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STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: PHABIAN MAKOKHA MSc PLANT BREEDING AND BIOTECHNOLOGY

“The great passion l have for sweetpotato kept me soldiering on, l would want a situation where access to adequate quality seed of improved varieties is no longer a bottleneck.”

Tell us about yourself

I’m Phabian Makokha, 32 years old. For the past 21 months, I’ve been an MSc. student at the University of Eldoret, Kenya pursuing Plant Breeding and Biotechnology supported by CIP under SASHA phase ll project.

Please tell us about your thesis

My thesis revolved around sweetpotato pre-basic seed multiplication in the screenhouses using sandponics system. The specific objectives were: optimizing the nutrient media for sweetpotato pre-basic seed multiplication in sandponics, and comparing cost-effectiveness for producing pre-basic seed using sandponics system and conventional soil substrate method.

Experimental set up at KEPHIS Muguga. Conventional screen house medium (LHS) and sandponics medium (RHS) (Credit P. Makokha)

Why is this study important?

This study is important since research has demonstrated that the major constraints contributing to low sweetpotato yields in sub-Saharan Africa countries are limited access to quality planting materials and improved varieties. Sandponics system is an important innovation that increases sweetpotato vine multiplication rates and is cost-effective compared to the conventional soil substrate method.

Trellised sweetpotato vines growing in sandponics (L) conventional (R) multiplication systems in experiment to optimize the amount of nitrogen used (Credit

What did you learn along this journey?

Graduate studies are demanding. Maximum concentration and devotion is required to achieve your set objectives. Most importantly, the candidate needs to observe the timelines pegged on the set objectives. A candidate also needs to make use of the time management matrix with discipline to keep on track. Finally, always appreciate anybody who helped you along the way, collaboration and teamwork makes science easy

Some of the challenges you might have faced?

Sometimes procedures or methodologies fail, however, this is normal, it does happen. Dragging behind timelines can also cause panic and lastly, research gaps keep on popping up which might can it hard to come up with perfect findings.

What kept you motivated to complete your thesis?

The great passion l have for sweetpotato kept me soldiering on, l would want a situation where access to adequate quality seed of improved varieties is no longer a bottleneck. The CIP technical team especially on the SASHA project who tirelessly helped me in technical backstopping and ensured the implementation of thesis objectives were on course kept thesis completion spirit burning, my direct thesis supervisors, and finally the desire and passion to do science

Any advice for anyone considering to pursue their graduate studies in MSc?

Furthering studies at graduate level is a very demanding exercise. A candidate must have the zeal to read beyond boundaries. There are a lot of disappointments especially when things happen not to work out at times, but you shouldn’t be discouraged, always keep challenging yourself to find out why things didn’t work out. Keep faith and believe in yourself. Remember that No Human is Limited.

For additional reading on the study:

(PAPER) Comparative analysis for producing sweetpotato pre-basic seed using sandponics and conventional systems

Comparative analysis for producing sweetpotato pre-basic seed using sandponics and conventional systems.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, sweetpotato pre-basic seed is multiplied in screenhouses using a sterilized soil substrate. This is expensive and unsustainable. The use of sand substrate with a fertigation system (“sandponics”), is an alternative. The study compared the cost-effectiveness for pre-basic seed production using the sandponics system to the conventional soil substrate for four genotypes.

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