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UC Davis faculty working with Borlaug LEAP Fellows

Jul 07, 2016 admin
Borlaug LEAP Fellows work with UC Davis faculty in a program that is designed to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Jemima Adepehin and Chinyere Florence Anagbogu are Nigerian graduate students who recently completed work with UC Davis faculty through a fellowship program designed to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa: the Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP). Enriched by their experiences at UC Davis, both women are back home, making a real difference in the lives of others.

Jemima Adepehin studies alternative and underused grains for bread making

JemimaAdepehin_SourdoughGrains.jpg
Jemima Adepehin
Jemima Adepehin grew up in a fairly large Nigerian town, spending most weekends on her family’s farm growing cassava, maize, yams, and cocoa. Education was extremely important in her family, and Adepehin originally thought she would pursue a career in cost engineering —like her father. Then she had a “light bulb” moment.

“I was drinking juice and I realized I wanted to understand how it was made, how it was processed,” she said. And just like that, a budding food scientist was born.

Adepehin did her undergraduate studies at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) in Nigeria. Her goal was to find ways to increase the protein content in bread in new and interesting ways. Using defatted and powdered Tilapia fish fillet was one of her experiments, and while “fish bread” may not have caught on, that same innovative spirit drives her graduate level work in food science.

Her research interests are in using alternative and underused gluten-free grains for making sourdough bread. She hopes that her ongoing research will stimulate a shift away from the use of imported wheat flour and toward the use of locally sourced, underutilized cereals for bread making. The development of new food products from these cereals will increase their economic value, as well as provide greater diversity of nutritious foods. By industrializing the production and processing of these crops, Adepehin believes, Nigeria’s “scourge” of unemployment can be reduced and prove beneficial to women farmers, who are the major growers of underutilized cereals.

Adepehin first heard about Borlaug LEAP through a colleague, and was thrilled when she learned in 2014 that she had been accepted into the program and would be coming to UC Davis. She found a willing mentor in Food Science and Technology, Professor Glenn Young, who introduced Adepehin to new and innovative processes such as identifying microorganisms through advanced molecular techniques.

“Jemima has the ambition and drive common among scholars who choose to lead, rather than to follow,” Young said. “She is focusing her efforts to research real problems and find innovative solutions with the potential to impact people in Nigeria. I look forward to continued collaboration with Jemima as her professional career continues back home.”

She also has worked with female farmers to create two cassava processing plants through a Nigerian philanthropic organization focused on empowering women and children.

“The processing plants afforded the smallholder women farmers opportunities to process more cassava flour, thereby providing food for their homes and increasing their incomes and ultimately their food security,” she said.

Adepehin has dedicated the work she is doing to her late master’s and Ph.D. adviser, Mojisola Olayinka Edema. Without her mentor’s passion and encouragement, she never would have pursued her research on sourdough. Adepehin remembers Edema’s words to her as she was discussing her research plans: “Jemima, your generation must continue where we stopped!” Adepehin feels that she is carrying on the spirit of those words in her research today.

Now back in Nigeria and currently working on her Ph.D. thesis at FUTA, Adepehin is building upon the knowledge she gained while at UC Davis. She has presented her research at two professional conferences this year, and won honorable mention at one of them. In addition, she is participating in a symposium on food security and the importance of agricultural research and development.

Adepehin believes her Borlaug LEAP experience had a profound impact on her studies and research: “The Borlaug LEAP fellowship was not only a timely catalyst to my doctoral research, but an eye opener and an unequivocal platform for me to contribute to global food security.”

Chinyere Florence Anagbogu seeking to improve coffee in Nigeria

Chinyere Florence Anagbogu
Chinyere Florence Anagbogu
Chinyere Florence Anagbogu’s introduction to agriculture, like many in sub-Saharan Africa, started when she was a child. “We split our time between our home in the city and our farm in the village where my grandparents lived,” she said.

One of five children—and the only girl—Anagbogu and her brothers were expected to take education seriously. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria and then turned her attention to graduate study in coffee genetics. Coffee is becoming an increasingly important crop in Nigeria, and Anagbogu believes that a better quality coffee crop will lead to an improved living standard for the country’s smallholder farmers. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, which led to employment as a coffee breeder at the Nigerian Cocoa Institute. Encouraged by her fellow scientists, she is pursuing a doctorate and researching the chemical diversity of coffee at the University of Ibadan.

She successfully applied for a Bourlag LEAP fellowship and was soon on her way to UC Davis. Her mentor was plant sciences professor Diane Beckles, whose laboratory is engaged in a number of breeding projects with rice, wheat, and tomatoes. Anagbogu used the laboratory to map several genes in coffee.

“It was a pleasure to have her in the lab,” Beckles said. “Her project took a difficult turn and she had a lot to accomplish in the three months she stayed in Davis. At times it looked impossible, but Florence persevered and now we may be able to get some useful data from the work. Everybody in the lab and, indeed others in the building, were impressed with Florence's tenacity and focus. We are certainly missing her presence in our lab.”

In addition to working in the Beckles lab, Anagbogu participated in several conferences dealing with coffee on a global scale. She learned that it’s not enough to merely sell coffee—the global coffee market requires superior quality and taste. She plans to impress this idea on both the Nigerian farmers she works with and her colleagues.

Anagbogu is grateful for the support she received at UC Davis and credits the Borlaug LEAP Fellowship with helping her hone her research focus. “People are so friendly and accommodating here,” she said. “They ask you what you need before you even say anything, and the professors are so approachable.”

Today she works with the Coffee and Tea Growers Association of Nigeria, a farmers’ collective, helping extend their products to a wider market. She also is working with the Nigerian government to identify hindrances to the development of the coffee and tea industries. As a result, a coffee development proposal geared toward job creation and revenue generation was added to the 2016 federal budget, the first of its kind in Nigeria. The proposal is of even greater significance because farmer input was used in drafting the document.

While she completes her research and defends her dissertation at the University of Ibadan, Anagbogu is excited about the next step in her career. She hopes to take on greater responsibilities at the Cocoa Institute, perhaps leading a team dedicated to making the lives of local coffee farmers better.

And she wants to make her late father proud. “Even though I lost my dad, I know he would have been very happy to see what I have accomplished,” she said.

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