PAUSTI Scholar: Microorganisms Could Improve Crop Productivity in Africa

One of the key causes of reduced crop yields globally is drought. In Africa, due to climate change, droughts have increased in intensity and frequency leading to widespread famine; hence putting livelihoods of millions of people at risk. In 2016, for instance, the World Food Programme estimated that 14 million people were facing starvation due to crop failures in Southern Africa.

With an increasing population, food and nutritional security remains an important subject across Africa. a key panacea in buoying food production in the continent is modern technology. Muhammad Taoheed Abdulkareem, a doctorate student at the JKUAT based Pan African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI), is keen to determine efficacy of inoculating crop roots with microorganisms to improve drought coping capacity.

Muhammad makes his progress presentations during the midterm evaluations presentations at iPIC building.

Muhammad who is studying Molecular Biology has demonstrated that by inoculating plants with Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi, the two partners develop a symbiotic relationship, in which the plant provides the mycorrhiza with carbon while the fungi helps the plant harness phosphorus.

The Mycorrhiza’s mycelia also act as extension of plants’ root systems, allowing optimal use of soil water and nutrients. In addition, Muhammad says the microorganism regulates drought related genes in the plants.

watered tomatoes plants at the JKUAT/ PAUSTI greenhouses. Inset: tomatoes exposed to drought.

The results of the study conducted on tomatoes, could provide a strong basis for the use of the microorganisms to improve drought tolerance for food crops production in Africa.

The study is particularly important in the wake of global decline in phosphate reserves. In Africa, where most soils are acidic, uncontrolled use of phosphate fertilizers also pose additional threats like pollution of waterways.

Mycorrhiza has also proven to be a good agent in land reclamation and restoration; which is important in dealing with consequences of climate change such as desertification.

Muhammad who undertook the study with the funding by AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project says, young Africans should come together and find multidisciplinary solutions to problems afflicting the continent.

Muhammad at work in the molecular biology laboratory

“As population of the continent increases, if young people fail to play a part, we are simply walking into a difficult future and that is not desirable,” Muhammad said.

Besides the research funding, AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project has also equipped the PAUSTI molecular biology laboratory as well as greenhouses; where Muhammad is undertaking his studies.

Muhammad who was upbeat about his research results averred that inoculation of plant roots with Mycorrhiza could revolutionize agricultural productivity in the continent towards long term security.

He gave his research progress report during the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project Midterm Evaluation Presentations on Tuesday October 10, 2017 at the iPIC building.