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Home / News / Mihiretu Cherinet completes Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program

Mihiretu Cherinet completes Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program

Mihiretu Cherinet poses in front of the LSU AgCenter (photo credit: A. Villordon)

Tell us something about yourself
I hold a BSc in Dry Land Crop and Horticultural Science from Mekkele University, Ethiopia and a MSc. in Horticulture from Pretoria University, Pretoria, South Africa. After my MSc, I participated in an internship in modern greenhouse crop production at Green Circle Grower in U.S.A, before joining the International Potato Center (CIP).

I lead the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA-II) project in Ethiopia. The project is working to improve the sweetpotato seed system in Ethiopia by introducing and validating proven and emerging technologies in the sweetpotato seed system. Currently SASHA is validating three important technologies which are Triple S ‘Sand Storage and Sprouting’, net tunnel and small scale irrigation in Ethiopia. All of these technologies are being promoted and validated to strengthen the maintenance, multiplication and access of quality sweetpotato planting materials in Ethiopia.

Tell us about your Borlaug Fellowship?
I applied for the fellowship because I wanted to improve my research skills by conducting research on specific problems for sweetpotato; create linkages with professors and gain exposure to and experience with U.S. academic and research systems.

My research activities focussed on studying factors affecting sweetpotato sprouting. I wanted to understand the effect of variety, temperature and moisture on sweetpotato storage root sprouting; and how to control sweetpotato sprouting by applying different plant growth regulators. Understanding the effect of these factors on sprouting provides scientific evidence for the emerging root based planting material conservation and multiplication technology called Triple S. The experiment was conducted at the LSU AgCenter Sweetpotato Research Station in Chase, Louisiana from February 9 to April 18, 2017.

How does your fellowship contribute to agricultural economic development and promotion of food security in your country?

Mihiretu Cherinet works in the lab during his Borlaug Fellowship at LSU AgCenter (photo credit: A. Villordon)

To tackle planting material shortage in an affordable way, CIP and the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), jointly developed a root-based sweetpotato seed conservation technique called Triple S. The “Triple S,” approach is a set of simple techniques that can be practiced by most resource poor farmers, using locally available materials such as sand, roots and locally available containers. Several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have now started incorporating this technique of seed conservation and multiplication, but there are still many research questions that need to be addressed. Research questions related to the genotype, temperature and humidity effects are very important.

The experiment under my Borlaug Fellowship Program was initiated to generate information on the effect of genotype, temperature and humidity on sweetpotato sprouting. The study generated phenotypic, genotypic and molecular data on sweetpotato sprouting. While collecting data, I developed skills in phenotyping, sprouting, RNA isolation, cDNA synthesis and PCR. I developed new laboratory skills, which can be used to develop and group African sweetpotato varieties based on their sprouting capacity.

The study conducted under the Borlaug Fellowship Program has developed new knowledge by generating variety specific sprout information, identifying the genetic basis of sprouting in sweetpotato and describing the sprout response of sweetpotato varieties at reference temperature points. This new knowledge is a very important tool for grouping genotypes and standardizing root based sweetpotato, along with planting material conservation and multiplication both in SSA and the United States.

Planting material conservation is a major food security issue for most sweetpotato farmers in SSA. During the validation trial held in SSA, Triple S showed promising results in conserving planting material in drought prone areas. The present research benefits millions of sweetpotato growers in SSA who are prone to drought and climate change effects by allowing them to save planting material. Similarly, the study will also benefit commercial sweetpotato growers in the USA, who are struggling with some varieties’ insufficient sprouting. Root based planting material conservation and multiplication are established systems in Louisiana and also an emerging method in SSA. This area of research will promote further collaboration in the future.

What else did you get to do during your fellowship?

I attended scientific presentations on Clustered Regulatory Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats Based Breeding (CRISPER) at the LSU campus. I participated in research visits to industries such as Alexia Food, which is one of the biggest sweetpotato processing industries in the world. The technology and the scale applied to processing sweetpotato frozen fries is an important part of sweetpotato value chain development. The firm has branches in Middle East and distributes products to Africa. I also visited TABASCO food producers, headquartered in Louisiana USA, and the largest hot sauce producer in the world. I learned that if current small-scale sweetpotato farmers start processing, there is potential for enormous growth into a large-scale market. In addition, I visited an aquaculture research station, sweetpotato virus cleaning laboratory and a wheat and oat breeding and variety testing centre. I got an opportunity to travel for social activities to New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Dallas.

What are your future plans?

Mihiretu Cherinet at work during his Borlaug Fellowship at LSU AgCenter (photo credit: A. Villordon)

First, the present study has developed the base for future research on sweetpotato sprout physiology. Unfortunately, this fellowship did not allow time to repeat the experiment and verify the results. As a result, it is not possible to publish the results of the current research. However, a detailed technical report that contains objectives, methodology, results, discussions and recommendations is being prepared. The technical report will be shared with sweetpotato researchers in both LSU and CIP.

Secondly, the results of the study will be presented at the annual sweetpotato seed system community meeting and other relevant society conferences. The work conducted during my fellowship program is in alignment with the research activities that I am leading in Ethiopia. Although we have been able to validate Triple S as a working technique for planting material conservation in Ethiopia, the method is not standardized to different varieties. Therefore, in an attempt to synchronize vine conservation with sweetpotato production, it is important to know the sprout characteristics (sprout period and level) of each of the current varieties in Ethiopia. Methodology to characterize the sprout nature in sweetpotato will be developed and tested to categorize the popular sweetpotato varieties based on their sprouting nature. The skills learned, especially RNA isolation, cDNA synthesis and PCR, will be useful in identifying genes expressed during sweetpotato sprouting. This part of the proposed work was not completed because of the shortage of time.

Lastly, my mentor will visit one of CIP`s participatory Triple S validation trials in Tigray, Ethiopia. The participatory research is currently ongoing in two local districts of the
Tigray region.

Who supported this program?
I would not have been able to participate in this useful training without the joint efforts of the Borlaug Fellowship Program and CIP. I would like to acknowledge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its financial support and CIP for granting my study leave. I thank LSU AgCenter International Programs for hosting me and facilitating my research at the LSU AgCenter’s Sweetpotato Research Station located in Chase, Louisiana. During this fellowship, a number of people who made it possible for me to complete my study. These include my mentor, Dr. Arthur Villordon (professor), Susan Karimiha, coordinator, LSU AgCenter International Programs; Dr. Jan Low, Senior Scientist at CIP and Project Leader of SASHA II; and Margaret McEwan, my immediate supervisor.

Read also:
Ethiopian scientist studies sweet potatoes at AgCenter research station

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