Crispus Mbaluto is currently a PhD student at the University of Leipzig and University of Jena (FSU), Germany. For the last two months, he has contributed tremendously towards the relaunch of the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal by writing the metadata for hundreds of publications that are accessible on the Portal. In this article, he narrates his journey towards excelling in agricultural science research and what his brief stint in Knowledge Management has taught him.
I was born and raised on a village farm. I am no stranger to hunger and poverty. During my childhood, I experienced perennial food shortages as a result of insect-pests and or disease attack on major food crops. Out of this adversity, came a desire to understand the novel mechanisms that enable crops deploy survival tactics in a world full of enemies. My journey towards attaining a key position in research started when I received a place at Kenyatta University, where I obtained a Bachelor of Science (Biotechnology) degree.
Unemployment can be devastating to young science graduates in Kenya. With few opportunities available, many are faced with an environment in which they cannot develop professionally. I was no different. From 2007 to 2009, when Kenya was faced with a food crisis and political instability, I decided to fight against the odds and registered for a Master of Science (Biotechnology) degree.
A breakthrough into agricultural research
I wanted to revive my dreams, and through the sponsorship of ‘African Bioscience Challenge Fund (ABCF), I got the chance I needed to move one step closer to my goal. I produced a thesis that extensively explored the ‘Genetic diversity and phylogenetic relationship of Kenyan native edible mushrooms species’. I viewed this work as a contribution towards food and nutritionally secure Kenya. I got to spend six months at the BecA–ILRI hub, it was an amazing experience working in the state of art facility. While there, the journal club trained me on reading and understanding published scientific concepts, and weekly presentations strengthened my communication skills. I learnt to organize my time and activities, and attended numerous seminars and workshops where I was able to share experiences and get an overview of ongoing research in other research centers. I had a chance to create new networks and collaborations within a multicultural setting; an opportunity that I know is rare to many.
It is because of the technical skills I gained at BecA-ILRI hub that I had a competitive edge when I sought for a work placement at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nairobi, Kenya. At IITA, plant tissue culture and regeneration, and genetic modification aiming to offer crops protection against (a)-biotic factors and increase crop productivity, was another opportunity, to appreciate significance of technology in research. Eventually, that job came to an end, and just when I was getting ready to leave, the contacts I had established during my short career paid off.
Working on the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal a good transition to my PhD research
I was informed that the International Potato Center (CIP) was seeking a consultant to help write metadata for scientific documents for the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal. Until then, my work had focused on the laboratory based research with particular interest in applying academic and field innovations to ‘real world’ problems. This new position posed a different demand. Yet it came just at the right time, when I had been doing a lot of reading and proposal development to seek entry into a PhD program. Three years in active research with reports, presentation and paper writing gave me hope to exceed my new job expectation. I found this position perfect as in my previous engagements most materials originated from both laboratory and field based practices.
While I was working on the Sweetpotato Knowledge Portal assignment, I was elated to hear that I had been accepted as a PhD student under the German Academic Exchange Services (DAAD) sponsorship. All the skills I have acquired during my time at CGIAR are leading me towards the goal I had always set for myself. Upon completion of my studies, I would like to promote the active involvement of young scientists and other groups of scientists that are under-represented (e.g. women scientists, ethnic minorities). I believe that this is of critical importance for the viability to revolutionize agriculture for food secure future. I hope that when I finish, I will be able to return to developing countries in a research setting.