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icipe-IITA Nematology Group

In just four short years, icipe and IITA have commendably managed to establish an impressive team of nematologists (complete with a fully functional, dedicated nematology laboratory), and possibly the most comprehensive in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) outside of South Africa. Currently, the Group is composed of about 20 team members: three senior staff scientists; five technical staff; seven students (two PhD, four MSc and one BSc); and five students undertaking internships and attachments as part of their degrees requirements. In addition, three students conducting research with nematology components within the icipe Behavioural and Chemical Ecology Unit, and the Centre’s Plant Health Theme, also use the nematology laboratory. Moreover, the Nematology Group has created a network of partnerships and collaborations with universities, national programmes and the private sector in Kenya, across the region and around the world.    

The success of icipe and IITA in establishing a nematology hub – one that is defined by high quality mentorship, resources, infrastructure and distinction as a space where students can efficiently and effectively conduct thesis practical work within an African context and according to world class standards – is evident in two ways. First, is the long list of pending internships requests, and second, the rise of nematology as an attractive postgraduate option. This latter aspect is supported by a recent comment by Prof. Waceke Wanjohi, Dean of Agriculture, Kenyatta University, Kenya (one of the key icipe-IITA partnering institutions), who noted that nematology is now the most popularly requested postgraduate MSc thesis topic, within the Department of Agriculture.

Introductory seminar on nematodes

In January 2018, Dr Roland Perry, based at University of Hertfordshire, UK, and Visiting Professor, Ghent University, Belgium, conducted a seminar at icipe titled “The good, the bad and the ugly, the world of nematodes”. The presentation was significant as it offered a detailed baseline introduction of nematodes to the uninitiated, but stimulating to both researchers and scholars. The talk provided an overview of parasitic nematodes, across the spectrum of people, animals and insects. Specifically, the presentation focused on plant parasitic nematodes, discussing their biology and host-parasite interactions. Particular attention was given to potato cyst nematodes and nematode parasites of banana, which are current core areas of research by icipe and IITA. The presentation also outlined a range of control and management options for plant parasitic nematodes. To conclude, Prof. Perry discussed entomopathogenic nematodes – nematodes pathogenic to insects – offering an insight into the potential benefits that nematodes can offer. Entomopathogenic nematodes harbour insect killing bacteria, which the nematode releases upon entering the insect body, killing the insect within 48 hours.  By exploiting these nematodes, effective biological control options against susceptible insect pests have been developed across the world. 

Damage to roots
A sample of the damage that nematodes cause to plant roots – © Dr Roland Perry

Workshop on capacity building in plant nematology in Kenya

Co-organised by icipe and IITA with Kenyatta University, Kenya, and Ghent University, Belgium, the event combined perspectives from the academic, research, public and private sectors, revealing challenges and opportunities for advancing nematology and nematode management in Kenya and the region. Five Kenyan universities – University of Eldoret, University of Nairobi, Embu University, Moi University, Kenyatta University – described the current neglected status of nematology in Kenyan academic institutions, but highlighted the rising importance of the discipline as a core area of study. The public sector, represented by Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), presented an overview of success and obstacles in the provision of extension services to address nematodes. Private sector partners: SGS (K) Ltd, The Real IPM Company, CropNuts and Syngenta amongst others, described their current and potential involvement and possibilities to support capacity building. Representatives from Ghent University provided comprehensive information on the institution's International MSc in Agro- and Environmental Nematology (UGent), highly rated for its outstanding and unrivalled provision of nematology expertise to SSA. Overall, the one-day workshop elicited a surprising yet rewarding response, demonstrating a resounding interest in nematology, towards the development of a strategic approach to nematodes in Kenya.

Participants of the capacity building in nematology workshop, held at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, on 11 January 2018.

Dr Maina Mwangi, Senior Lecturer and Director, Research Support, Kenyatta University, addressing the Introduction and Welcome Session, with panelists.

Oliver Chitambo, former MSc student, University of Ghent, and James Kisaakye, ongoing PhD scholar at icipe, discussing their experiences in studying nematology. 

Potato cyst nematodes (PCN) in Kenya seminar

In February, icipe and IITA hosted Dr John Jones, one of the world’s leading authorities on PCN, a devastating pest of potatoes that has now reached Kenya. Dr Jones, is based in Scotland at the James Hutton Institute, where he leads a range of research activities on PCN, a pest that has plagued the UK potato industry for several decades, costing the UK approximately $80 million per annum. As a new invasive pest in Kenya, Dr Jones was visiting to discuss collaborative efforts with icipe and IITA, towards its management. Further to its detection in Kenya in 2014, a countrywide survey has since established that the pest is present in all major potato growing areas, occurring in exceptionally high densities in some farms, resulting in crippling losses for those farmers.   

Awareness and training for flower industry

In May 2018, icipe and IITA, in partnership with Syngenta, initiated a new thrust of nematology awareness activities, to provide expert training on integrated pest management of nematodes in the floriculture industry in Kenya. The sector is one of Kenya's most important, earning around USD 0.5 billion annually, while providing employment for more than 500,000 people, and impacting over 2 million livelihoods. However, nematodes are a hidden problem in cut flower cultivation, where they reduce and compromise yield quality and quantity. For example, while Kenya remains the lead exporter of cut roses to the European Union with 38% market share, 17% of all cut roses produced in Kenya is lost to nematodes. The icipe-IITA-Syngenta training was attended by over 90 participants, including production and farm managers, plant pathologists and agronomists, from across the country.

 (l-r) Solveig Haukeland, icipe Research on Nematodes Group, with Laura Cortada-Gonzalez and Danny Coyne, both of IITA-East Africa during the nematode management training event for floriculture industry representatives.

A cross section of participants at the nematode management training event, including production and farm managers to plant pathologists and agronomists.

First PhD student

Oliver Chitambo, a Zimbabwean student, recently completed his PhD research jointly hosted by the Research on Nematodes group and the African Indigenous Vegetables project.  Registered at the University of Bonn, Germany, Oliver’s tenure at icipe was made possible by the Centra’s Dissertation Research Internship Programme (DRIP, programme, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Oliver’s heartwarming story doubly demonstrates the nematology group’s success in building scientific capacity, as well as the effectiveness of DRIP in broadening opportunities to harness young scientific talent from within and outside the continent, while also expanding the Centre’s global network. Read his profile here: Oliver Chitambo

Oliver Chitambo working in the Research on Nematodes laboratory at icipe.

Student award

In February 2018, Agnes Kiriga, an MSc student within the Research on Nematodes group, was awarded the top prize for a presentation on “The Effect of Biological Control Agents on Meloidogyne spp. in Commercial Pineapple Production Systems in Kenya”, during a workshop on Sustainable Horticultural Production in the Tropics. The event was organised by Horticultural Association of Kenya, Institute of Horticultural Production Systems, Germany, and Pwani University, Kenya, and Leibniz University Hannover.  Agnes recently completed studies towards identifying plant parasitic nematodes affecting pineapple in Kenya. The research also investigated the effect of selected biological control agents on root knot nematodes, Meloidogyne spp.