Tagged: LINK

Rwanda Collaboration Colloquium: Network Convenes in Rwanda to Solve Potato Taste Challenge

“Your presence here is a vote of confidence in Rwandan coffee,” George Kayonga, head of Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), told Coffee Research Symposium attendees on March 17. A vote of confidence, in this case, as over 150 representatives from academia, private sector, government, and international organizations assembled in Kigali to discuss a challenge threatening to reduce confidence in Rwanda’s high quality coffee. The potato taste defect—thought to be caused by an insect pest called the “antestia bug”—causes otherwise exceptional East African specialty coffee to exhibit a potato-like taste, which impacts the industry’s revenue potential. Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, NAEB, University of Rwanda (UR), and others organized the Symposium to gather a global network of experts to share knowledge on the state of science on this taste defect. Beyond discussing new research, the gathering sought to identify practical solutions to the challenge.


Rogers Family Coffee’s Mario Serracin speaks with Rwanda Agriculture Board’s Dick Walyaro. Photo: GKI

The cost of potato taste to Rwanda’s economy remains in debate, but available numbers present a perilous picture. Matt Smith, head of exporter Rwanda Trading Company, estimates that losses solely due to potato taste—and solely in medium grade coffee—reach at least US$3.9 million annually. Combined with specialty coffee losses, experts estimate this number to be multiple times higher. Rwanda’s government has taken bold steps to combat antestia and mitigate potato taste. At the Symposium, researchers from the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and UR reported on efforts to map the distribution of the antestia bug and potato taste. NAEB—which oversees farmer outreach—described its focus on improving farm-level pest control.

Buttressing these efforts is a global team supporting research on the cause of, and treatments for, potato taste. Since 2012, US non-profit the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) has built a potato taste research network through its LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program. Starting with UR, GKI built a network of partners including Seattle University; Rogers Family Company; CIRAD; University of California, Riverside; and many others aimed at studying and solving this challenge. Representatives from these institutions presented research on antestia bugs, chemical and biological profiles of the potato taste itself, and variables predicting potato taste.

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Ugandan Biotechnology Challenge Wins LINK IV Competition

LINK IV Uganda focuses on providing plant material to farmers. Photo: GKI

LINK IV Uganda focuses on providing plant material to farmers. Photo: GKI

After an intensive review by an international Technical Committee of experts, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) proudly announces the winner of the fourth round of our partnership-forging LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program: Dr. Geofrey Arinaitwe, of BioCrops Uganda Limited.  We would like to congratulate Dr. Arinaitwe, a seasoned entrepreneur and biotechnology expert, who—with his team—won the LINK program’s collaborative innovation training, strategic design, and network-building benefits.  GKI has implemented previous LINK programs in Rwanda and Kenya, and through a joint program with winners from both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dr. Arinaitwe acts as Managing Director of BioCrops Uganda Limited, a Kampala firm that produces certified planting materials.  His challenge focuses on improving food production and security in Uganda by broadening farmer access to quality banana and sweet potato planting materials.  The goal of LINK Round IV: help Dr. Arinaitwe and his team broaden access to quality planting materials for farmers by developing a purpose-driven international network of partners committed to solving this challenge.  Continue reading

LINK team carries out rainwater harvesting field research in Eastern Kenya


Woman carries water to sand dam construction site in Kitui County. Photo: GKI

Farmers in Kenya’s drylands use numerous techniques and technologies to capture the scant water that falls during rainy seasons.  Rainwater harvesting (RWH) technologies, which range from simple to complex — and inexpensive to very expensive — also vary in effectiveness and optimal use.  In order to make smart decisions about financing and implementing RWH structures, it is important to know not just their technical specifications and expected water capacity, but also their return on investment (ROI) on the ground.  At present, this data is largely unavailable.

LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) winner Dr. Kennedy Mwetu of Kenyatta University (KU) had a number of questions that he knew needed to be answered in order for farmers, financiers, and implementing organizations to make better decisions on RWH: How quickly can a farmer reach ROI in a “farm pond,”?  How does ROI differ for a large, community-owned “sand dam”? What combination of crops and other inputs make for optimal ROI?  Mwetu, a team of researchers and graduate students from KU, and partners from World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi set out in late October 2013 to identify empirical data suggesting answers to these and other questions. Their ultimate goal was to identify viable business models for RWH, and free up financing for the most effective, scalable technologies. Continue reading

Announcing LINK Round IV: Solving Challenges in Africa Through Collaboration

The first round of LINK focuses on Rwandan coffee

The first round of LINK focuses on Rwandan coffee. Photo: GKI

The Global Knowledge Initiative is proud to announce the commencement of a fourth round of our flagship partnership-forging, LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program.  GKI designed LINK to harness the power of international collaboration to solve development challenges.  Specifically, LINK seeks to solve challenges that beckon for scientific and technical research, scientific and technical education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  The LINK process involves four core functions: activating communities of practice, locating resources, enabling sustainable partnerships by learning shared tools and processes for collaborative innovation, and connecting people and resources together into durable purpose-driven networks to solve challenges.

The fourth round of LINK targets researchers from East and Southern Africa working on challenges in the fields of agriculture, food security, water and land management, and/or climate change.  Applicants must submit their completed Request for Engagement by January 17, 2013.  GKI will announce the winning proposal in Spring 2014, after which the LINK network-formation process will begin.

Distinct from typical research grant programs, LINK eschews traditional methods of delivering development assistance in favor of fostering collaborative networks of stakeholders in the academic, public, and private sectors.  The program is not a direct funding mechanism.  Rather, LINK provides participants with the tools to solve their challenges: practical trainings in collaboration, communication, and networking; an in-depth analysis of the participant’s challenge context; a small amount of seed funding to initiate partnership formation; assistance in developing a working network; and a design process that helps define specific challenges and determine the best ways to tackle them.   Continue reading

Improving the lives of rural Kenyan women through improved water access


Farmers in rural Kenya. Photo credit: GKI

After years of off-and-on droughts and with the specter of continued climate change looming, Kenya faces an enormous challenge in providing access to water to its citizens.  Many rural and poor urban communities do not have access to clean, safe water.  One reason for this: large parts of the country are arid or semi-arid, and only 9.7% of the land is considered arable. Only 54% of rural Kenyans—many of whom live in the drylands—have access to an improved water source, while 84% of urban Kenyans enjoy access to an improved water source. Although water scarcity affects Kenyans across gender and socioeconomic divisions, water scarcity uniquely harms women and girls.  

Women and girls bear the burden of looking for water sources for their families, walking long distances to often find only unclean and unsafe water.  In the drylands, especially during droughts, the time that women and girls spend gathering water crowds out time available for education, starting businesses, and other activities that can improve their and their families’ lives.  For girls who are fortunate enough to attend school regularly, a lack of clean water and efficient latrines in schools make it difficult for girls to use the facilities, especially during their menstrual period.  Such unsanitary conditions cause these girls to miss school and may increase the probability of their leaving school early.

Women and girls also put their health at risk when fetching water that is contaminated with parasites.  To make matters worse, their families contract water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid and diarrhea from consuming this water.  In families already suffering from poverty, a serious illness can mean that children (particularly girls) must drop out of school to take care of sick family members or work to support their families.   Continue reading

Featured Collaborator: Dr. Thomas Miller, University of California, Riverside Entomologist

Meet Thomas Miller, GKI featured collaborator.


Thomas Miller inspects coffee cherries for insect damage

Dr. Thomas Miller is a professor at the University of California, Riverside’s Department of Entomology.  Aside from being an eminent leader of the international entomological community, Miller is an important member of the team working on LINK: Rwanda’s “antestia-potato taste” specialty coffee challenge.  In partnership with Dr. Susan Jackels at Seattle University who focuses on the chemistry of “potato taste,” a team at Rogers Family Company in California and in Rwanda that sources affected coffee beans and provides support across the network, and Dr. Daniel Rukzambuga at the National University of Rwanda who works to develop national capacity to protect against coffee pests, Dr. Miller focuses on the biology of the microorganisms on the surface of green coffee beans.  Dr. Miller also hosts a website dedicated to the coffee challenge.  GKI’s Colin Huerter spoke with Dr. Miller in June 2013.

Rwanda is a long ways off  – how did you get involved with the project?

I met Nina Fedoroff, co-chair of GKI’s Advisory Board, when I became an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellow in 2011.  She had seen some of my research and recommended that I join the team.  Even though I had not worked on coffee before, the project immediately grabbed my attention – it seems that no matter who you explain it to, everyone is fascinated.  The international aspect drew me in, but at the same time there is a local connection because it also involves California buyers and roasters [such as Rogers Family Company].

The most compelling part is the obvious need for a solution.  Although coffee is a crucial export in Africa’s Great Lakes region, researchers have not yet been able to propose a practical application to reduce the potato taste defect.  With Rwanda losing a substantial proportion of its crop each year to the defect, eliminating it would have a significant impact.  Solving potato taste defect is a difficult task, but that’s why I like it – if it were easy, someone would have figured it out already.   Continue reading

Report we’ve been excited to read: USAID’s 1st Water and Development Strategy


GKI Team members and farmers from Inuka Association examine a shallow well in Kitui County, Kenya

This week, the US Agency for International Development released its first ever Water and Development Strategy (2013-2018). We at the Global Knowledge Initiative were thrilled by this important step, both because of the importance of USAID’s leadership in international development and policy, and also because of the stake we have in sustainable access to and quality of water.

In Kenya, we are working with a team based at Kenyatta University – and with partners Kickstart, Kenya Rainwater Association, Kenyan university partners, and others – through our LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) project to identify viable business models for rainwater harvesting. In Malaysia, we are beginning a project with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) to gather water challenges from Malaysian communities and bring together students, university researchers, and community members to develop solutions.

We salute USAID’s decision to release this important strategy, and we hope that together those of us working on this crucial issue will be able to improve access to – and quality of – water for all.