Gimode works in the genetics lab to improve farmers' results in the field
Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab student Davis Gimode’s road to researching peanut genetics began 12 years ago, as a high school graduate who wanted to give back.
Gimode is a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Genomics (PBGG). While he’s now studying under world-famous geneticists, Gimode said that this wasn’t always the plan.
“I wanted to be an engineer initially. I only got interested in biotechnology after high school, when I got introduced to Professor Jesse Machuka,” Gimode said.
Gimode met Dr. Machuka in their home country of Kenya. More than 60 percent of Kenyans work in agriculture, according to the World Bank, and it was in this highly agrarian context that Dr. Machuka helped Gimode realize his passion: utilizing agricultural biotechnology research to improve the lives of others.
“I remember we used to have many late-night discussions about science, and I could clearly see how powerful plant research is in transforming people's lives. His passion caught on to me and over time I have developed my own motivation,” Gimode said.
Testing drying methods, student looks for key to quality peanuts
For PMIL master’s student Monica Chimbaza, the key step in producing a safe peanut crop comes after the nuts are out of the ground.
Peanut crops in Chimbaza’s home country of Malawi are vulnerable to contamination from aflatoxin, a byproduct of naturally occurring molds that infect peanuts, corn, and other crops. Aflatoxin exposure has been linked to cancer, wasting, stunting, and immune deficiencies.
Farmers are not always aware of the dangers of aflatoxin, Chimbaza said, or that the way they dry and store their crop could have a huge impact on whether the nuts become contaminated with aflatoxin.
Biochar nearly doubles peanut yield in student's research
For master’s student Munsanda Ngulube, the solution to her home country’s low crop productivity starts at the source: the soil itself.
In Zambia, 30 percent of the country’s agricultural soils are more acidic than the preferred pH range for many commercial crops. That acidic soil, Ngulube said, is a major problem for farmers who must deal with nutrient leaching from the fields in high rainfall regions.
“Acidic soils reduce the availability of a number of essential macronutrients and increase the toxicity of elements such as aluminum and magnesium, which retard crop growth, affecting yields,” Ngulube said. “This results in monetary losses for the farmer.”
This loss of income hurts smallholder farmers who rely on a small profit to make it year to year. On the other end of the value chain, reduced yield hurts consumers by increasing food prices.
Brandenburg: PMIL research benefits farmers at home, as well as abroad
Rick Brandenburg’s international work begins with the tiniest insects that might steal a farmer’s yield. But the sign that tells him the work is paying off isn’t in the field. It’s in the village.
“There’s a little village in northern Ghana called Ejura,” said Brandenburg, an entomologist, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University and lead scientist on the Southern Africa Value Chain Interventions project through the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab. “We’ve worked there for years, but it started to occur to me a while ago that each time we visited, we saw more thatch roofs replaced with tin. We started to see more cars that people could afford to buy and use as taxis,” he said.
“There was just this undocumented, but visible change in the community. The farmers themselves were noticing incremental improvement in the value of peanuts in their farming operation, and at the same time, people seemed to have more income to spend.”
Peanuts growing all around, Abubakari focuses on processing for a healthy food supply
When you grow up in a peanut-producing region, it’s easy to be grounded in groundnuts.
PMIL master’s student Yussif Abubakari was born in Tamale, Ghana, in the Northern region of the country. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Ghana is the world’s 15th largest producer of peanuts, and smallholder farmers in this area produce most of the country’s 490,000-ton annual peanut output.
Abubakari became interested in the production of peanut paste, a ground peanut product that is similar to peanut butter. Peanut paste is valued in Ghana for its flavor and high nutrient content.
Knowing connection between drought, pests and aflatoxin empowers farmers
Drought can encourage aflatoxin buildup in peanut crops, but when farmers know about that risk, they can take steps to mitigate the problem.
“Farmers, when there is drought, can engage and be resourceful,” said Chancy Sibakwe, a Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources student who recently completed his master’s degree with support from the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab.
Aflatoxins are the byproduct of a mold called Aspergillus flavus that can grow on corn, peanuts and other crops in the field and also during post-harvest storage. As researchers seek ways to minimize aflatoxin contamination, Sibakwe studied how much effect drought, pests, and disease can have on mold growth and aflatoxin contamination at the pod-filling stage of peanut development.