Segenet Kelemu on how Africa can conquer the world through its knowledge of the world of insects (24-11-2015)

Segenet Kelemu on how Africa can conquer the world through its knowledge of the world of insects, creating new medicines and herbicides and sustainable food systems.

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00:00:00 Speaker 1: Why did you actually choose plant pathology?
00:00:02 Speaker 2: Yeah, that's a good question.
00:00:06 There are many different areas I could have picked,
00:00:11 but I had a very good professor who taught us how actually plants get sick like humans, like animals,
00:00:26 plants also get a lot of diseases. Bacterial diseases, viral diseases, fungal diseases, a myriad of diseases.
00:00:35 And if they get sick then we have no food, so that was really in a simplified way, that was the reason.
00:00:44 And I found it very interesting also, the science of plant pathology, which is diseases of plants.
00:00:52 Speaker 1: You went to South America. What did you do in South America?
00:00:59 Speaker 2: So, I studied my undergraduate degree in Ethiopia and I got scholarship went to United States.
00:01:12 That's what I really wanted to do and so I studied there and I had I did my masters degree
00:01:20 and my PhD degree in America and I had, also after my PhD, I had a job as a scientist in the USA, in Cornell University.
00:01:34 So after that I was recruited by an international Agricultural Research Center based in Colombia.
00:01:42 So I had never been in Colombia before. They approached me to consider a job there.
00:01:50 So I was employed by the organization as a senior scientist and I moved there in Colombia. Yeah.
00:01:57 Speaker 1: What did you do in Colombia?
00:01:58 Speaker 2: In Colombia so I was a senior scientist in charge of diseases of forage plants.
00:02:06 And it is a very enjoyable setting, enjoyable job.
00:02:14 Because everything we did was to solve a problem for society, particularly for developing countries.
00:02:20 And it is a great phase for me and I get to learn a new language in Spanish.
00:02:28 The people are nice and the country is beautiful, and I met my husband there also.
00:02:35 He was at the same time
00:02:37 when I was recruited from United States the same company recruited him also from the Netherlands from his country,
00:02:46 and we met one day apart, we arrived there one day apart, basically yeah.
00:02:53 So, and then our daughter was also born there, in Colombia, so and both of us agree
00:03:04 and was a scientist was in the organization also, so it was very good.
00:03:09 And we, I feel we made a lot of difference for people.
00:03:16 We were working for, basically the developing world in South America, in Asia,
00:03:22 in Africa just based in Columbia so it was a very good time.
00:03:28 Speaker 1: You also educated a lot of Chinese students.
00:03:31 Speaker 2: Yes.
00:03:32 Speaker 1: So you became a friend of China.
00:03:33 Speaker 2: Yes I did so I think one of the exciting things is that in that organization you are a scientist for any
00:03:48 developing countries that need your skills and technologies.
00:03:51 So you are not particularly working for just one country or the other.
00:03:55 So, many different students, graduate students, came to work with me. So among those was many Chinese.
00:04:04 So the Chinese were partially funded by their government. So they came to do their research in my laboratory.
00:04:13 So they are really hard-working people, and I spend considerable amount of time also training them.
00:04:23 So that was my one of the success stories and I had Columbian students, I had Brazilians, I had many different kinds.
00:04:31 Speaker 1: The Chinese, well, it wasn't unnoticed that you educated a lot of Chinese people.
00:04:40 You got a medal from the Chinese.
00:04:43 Speaker 2: Yeah.
00:04:44 Speaker 1: Why did you decide to go to Africa then?
00:04:47 Speaker 2: Yeah. So, that was a turning point for me.
00:04:53 So all those years, I was in Columbia for 15 years and so agree was a scientist in the organization.
00:05:02 I was promoted also in the organization. So for my career, it was great.
00:05:08 But at the back of my mind, I was also thinking, and really contemplating, also, what is actually my impact for Africa.
00:05:23 Coming from a poor village knowing how people live, struggle to make ends meet.
00:05:30 So I was always questioning also whether that Colombia needs me more than Africa needed me.
00:05:40 But I think the turning point came in September 2006 as the Chinese gave me their highest award,
00:05:52 what they call the Friendship Award, for the role I had played in their agricultural research and developments
00:06:05 Speaker 2: And the impact basically, through the graduate students I trained,
00:06:10 who had become very successful scientists back in China. So, at the ceremony, there was a big ceremony there.
00:06:20 And on the stage, when it was announced that at that time from Ethiopia and I made this contribution to China.
00:06:29 It was another proud moment for me. I was embarrassed.
00:06:35 I was from a poor country and I was getting a gold medal from the premier of China for impact made in China.
00:06:47 and I was cautioning on the [INAUDIBLE] Does actually China need me more than Africa?
00:06:56 So that was the stage actually on the stage right there I decided okay I'm going back to Africa. So yeah.
00:07:03 Speaker 1: You became finally in Africa.
00:07:06 Speaker 2: Yeah.
00:07:06 Speaker 1: And director of this insect institute. Why an insect institute?
00:07:11 Speaker 2: Yeah, so when I came back to Africa I was immediately the head of this institute.
00:07:23 So I was recruited by another international organization based here in Nairobi to establish agricultural power
00:07:33 technology center for Africa, funded by the Canadian government.
00:07:38 So, it was a tough a job, but after the task but it give me opportunity to do something from scratch for Africa.
00:07:47 So I did that for five and a half years to establish the center. It became a very successful center.
00:07:53 I did the lot of money.
00:07:56 And send, I save up the program And so on, so then I was approached by another organization,
00:08:04 if I could take the position of a Vice President for Programs.
00:08:10 So I accepted that, but it was not a research organization, so I wanted to go back into the research organization.
00:08:25 This opportunity came to head ICIPE, the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology.
00:08:34 So I accepted that and so it is a perfect place for me with perfect programs for Africa. So why insects?
00:08:44 So people often ask me, wow, the whole organization for just insects? And why insects? That's what people ask, yeah.
00:08:54 But, yeah, this is a unique organization.
00:08:58 I think, as far as I know, the only organization that deals 100% on insects,
00:09:06 because insects are extremely important in our lives.
00:09:10 They are by far the most diverse and the most abundant animals on earth. They play various roles in our lives.
00:09:22 If you take bees, they play a critical role in pollinating our crops.
00:09:28 So if bees have to disappear tomorrow, our food source would be in big, big trouble.
00:09:39 So they pollinate our crops, like bees.
00:09:44 Insects also play a critical role as food source, food for humans and feed for animals.
00:09:54 So about 2 billion people in Africa, Latin America, Asia, consume insects as a source of protein.
00:10:03 So I believe this is also actually a source that has to be mainstream all across, I think,
00:10:10 the globe as a good source of high quality protein. Also bees give us also a lot of things, food, feed.
00:10:23 I mean, insects and wax and a range of things.
00:10:32 Insects also, they have also ecologically also there are insects that control other harmful insects also.
00:10:41 Insects play role also in degrading waste, plant waste, animal waste, and so on.
00:10:50 So in fact, if we don't have insects, our world will be a lot of, really mess, with a lot of garbage.
00:10:59 A lot of waste that we put which is not being degraded by some microbes and insects.
00:11:08 But unfortunately, also that insects also are harmful to also humans, animals, to crops.
00:11:17 They transmit a lot of disease.
00:11:21 Small things like mosquitoes kill more people every day than global conflicts put together.
00:11:32 So it hurts me to think with all the technologies we have, humans going, mankind going to the moon, going to space,
00:11:42 and so on. We are unable to defeat a tiny mosquito, to kill.
00:11:47 Every 80 seconds in Africa, children die from malaria, from a lot of mosquito transmitted diseases, dengue,
00:12:00 and yellow fever. And a lot of diseases come through that, transmitted through insects.
00:12:10 The same for animal diseases also. A wide range of animal diseases are transmitted through insects.
00:12:21 So climate change is an issue.
00:12:25 A recent report for example says, by the World Bank just came out, if we don't deal with climate change by 2030,
00:12:36 100 million more people will go into poverty.
00:12:41 So I think, I believe personally, that I think one of the biggest impacts of climate change is going to be insects,
00:12:49 also. As the world gets warmer, insects are going to shift also to warmer places.
00:12:57 A lot of African problems are going to be also problems somewhere else as it gets warm.
00:13:04 If we have to make the planet livable for us, in the many years ahead.
00:13:13 If we have to manage our food security, nutritional security.
00:13:19 If we have to develop the planet, we have to develop for the insects.
00:13:25 For the benefits and the harmful parts of what insects provide, yeah.
00:13:32 Speaker 1: Are people aware of somehow of this wide variety of properties that insects have?
00:13:38 Speaker 2: Mm, no, unfortunately not. I think we have to make people aware of that, I think we have to teach.
00:13:48 Speaker 1: Would you mind repeating my question? Sort of because otherwise you answer with yes or no.
00:13:56 Speaker 2: Yeah.
00:13:56 Speaker 1: So you think are people aware somehow of the wide variety of properties?
00:14:02 Speaker 2: No, I think people are not aware of all this variety of issues associated with insects.
00:14:15 So for example, if you take bees, almost everybody knows that honey comes from bees.
00:14:24 But a lot of people don't know that bees are critical for food securities, they pollinate crops.
00:14:32 Without bees and you don't have enough and some of the plants they require pollination by bees.
00:14:42 So, no, people don't know a lot about this.
00:14:47 And I think we have to teach it in school, in elementary school, in high school, in universities.
00:14:54 And I think in the general public, also to be aware of what insects do for people, yeah.
00:15:02 Speaker 1: Are there properties you think that are very beneficial from insects?
00:15:09 I mean, in terms of pharmaceutical properties, or anything they do well for us.
00:15:15 Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah insects play a lot of roles.
00:15:20 For example, there are insects that are uniquely found antibiotics, insects that uniquely produce
00:15:28 or have antibiotics for example.
00:15:30 Speaker 1: Should we do it again?
00:15:31 Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah.
00:15:33 Speaker 1: Can you mention some other, well, quite unique properties that we are not very aware of?
00:15:38 Speaker 2: Yeah, insects have a number of other uses as well. For example, the antibiotics for people, for animals.
00:15:52 I don't think we have investigated enough the unique antibiotics that exist in insects.
00:16:01 There are also other things that, for example, this insect called the soldier fly.
00:16:10 There are very good at processing a lot of waste, and converting them to fertilizer.
00:16:18 So yeah, there is a wide variety of use we can make out of insects.
00:16:27 Some of the airplane, helicopter design comes from insects, insect architecture, yeah. Yeah, so.
00:16:37 Speaker 1: What the uniqueness of your institute?
00:16:41 Speaker 2: Yeah, I think the uniqueness for me of this, of ICIPE, is one.
00:16:49 It is focused on really solving agricultural and housing constraints in Africa.
00:17:02 But what we produce is not just unique for Africa, it can be used globally.
00:17:06 It is also, we also focus on very environmentally-friendly and sustainable technologies and products.
00:17:18 We have, for example, over the years, generated biopesticides, pesticides that come naturally,
00:17:27 from a naturally existing fungus. And we manage,
00:17:34 Speaker 2: Insects, beneficial, not beneficial, harmful insects.
00:17:43 So these products now, are commercialized together with, in partnership with the private sector.
00:17:51 And so, it's registered now, they are registered in many countries in Africa.
00:17:57 And currently, they're being registered, so, in the European Union.
00:18:02 So what we produce, very environmentally-friendly, and not contaminating the environment.
00:18:08 Not harming other beneficial insects. So it's not only just useful for Africa.
00:18:15 But this can be used anywhere else, as well, in Europe, in North America.
00:18:19 So we are unique, in the sense that we focus on technologies and products that are environmentally-friendly.
00:18:27 And that are also sustainable for a long term or so. And that keeps a natural equilibrium also, yeah.
00:18:34 Speaker 1: How important is your institute for Africa, maybe for the world, and how would you describe it?
00:18:41 Speaker 2: I think it's very, very important.
00:18:44 I often ask my staff, that if we cease to exist tomorrow, would people line up asking for reopening of ICIPE?
00:19:00 And the answer is constantly yes. Because we are making a major impact, all across Africa.
00:19:09 And we are focused on major constraints. Constraints that are really an impediment for agricultural, and those issues.
00:19:19 So, is a very important organization for the continent, and globally as well, yeah.
00:19:27 Speaker 1: Why is it in Africa?
00:19:29 Speaker 2: Why is it in Africa, good question. It's based in Africa because it was founded by an African.
00:19:37 It was founded 45 years ago, in 1970, by a very renowned entomologist, insect scientist.
00:19:48 A professor, a Kenyan professor.
00:19:53 So it was founded as an international center, a small center within a university, and it expanded.
00:20:01 It expanded, and so today we have multiple nationalities of scientists and technical staff.
00:20:13 And reaching out across Africa and making impact.
00:20:17 And what I like about the organization is also that research, yeah, we do cutting-edge research.
00:20:23 We do, we make major breakthroughs, we publish in high quality journals internationally.
00:20:32 But all that, our work, is also is aimed to translate it to impact.
00:20:38 There's nothing we do, which is not short-term, or middle-term, or long-term, is not translated to impact.
00:20:46 And products that reach the end user, which is the farmers and the beneficiaries in Africa and beyond.
00:20:54 And so this really truly making science to work for people, for society.
00:21:04 Speaker 1: Can you describe how important insects are for the future of humanity?
00:21:10 Speaker 2: Yeah, excellent, very good question. Yeah, I think insects are really important for all our lives.
00:21:17 Bees, I think bees. Europe and North America already knows now, because the bee population is going declining.
00:21:27 Already knows that this is a problem, unless we solve this. Unless we take care of the house of the bees.
00:21:38 So that one, I think it goes without saying. That if bees, if they don't exist today, tomorrow, we're in trouble.
00:21:46 So that has to go on for the future.
00:21:52 I think for the future also, that if we have to diversify our food source, feed source.
00:22:03 And quality of protein, I think we have to mainstream the use of insects as food.
00:22:10 So there is, there are a variety, more than 2,000 species of insects are consumed globally.
00:22:16 And there are several of them in Africa. So people consume them, they go to the forest, they collect them seasonally.
00:22:28 Often it is women and children who are tasked, who are given this task. To go to the forest and collect the insects.
00:22:35 So sometimes when you collect them, so that you are going to, there is a tendency to over-harvest.
00:22:42 And then you can cause some of these insects trouble, their role in balancing the, the atmosphere, the equilibrium.
00:22:51 So, and, ICIPE has technology, the capability to mass-raise a lot of these species of insects.
00:23:02 And so, I think we have to change the perception of people, globally.
00:23:11 That insects, I mean, consuming insects, is not something out of the ordinary.
00:23:16 Two billion people have successfully been traditionally consuming them. We have to do the mainstream also.
00:23:23 So the conversion rate also, of feed, and insect protein, is a lot more efficient in insects.
00:23:34 So with a very limited amount of feed, substrate insects, you can get high-quality protein.
00:23:42 Compared to the same quality protein in beef, in cattle. So for climate change, also mitigation for, and so on.?
00:23:57 So I think insects are more What more compatible I think, yeah. More susceptible
00:24:02 Speaker 1: One of your research is actually published in article about locust.
00:24:09 You could better eat a locust that eat the food they eat.
00:24:13 Speaker 2: Yeah.
00:24:14 Speaker 1: Why? Can you explain that? What was, what did you?
00:24:16 Speaker 2: Yeah, so we have been working going them On a device insects also the protein
00:24:24 and nutritional profile of these insects also, the number of insects that are being consumed traditionally.
00:24:31 So we found that a lot of these insects actually have a higher or equivalent content of nutrition
00:24:40 and protein to equivalent to fish and to beef. So that is a good finding.
00:24:48 Locusts, so we published a recently about two months ago, a paper. Very exciting the finding.
00:24:55 So locusts are really big pests.
00:25:00 They go and they kind in they storm and they can completely wipe your crop in an overnight.
00:25:06 They consume a lot of granary crops or any vegetation.
00:25:12 But people also consumes them traditionally also in many parts of Africa and elsewhere.
00:25:18 But what we found is that locust is that in a laboratory setting, that are feed on wheat seedlings.
00:25:31 They convert the wheat seedlings may have very minute amount of steroids.
00:25:36 These are chemicals that are very useful to our health.
00:25:40 They reduce cholesterol, they do a lot of have a lot of benefit to health.
00:25:46 And so the locusts as it consume and then they have, we don't know the mechanisms there yet,
00:25:54 they have then capacity to convert this steroids 20 to 40 fold.
00:26:01 So if you have diet, locust based diet all across in your life incorporated into your diet,
00:26:09 that the chance of you having a cholesterol or a heart problem is much, much lower. So this is a an amazing finding.
00:26:20 So, I think if more and more if we find the beneficial effect of insects as food.
00:26:31 I think the perception of people will also change on incorporating insects into their diet sir.
00:26:38 Speaker 1: What will insect research do for the future of Africa?
00:26:43 Yeah, I think if we have effectively understand on, we are constantly understanding the insects, their physiologist,
00:26:55 their ecologist, their mechanism. How they transmit the diseases, how they're fascinating creatures sir?
00:27:02 Speaker 2: Creatures and if we understand that our better.
00:27:08 If we know, then we identify then several cycles in their life cycles severalspots where,
00:27:15 the weak spots where we can manage. So, I think we have to eradicate malaria.
00:27:21 So, why can't we with all this technology? Not just us, but the global scientific community.
00:27:27 Why can't we eradicate dengue?
00:27:29 Why can't we eradicate sees flies that are causing a lot of problem both in humans and in animals?
00:27:35 So, I think if we tackle all of these I think the future of Africa will be bright.
00:27:44 It will be less problem to deal with.
00:27:46 And so, a lot of the problems that you find in Africa, they're actually manageable, we can manage them,
00:27:54 we can tackle them.
00:27:57 So it's not so, yeah, we regularly make breakthroughs,
00:28:04 we recently that the a young group of scientist this is are CPA in my organization.
00:28:11 They discovered that certain mosquitoes, a certain population of the mosquitoes that transmit malaria.
00:28:21 And about a very small portion of them we don't know why they harbor bacteria in their body.
00:28:30 So those mosquitoes that harbor this bacteria, they are unable to transmit the malaria parasite.
00:28:41 So that is a major, major discovery. So what we have to what we are doing is that why?
00:28:51 What do this bacteria do to this insect making them resistant
00:28:55 and incapable of transmitting the malaria transmitting the malaria parasite??
00:29:04 And why only certain population, certain percentage of them, and the mosquito have it.
00:29:10 So if we knows that, and if we are able to transmit this bacteria to a wider range of the mosquito population.
00:29:22 It is possible to significantly reduce the malaria transmission.
00:29:27 So there is a lot of things we can do, and make a difference in Africa and elsewhere.
00:29:34 Speaker 1: People I talk to say you are in a hurry. What does that mean?
00:29:40 Speaker 2: [LAUGH] I'm in a hurry. I"m in hurry. I'm very impatient.
00:29:44 Yeah, because I think and I, if you talk to my staff also they'll tell you the same thing. I'm in a hurry.
00:29:54 I'm pushing constantly.
00:29:55 I'm impatient that is because I think we have to live our lives with a sense of urgency,
00:30:04 because every day we live that tomorrow, we are about to finish today.
00:30:11 Tomorrow we have one day less on our life, our lifetime. So, which means that we are not getting younger.
00:30:21 So we have to rush in to make sure that we have actually make a difference in people's lives, that we have lived, also,
00:30:31 our lives with a purpose. So, I think we shouldn't, I don't feel that I have to live for myself.
00:30:37 No, I shouldn't live for myself. I should feel a sense of responsibility for my other fellow human beings.
00:30:46 So that's why I'm in a hurry. I'm really in a hurry, yeah.
00:30:50 Speaker 1: What's the goal?
00:30:51 Speaker 2: I want to do something, I want to make a difference for people I want to,
00:30:58 Speaker 2: To solve a problems for people who are not able to solve it themselves. And I think we are fortunate.
00:31:09 As a scientist, I'm fortunate that I'm given this priceless knowledge and education.
00:31:17 So I have to use it, to, use it to publish a paper, but only to really use, to solve people's problems, yeah.
00:31:26 Speaker 1: What can science do for Africa, in this respect?
00:31:31 Speaker 2: Science can do a lot of things for Africa, and for the rest of the world,
00:31:36 I think We should be able to find solution for all our ailings.
00:31:46 We should be finding vaccine for malaria, we should be finding vaccine for HIV/AIDS. We should be defeating cancer.
00:31:58 So that's all possible I think. So science can do a lot of different things too for people and for the planet, yeah.
00:32:05 Speaker 1: What can Africa do for science.
00:32:08 Speaker 2: Africa can do a lot of things for science.
00:32:11 I think that's an excellent question that no one has ever asked me. I think governments have to value the science.
00:32:22 Technology is really important for the continent development for the people.
00:32:28 So they have to value that, they have to invest significant proportion of their resources to science and technology
00:32:39 and to other areas.
00:32:41 Because I think the difference between my country and your country, which is my husband's country,
00:32:48 is not a difference in our color, is not a difference in the location where we are, is a difference of capability
00:32:59 and education.
00:33:01 That investment, and the capability capacity of people to innovate, capacity of people to absorb new technologies,
00:33:11 and to invent a lot of different things.
00:33:15 If we don't do that, if Africa doesn't do that, it's never going to solve a lot of our problems.
00:33:22 So how is that the Netherlands which has miserable weather and can produce a lot of food not only for their people
00:33:33 but I think can produce a lot.
00:33:35 And we have this beautiful weather, beautiful sunshine, and a lot of resources, water and everything else
00:33:43 and we are not feeding ourselves. So it is again a capability issue for me, yeah.
00:33:52 And knowledge and technology and I think Africa has to do that to enhance it's ability to do.
00:34:02 Speaker 1: What can your institute do for Africa?
00:34:07 Speaker 2: It simply does a lot of things for Africa.
00:34:14 So we, environment work, as I have just said, we believe capacity is very critical.
00:34:20 Capacity, at the end of the day, capacity is development. Development is all about capacity of people.
00:34:28 So we have a very large capacity building unit. So every year, we see 100 to 150 graduate students all across Africa.
00:34:44 They do their masters degree, their PhD degree and, so and then we train them..
00:34:52 They are registered in many different universities but they do the research at this, [INAUDIBLE]
00:34:57 And so we are enhancing the scientific capability of many African countries in insect science.
00:35:08 But also we train also a lot of farmers in different things.
00:35:13 We train in the technologies that they adapt from us and so on.
00:35:21 So like this year, from January until October, ten months, is that? Is that ten months, yeah.
00:35:31 Ten months that we trained more than 10,000 people in various different technologies.
00:35:35 So this is begun, and we are a reluctantly small organization, okay? So I think this is a big contribution.
00:35:42 So we also yeah our products go all across Africa, technologies they go.
00:35:51 So one of the things which is difficult for us is to scale out the technologies to reach as many people as we can.
00:35:59 So for example we have the technologies we are going to visit tomorrow in the field.
00:36:04 Is absolutely fabulous technology, invented, created by and developed by superior and its partners.
00:36:14 But this is a technology that is really needed all across Africa.
00:36:18 But we are reaching only 10,000 to 20,000 farmers per year. But the technology is needed by millions of farmers.
00:36:28 So, now we are changing our model and partnering with governments and with individuals
00:36:35 and in the private sector to take the technology into accelerated and many different countries.
00:36:42 And so yeah, this was, yeah.
00:36:45 Speaker 1: You like to defend this case to many people, and share your thoughts with, wherever you can share,
00:36:53 because you also go to the President of your country, your
00:36:57 Speaker 2: Yeah, so it's very important for us to work with the governments
00:37:05 and to fit also with their own strategy plan also. So, we kinda just work in isolation.
00:37:14 So the Ethiopian government, for example, has a very clear strategy development plan.
00:37:21 So they took a number of our, products and technologies, and they fit them into their strategy.
00:37:30 So for one of our technologies, for example, they have a plan to reach minimum of 20,000 farmers with that technology,
00:37:39 a year. So they are going to expand it themselves, I think, once you give them.
00:37:45 And we do the technical backstopping, because it's a very knowledge intensive technology.
00:37:51 So you have to train farmers how to use it. But it's a fabulous technology.
00:37:57 And bee keeping also, that they utilize beekeeping and silk farming, anything insects, that we work on.
00:38:05 Silk farming also is very needed. So it's not just only food security but also income generation.
00:38:11 You want to improve the livelihood of people in various ways. It's not just only producing more food and that's it.
00:38:20 But you want all sorts of diversify their income, rather this, the risk mitigation.
00:38:25 So if you have a diverse income, you are not dependent on one. So you are releasing the risk also, yeah.
00:38:35 Speaker 1: So what would be your ultimate scientific goal?
00:38:40 Speaker 2: Okay, that's a big question. I think I have many goals, but I will make it a more doable one.
00:38:51 So I think, so tomorrow you would see these field visits in the field.
00:38:59 One of the critical problems in across Africa, in many countries is a parasitic weed called striga.
00:39:11 It is a parasite on many cereal crops, on rice, on maize, on sorghum, on millet,
00:39:19 all the staples that people need stable food.
00:39:24 And basically this is a parasitic weed, it attaches itself to the roots of it's host of the maize or sorghum
00:39:34 or whatever. It takes all the nutrients out from this. It cannot live without that host.
00:39:43 And basically it ruins the crop.
00:39:46 So if you have that it also produces thousands of seeds, tiny seeds, and it sheds into the soil.
00:39:56 So once you have that it is really. The soil is basically unusable. So we have technologies that can eradicate that.
00:40:05 So what I really would like to see in my lifetime is eradicating this weed from all across Africa. And it's possible.
00:40:14 We have the technology, what is needed is to scale it out.
00:40:18 To get a large number of partners and funders to say, okay, we are out to eradicate this
00:40:27 and then we are going to solve a major problem, food security problem for Africa.
00:40:31 I would like to see that within my lifetime, and I think it's doable, yeah.
00:40:37 Speaker 1: How important are insects for a more sustainable world?
00:40:41 Speaker 2: They are very important in many angles.
00:40:46 They are important, if you manage them well, they are important in cleaning our environment.
00:40:56 They are important in being the workhorse of farms. They are important as food sources.
00:41:06 I mean, all these chickens that are sold as organic chicken, that are free-roaming in the farm, what do they dig?
00:41:19 They go and dig, and they pick insects.
00:41:22 So you can mass-produce that and produce bigger chicken in a more sustainable way.
00:41:32 Fishery aquaculture, that is also, insects can play a critical role in a more sustainable production system.
00:41:44 Speaker 2: So I can go on and on. I think they are really important, yeah. They are important.
00:41:52 Speaker 1: Also in terms because you want a more sustainable Africa?
00:41:58 Speaker 2: Yes, absolutely, yeah.
00:42:00 So I think they have even more so here, because we have a myriad of diversity of insects.
00:42:07 As diversity of our ecological zones are big, there are varieties, there are a lot of different plants all year round.
00:42:18 So a lot of these insects also, they rely on plant sugar source as their thing.
00:42:26 Mosquitoes, so you see, many people don't know, mosquitoes, they don't just go and take my blood and they live on that.
00:42:34 They need specific also to sustain them, specific plant nectar as source of sugar.
00:42:43 Insects, more so for Africa, because of our diversity of ecology, diversity of plants, diversity of things.
00:42:54 We keep discovering new things.
00:42:56 This year alone, we discovered and published, our taxonomists and partners,
00:43:04 15 different new wasps which have never been described in anywhere in the world.
00:43:12 And some of them, they are also beneficial because they feed on harmful insects.
00:43:20 We have discovered, also, in Mbita, where we are going tomorrow,
00:43:27 one of our scientists has discovered that there is a jumping spider that is attracted only to mosquitoes that are
00:43:44 filled with human blood. So, and they jump and they feed on those insects.
00:43:50 If you give them other insects, they wouldn't touch it. They go specifically for those type of mosquitoes.
00:43:58 But they are, those mosquitoes,
00:44:02 that specific jumping spider also requires a certain plant sugar source to sustain it also between its meals of
00:44:14 mosquitoes, blood-filled mosquitoes. We call it vampire spider.
00:44:21 So what it means is also that if you keep those type of plants in your habitat,
00:44:28 you are going to manage also to keep equilibrium,
00:44:31 also that you are maintaining the spiders that feed on your mosquitoes,
00:44:36 that will be less mosquitoes to transmit malaria. So our world is not in black and white, it's not in boxes.
00:44:46 It's all a continuum.
00:44:48 So we have to manage it as a continuum, to make it very sustainable and very natural for the future.
00:44:58 So if you cause imbalance by eliminating a certain type of insects from a certain type of plants,
00:45:07 then you are causing an imbalance in your environment.
00:45:11 Speaker 1: What would be the way to go for Africa in this respect?
00:45:16 I mean, you have, let's say, the European agricultural system, or like the USA's doing it.
00:45:22 Is that the way for Africa to go for, or, you're welcome to say-
00:45:25 Speaker 2: Yeah, that is an excellent question, but also a complicated question. And so you can debate it either way.
00:45:37 You can debate it either way because, one, so for example, generally,
00:45:47 60% to 70% of the population in Africa is engaged in agriculture.
00:45:54 I don't think that is a smart way, to keep that large proportion of your population in farming.
00:46:02 So if you go to Europe, North America and Canada, you have about 4% or 5% of the population.
00:46:11 So it is very inefficient to have 70% of your population to feed the rest. So this is not efficient way to do it.
00:46:23 So we have to do it better. So, also, I think scientific technology alone is not going to do the trick.
00:46:34 So we have to have the right policy. We have to have the right environment to do these things. Why do I say policy?
00:46:43 Policy is important in this, because there has to be the right policy to land, and access to land, access to resources.
00:46:54 So if you take a,
00:46:56 Speaker 2: For example, many African countries, without mentioning any specific country, you have land,
00:47:07 the farmer has to begin with very small land. So, they have, the farmer may have six, seven children. Farmer dies.
00:47:17 The six, seven children split the land. So, neither one of them can make a living out of that small pieces of land.
00:47:28 So we have to have a policy to stop fragmenting the land to small pieces, because you cannot make a living out of it.
00:47:38 You cannot transform agriculture with small pieces. You cannot do a lot of different things also.
00:47:48 So there has to be a policy also that is favorable to,
00:47:52 Speaker 2: To enabling transformation of agriculture. We should be able to How this more was less.
00:48:05 So and we have to make our agriculture is more efficient in utilization.
00:48:10 And so also a large proportion of our farming system is rain fed. That's also not a sustainable way.
00:48:23 To wait for rain waiting in the sky for a drop of water to drop, that's not a smart way to do.
00:48:32 And only 4% of our land is, or the farmer land, is irrigated, and yet we have a lot of water flowing,
00:48:42 you have a lot of also water being wasted also.
00:48:47 So there's a lot of different things that we have to do to transform our farming system.
00:48:57 So, having said that, I don't believe that one model alone is a the model for Africa.
00:49:09 So it is not may not be of European model, but there are a lot of things we can borrow from, adapt from the European.
00:49:16 A land policy, a access to these, so our efficiency in farming, and so on.
00:49:26 So it's not a black and white concept I cannot give you that, yeah.
00:49:36 But what I know is that we can not continue keeping a large population percentage of our population in farming,
00:49:45 that's just not doable there, or sustainable.
00:49:47 Speaker 1: Can you imagine a future where insect knowledge, knowledge about insects,
00:49:56 will be sort of export products for Africa?
00:49:58 Speaker 2: Yes, actually, yes. There are a-
00:50:03 Speaker 1: Maybe you can repeat my question.
00:50:05 Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, okay.
00:50:07 Speaker 1: What kind of future do insect have for-
00:50:10 Speaker 2: Yeah, so can Africa use insects as export product? Yes, absolutely, I believe so.
00:50:24 This is not actually even something for the long run, but it's already short term.
00:50:32 There are companies that have already exploring to establish a plant here in Africa to produce mass rare insects for
00:50:46 feed to Europe and somewhere else. So, yeah this is going to happen in the near future actually, yeah.
00:50:55 Speaker 1: Maybe you can sort of give a compressed answer on how important insects are in terms of danger.
00:51:05 Like what you said, there are many deaths caused by insects infectually,
00:51:11 many more deaths by malaria than there are any other kind of.
00:51:16 And there's also the beneficial things, so a little bit of compressed, kind of answer?
00:51:19 Speaker 2: But repeated to what I said?
00:51:23 Speaker 1: Yep.
00:51:24 Speaker 2: Okay.
00:51:24 Speaker 1: So if you would have to tell a nice story about what insects do mean for us, what would be your storyline?
00:51:37 Speaker 2: Yeah, bees are very very important for humankind. So we have to protect bees without a doubt.
00:51:49 So we have to make sure that they are healthy, and they live nicely, happily, and there are many ways to do that.
00:52:02 So, and they need to have good pollen plant source and so on.
00:52:12 So bees are number one, I think they are among the top which we need to do.
00:52:18 Natural predators, predator insects are very important, as well.
00:52:23 Predators that feed on harmful insects, that are harmful to people, to animals. Those are important, as well.
00:52:33 So, but I think we have to also pay attention and try to eradicate
00:52:41 or find a solution also to the myriad of major diseases that are transmitted by insects, mosquitos.
00:52:54 Speaker 2: That transmit malaria, that transmit dengue, that transmit also a number of other disease both in animals
00:53:09 and humans. Rift Valley fever and yellow fever and a number of other disease, those are important.
00:53:17 For Africa, Tsetse fly, Tsetse flies are really critical.
00:53:23 Many many fertile land in Africa has become abandoned by people because of the Tsetse fly infestation.
00:53:40 So these also are very important.
00:53:42 All of these things I have described the those are our focus for icipe, my organization, to do.
00:53:51 So these are some of the important things I think. We work on ticks also.
00:53:57 Ticks, and tick borne diseases, these are not just Africa problem, but this is a Europe, North America has a problem.
00:54:05 And we have products in the pipeline, that are very effective, natural products from plants,
00:54:12 from other microbes used in Africa.
00:54:15 So I think the beauty of it is Africa has a lot of these problem, insect problem that also,
00:54:24 a lot of also solutions also for controlling this.
00:54:27 So for all these problems that I have indicated, like Tsetse flies, we have a product, for example,
00:54:34 which came from wildlife, wild animals in Africa.
00:54:38 Speaker 1: Somehow, I have the feeling that your institute has a lot of hidden treasures, I don't know,
00:54:45 but that [CROSSTALK]
00:54:45 Speaker 2: Yes, we do, yeah, absolutely, yes.
00:54:49 Speaker 1: Can you repeat it?
00:54:50 Speaker 2: Yeah, and icipe, I think, has a lot of important, unique treasures that are not widely known.
00:55:05 But I think now also we are making a tremendous effort for the rest of the world to know what we are capable of doing,
00:55:16 and what we have.
00:55:17 So and I think also, I have to also indicate that icipe does, it also work with a lot of partners globally.
00:55:28 So we have more than 300 partners in Europe, North America, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere,
00:55:38 including the Netherlands we have a lot of partners, so yeah.
00:55:41 Speaker 1: But how do you get this treasures yourself into the world?
00:55:45 Speaker 2: Yeah, that is a critical writing, it's critical to scale out what we have,
00:55:51 so that the rest of the planet can, and Africa can, make use of what we have at a faster rate.
00:56:01 And that is a challenge, that's a big challenge Because a research organization is a research organization,
00:56:07 and it's very difficult for a research organization to scale out and to reach out to a global forum, a global platform.
00:56:19 And so partners become very important and funding becomes important, too.
00:56:25 So funding, our funding, we are not a government organization,
00:56:29 we are international organization that happen to be based in Kenya.
00:56:35 So the funding comes from a lot of sources, so the European Union is among our largest investors, donors.
00:56:48 The governments of Germany, of Sweden, of Switzerland and UK,
00:56:55 many foundations they provide funding for us to make [INAUDIBLE] make a change.
00:57:02 So all these resources I think have to be made available, not just for Africa,
00:57:10 but for I think the rest of the planet as well.
00:57:12 Because this is also, we are using the funds of the taxpayers of Europe and North America
00:57:20 and so on also to generate these things, these products and find solution for constraints.
00:57:26 Speaker 1: A totally other question, if you would have to describe your philosophy of life, what would it be?
00:57:36 What do you look for yourself and humanity and the future?
00:57:41 Speaker 2: Yeah, philosophy of life, I think for me, my motto personality is, and I tell my daughter also.
00:57:53 I have one daughter, who is going to be a scientist also, she just joined a university in America, first year.
00:58:00 So, my motto is live life with a purpose, not just for yourself,
00:58:06 but really to contribute to changing lives for those people who are less fortunate than we are.
00:58:17 And I think there are millions of people who don't have the skills or the resources that we have.
00:58:24 So it will be a tragedy for any humankind to live for himself or herself.
00:58:31 Like, if I have a good life myself, yeah the rest is like, okay.
00:58:40 So I think we have to, if we see suffering of a fellow human being, we have to suffer together.
00:58:46 We have to feel their pain. So, and I think if we have the mindset and the skills, we should do it.
00:58:56 We should make use of it, yeah, certainly, yeah.
00:58:59 Speaker 1: And can you say that science is changing,
00:59:04 because our knowledge is spreading out quicker than ever around the planet, you see that?
00:59:11 Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, whether science is making a difference to the planet at a pace that we want,
00:59:28 that is questionable, I don't have yes or no answer.
00:59:33 However, I know that our lives have tremendously changed because of contributions of science.
00:59:41 If you just back several decades back before the invention of antibiotics,
00:59:52 before we had access to the first antibiotic, penicillin, which was accidentally discovered from a mold from a fungus.
01:00:02 Speaker 2: Before that people were dying from very simple treatable things, from an infection.
01:00:10 Speaker 2: So that's not the case any more.
01:00:19 And then since the discovery of penicillin a lot of range of antibiotics were discovered from microbes, from plants,
01:00:30 from other sources. So yes, science has made a tremendous difference for us.
01:00:39 The vaccines, Polio is almost eradicated, so here and there only.
01:00:46 Vaccines, people were dying from a lot of preventive disease, but the tragedy of it is even to this day,
01:00:54 Speaker 2: Preventable diseases are still killing people in the developing world today.
01:01:01 People are dying from infection, because they don't have access to simple antibiotics.
01:01:08 Or they didn't have the means or the knowledge that [INAUDIBLE]
01:01:12 if they vaccinate the kids at a certain age that they will prevent [INAUDIBLE] diseases.
01:01:20 To this day, myself, I don't know what I have been vaccinated. I don't think I have been vaccinated when I was a kid.
01:01:28 This is the world we live, the haves and the have-nots, and the gaps, so big difference, yeah?
01:01:34 But, yes, science has made a tremendous, tremendous difference in our lives, yeah.
01:01:40 And I think it will continue doing it, but I think governments have to value science.
01:01:47 Not only in Africa, but globally, and do significant investment or so in science and technologies, so yeah.
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