Hailing from Tanzania, Victoria Bulegeya joined the Borlaug LEAP fellowship in Fall 2015 to enhance her work towards a Master’s in Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University. She studied the effects of potyvirus resistance to Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN), which can cause stunted growth, sterility, and malformed or rotten cobs in the maize plant. MLN is widespread in East Africa and has caused significant crop loss, which can lead to malnutrition and income reduction, both significant hallmarks of food insecurity. Victoria worked with maize populations bred to resist these viruses and she evaluated the strength of their resistance along with their agronomic viability. Her aim is to help identify new varieties of the maize crop with MLN resistance to be used by farmers in East Africa, including those countries where USAID's Feed the Future initiative is working to help improve food security.
Tanzania is a country that employs nearly 75% of its population in the agricultural sector to produce more than 50% of the GDP, making agriculture the economic backbone of the country. As a part of her work with the Ministry of Agriculture, Victoria has already began to find ways to introduce innovative technologies to farmers, who make up the bulk of her clients. She hopes to continue and to build on that work by contributing to breeding programs in Tanzania and using the leadership skills she learns to help others. Her research is a major milestone towards serving maize farmers in Tanzania who are currently devastated by the MLN disease.
Victoria continued her research work with Dr. Margaret Redinbaugh, an adjunct professor at Ohio State University in the department of Plant Pathology. Dr. Redinbaugh’s work focuses on viral diseases in maize as well as several insect vectors for some of those diseases. Dr. Redinbaugh worked with Victoria to focus her research objectives and lend her expertise in the area of plant pathology, and she continued to do so throughout the fellowship. Victoria also worked with her CGIAR mentor, Dr. Biswanath Das, currently at CIMMYT in Kenya. He used his real-world expertise as a maize plant breeder and his efforts to identify virus-resistant maize plants to help her to hone her skills in that line of research. Victoria competed her program and received master's degree in August 2016.