College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

PhD Research Contributes to Rescuing Ethiopia’s “White Gold” From Disease

Dr Kidane Tumsa Hurisa’s doctoral research tackled a plant disease that causes devastating losses to bean crops in Ethiopia, earning a PhD in Plant Breeding.

Based at the Melkassa Agricultural Research Center, Hurisa set out to breed common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) for resistance to Common Bacterial Blight (CBB). These beans are referred to as “white gold” in Ethiopia – cultivated by about 3.6 million smallholder farmers, they have high commercial value, particularly for export.

Despite its value, the crop has relatively low levels of productivity as it is susceptible to various abiotic, biotic and socio-economic constraints, a major one of which is CBB.

‘CBB causes significant yield loss, between 20% and 100%, necessitating development and deployment of CBB resistant and farmer-preferred common bean cultivars for sustainable production and economic gains in the country,’ said Hurisa.

Supervised by the Deputy Director of UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) and South African Sugarcane Research Institute Chair of Crop Science Professor Hussein Shimelis, Hurisa bred CBB resistant and high yielding common bean lines through designed crosses and rigorous selections based on field screening and marker-assisted techniques – these lines are set for further evaluation and eventual release in the great East African rift valley regions. From his research, Hurisa has published two scientific papers in high-impact journals.

Having completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Ethiopia’s Mekelle University and Haramaya University in Crop Science and Plant Pathology, respectively, Hurisa was drawn by the ACCI and UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences’ (SAEES) reputation for training plant breeders across Africa. His research at UKZN was funded by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) through its Tropical Legume-III (TL-III) project.

The experience he gained through this research will contribute vital knowledge to Hurisa’s contributions to Ethiopia’s national common bean improvement programme, which seeks to implement holistic breeding systems and solutions.

Hurisa enjoyed the experience of studying at a foreign university, joining UKZN’s volleyball team while based at the University.

He thanked Shimelis and his co-supervisors, Professor Mark Laing and Dr Clare Mukankusi of CIAT for their guidance and support during his studies, and all the ACCI staff for their support. He credited the Ethiopian Institute Agricultural Research (EIAR) for providing research facilities and technical support, and CIAT’s TL-III project for its financial, technical and training support. He also expressed gratitude to his family for their encouragement and understanding while he completed his PhD.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied