Meet the scientists

Dr Joseph Ndunguru

Molecular Plant Virologist, Head of Institute
Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI-Mikocheni), Tanzania
Contact details:
Project: Cassava Diagnostics Project

Dr Joseph Ndunguru is Head of the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI-Mikocheni) in Mikocheni and principal investigator on several research initiatives, including the project Disease Diagnostics for Sustainable Cassava Productivity in Africa (which is co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK DFID).

In September 2012, Dr Ndunguru received a presidential medal for Scientific Discoveries and Research Excellence. In 2011 he received the award for Best National Agricultural Research Scientist. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology and is also the National Biotechnology Research Coordinator for Tanzania.

Research interests: His research interests focus on understanding plant viruses at the molecular level, their genome organisation, gene expression and on developing resistance to plant viruses of economic importance in Africa. Currently his main focuses are cassava mosaic geminiviruses, cassava brown streak virus and sweet potato viruses.

Professor John Colvin

Professor of Entomology and Plant-Virus Epidemiology
Organisation: University of Greenwich, London, UK
Contact details:
Project: African Cassava Whitefly Project (ACWP) (

Professor John Colvin is one of the lead scientists on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded African Cassava Whitefly Project (ACWP), which is searching for answers to the sharply increased cassava whitefly populations in the cassava-growing regions of East and Central Africa.

Professor Colvin is recognised internationally as a leading researcher in a wide range of subjects and has authored and co-authored more than 145 scientific publications, book chapters, knowledge-transfer and media articles. John believes strongly in the need to train and mentor the next generation of scientists and this is one of the core components of ACWP.

Research interests: After a first degree in Zoology at Oxford, Professor Colvin pursued his interests in applied entomology by completing an MSc with Distinction in Pest and Disease Management, at London University, Imperial College at Silwood Park. He then spent three years studying for a PhD on cotton-bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) moth migration at the University College of North Wales, Bangor.

After a short post-doctoral fellowship at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, working on mosquito and tsetse fly behaviour, he joined the Overseas Development Natural Resources Institute as an entomologist. Since then, he has worked on many different economically important insect pests and plant viruses and has travelled to over 30 countries to carry out research and fieldwork.

Dr Nessie Luambano

Nematologist and Principal Investigator
Organisation: Kibaha Sugarcane Research Institute (KSRI), Tanzania
Contact details:
Project: Banana Nematode Baselines Project

Dr Nessie Luambano leads the Banana Nematode Baselines Project (BNBP), which looks at the occurrence, abundance and distribution of Plant Parasitic Nematodes microscopic wormlike pests affecting banana plantations in Tanzania.

Dr Luambano is a trained Nematologist, having completed an MSc from the University of Reading in the UK and a PhD from the University of Nairobi. In 2013, she was awarded the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development Fellowship by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and Agropolis Fondation.

Research interests: Dr Luambano has more than 10 years’ experience in the field of nematology, including the study of roundworms. She is interested in understanding nematodes, in order to design a strategy for managing banana nematodes in Tanzania. She is well versed in conducting rigorous fieldwork-focused projects and working with farmers to achieve their shared objectives.

Dr Richard Echodu

Principal Investigator and Senior Lecturer
Organisation: Gulu University, Uganda
Contact details:
Project: Sweet Potato Virus Detection Tool Project

Dr Richard Echodu leads the Sweet Potato Virus Detection Tool Project (SPVDT). The project is mapping the epidemiology of sweet potato viruses in East Africa. The work also develops low-cost paper-based diagnostic tools for disease management and produce virus-free planting materials. Through his research, Dr Echodu hopes to increase crop yield and improve food security of smallholder farmers. ​

Dr Echodu is a Senior Lecturer and Dean of the Faculty of Science at Gulu University in Uganda. Dr Echodu was awarded a PhD scholarship through a US National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored Global Infectious Disease Training Program and spent two years as a Postgraduate Fellow at Yale University conducting his PhD research.

Research interests: Dr Echodu is a molecular biologist and geneticist. His interests lie in molecular diagnostics of diseases, epidemiology, population genetics, genomics and immunology.

Dr Justin Pita

Principal Investigator and Associate Professor 
Organisation: Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny (UFHB), Côte d’Ivoire
Contact details:
Project: West African Virus Epidemiology Project

Dr Justin Pita is the Principal Investigator of the West African Virus Epidemiology for Root and Tuber Crops Project (WAVE). WAVE aims to address viruses that affect cassava, yams and sweet potato in West Africa. Dr Pita is coordinating field surveys across six countries to establish the status of cassava viruses, their vectors and their alternative hosts. His work also alerts policy makers, the private sector and other stakeholders of the economic importance of cassava viruses and provides recommendations of policy options for managing outbreaks.

In addition to spearheading the WAVE project, Dr Pita is an Associate Professor of Biosciences at the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire. He has over 13 years of experience conducting research and development projects at many well-respected US institutions, including the Scripps Research Institute (San Diego, California), the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation (Ardmore, Oklahoma) and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, Missouri, USA).

Research interests: Dr Pita’s research focuses on plant viruses and disease. Prior to his work on WAVE in Côte d’Ivoire, Dr Pita taught Plant Virology as an Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University. He has also conducted research on viral disease evolution at the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Dr Ibrahim Mohammed

Molecular Plant Virologist, Vector Entomologist and Principal Investigator
Organisation: Kebbi State University (KSUSTA), Nigeria
Contact details:
Project: Cassava Viruses in Northern Nigeria Project

Dr Ibrahim Mohammed is the Principal Investigator of the Cassava Viruses in Northern Nigeria Project (CVNNP). The project’s aims are to tackle the spread of cassava diseases by educating stakeholders, strengthening quarantine systems and setting up a virus diagnostic laboratory capable of carrying out surveillance, diagnosis and the characterisation of viruses in northern Nigeria. Dr Mohammed’s work includes training university researchers, postgraduate students, extension workers and quarantine officers to identify the disease accurately based on symptoms and diagnostic molecular techniques. Working in 19 states of Northern Nigeria, his research determines the threat and impact of two diseases: the cassava mosaic disease, and the cassava brown streak disease, which hasn’t yet been found in the West African region.

Dr Mohammed began his research career in Nigeria in 1993 where he worked with the National Agricultural Land Development Authority as an agricultural officer. He was promoted to Assistant Chief Agricultural Officer and then moved to the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich, UK. There he undertook MSc and PhD studies to understand cassava brown streak disease; a disease which has caused devastating losses, famine and food shortages to subsistence farmers in Africa.

Research interests: Dr Mohammed has over 8 years of research experience in plant-virus-insect interactions, especially those transmitted by whitefly and infecting cassava, sweet potato, vegetables and other staple food crops in the tropics.

Dr Peter Wasswa

Principal Investigator
Makerere University
Contact details:
Sweet Potato Virus Reversion Project

Dr Peter Wasswa leads the Sweet Potato Virus Reversion Project. His research aims to produce varieties of sweet potato that are resistant to the diseases that are seriously constraining sweet potato production across the world. Through exploring how to breed new virus-resistant sweet potato varieties, Dr Wasswa hopes to develop cheap and sustainable planting schemes that are appropriate for the subsistence farming systems of East Africa.

Dr Wasswa is leading the project from Makerere University, Uganda, where he also lecturers in Plant Pathology and Plant Biotechnology. Before working on this project, Dr Wasswa worked with the Program for Biosafety Systems as a Senior Program Assistant, which aimed to create a regulatory framework for GM organisms in Uganda.

Research interests: Dr Wasswa has worked as a researcher at Makerere University, Uganda, and the University of Greenwich, UK, where he has focused on Plant Virology, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. He is passionate about exploiting tools and products in agriculture that can help to solve threats to food security and bring about social and economic transformation among resource poor farmers.

Dr Kiddo Mtunda

Principal Investigator
Organisation: Kibaha Sugarcane Research Institute, Tanzania
Contact details:
Project: Community Phytosanitation Project

Dr Kiddo Mtunda runs the Community Phytosanitation Project (CPP). Her work aims to test the effectiveness of managing cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) using clean planting material and new varieties of cassava that are tolerant and resistant to the disease. In addition to distributing more resilient planting materials, the project also raises awareness about the effects of CBSD, and trains local communities on best practices in managing and controlling it.

Dr Mtunda holds a BSc in General Agriculture from the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania, an MSc in Crop Production from Wageningen, Netherlands and a PhD in Plant Breeding from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In addition to leading the CPP programme, Dr Mtunda is also the Head of the Root and Tuber Crops Research Programme in Eastern Tanzania. She is actively involved in developing seed systems of clonally propagated crops in Tanzania in collaboration with the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and other stakeholders in the seed industry.

Research interests: Dr Mtunda has over 18 years of research experience in improving the production of sweet potato and cassava and testing the technologies with farmers.

Dr Aliyu Turaki

Principal Investigator
Organisation: Kebbi State University of Science and Technology (KSUSTA), Nigeria
Contact details:
Project: Yam Badnavirus Project

Dr Turaki is a team member of the Yam Badnavirus Project, which aims to improve the understanding and response to yam badnaviruses in northern Nigeria. ​Yam production is seriously affected by a variety of viruses, including members of the genus Badnavirus, causing yield losses as high as 50% in yam crops.

Research interests: Dr Turaki conducted his BSc and MSc at Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto, Nigeria, before undertaking a PhD in Molecular Plant Virology at the University of Greenwich. His research focus is in yam virus diagnosis, advanced molecular techniques such as DGGE, RCA, in-situ hybridisation, cloning technique, primer design, restriction enzyme analysis, Southern blotting and sequence analysis.

Professor Sue Seal

Molecular Plant Pathologist and Principal Investigator
Organisation: Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, UK
Contact details:
Project: Cassava Research Tools Project

Professor Sue Seal leads the Cassava Research Tools Project, which focuses on applied as well as strategic research for controlling pests and diseases of tropical food crops, especially those caused by viruses and insect vectors on cassava, sweet potato, yams and vegetables.

Research interests: Professor Seal obtained a BSc from Imperial College in Microbiology and a PhD from the University of Bath in identifying pathogenicity genes in the plant pathogen Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria. Professor Seal joined the Natural Resources Institute in 1992 to develop new molecular diagnostic projects, with a strong focus on cassava begomoviruses, whiteflies and yam viruses. Professor Seal has led nearly 50 research projects at NRI, with a combined total value of £5 million.

Dr Ernest Mwebaze

Principal Investigator
Organisation: Makerere University, Uganda
Contact details:
Project: mCROPS

Dr Ernest Mwebaze leads the mCROPS project which is working to develop new tools to improve the diagnosis of viral cassava diseases in Uganda.

Dr Mwebaze is a Lecturer and Researcher at the School of Computing and Informatics Technology in the College of Computing and Information Sciences, Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. He has a BSc in electrical engineering from Makerere University, an MSc in computer science from Makerere University and a PhD in computer science from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Research interests: Dr Mwebaze is part of the Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (AIR) research group. This is a group that leverages computational techniques in artificial intelligence to address local problems in developing countries. His research in applying artificial intelligence to agriculture and health has won him several grants and numerous publications.

Dr Antoine Affokpon

Nematologist and Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin
Contact details:
Project: Yam Nematodes Benin

Dr Antoine Affokpon leads the Yam Nematodes Benin (YANEB) Project. This project is working to strengthen yam production by identifying and using local and improved nematode-resistant varieties of yam.

Dr Affokpon has an MSc in Nematology from Ghent University, Belgium (UGent, 2005) and a PhD from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium (KULeuven, 2011) on root-knot nematode management in peri-urban vegetable systems using biological control agents. He is currently based at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic, where he is responsible for leading courses in nematology.

Research Interests: Dr Affokpon is a nematologist and assistant professor of nematology and crop health improvement, working to address the threat of nematodes across sub-Saharan Africa. He is currently developing a South to South collaboration with a range of African nematologists.

Dr Damian Njoku

Cassava Breeder and Principal Investigator
Organisation: National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Nigeria
Contact details:
Project: Cassava Post-harvest Physiological Deterioration Project

Damian Njoku is a Chief Research Officer (CRO), cassava breeder and head of the Plant Genetic Resources Unit at National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), in Umudike, Nigeria. He leads the Cassava Post-harvest Physiological Deterioration Project (CPPD) which is examining carotenoid levels and post-harvest physiological deterioration tolerance in cassava roots in Nigeria.

Dr Njoku is one of Africa’s leading cassava breeders, leading efforts to develop and release to Nigerian cassava farmers 27 improved varieties of cassava including pro-vitamin A cassava. He obtained his doctoral degree in plant breeding at the University of Ghana in 2012 and has published a number of papers in peer review journals.

Research interests: Dr Njoku’s research activities involve the use of cross-cutting breeding and biotechnology tools in the genetic improvement of cassava. He has served as project advisor for 5 postgraduate students in the area of plant breeding, genetics and physiology.

Dr Alfred Dixon

Project Manager
Organisation: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria
Contact details:
Project: Cassava Weed Management Project

Dr Alfred Dixon leads the Cassava Weed Management Project (CWMP) which is researching innovative weed management options across Nigeria.

Dr Dixon is currently the Director of the Development and Delivery Office at IITA. He holds a BSc in Agriculture from the University of Sierra Leone and an MSc in Genetics and a PhD in Agronomy from Kansas State University.

Research interests: Dr Dixon’s research interests currently lie in weed management techniques for cassava.

Dr Deusdedith Mbanzibwa

Plant Virologist, Principal Investigator
Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI-Mikocheni)
Contact details:
Project: Common Bean Virus Diseases Project

Dr Deusdedith Mbanzibwa leads the Common Bean Virus Diseases Project which is working to characterise viruses affecting common bean production in Tanzania.

Dr Mbanzibwa is the Head of the Disease Control Unit at the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute in Mikocheni. He has a PhD in Crop Production Biology with Molecular Plant Virology from the University of Helsinki and Makerere University.

Research interests: Dr Mbanzibwa is currently researching viruses that infect cassava, common beans, cucurbits and sweet potato. He is also working to monitor incidence rates of cassava viruses as part of the Community Phytosanitation Project (CPP).

Professor Bruce Grieve

Principal Investigator
University of Manchester, UK
Contact details:
Project: Sentinel Sensor Systems project

Professor Bruce Grieve leads the Sentinel Sensor Systems (SSS) project which is developing a stereo-printed sensor surface capable of detecting viable air-borne, fungal or viral pathogens.

Professor Grieve is a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering & Technology, Institute of Agricultural Engineers and Higher Education Academy at the University of Manchester. Since 2007 he has attracted over £5.3M of direct industrial, governmental and NGO funding which has been leveraged against a portfolio of £20.4M in collaborative multidisciplinary research projects.

Research interests: Professor Grieve has over 18 years of industrial experience in the fields of online analysis and measurement research and development, including deployment of sensors and informatics systems within new integrated products for sustainable agriculture and food.

Dr Saba Mohammed

Principal Investigator and Cowpea Breeder
Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria
Contact details:
Project: Breeding Cowpea for Phosphorous Efficiency Project

Dr Saba Mohammed leads the Breeding Cowpea for Phosphorous Efficiency Project (BCPEP), developing cowpea varieties resistant to low-phosphorous soils.

Dr Mohammed holds a PhD in Plant Breeding from the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement at the University of Ghana. He is currently based at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria where he works as an Assistant Research Fellow.

Research interests: Dr Mohammed’s research is aimed at developing molecular markers for the genetic improvement of cowpeas for higher resistance to low-phosphorous soils. His research is based around crop breeding, especially introducing new varieties of cowpea with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Dr Pamela Paparu

Principal Investigator and Plant Pathologist
National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Uganda
Contact details:
Project: Common Bean Root Rot Resistance project

Pamela Paparu leads the Common Bean Root Rot Resistance (CBRRR) project. Dr Paparu is a plant pathologist, currently working with the National Agricultural Research Organization’s National Crops Resources Research Institute.

She holds an MSc from Makerere University in Uganda and a PhD from the University of Pretoria in South Africa where she undertook research on the potential of using Fusarium oxysporum endophytes to control the banana weevil and nematodes.

Research interests: Dr Paparu has expertise in on-farm experimentation, pathogen diagnosis, race/pathotype characterisation, identification of disease resistance traits, developing disease control strategies, and conducting regular disease surveys.

Dr Bolanle Otegbayo

Food Chemist and Principal Investigator
Bowen University, Nigeria
Contact details:
Project: Food Quality Indicators in Yam Foods

Dr Bolanle Otegbayo is the Principal Investigator on the Food Quality Indicators in Yam Foods project. She holds MSc and PhD degrees in Food Technology from the University of Ibadan and currently works as a Reader in the Department of Food Science & Technology at Bowen University, Nigeria.

She is a recipient of the distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and conducted her postdoctoral training at CIRAD, Montepellier and INRA, Nantes where she worked on the physicochemical, functional and molecular characterisation of yam starch for potential industrial use.

Research interests: As a Food Chemist, Dr Otegbayo’s research is focused on the identification of determinants of food quality in order to enhance utilisation both industrially and at home-level.