Dr Jane Ininda – Fem Scientist Helping Farmers Sow The Right Seeds
Farmers in East Africa just like their counterparts across the globe, know all too well just how devastating the effects of climate change has been to their farming thus their livelihood. Dr Jane Ininda puts it, “It has caused the weather to change and we tend to have drier seasons. We, therefore, need to focus on drought-tolerant and early maturing crops. We look at long-term aspects of things, to tailor our research to fit the present. You can’t tell farmers to use the same seeds they were using 40 years ago”.
Dr. Jane Ininda is an agricultural scientist who has been making great Fem Boss strides in agricultural research field with remarkable results to show for it. Ininda was born in a humble background, in Mbeere District, in Kenya. Her parents were farmers whose yield from their farm was far from satisfactory. Ininda says, “I remember as I was growing up that there wasn’t enough food; we used traditional methods and you could never be sure there would be enough food in the year”.
She attended the Kaaga Girls High School, after which she joined the University of Nairobi (UoN) where she undertook a Bachelor Degree in Agriculture. Her decision in taking up agriculture at the university was driven by her desire to help her community in getting better yields from their farming activities. After completing her studies at the UoN, she joined Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) where she was involved in extensive research work.
Ininda went back to the UoN for her Master’s Degree program where she focused on amaranth. After attaining her Masters, she joined the Iowa State University, in the USA where she attained her Ph.D. in Plant Breeding. In her Ph.D. Program, she specialised on maize seed. She says, “I found maize streak virus had ravaged the crop in the then Central, Rift Valley and Eastern provinces. That is why I chose to focus on it”. Other than maize seed, she also specialized on soya bean and wheat breeding.
Her specialization resulted to innovative ways of breeding seeds that are drought resistant and mature early. A lot of the hybrid seeds she introduced are being used by farmers and have been stocked by commercial seed vendors like Dryland Seed Company, Victoria Seed Company, East African Seed Company, Olerai Seed Company, Leldet Seed Company and the Victoria Seed Company in Uganda.
Dr Jane Ininda has established herself as an innovative plant breeder and can boast of 30 years experience in her career in science and agriculture innovation. As of now, she has produced and commercialised 26 different strains of maize on her own, and through collaboration with other scientists, they have released more than 180 hybrid crop varieties.
Ininda currently serves as the Programme Officer at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), and she is also the Founder of Maize Breeders Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (which also deals with millet, sorghum, cassava, beans and rice). She got employed by Agra after having a successful 24 year career at KARI. Through Agra, Aninda transverses Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa.
She gives an example of Rwanda, where she ran an innovative experiment that led to farmers growing bush beans in a manner that maximises on space. The experiment was done in Ruhengeri, on the northern parts of Rwanda; the seeds yielded by this experiment are now used all over Rwanda. Ininda says, “We introduced some bean varieties, which grow upwards, produce more yield and take less space. You just stake it on a stick, and it produces four times more than the regular type. Now it has transformed the food situation. This means that Rwanda has four times the amount of food it had; families there are even more food secure than Kenya.”
Ininda also cites another example in Githunguri, Kenya where she helped a farmer who quit planting millet due to low yields. She says, “We started doing some trials, and if you go there now, it’s different. Before, she was harvesting barely half a basket of millet; now she is harvesting six. Before we went, she believed that she had been cursed.”
As a Programme Officer at Agra, Ininda provides technical expertise and is charged with overseeing authorization of any new seed strains in partnership with other scientists.