Eric Agoyi, a Spring 2015 Fellow, hails from the West African country of Benin. His PhD research centered on the promiscuous nodulation of the soybean, an important crop in Benin, West Africa, and worldwide. Soybeans are used for both human and animal consumption and their continued cultivation is vital to food security in the area. He was particularly interested in the nitrogen fixation properties of soybean once it produces nodules with the help of the Bradyrhizobium japonicum. This nitrogen fixation is important to the nutrient-poor soils of Benin, however, Bradyrhizobium japonicum is not endemic to that country and, as a result, native soybean varieties tend to have poor nodulation rates. Eric, therefore, was looking to identify soybean cultivars that are better able to form these nodules “promiscuously,” or more readily. His goal is that his research will help provide better soybean varieties to those people in Benin and West Africa who fall under the Feed the Future initiative and who could benefit the most from improved food security.
Eric began his academic career at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, where he received both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees and did his research on some of the many properties and usages of the Moringa tree. He feels that his drive and passion for seeing the agricultural practices in Benin shift from a more “agribusiness” approach to one focused on food production will help him contribute to the country’s improved food security. He sees his ability to be proactive, innovative and collaborative as examples of his leadership skills and he hopes to use them to help mentor the next generation of scientists and introduce them to new ideas. Although he chose to leave his country to pursue his PhD in Uganda, he feels his experiences there, and as a Borlaug LEAP Fellow, will help further his knowledge in his chosen field. He plans to share that knowledge with others back home in Benin and to policy makers across the West African region.
During his fellowship, Eric was mentored by Dr. Brian Diers of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who is the Associate Head of their Crop Sciences Department and a Professor of Soybean Breeding. He also worked with Dr. Hesham Agrama at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Zambia. Dr. Agrama is a Soybean Breeder and is currently working in collaboration with the USAID-funded Soybean Innovation lab. Through their mentorship, Eric gained expertise in the area of soybean breeding, conducting and supervising research, and learning about the broader implications that this field might present in the future. He completed his PhD in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology in Summer 2016 and is back at the University of Abomey-Calavi as a Researcher and Assistant Lecturer.
In March 2018, Eric was awarded a two year postdoctural fellowship by RUFORUM and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. He will use the fellowship opportunity to grow professionally through setting up a breeding program while supervising/mentoring three PhD students and two Master students. Eric’s fellowship proposal titled “Towards development of market-led kersting’s groundnut [Macrotyloma geocarpum (Harms) Maréchal & Baudet] varieties in Benin” will focus on kersting’s groundnut (Macrotyloma geocarpum), an orphan and underutilized crop species of high nutritional value and economic importance in Benin and West Africa.