African agriculture needs more nematologists

6 November 2019

Researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Kenya in partnership with the Nematology Research Unit of Ghent University, Belgium carried out the first-ever structured survey on nematology in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The study which was published in July 2019, in the journal Nematology, aimed at promoting nematology as a training and research discipline in SSA.

African agriculture needs more nematologists
Nine ImaNema Students from 2018-2019 that participated in the Kenyan Track of their MSc with IITA and icipe graduated successfully in June this year

Nematology is the scientific study of nematode worms. Although nematodes should be viewed among the most critical threats to crop production and food security in SSA, there are few trained nematologists.

Historically, the recognition and the attention paid to nematology in the plant protection sector has been lower than other disciplines and consequently, fewer professionals have focused on this research subject.

Given the tremendous actual and potential impact that nematodes have on African agriculture, it is surprising that awareness and understanding of nematology has remained almost unchanged since the second half of the 20th century. Hence, nematodes persistently remain an overlooked concern, resulting in crop losses that can amount to over US$100 billion.

“The most effective tools previously relied upon to manage these pervasive pests are now obsolete, due to their excessive toxicity, requiring us to seek alternatives. Therefore, there is currently a pressing need for nematologists to create awareness, provide advice, and conduct research for new management options. This is because, addressing nematology is an integral component of soil health and a critical element towards ensuring Africa’s food security,” Cortada says.

A research team led by Laura Cortada , IITA Soil Health Scientist (Nematology) and Inge Dehennin, Coordinator of the International MSc in Agro- and Environmental Nematology, carried out a structured survey whose findings showed that despite nematology being a little-known discipline in SSA, remarkable positive progress and increased awareness has occurred over the previous two decades, allowing more professionals to return to SSA to occupy positions in academia, or public or private institutions.

A few initiatives have been instigated in SSA towards enhancing nematology capacity such as the Nematology Initiative for Eastern and Southern Africa (NIESA), which was a particularly prominent effort between 2004 and 2011. Another is the International MSc in Agro- and Environmental Nematology (ImaNema) from Ghent University. IITA has also effectively delivered approximately 50 years of nematology research and training to SSA, transforming IITA into the lead center of the CGIAR in terms of nematology expertise.

The expectation of the researchers is that the results of this survey will help policy makers, national agricultural and research programs, academics, and donors to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities ahead, to promote nematology further in the region.

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