UKZN Alumnus Wins Prestigious Award for Maize Research
UKZN alumnus and research scientist, Dr Charity Mutegi of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), is the 2013 recipient of the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Mutegi, who cites her time at UKZN and the University’s ‘up-to-date postgraduate research facilities’ as being crucial to her success, attained her PhD under the supervision of Professor Sheryl Hendriks and Dr Henry Ngugi.
The Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application honours a researcher under the age of 40 who exhibits scientific dedication to food security innovation as demonstrated by Nobel Laureate Dr Norman Borlaug.
Mutegi was recognised for her work as a co-ordinator of the IITA research team working on the Aflatoxin Bio-control Project. The project is aimed at developing a bio-control tool for managing aflatoxin, a toxic metabolite, through a pre-harvest method which has cumulative effects post-harvest.
‘The bio-control technology that we are using was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture- Agriculture Research Services (USDA-ARS) under the leadership of Dr Peter Cotty,’ said Mutegi.
‘USDA-ARS remain strong partners in our bio-control work as they are still involved in the identification of potential native strains – isolated from the countries which we are working in – that eventually constitute the bio-control product.’
Mutegi’s work remains close to her heart, providing perspective on the importance of scientific work with aflatoxin she notes how in one incident alone, Kenya lost more than 125 people who consumed maize contaminated with high levels of aflatoxin.
‘Over many years, tons of maize grain, often a staple food in many countries in Africa, have been condemned due to aflatoxin contamination. This leaves a food deficit in certain areas due to their food insecurity status. I hope that the research yields an affordable product accessible to farmers, which they can use to prevent such incidents.’
Speaking about her award, Mutegi highlighted the importance of collaboration and the mentorships she has received over the years. ‘It is a humbling feeling that my work in managing the aflatoxin menace through various facets, over a period of 10 years, has been recognised. Personally, it is a huge motivating factor to strive harder. But an equally important message is that it is testimony that African women have much to offer the world in terms of solutions to numerous issues.’
Mutegi has a four-year-old-daughter, who remains her foremost priority. She also enjoys travelling and reading - her favorite book being Unbowed, the memoir of Kenyan Nobel Laureate, the late Professor Wangari Maathai.
- Barrington Marais