By Azage Tegegne
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). In this post, Azage Tegegne, leader of the Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) Project, reflects on how working with EIAR has shaped his contribution to livestock research in Ethiopia.
I vividly remember my first encounter with EIAR, then the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR). I was a senior student at Alemaya College of Agriculture majoring in animal sciences. In our final year, we visited research institutions, commercial and smallholder farms accross the country and development institutions such as Chilalo Agriculture Development Union (CADU) to find out about their work and learn from their experiences. One of the visits was to IAR’s Melka Werer and Holetta Agricultural Research Centres, and we were really impressed by the quality of scientific research that was being carried out there—from soils to crop breeding to agronomy, crop protection, etc.
We also saw research in livestock sciences, particularly on the dairy potential of local breeds such as Borana, Barca and Horro, and their crossbreeds with exotic breeds such as Holstein-Friesian, Jersey and Simmental. The animals looked beautiful and were big in size. We were impressed by how the researchers linked forage agronomy research to animal nutrition and animal production.
In the IAR’s animal nutrition and dairy laboratories different kinds of analyses aimed at improving livestock productivity were taking place and the white-overall-clad scientists made a huge impression on me. They answered the many questions we raised as young students, no doubt in some part hoping to impress them with our intelligence and get them to hire us! I remember saying to myself that I belong to IAR and really got motivated to be a researcher/scientist like those I was seeing.
After graduating, for reasons not clear to me even today, I was ‘hijacked’ by Alemaya College and recruited as a graduate assistant. I was happy to be employed by the college because I realized that I could teach and also do research! Due to the shortage of teaching staff, I was one of the first batches of graduate students enrolled in a brand new graduate program of the Addis Ababa University. This opened up an opportunity for me to get attached to IAR at Holetta where I studied animal breeding and genetics under Prof Salah Galal. Galal was an outstanding professor and a very kind and compassionate person who was always willing to mentor young scientists.
Eventually, I decided to do my MSc thesis research on animal breeding and genetics under his supervision using IAR data collected over the years at the four research centres- Holetta, Bako, Melka Werer and Adami Tulu. Various IAR administrators, researchers and assistants contributed to my success in various ways. I thank them all for shaping my life for good.
My connection with IAR continued through participation in the IAR-sponsored annual meetings of the National Crop Improvement Conference (NCIC), which presented and discussed livestock-related research until the National Livestock Improvement Conference (NLIC) was established. NLIC was the precursor of the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP). I appreciate that the IAR leadership supported and nurtured these conferences.
After completing my Ph.D. study in 1989 in Queensland, Australia, I joined the then International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), now International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in 1990 as a post-doctoral fellow and continued with ILRI to date. Over these years, I have actively participated in the transformation of IAR into the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization (EARO) and then to EIAR. I have been involved in a number of collaborative research activities between ILRI and EIAR and contributed, in my own small way, to the capacity building of the institution.
Over the years, I have also witnessed EIAR evolve and grow its contributions to agricultural development in Ethiopia and beyond. I think I am one of the lucky ones who have had a chance to know and work with different leaders at EIAR–from the founder and first director general, the late Ato Worku Mekasha, to the current director general, Fentahun Mengistu.
As we mark 50 years of EIAR in 2016, I think it is appropriate for us to pause and pay tribute to those who have built this institution and made it one of the leading agricultural research institutions in Africa. Some of them are not with us today, but the culture of scientific research they left behind has endured and we look forward to EIAR continuing to remain one of the leading agricultural research institutions in Africa in the coming years!
Congratulations EIAR on your 50th anniversary!