Postgraduate funding: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

My name is Felister Makau. I am a postgraduate student at Egerton University, which is in the Njoro area in Kenya’s Nakuru County. I am working on a masters degree in horticulture.

I have submitted my thesis for examination and am waiting on thesis defence. If all goes well, I will graduate this December.

I enrolled for this course in 2019 after receiving a BSc degree in horticulture from Chuka University in Central Kenya in 2017. Before returning to university to pursue my dream of postgraduate qualifications, I worked on a farm for a year. My parents have been paying for my schooling and, while I often get partial sponsorship for research work, this has not been easy.

As postgraduate students, we face many challenges: a lack of fees and research funds, and the tedious process of proposal and thesis submission to graduate school. The other major problem is the delay in academic transcript processing leading to delays in research proposal approvals by various bodies, including the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, and ethical committees, as well as the proposal submission process itself. Universities can help by expediting processing the transcripts.

My thesis title is ‘Effect of Nutrient and Soilless Media on Growth and Survival of Potato (Solanum tuberosum L) Apical Rooted Cuttings’. I have achieved this through Enhancing Access to High-Quality Seed Potato for Improved Productivity and Income of Smallholder Farmers in Nakuru County, a community action research project (CARP+), supported by Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and led by Professor Anthony Kibe. My academic supervisors are Professor Mariam Mwangi and Dr Maurice Oyoo.

The article ‘Effects of Sucrose and Gibberellic Acid (GA3) on growth and survival of local potato varieties in vitro’, of which I was the first author, appeared in the European Journal of Biology and Biotechnology in 2022. I am very proud of this achievement. While doing the research, I was attached to the Agricultural Development Corporation, or ADC, in Molo Nakuru, where I learned about rapid multiplication of seed potato techniques such as tissue culture (micropropagation) to produce plants for hydroponics, aeroponics systems, and apical rooted cuttings.

As an MSc student in the CARP+ project, I have gained experience in rapid potato seed multiplication using apical rooted cuttings, which is like nursery-grown seedlings except that it is produced through vegetative means and does not originate from a seed. Basically, cuttings are produced from tissue culture plants in a screen house and are clean and free of disease.

Only farmers with irrigation can plant rooted cuttings as water is essential until the cuttings are established. It has several advantages that include integrating cuttings into seed systems and reducing the time in which high-quality seed potato is available to farmers while increasing the efficiency of seed production compared to conventional practices. The productivity of cuttings surpasses that of mini tubers – tiny-sized tubers produced by sand and the use of hydroponics and aeroponics technologies.

The high productivity is a result of producing several rounds of mother plants from the initial tissue culture plantlet prior to producing cuttings. A high tuber number per cutting further contributes to and compounds productivity. The first stage in the production of the apical rooted cuttings is in vitro hardening, followed by establishing mother plants.

I have been training farmers on seed potato production using these technologies, and modern seed storage and post-harvest handling techniques. Throughout this MSc journey, I have not just learned about the technical side of producing seed potatoes, but I also learned how to organise daily project activities such as budgeting and financial and technical reporting.

If things go according to plan, my wish is to enrol in a PhD programme if I manage to secure the funding for it. This is expensive and I do not think it would be fair to expect my parents to pay for it so I will be looking for a job if I cannot get a scholarship.