Silvano Ocheya is interested researching how to develop resilient crop varieties that can withstand stresses in nature, particularly drought. He has always felt connected to this kind of research because he grew up in a small village in Kenya, and lived with other farmers who helped develop his passion for quality agricultural work. He believes his research is important because Kenya has been facing more frequent and extensive periods of drought. Common solutions such as irrigation are not typically utilized option due to water scarcity concerns. These issues make breeding drought resistant plants necessary for farmers to maintain their yields and remain competitive with the public demand for food. He believes that maintaining or even raising the yields of farmers through breeding drought resistant crops will help improve the nation’s financial situation as well as the individual livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Prior to his Ph.D studies, Mr. Ocheya worked as a Research Officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and a Research Associate at CIMMYT.
Mr. Ocheya was awarded a Borlaug LEAP Fellowship in the fall of 2014 for his research titled: Identification of Single Nucleotide Polymorphic Markers Linked to Drought Tolerance QTL in Texas Wheat and Introgression of the QTL into Spring Wheat adapted to Africa. He has a very good relationship with both of his mentors and indicates that they have been working collaboratively even before his Borlaug LEAP award. His US mentor, Dr. Shuyu Liu of the University of Texas A&M, is a geneticist who is assisting him with QTL mapping and drought tolerance. His CGIAR mentor, Dr. Sridhar Bhavani of CIMMYT, is a plant pathologist and biologist, who will be advising Mr. Ocheya in biotics, as well as how to breed resistance to things like stem rust. Dr. Shuyu Liu has over a decade of agricultural research experience with expertise in molecular mapping of genes/QTL associated with important traits of crops, identification, validation and application of molecular markers linked to traits of interest, molecular cloning of genes linked to important traits, and marker-assisted breeding to develop germplasm lines and cultivars in Small Grains and Common Bean. Dr. Bhavani works in close collaboration with KARI scientists on large-scale trials screening wheat lines for resistance to Ug99, the new and virulent strain of stem rust that emerged in Uganda in 1999.