integrated research approach, using biosciences to address animal and plant research, human health as well as the sustainable use of Africa’s natural resources.’

His Excellency, David Collins, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya said ‘Canada is pleased to celebrate the achievements that have been made in establishing this particular centre of excellence in bioscience in agriculture.

‘In May 2003, Canada announced a contribution of C$30 million to establish the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) initiative in Kenya. BecA is the first of four networks of centres of excellence across Africa to strengthen Africa’s scientific and technological development. It allows eastern and central African countries to develop and apply bioscience research and expertise.’

‘BecA,’ said Collins, ‘is conducting important research that will help address key agricultural issues, including those facing small-scale African farmers, the majority of whom are women.’

He said Canada’s investment in BecA has supported the construction of new facilities and the renovation of existing facilities, including laboratories. With the completion of construction, the Hub is now in full operation, with a number of significant research programs under way, and quickly gaining regional and international recognition as a world-class facility to support capacity for biosciences in Africa.

‘The hub will enable African scientists and researchers play a major role in helping Africa meet its Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as a more productive and profitable agricultural sector is a critical component in the successful attainment of the MDGs,’ he added.

‘It is exciting to see the birth of a hub that will play a key role in ensuring that Africa drives its own agenda in regards to agriculture and strengthens the research pillar of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.’ Collins said.

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, made the following remarks (full text).

‘It is indeed a very special honour to welcome you to the ILRI campus on the occasion of the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub.

‘Your Excellency, the statue you have just unveiled is an artistic representation of the double helix. The double helix is the recipe for life. Its chains of molecules, the DNA, encode the information that determines the inheritance shaping all living beings: plants, animals and microbes. This beautiful piece of art, produced here in Kenya, very aptly represents what BecA is about: understanding this code of life and using this knowledge to develop novel solutions such as livestock vaccines and improved crops.’

‘Much of this cutting-edge science could up to now only be undertaken in developed countries. The BecA-ILRI Hub now enables scientists from research institutions and universities across eastern and central Africa to come to Nairobi and undertake critical parts of their research with new tools and with support from colleagues with the requisite training and experience.’

‘How did this come about? NEPAD’s Science and Technology program and ILRI approached the Government of Canada in 2002 with a plan to refurbish ILRI’s laboratories and have ILRI provide, on behalf of NEPAD, a shared biosciences platform to provide African scientists with access to the most advanced facilities and equipment to conduct biosciences research of strategic importance for Africa’s development. This Hub forms part of NEPAD’s African Biosciences Initiative, which is creating a continent-wide network of shared biosciences research facilities.’

‘ILRI’s board of trustees and management team saw this as a logical evolution in its contribution to the continent’s development, responding on the one hand to the urgent need to boost biosciences capacity on the continent and on the other to the advantages of sharing such facilities. This is further driven by the fact that all agricultural research builds on the shared basic knowledge of biology, which underpins work in plants, animals and microbes. BecA is about exploiting this common body of knowledge to leapfrog the search for solutions. This is BecA’s unique contribution to Africa’s science endeavour.’

‘Beyond supporting the global community’s agenda of using livestock and livestock innovations as a pathway out of poverty, ILRI agreed to share its facilities with a wider array of African and international partners to better utilize this power of modern biosciences.’

‘Today we are witnessing the realization of that shared dream. Your Excellency, the strong support of the Kenyan Government to ILRI over the years has been critical to making this happen. Dr Romano Kiome, your Permanent Secretary of Agriculture and ILRI board member, passionately supported this initiaitive in its early days and chaired its first steering committee. Similarly, the financial and technical support of the Government of Canada  and many other development partners was absolutely critical. NEPAD’s vision and leadership in driving a continent-wide strategy for science and technology as a key building block for Africa’s development provided a strong case for creating BecA.

‘It is widely recognized that partnerships are critical to achieving significant impacts on the ground at the required speed. BecA is an innovative and complex partnership and a new way of operating across the boundaries of organizations. We are committed to working with all of you to make it flourish. To turn science into products for Africa, we will need to reach out to an even more diverse range of partners in the coming years. We thank your Excellency and the many other people and institutions who contributed to make BecA a reality.’

‘Your Excellency, this is a unique moment in history; Africa’s economy is growing faster than that of most Western economies. At the same time, we all know that there are serious concerns for food security globally and particularly on this continent. The BecA facility you are about to open today will deliver key elements to respond to the urgent demand for drastically increased agricultural productivity. It will provide practical hands-on experience in advanced biosciences to the next generation of African scientists. It will enable a wide range of African institutions, from research centres to universities to private-sector companies, to develop the technological solutions for today and tomorrow. We know there is a revolution going on in the biosciences worldwide. What has been lacking till now is effective grounding of this science in African realities. This will be done by Africans in Africa fully engaged in the global science community.’

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the BecA-Hub at ILRI on Friday 5 November. Read key highlights from the president’s speech on the following link: http://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/kenya-president-mwai-kibaki-officially-opens-state-of-the-art-biosciences-facilities-at-ilris-nairobi-campus/

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Biosciences for Africa: Fuelling africa’s agricultural revolution from within

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, listens to Lydia Wamalwa, a plant molecular biologist, during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub on 5 November 2010; in the middle, Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the BecA Hub, looks on (photo credit ILRI/Masi).

A world-class research facility, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, was officially opened in Nairobi, today, by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. This opening follows a scientific conference, Mobilizing Biosciences for Africa’s Development, which was held the day before at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the new facility.

The BecA Hub is open for use by researchers from Africa and around the world who are working to improve African agriculture. The BecA Hub puts Africa’s research capacity on par with some of the world’s most advanced research institutes.

‘With the help of our many partners and investors, the research undertaken here will have a lasting impact in developing agriculture in Africa,’ says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI.

The BecA Hub at ILRI brings the latest cutting-edge technologies into the hands of African graduate students and scientists. The Hub serves as a science integrator, allowing researchers to work together across institutional, national and disciplinary boundaries. There are already some 150 scientists, technicians and students using the facility today. The BecA Hub intends to double this number in the next five years. Since 2007, almost 1500 scientists have participated in BecA Hub conferences, workshops and short-term training and 100 graduate students and 57 visiting scientists have undertaken research at the facility.

‘This facility,’ said Kibaki, ‘will be used to develop what Africa requires and will serve as a focal point for Africa’s scientific community to enable them to carry out research to increase agricultural productivity and food security.’

Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan plant molecular biologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), says, ‘I left Kenya to start my PhD research with CIP laboratories in Lima, Peru. The opening of these facilities in Nairobi allowed me to return home to work on our agricultural challenges here in Africa.’

While the BecA Hub was formed to directly serve 17 countries in eastern and central Africa, demand for its use has been so strong that it now serves Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as other countries beyond the continent.

Research at the BecA Hub focuses on some of Africa’s biggest agricultural problems, including frequent droughts, devastating crop pests, diseases and weeds, lethal livestock diseases and unsafe foods.

‘We aim to help build Africa’s capacity by empowering its scientists to lead the coming African agricultural revolution from within,’ says the facility’s director, Segenet Kelemu, a leading Ethiopian bioscientist.

‘Many of the research findings generated so far look like they will find quick application in agriculture.’

African and international scientists are working here to develop drought-tolerant food crops. They are also working to improve food safety in Kenya by reducing the amount of its maize crop that is contaminated by aflatoxins, which cause cancer, stunt children’s growth, increase vulnerability to disease and, at high levels, kills. In addition, these scientists have developed and validated a new test for detecting bush meat being sold in Kenya’s butcheries, a diagnostic that can safeguard both wildlife populations and human health.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s African Biosciences Initiative, which was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. The Hub was also aligned with regional priorities set by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Aggrey Ambali, director of the Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says, ‘The BecA Hub offers Africa’s bioscientists the opportunity to conduct high-level research within the continent.’

The Canadian International Development Agency strongly supported the Hub by funding renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus and the construction of new facilities. The 10,000-square-metre laboratories already host many researchers from Africa’s national agricultural research systems and several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. In addition, they have installed state of the art AC service. Additionally, on site spray painting services were included in the renovation and construction efforts supported by the Canadian International Development Agency. To enhance the sustainability and energy efficiency of the facilities, the inclusion of specialized loft insulation services for proper insulation installation could further contribute to maintaining optimal indoor climate control and energy savings. The facilities are now complete, and the BecA Hub is ready to operate at full capacity. Furthermore, a dedicated spray foam insulation company was engaged to ensure maximum energy efficiency. For further details and to explore the innovative solutions provided, check out this resources at https://www.glasspartitions.org.uk.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a long-time supporter, is helping to fund the Hub’s operations through 2014. And many other investors are supporting specific research and training projects.

‘The BecA Hub at ILRI serves as a focal point connecting African science to fast-moving scientific superhighways in the rest of the world,’ says Knut Hove, chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

For example, BecA Hub graduate students have formed a group dedicated to bioinformatics. They are using the Hub’s high-performance computing platform, fast internet connectivity and bioinformatics expertise for ongoing peer-to-peer training. The group has organized international workshops and published a paper in a leading international journal. Some of these students have been awarded scholarships from the Australian Agency for International Development; Nescent, Durham, USA; and EMBL‐European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, says that Kenya is proud to host a facility that is allowing leading African scientists to return home to work on African problems.

‘The BecA Hub,’ says Kiome, ‘should help this continent become a breadbasket for the world.’

—-

For more information on the BecA Hub, visit http://hub.africabiosciences.org

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos