Elias Balimponya is studying how to breed disease-resistant rice in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Sciences at Ohio State University. He believes rice is the second most important crop in Tanzania, based on the rate at which white rice is consumed and produced, and based on its nutritional value. There are currently several constraints facing rice production in Tanzania—particularly pests, diseases, and the growth of rice varieties that are not adapted to the Tanzanian environment, so Mr. Balimponya feels that working on breeding rice that is resistant to diseases like blast and bacterial blight could have significant positive impacts on communities in Tanzania. He feels that if improvements can be made to the resilience and nutrition of rice, it would improve not only the economic value of local rice, but also the general health of the Tanzanian public. Before pursuing his degree, Mr. Balimponya worked as a Production Supervisor at Amboni Plantations Ltd.
Mr. Balimponya was accepted as a Borlaug LEAP Fellow in the Fall of 2014 for his research on genomic selection and association mapping to breeding for resistance to rice blast and bacterial blight of rice. His US Mentor is Dr. Clay Sneller of The Ohio State University, an experienced geneticist who has worked on wheat breeding, plant stress molecular biology, and genomics since 1991, and is well versed in genomic association methods and the plant breeding process. Mr. Balimponya will also spend a month working with Dr. Bo Zhou, a plant pathologist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Dr. Zhou will be assisting Mr. Balimponya with additional training in different software and technologies used in the genomic selection and association analysis process.