In Eastern Africa, bananas are both a key staple food and a cash crop. When disease threatens, it damages livelihoods as well as the plant. Dr. Margaret Onyango has been helping communities to manage Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) through farmer field schools and is leading the effort to eradicate the disease with an integrated, holistic approach. With support from USAID, Onyango received her PhD from the University of Hawaii in 2007 and returned to her native Kenya where she now serves as Deputy Center Director at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Kisii. Her Borlaug Leadership in Agriculture Program (LEAP) fellowship connected her with mentors at Bioversity International, a collaborative relationship that continues today. One of their joint projects was ranked “Best KARI Implemented Project 2012”. The project is working along the value chain to manage BXW in eastern and the horn of Africa.
Transforming research results into accessible information for farmers is a rewarding experience for Dr. Onyango. There is great satisfaction in seeing members of her community evolve with the confidence brought by new skills and training. In Ugunja district of Kenya, one such farmer, Mr. George Ouma, had just 20 banana plants of a single variety on his farm in 2010. Using skills acquired through KARI’s Farmer Field Schools, in two short years, he has expanded his farm to 2,000 banana plants of 10 varieties of both cooking and dessert bananas. He also sells clean banana plantlets to farmers, supplying over 5,000 plantlets to farmers in the past year. Dr. Onyango recently had the pleasure of presenting Mr. Ouma with the “Best Farmer” award for the Ugunja district at the World Food Day 2012 celebrations in Kenya.