Dr Mary Teddy Asio has graduated with her PhD through the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), having worked on a genetic study of upland rice varieties in Uganda to identify those that are resistant to Striga hermonthica.
Asio’s research involved a genetic analysis of upland rice for grain yield and some agronomic traits under Striga hermonthica infestation in Uganda. It aimed to improve production through breeding for genotypes resistant to Striga hermonthica, a species of parasitic witch weed which damages and eventually kills cereal crops by attaching to the plant’s roots and commandeering its nutrient and water supply. Invasion of this parasite can cause losses of up to 100 percent.
Rice is a major food and cash crop grown in many districts of Uganda. The Ugandan government has identified cultivation of this crop as a major intervention in the fight against food insecurity and poverty as it improves income for rural households. Cultivation increased after the introduction of New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties that are high yielding and resistant to many biotic and abiotic stresses, with upland rice preferred as it requires less irrigation which is expensive for subsistence farmers and poses fewer cultural, health and environmental concerns.
Asio assessed the genetic diversity of upland rice, determined variability and genetic relationships of various attributes of grain yield of upland rice, determined gene action responsible for yield and other traits, tested the effect of genotype x environment (GE) interaction on yield of upland rice and identified genotypes with stable high grain yield under Striga infestation. She successfully identified a number of stable and Striga resistant genotypes recommended for further evaluation and release to farmers to improve productivity and food and income security.
Asio works for the Ministry of East African Community Affairs in Uganda where she coordinates agriculture and food security affairs to ensure that Ugandan farmers benefit from the East African integration pillars.
Dr Richard Edema, a lecturer at her alma mater, Makerere University, encouraged her to pursue her PhD at a world-class institution to further her skills in her sector, thus recommending the ACCI which is funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Asio was accepted into the ACCI PhD programme, but attaining this achievement was not without its challenges.
A year into her research, her husband passed away, leaving her a single parent solely responsible for supporting her family while also working toward her PhD.
Asio said the journey towards completing her PhD contributed significantly to developing her analytical skills in her scientific research. She thanked Edema and Dr Danson Jeddidah for linking her to the ACCI, the ACCI and UKZN for providing an excellent learning environment, her supervisors, Professor Pangirayi Tongoona, Professor John Derera and Dr Julia Sibiya for their guidance along every step of the way, as well as ACCI lecturers for their input and for enriching her plant breeding skills.
Words: Christine Cuénod