Securing the Future: The Story of Chacha Nyangi and how Africa RISING is mentoring the next generation of scientists
Growing up in the remote village of Itiryo near the Kenya-Tanzania border, Chacha Nyangi couldn’t have imagined his present life as an MSc graduate in food science from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture. Nyangi is now among an elite group of emerging young scientists in Tanzania who are confronting the challenges facing smallholder farmers in the country and beyond. His masters degree research thesis focused on aflatoxin and fumonisin contamination in maize and beans along the food and feed value chain in Tanzania’s Babati District.
‘Life was not easy for me and my siblings growing up,’ he says. ‘I still remember walking long distances across into Kenya border to sell our crop produce so we could buy cooking oil, soap and sugar,’ explains Nyangi.
The first born in a family of seven, he always had the heaviest responsibilities in comparison to his younger siblings, including helping pay for their school fees.
The main source of income in Itiryo, like in most Tanzanian villages, is agriculture. His parents grew coffee, banana, potatoes, maize and kept livestock. However, in the early 1990’s his parents along with most farmers in the village abandoned coffee farming because of poor and delayed payments by the cooperatives. Endless inter-tribal conflicts and livestock theft also substantially reduced livestock rearing activity in the community, a situation which destabilized most of the families financially leading to many children dropping out of school. But Nyangi was lucky; his parents didn’t allow him to drop out of school despite the economic hardships.
Witnessing the challenges facing small-scale farmers could have killed his interest in agriculture, but they have had the opposite effect, strengthening his passion and resolve to address them.
‘Despite the government’s efforts to help farmers, we still have a long way to go. I think we need to work more on addressing the plight of the small-scale farmer by tackling issues like food safety, security and access to markets,’ he says. He also says there is need to ‘control post-harvest losses and contamination in food’ so that the food produced by small-scale farmers is not wasted.
Training next generation of agricultural experts
Nyangi’s sentiments correspond to the approach adopted in the Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) project which in partnership with the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) sponsored his MSc program.
Beyond addressing smallholder farmer challenges like crops and livestock productivity, the project also focuses on preventing post-harvest losses, market access and addressing limited human capacity in agricultural production.
According to Bekunda Mateete, a chief scientist working with Africa RISING in East and Southern Africa, limited capacity and numbers of agricultural specialists in the region informs the strategic approach by Africa RISING to train and mentor the next generation of agricultural experts.
‘We are partnering with USAID supported projects in Tanzania, Malawi, Ghana and Mali to provide mentorship for students conducting their research thesis in the Africa RISING research sites, because we believe these students will create a crop of scientists with a better appreciation of the holistic integrated research approach that is needed to address the challenges faced by smallholders,’ says Mateete.
David Kraybill, the director of iAGRI is optimistic that more students, like Nyangi, will continue benefiting from the Africa RISING – iAGRI program.
‘Currently, there are three other students benefiting from the Africa RISING arrangement with iAGRI in Tanzania. Three other MSc candidates had graduated before Chacha and the remaining one is a PhD candidate. We will continue to match students with Africa RISING researchers for mentorship,’ he said.
Nyangi’s immediate plan is to put his newly acquired knowledge and skills into use.
‘I had a good experience working with farmers in Babati during my research. I now intend to continue working with them and other small-scale farmers in helping them adopt good crop storage, processing and preservation techniques to limit losses and ensure food safety,’ he explains.
‘Later on, I hope to pursue a doctorate degree in food safety (mycotoxins/contaminants) or food security (post-harvest losses). I believe we can greatly improve the lives of our farmers and the entire Tanzania if we put more efforts in tackling these two issues,’ he adds with a smile that sums his experience with the Africa RISING – iAGRI training and mentoring program.
Story by Jonathan Odhong’ and Gloriana Ndibalema