Blessing Odogwu Nwokocha is passionate about discovering new ways to address the threat rust disease poses to food security in Africa. Though originally from Nigeria, Blessing made the decision to pursue her education at Makerere University in Uganda—one of the premier universities for plant breeding in the region. A common remedy for rust diseases are fungicide treatments, and while relatively effective, Blessing understands that such approaches are often expensive and leave smallholder farmers with few alternatives for dealing with infected crops. Instead, she thinks breeding rust resistant varieties is the most practical and sustainable solution for smaller and more vulnerable farms. Blessing has worked as an Assistant Lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria since 2007, and was a Fellow with the African Women in Agricultural and Research Development (AWARD).
Blessing was awarded a Borlaug LEAP Fellowship in the fall of 2014 for her research titled: Resistance to Rust (Uromyces Appendiculatus (Pers.Pers.)Unger.) in Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) in Uganda. The common bean, which has been a major food security crop and source for income to Ugandans for over 40 decades, has been experiencing decreasing yields in recent years. These losses are attributed to abiotic and biotic disease factors that Blessing aims to quantify and characterize in hopes of identifying sources of resistance. Her mentors, Dr. James Kelly of Michigan State University, and Dr. Clare Mukankusi of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), are both experienced plant breeders who will assist her with her experiments, analysis, and the evaluation of rust disease in the common bean. Dr. Kelly is a distinguished professor of Michigan State University with over a hundred publications on dry bean and common bean characterization and breeding. Dr. Mukankusi has been a plant breeder with CIAT for 5 years and has published several articles and papers concerning common bean, as well as published a book on common bean improvement in 2011.