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Plant virology and vector-transmitted disease experts join forces to help African farmers

Early career researchers Pamela Afokpe (left) and Benard Mukoye, from Benin and Kenya respectively, pictured in the labs during the training course at the University of Bristol Life Sciences Building

Some of the training course attendees, with CONNECTED Director Professor Gary Foster (back row, centre)

24 July 2019

Farmers in African countries who face failing harvests due to insect vector plant diseases are being helped through a new training programme set up by leading experts in plant virology and vector-transmitted diseases. The CONNECTED network, led by an international consortium of universities including Bristol, is aiming to transform Sub-Saharan African agriculture through providing specialist training to crop researchers.

Plant diseases significantly limit the ability of farmers to produce staple crops and ultimately hinder the economic and social development of countries, sometimes leading to migration as communities look for better lives elsewhere.

Determined to find new solutions to plant diseases that threaten food security, a network of leading plant virologists and entomologists joined forces to share their knowledge and skills with early-career researchers from 11 African countries with the aim of improving crop yields for local farmers.

The comprehensive two-week programme combined scientific talks, general lab training skills, specific virology and entomology lecture and practical work, workshops, field visits, career development, mentoring, and desk-based projects. The researchers also received peer mentoring and team-building input, as well as input focused on helping them communicate their science to a range of audiences.

Delegates are now able to undertake laboratory practical sessions, seminars and tutorials, lectures, and research supervision in their home countries to share the skills they acquired.

The CONNECTED network project is funded by a £2 million grant from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports research on global issues that affect developing countries. It is co-ordinated by Professor Gary Foster from Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences with Professor Neil Boonham from Newcastle University its Co-Director. Bristol’s Cabot Institute also provides input and expertise.

Professor Neil Boonham, CONNECTED Network Co-Director, said: “CONNECTED is bringing together plant scientists and entomologists to find ways to tackle vector-borne plant viruses. It is sowing the seeds of a new generation of collaborators, whose work will transform African agriculture for the next 20 – 30 years.”

Professor Gary Foster, said: “Addressing food security challenges is a major challenge facing African agriculture. The unique training programme is aiming to tackle that by sharing our latest knowledge and skills with researchers and farmers in countries across Africa.”

The CONNECTED training course drew together expertise from a number of individuals and organisations, including:

• University of Bristol, UK
• Newcastle University, UK
• Creative Connection, UK
• Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, UK
• University of Cambridge, UK
• University of the West of England, UK
• Harper Adams University, UK
• Cabot Institute, UK
• Fera Science, UK
• Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, UK
• Celia Knight Consulting
• North Carolina State University, USA
• National Crops Resources Research Institute, Uganda
• West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE), Cote d’Ivoire
• Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), UK
• Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives, Tanzania
• Bioreba, Switzerland
• Oxford Nanopore, UK
• Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK

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