Applications are currently open for Monsanto’s 2012 Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP). One of the 2009 scholars was Godwin Macharia, a citizen of Kenya who is working on his PhD at the University of Minnesota. We caught up with Godwin recently and asked him his experiences with MBBISP.
Monsanto: Godwin, what area of research have you been working in since your acceptance in the Scholars program?
Godwin: With the emergence of Ug99, the new highly virulent race of wheat stem rust, there has been an increased urgency to discover genes that can be readily deployed in wheat programs to develop superior cultivars – one that offer superiority in yield as well as end user quality, for example. My project primarily focuses on a comprehensive collection of East Africa bread wheat released through the past century, to identify parental types that may have useful rust resistances as well as grain quality genes.
Discovery of novel genes and characterization of East African wheat germplasm will help breeders in the region make better informed choices of parental materials and selection methods and hopefully help in expediting the process of cultivar development.
Monsanto: Have you determined what you would like to do after completing your PhD program?
Godwin: I would like to work as a plant breeder. The interactions and opportunities I’ve had here in school – professors, local students and international students – and beyond have truly opened my mind to the larger picture, that the world is indeed a global village where everyone has needs. The most urgent needs are likely access to ‘enough’ food, or quantity, and food of the desired quality. I’ll be happy to land in a place where I could optimally use my ability and the training I’m getting in this great school to do develop plant germplasm, and specifically wheat, to meet the desired yield potentials and do it sustainably.
I like wheat, and in the short term I see myself working on this crop. I have the support of my employer, the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to do my studies here through the MBBIS program. So naturally, I’m likely to go back to Kenya and continue working from there once I’ve completed my PhD. Moreover, this was the plan Dr. Norman Borlaug, my definitive mentor, had for us students going through this training, and we want to respect his wishes.
Monsanto: How has participating in the MBBIS program prepared you?
Godwin: I honestly feel increasingly motivated to improve lives of other people. The program has gone a long way in introducing me to a network of researchers, the best of the best, with whom I’m cementing a very powerful working relationship now while producing outputs for my thesis and without doubt in my future career as a scientist. I’ve exercised my ability to reach out to more people for advice and this is working well for me.
From these people I’m receiving immeasurable mentoring by way of scientific thought and growth through the numerous discussions we’ve had and are still having. The ability to make a positive contribution to humanity is a function of the same strengths I’m either developing or polishing in the graduate school: time bound objectivity, good planning, hard work, self discipline, and passion, plus the value in giving something back to the world. Moreover, the exposure to facilities like Cereal Disease Lab, Genotyping Lab, the Insectory at Colorado State University (CSU) and others has helped me consider places I could do my work, even if I eventually work in Africa where such fine tuned facilities are generally lacking.
In addition to CSU, I’ve had the opportunity to visit CIMMYT in Mexico and North Dakota State University and attend the World Food Prize program. I’ve had a chance to meet and interact with many researchers and policy makers, like R. Singh at CIMMYT and Scot Haley at CSU.
Monsanto: What would you say to people/students that are considering this scholars program?
They should not hesitate to apply to this program. Many agree that this is one very unique opportunity Monsanto provides to the many students out there who have the burning desire to achieve the best training one could get as a plant breeder and who are sitting on powerful research ideas in wheat and rice. The future of these crops is in the hands of all, including prospective students who realize the value of these crops.
Beyond the many openings the program brings into a student’s life, the program provides a very generous stipend, which is quite supportive.
I would recommend this program to any aspiring individual. Here is one genuine and lifetime opportunity to join and be a party to a distinguished group of world citizens that have vowed to alleviate world hunger. To me, MBBISP gives life to our dreams.
Editor’s Note: Wheat is a staple crop to many people around the world, however lack of technological advancements results in low production and crop yields. Additionally, crop production and yield is threatened by diseases, such as wheat rust race Ug99. An epidemic of this fungus is spreading across Africa, Asia and most recently into Middle East, causing major concern for people dependent on wheat for food. Godwin Macharia was recently featured in the documentary “Saving Wheat: Rust Never Sleeps,” produced by University of Minnesota and Twin Cities Public Television. The story highlights the efforts of researchers, scientists, and students as they develop disease-resistant productive wheat crops, while providing a history of the progress in this battle. To hear from scholar Godwin Macharia about his work and this effort, please visit Twin Cities Public Television.