Wheat breeder ‘motivated’ by prestigious award
Dr Batiseba Tembo says the recent acknowledgment of her work by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) has given her a huge boost of confidence.
Tembo, who is from Zambia, won a 2021 Women in Triticum award, given by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) to honour wheat scientists working to protect food security around the world.
She is a wheat breeder in the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), based at Mt. Makulu Central Research Station in Chilanga, and she graduated from the ACCI in 2016.
Tembo is originally from Katete district in eastern of Zambia and developed an interest in agriculture while growing up.
“Both my parents are from Katete district. “My dad was a teacher by profession and mum was a house wife,” says Tembo.
“Our family had a small plot where we grew crops, mainly for home consumption. As a young person I used to enjoy planting crops and watching them grow and produce food what we consumed. Sometimes we would have good yields and sometimes not, due to diseases and drought. I am the only member of a family of nine who took up agriculture and plant breeding.”
Tembo says she studied breeding because she wanted to help to improve crop production and productivity among small-scale farmers, by developing varieties that are high yielding and resistant to disease.
“My interest is to help in reducing hunger and increasing food security for the rural community who depend on farming for their livelihoods. I believe that breeding for resistance is the most cost effective and sustainable way to increase yields for many.”
Tembo currently works as a plant breeder in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI). She is based at Mt Makulu Central Research Station in Chilanga.
One research highlight has been discovering wheat blast — for the first time in Africa — during the 2017/2018 rainy season. At present she is evaluating wheat germplasm to find sources of resistance to this dissease that can be used in the breeding programme, with the aim being to stop the disease from spreading in Zambia and beyond.
“This (Woman in Triticum) award means a lot to me,” says Tembo. “It is a prestigious award that any woman scientist with a passion for wheat research would love to win. It has really motivated me and given me more confidence to develop high-yielding disease-resistant varieties that will be used by farmers in Zambia and beyond.”
Words: Shelagh McLoughlin