I am Hellen Kanyagha, a PhD student in the Department of Plant Pathology. My doctoral program and research is funded by the East Africa Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab (IPM-IL) project, which is sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by the Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
I am from Tanzania, specifically the Morogoro Region, which lies among the five major eco-climatic zones of Tanzania. The region experiences moderate temperatures and bimodal rainfalls, and contains a diversity of soil types with varying fertility levels that support the production of a wide range of crops, including cereals and vegetables. Although my parents were government employees, they also farmed, which led to my passion for agriculture and being in the field from an early age. It was through this interest and passion that I grew to like science, which culminated in my current career in agriculture.
Before entering into my graduate program at Ohio State, I worked at the Sokoine University of Agriculture as a laboratory technologist assigned to teaching, research and extension duties. As an employee in an agricultural university, I interacted with many farmers from whom I learned a lot in regards to successful production practices as well as the challenges they faced in the field. From these relationships, I came to realize that farmers in Tanzania, especially those engaged in subsistence agriculture, face a number of challenges, chief of among them being the misuse and overuse of pesticides for managing crop diseases. Pesticide overuse/misuse exposes farmers and ultimately consumers to health risks, triggers environmental pollution, and is wasteful of farmers’ economic resources.
One of the most seriously misunderstood and misinformed plant disease management approaches that farmers’ use is in the control of tomato bacterial wilt, caused by Ralstonia solanacearum. After five years of observing this disease and tracking pesticide (mis)use in bacterial wilt management in farmers’ fields, I thought of developing low cost and environmentally friendly techniques for managing this devastating disease in tomato. My long-term intent is to contribute towards managing tomato wilt disease on smallholder Tanzanian farms while increasing productivity, reducing operating costs, and protecting human health and the environment, all of which are components of IPM.
Upon my arrival to Ohio State, I encountered some considerable changes to my lifestyle: changes in weather patterns, cultural practices, and a new academic system. Added to this all of this change was missing my family back in Tanzania. As time went on and through my interaction with CFAES colleagues and advisors, I was able to slowly adapt to my new life in Wooster, Ohio. Though my family is always on my mind, I currently feel like I am in Tanzania surrounded by people with whom I know and whose company I enjoy. I've enjoyed many multicultural experiences so far, as the Wooster campus community is home to many faculty, students, and scholars from around the world, eager to share with one another their native traditions and cultural heritage in everyday life.
Hellen is a graduate student sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab for East Africa and led by Ohio State. This major vegetable IPM project seeks to prepare the next generation of agricultural scientists, leaders and food system institutions in East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia) through graduate degree training, collaborative research, and human and institutional capacity development (HICD).