2016 Borlaug LEAP fellow Tigist Shiferaw Girsil obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Plant Sciences and her Master’s degree in Crop Protection (Entomology) from Haramaya University, Ethiopia. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Plant Breeding at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her doctoral thesis and research are focused on the “Genetic Improvement of Local and Exotic Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) Germplasm for Bruchid (Zabrotes subfasciatus) Resistance and Agronomic Performance in Ethiopia”. The bean bruchid (Zabrotes subfasciatus) is among the greatest threats to common bean production in Ethiopia, where the common bean is an important source of dietary protein within the country, and is an increasingly important export crop. By developing high-yielding and bruchid-resistant bean cultivars and reducing post-harvest losses in Ethiopia, her project will help contribute to improved food security, nutrition, and the household income of subsistence farmers.
Tigist started her first research position at the Amhara Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI), based at Sirnika Agricultural Research Center, in 2005, as a Pulses and Horticultural Crops Entomologist. In 2009 she transferred to the Melkassa Agricultural Research Center at the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR) as a lowland pulse Entomologist, where she is currently on study leave in order to complete her degree. Drawing from her research experience as entomologist, she has learned that in her home country little work has been done to increase pest resistance in crops though breeding programs, especially against post-harvest menaces, even though they contribute significantly to crop and income loss among farmers. In addition, and despite general recognition of the importance of common bean genetic improvement for bruchid resistance in across East Africa, inadequate marker systems have been put in place in order to address these issues in many breeding programs. Tigist looks to use her fellowship and her time at her current graduate program to acquire the knowledge and skills used in advanced marker-based insect resistance breeding to help improve these breeding programs. She recognizes that this is very important for the future growth and competitiveness of Ethiopian common bean Improvement program.
While participating in the Borlaug LEAP fellowship, Tigist will be working with Dr. Karen Cichy, Assistant Professor of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University (MSU) and Dr. Bodo Raatz, leader of the Andean Bean Breeding Program at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia. With the help of Borlaug LEAP funding she will spend three months at MSU conducting laboratory research under the mentorship of Dr. Cichy. She will also have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from Dr. Raatz at CIAT. She will be introduced to molecular and biotechnological research techniques at the MSU and CIAT facilities and acquire new skills and experiences that could go a long way toward helping to ensure food security and sustainable agricultural development in East Africa, particularly in Ethiopia. In addition, her work will also lay the necessary groundwork for continued collaboration and strong partnerships with both MSU and CIAT, an opportunity she may not have otherwise had without the help and support of the fellowship. Tigist plans to complete her PhD in 2017.