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Mak-CoNAS Researchers Launch Project to Explore Forage Resources for Stingless Bees in Uganda

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Preamble

The products from stingless bees may be little but are so valuable. Stingless bees have many benefits to various sectors of the economy, more especially the Health and Agricultural sectors. The project titled – “Exploring Forage Resources for Stingless Bees in Uganda: The Case of Meliponula bocandei”seeks to preserve them and to maximize their benefits to the economy.

It is led by Dr. Perpetra Akite, Lecturer in the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences and supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF).

The Commissioner Entomology at the MAAIF, Mr. Lawrence Tusimomuhangi addressing participants.
The Commissioner Entomology at the MAAIF, Mr. Lawrence Tusimomuhangi addressing participants.

Launch of the project

Researchers from the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University on 18th November 2021 launched a project to explore forage resources for Stingless bees in Uganda, with special focus on the Meliponula bocandei species. The launch held at the National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLIRRI) in Nakyesasa, Wakiso District was presided over by the Commissioner, Entomology at the Ministry of Agricultural, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Mr Lawrence Tusimomuhangi. It was grace by among others, the current Head, Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences, Dr. Eric Sande, and former heads, Prof. William Banage, Prof. Gilbert Isabirye Basuta and Prof. Anne Mary Akol.

Objectives of the project

Supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF), the project seeks to profile forage resources for Meliponula bocandei in the Western highlands and Lake Victoria Crescent AEZs of Uganda. It also aims to characterize pollen in honey of Meliponula bocandei collected from the Western highlands and Lake Victoria Crescent AEZs of Uganda. Under the project, the researchers plan to develop a Meliponula bocandei beekeeping calendar for Uganda. Once developed, the beekeeping calendar will guide farmers on the approximate date and duration of the blossoming periods of the important honey and pollen plants in their area, and the kind of flowers available for the bees in the course of the year.

Participants at the Meliponary at NaLIRRI.
Participants at the Meliponary at NaLIRRI.

The study follows two previous research projects that sought to domesticate stingless bees in Uganda and to explore the nutritional and medicinal values of their products.

According to the research team, stingless bees present enormous benefits to the Health and Agricultural Sectors. Their products have high nutritional and medicinal values. The pollination services associated with the stingless beekeeping industry can boost crop production especially in the urban settings. The stingless beekeeping industry also has great potential to generate employment. However, the continued destruction of the environment through deforestation and soil pollution presents a major challenge to the survival of the bees since they feed on restricted plant species. It is on this basis that the researchers have set out to study and preserve forage resources for stingless bees.

One of the stingless beehives at the Meliponary at NaLIRRI.
One of the stingless beehives at the Meliponary at NaLIRRI.

Expected outcomes

Presenting an outline of their study, the Principal Investigator, Dr Perpetra Akite said the project will largely contribute to the development of the stingless beekeeping industry in Uganda. “The project will impact positively at several frontiers, especially on the role played by stingless bees in crop pollination for food security. Scientists and other key actors will benefit from the knowledge generated from this action research on the identification of forage for stingless bees in Africa, and the economy will largely improve due to increased participation in stingless bee enterprises,” she noted. Other expected outcomes include; a baseline information and platform for developing stingless bee forage in Uganda, a stingless beekeeping calendar to promote meliponiculture and improvement in livelihoods.

Government expectations

Addressing participants, the Commissioner, Entomology at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Mr. Lawrence Tusimomuhangi applauded the researchers for the initiative. “The Government is deeply interested in insect related interventions. However, many questions in the area of entomology remain unanswered. There is need for substantive research into productive insects and Makerere should lead on this.We need to invent technologies for continuous production of insects like grasshoppers that have high commercial benefits. The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries is relying on Makerere and other research institutions to guide on the development of appropriate technologies for insect management interventions, and the promotion of agro industrialization in line with the National Development Plan III,” he explained. NDP III seeks to promote sustainable industrialization for inclusive growth, employment and wealth creation.

The researchers together with former and current members of staff pose for a photo with the Commissioner Entomology, Mr Lawrence Tusimomuhangi at the Meliponary at NaLIRRI.
The researchers together with former and current members of staff pose for a photo with the Commissioner Entomology, Mr Lawrence Tusimomuhangi at the Meliponary at NaLIRRI.

Proposals by participants

During the engagements, participants observed that there was need to study the behaviour of stingless bees at different locations (adaption to the environment) and variations in seasons before designing the beekeeping calendar. They also noted that it is important to collect data during both the dry and wet seasons for better results. Additionally, participants called for studies on the toxicological effects of agrochemicals on stingless bees.

In his remarks, the Head, Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences at Makerere University, Dr Eric Sande commended the research team for writing a successful project. He appreciated the Government of Uganda for the enormous support towards research activities at Makerere. “Exploring Forage Resources for Stingless Bees in Uganda: A Case of Meliponula bocandei” is one of over 700 projects that have so far been supported by the Government of Uganda through Mak-RIF.

The Head, Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences at Makerere University, Dr. Eric Sande (3rd L) and the PI Dr. Perpetra Akite (2nd L) with former Heads, Prof. William Banage (3rd R), Prof. Gilbert Isabirye Basuta (2nd L) and Prof. Anne Mary Akol (L) at the project launch.
The Head, Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences at Makerere University, Dr. Eric Sande (3rd L) and the PI Dr. Perpetra Akite (2nd L) with former Heads, Prof. William Banage (3rd R), Prof. Gilbert Isabirye Basuta (2nd L) and Prof. Anne Mary Akol (L) at the project launch.

Additionally, Dr Sande acknowledged the presence of the former heads at the event and their continued support towards the development of the Department.

About NaLIRRI

Briefing participants on the NaLIRRI, the representative of the Director, Dr Patrice Kasangaki appreciated the long standing collaboration between the Institute and Makerere University Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences. The Department has collaborated with the NaLIRRI on several research projects and continues to offer practical training as well as supervision of students. NaLIRRI supported the department in research on domesticating stingless bees and exploring the nutritional and medicinal values of their products. The Institute has pledged support for the current project aimed at exploring forage resources for stingless bees in Uganda.

As part of the project launch activities, participants toured the Meliponary at NaLIRRI to learn more about the preservation of stingless bees.

Natural Sciences

Call For Applications For Masters Scholarship Under The Biosorption For Sustainable Small-Scale Gold Mining In Uganda (BioGold) Project

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The JICA Building, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) as approached from the Mary Stuart Road Roundabout, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

BioGold Project is a three-year collaborative project among five academic institutions including, Kyambogo University, Makerere University, Gulu University, University of Pretoria and University of Continuing Education, Krems, Austria funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation under the APPEAR Partnership. The project will combine principles of biosorption and chemical remediation to treat contaminated wastewater, tailings, rehabilitate contaminated soils so as to protect vulnerable ecosystems surrounding artisanal gold mining (ASGM) areas in Uganda. This study will design biochar composites from locally available biomass to enhance mercury removal from wastewater and tailings as well as rehabilitate mercury-contaminated soils making them fit for agriculture. The project envisages to train and build capacity of young researchers in Uganda. As such the project has been allocated an MSc. position under Component II, to support to full-time student to undertake studies in Austria. The successful MSc candidate is expected to undertake research on characterizing, optimizing biochar and modify the biochar to improve the sorption capacities.

The project consortium is now inviting qualified and interested persons to apply for nomination for the award of the scholarship. The project has strong preference for female candidates, therefore strongly encouraged to apply.

Eligibility criteria

In addition to APPEAR requirements https://appear.at/en/implementation/embedded-scholarship-application, the applicants should:

  1. Not be older than 30 years (women not older than 35)
  2. Demonstrate interest and capability to work in the priority themes
  3. Present a concept note to provide understanding of the subject
  4. Have a minimum of second- upper class bachelor’s degree in any of the following programmes: BSc in Chemistry, BSc in Environmental Science, & BSc in Environmental Engineering

Benefits

The successful applicants will receive a full scholarship (up to 24 months) which includes;

  1. Return air ticket and visa costs to Austria
  2. Monthly stipend of €1000 while in Austria to cater for personal welfare, accommodation and local movement
  3. Research related expenses.

Application process

  1. A complete application form
  2. A one-page motivation letter
  3. Curriculum vitae (maximum 2 pages)
  4. A completed Master Scholarship Application Form for Embedded APPEAR Projects
  5. Copies of Academic documents
  6. Photocopy of the passport and/or ID
  7. Recommendation letters from two academic referees.
  8. All applications must be sent electronically to Dr. Mary Kaggwa (marykaggwa@kyu.ac.ug) and copied to Dr. Peter Akoll (peter.akoll@mak.ac.ug) and Dr. Denis Nono (d.nono@gu.ac.ug) not later than 5.00pm East African Time on 20th June 2024.

Members of staff with former students interested in biochar technology and its use in heavy metal removal are requested to share the advert with them.

Full Advert and Application form may be accessed below.

Note: Only successful applicants will be contacted.

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Natural Sciences

Mak Researchers Set Out to Address the Challenge of African swine fever in Uganda

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Professor Charles Masembe, CoNAS, Makerere University. Image:ASF

The Project is supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF).

Overview

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious viral haemorrhagic disease of domestic pigs; and has recently spread to new areas including Eastern Europe and in Asia as far as Papua New Guinea. This disease has neither vaccine nor treatment and is currently a big challenge to many smallholder pig farmers in Uganda. In Uganda, ASFV genotype IX has been reported to cause outbreaks on a regular basis and is an impediment to development of the swine industry. The disease was previously reported with a mortality of 100%. However different forms of the disease have recently been observed in domestic pigs. Indeed, some studies have shown that pigs that survive ASF become resistant to the same viral isolates although they do not produce classical neutralizing antibody. These observations could have the key for vaccine development strategies.

The Principal Investigator of ASF-RESIST, Dr. Charles Masembe; an Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences (ZEFS), CoNAS, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda
The Project Principal Investigator (PI), Prof. Charles Masembe.

The research project

Through a project titled “African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda”, a team of researchers led by Prof. Charles Masembe from the Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences at Makerere University registered the need to correlate clinical studies of ASF virus with full genome sequences and virus structural data to identify potential candidate genes for vaccine development. The team set out to isolate and characterise highly virulent and low virulent ASF viruses circulating in the swine population in Uganda using next-generation and Electron Microscopy to inform the development of ASFV vaccines and other therapeutic strategies. The team also set out to sequence the whole genome of low and high-virulence African swine fever viruses circulating in the domestic pig population in Uganda; compare the whole genome sequences of low and high-virulence ASF viruses in Uganda, and to find genomic variations and their effects on the virulence and viral evolution. Whole blood and organ tissue samples together with clinical-epidemiological information, were collected from acute and chronic cases of pigs in reported ASF outbreaks in the districts of greater Masaka, Greater Gulu, Mukono, Wakiso, Kakumiro, and additionally in other districts were outbreaks were reported during the study period. The project was supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere Research and Innovations Fund (MakRIF). Other members on the project are; Assoc. Prof. Vincent Muwanika (Co-PI), Dr. Rose Ademun (Scientist), Dr. Mathias Afayoa (Scientist), Dr. Tony Aliro (Field Scientist), Mr. Peter Ogweng (Field Scientist),  Mr. Mayega Johnson Francis (Lab Technologist), Okwasiimire Rodney (Lab Technologist), and Mr. Bright Twesigye (Administrator).

The Project team at the research dissemination workshop in Gulu District. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
The Project team at the research dissemination workshop in Gulu District.

Dissemination of the research findings

On 15th May 2024, the project team held a workshop at Doves Nest Hotel in Gulu District to disseminate the research findings, and to fact check by mapping pig farms, abattoirs, slaughter slabs, and pork restaurants in both Gulu District and Gulu City for on-going and future research.

The workshop was officially opened by the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Gulu District, Mr. Okidi Cosmas James on behalf of the CAO. In his remarks, Mr. Okidi appreciated the project team, noting that the workshop was timely since piggery as a poverty alleviation programme had been embraced by most farmers as a replacement for cattle. Sharing his experience, he expressed concern over the increasing threat of ASF, a factor he said was undermining the growth of the swine industry in Uganda.

Prof. Masembe interacts with the participants during the workshop. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Prof. Masembe interacts with the participants during the workshop.

During the meeting, the Project PI, Prof. Charles Masembe presented the status of ASF research in Uganda and globally, highlighting the complexity of ASF, dangers of ASF, ASF diagnostic advances, importance of keeping pigs and scientific efforts to control ASF, including the advances in the development of the ASFV vaccine. 

Other presentations focused on ASF control and prevention mechanisms, potential role of production systems in ASF transmission, community involvement in disease control, spatio-temporal spread of ASF at the wildlife-livestock interface, the role of carrier pigs in ASFV transmission and maintenance, biosecurity implementation and challenges. All these presentations evoked discussion points from the participants. Participants expressed the need to understand how ASF is transmitted, and the extent to which farmers can trust veterinarians since they are considered to spread the disease. They highlighted the need to institute quarantine during ASF outbreaks and called for sensitization on the acceptable methods for disposing off infected pork. Another concern arising from the meeting was the need to understand if ASF is zoonotic and if not, why ASFV infected pork should not be eaten. Participants also sought guidance on why farmers should continue to keep survivor pigs if they spread ASFV, and why the government has not constructed slaughter slabs in all villages to control the spread of ASFV.

Participants in an exercise to map out pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants in their respective sub counties to support the research process. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Participants in an exercise to map out pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants in their respective sub counties to support the research process.

Recommendations by participants;

  1. Strengthening community awareness through different production departments in the district and city by organizing workshops as closer to the farmers as possible for example at every parish or ward.
  2. Makerere University ASF research team should collaborate with Gulu University, Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Studies so that ASFV diagnosis and research is jointly done at the University which is nearer to the farmers for quick response to ASF outbreaks.
  3. City, District, and sub-county leaders should formulate a by-law to enforce the implementation of ASF control and prevention methods.
Mapping pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Mapping pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants.

During plenary, participants were tasked with mapping pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants in their respective sub-counties in Gulu District and Gulu City, in addition to generating a comprehensive farm/farmer list in the two areas. Mapping was successfully done and presented for purposes of clarity by each team representing a particular sub-county. The participants were then given a template to populate on the farm/farmer list since they could not recall all farms/farmers name and their mobile phone contacts.

Participants pose for a group photo. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Participants pose for a group photo.

Remarks by Gulu District RDC

In his closing remarks, the RDC of Gulu District, Mr. Oryem Auric thanked the research team for choosing the district for the workshop, noting that the feedback from the participants indicated that the workshop was very beneficial to them. He pledged to dedicate some of the free airtime offered to his office on Radio Mega, a popular FM Radio Station in Gulu City affiliated to Radio Uganda, towards the popularization of the project activities. He reiterated that the objectives of the project were in line with the current Government of Uganda programme on wealth creation through the Parish Development Model and the 4 acre model of which piggery is one of the means recommended for poverty alleviation by the President of Uganda. He called on the farmers to embrace and utilize the knowledge acquired to improve their farms and increase their household incomes.

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Natural Sciences

CoNAS Annual Report 2023

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Cover page of the CoNAS Annual Report 2023. College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) is one of the 10 constituent Colleges of Makerere University with over 2,000 students and 153 members of staff spread across 2 schools and seven departments namely: School of Physical Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Geology and Petroleum Studies) and School Biosciences (Departments of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology; Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences; and Department of Biochemistry and Sports Sciences). The College is the cradle of basic sciences at Makerere providing a foundation for all applied sciences offered at the University. This report is a presentation of the performance of the College in 2023.

Key highlights include performance of the College at the 74th graduation of Makerere University, the award of an Honorary Doctor of Science to Prof. Leif Abrahamsson for his contribution to the development of Mathematics in the East African region, the development of an E-Supervision Web Portal (https:/mastersresearch.ug/) to support the tracking of Masters Research supervision processes, the formation and operationalization of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU), support rendered towards the development of aquaculture in the country, the development of five high-value nutritious products (baby food, sauce, maize meal, snacks, and seasoning) using Mukene through the NutriFish Project, the development of an application for tracking fish catches as a measure to prevent overfishing, development of solar tent driers – greenhouse-like structures that reduce the risk of contamination – provide clean and efficient storage and drying, especially during the wet season subsequently reducing post-harvest losses, equipping students and members of the general public with skills needed in the installation and maintenance of solar energy Photovoltaic systems and biogas plants, the Joint African- Nordic Conference in Mathematics, as well as the 2023 Eastern Africa Algebra Research Group and Women in Sage workshops. The report also highlights the research grants received in the course of the year, conferences held, community engagements, activities by students, awards received by the different members of staff, staff publications, and matters of Human Resources at the College.

Management conveys appreciation to all development partners and the Government of Uganda for the support extended towards the different projects at the College. We also thank the University Council and Management for creating a conducive environment for both staff and students to explore their full potential.

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