Odogwu (right) collecting data from farmers at Masindi District, Uganda.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Blessing Odogwu didn’t understand why her mother was passionate about her kitchen garden or why she usually warned children not to play in it. Her agriculturalist uncle, who was committed to farmers, also amused her! As she grew older, she saw the challenges that farmers around her were experiencing and wished to someday bring solutions to their farming methods.
She enrolled at the University of Port Harcourt for an undergraduate degree in plant science and biotechnology. Odogwu chose to study plant science and genetics so she could investigate and exploit the potential of seeds as this was one of the main problems back in her community.
“We have an abundant variety of food crops in Africa, but we need to modify and improve what we have to respond to farmers’ needs and to move from subsistence farming to the kind of farming that will generate income and improve living standards,” explains Odogwu.
Odogwu graduated with a master’s degree in planting biosystematics and taxonomy from the University of Port Harcourt, and is now pursuing her PHD at Makerere University in Uganda. Her research focuses on four types of bean seeds that are vulnerable to common bean rust, a disease that attacks leaves hence prevents photosynthesis. “Most of the bean seeds used by farmers are susceptible to this disease and every season they incur great losses. What I am doing now is developing a resistant seed type,” she explains.
Despite the initial challenges she faced when she transitioned from Nigeria to Uganda, she is grateful for the opportunity it availed to her. “The differences in the research structures were a hurdle at the beginning. In Nigeria, my research leaned towards one topical area, for instance, taxonomy. Now my research is broader, and also focuses on national issues. For example, my research focuses on the rust disease in both the local and improved bean varieties commonly used by farmers across Uganda”, she states. Working with farmers directly, her inspiration is drawn from the observable changes her research has caused in their farming practices.
Odogwu’s study and research have been warmly received. According to her, this is due to the fact that agriculture is now viewed differently in the continent as compared to the past where it was mostly limited to subsistence farming and it relied on old farming methods. “Farmers are now open minded and they welcome change,” she explains. “Whenever I meet people at the local and international level, they are eager to discuss solutions to different agricultural problems regardless of their country of origin. The farmers themselves are also now suggesting innovative ways of preventing disasters.”
Despite making a difference in the lives of farmers, Odogwu reveals that she is not done yet. She would like to mentor budding agricultural scientists outside the fellowship. “When I conducted my role modelling event at the University of Port Harcourt, I realised that the students were eager to have someone offer counselling and guidance in their career growth. I wish to be such a person,” she says. Odogwu also mentions that with the skills and knowledge she has learnt during her mentorship journey, she can certainly mentor upcoming agricultural scientists.
Download: Blessing Adanta Odogwu, 2014 AWARD Fellow, Nigeria