A Q&A WITH SHARON TUSIIME, 2018 AIARD FUTURE LEADER FELLOW
By Sharon. M. Tusiime
AIARD Future Leader Fellow, 2018
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University, USA
How did you find out about the FLF program last year and why did you apply?
I discovered the Future Leaders Forum (FLF) from faculty at Iowa State University. I am very passionate about international agriculture and rural development, having spent 8 years working as a field technician and graduate student in rural agricultural development. As a Ph.D. candidate nearing graduation, I also wanted to build my professional network and learn about opportunities to continue working in agricultural development.
What did you expect and how did the program meet your expectations?
FLF exceeded my expectations. The breadth and depth of our conversations during sessions with professionals in international agriculture and rural development was nothing that I had experienced before. Members and partners of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD) have made incredible progress in advancing global agricultural development and hunger alleviation. Everyone was willing to share lessons learned from their projects and programs.
How did the 2018 Future Leader’s Fellow experience in AIARD shape you and have a positive impact on you as a student?
I am thankful for the opportunity to have been part of this wonderful program. I had never been in a room with so many people who are so passionate about rural development and want to make a difference. In classes and while working on projects, I find myself drawing from this experience constantly. I now think about global challenges with a more systems thinking approach.
What were the key activities that you enjoyed the most and how did the program benefit you?
I enjoyed networking with professionals within the field of international agriculture and rural development and obtained various contacts as a result of those interactions. Working with a group of talented graduate students (fellow future leaders), listening to their research, and conducting team-based activities augmented my learning and understanding of various global challenges and the research being conducted to address the challenges.
As a doctoral candidate, what do you research in your PhD program? Why should readers pay attention to the research you do? How does your research impact agricultural research and farmers? How will your research inform policy in Uganda?
Over 80% of Uganda’s economy depends on agriculture as a livelihood and tomatoes are the most widely grown and consumed vegetable. Vegetables such as tomatoes are a valuable source of income and an important contributor to ensuring nutritional food security for small-landholder farmers. Tomatoes are cultivated by small-landholder farmers who usually own 2 ha or less of land and, unfortunately, often produce yields that are lower than the land is capable of producing. Low yields typically are attributed to pests, insects and diseases, poor quality agricultural inputs, lack of improved cultivars, inadequate information on sustainable horticultural practices and limited access to good quality seeds. An evaluation of factors influencing agriculture productivity identified improvement in seed as the most important component to increasing productivity.
Using tomato as a model, my research is aimed at improving farmer livelihoods by providing better access to good quality seed. My research focuses on a holistic multifactorial evaluation of the seed value chain (farmers, seed companies, agricultural research organizations, agricultural universities and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture) with the objective of identifying weak links and developing effective solutions that lead to overall improvement in farmer access to quality seed.
As a horticulturalist and seed scientist, my passion is to assist small-landholder vegetable farmers to use their limited financial resources in the most profitable way. To improve farmer livelihoods, seed systems need to provide farmers with planting material (i) in sufficient quantities (ii) at the right time (iii) of an appropriate physiological state, vigor and health, (iv) of superior genotypes appropriate to the farmer’s purposes, and (v) at an affordable price. As such, my dissertation is focused on several specific ways to achieve some of the above factors.
The collective outcome of this multifactorial approach to understanding the seed value chain will result in scientifically based public policy recommendations for tomato seed production, processing and distribution that will be shared with stakeholders including the Ugandan Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Makerere University and small-landholder farmers.
My research will provide the first studies for Uganda’s vegetable seed value chain specifically in tomatoes. Having an efficient seed system will enable small-landholder farmers (end-users of the seed value chain) to access good quality seed and improve their livelihoods. This research will greatly inform the current draft of the national seed policy and improve vegetable seed systems in Uganda.
Why is it important for U.S. universities to be engaged globally?
The world is a global village and there is a need for U.S. universities to embrace and create programs and curricula that foster international collaborations. It is vital to incorporate global understanding within higher education. These programs train and prepare college students as system thinkers who are able to deal with global complex issues in development. Students are also better prepared to get immersed in cultures different from their own, while building relationships and developing critical thinking skills.
What would you like individuals interested in applying to become an AIARD Future Leader Fellow to know? Do you have any messages for program sponsors and donors?
I would urge new Future Leader Fellows to take this opportunity very seriously and apply for the program if they are interested in building a career in international agriculture and rural development. It is a rewarding experience and students get to share ideas, listen to real-world global challenges and critically think about potential solutions with the help of development professionals.
To the sponsors/donors, thank you so much for this amazing experience. The program would not have been possible without your generous support. Please continue to support the program because you are training young professionals in agriculture and rural development.
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.