Chris was the first Ugandan to receive a Pestalozzi scholarship in 2011. This was followed by a Mastercard Foundation scholarship and a degree in Agronomy from EARTH University, Costa Rica.
“Growing up in a developing country, Uganda, where agriculture is the backbone of the national economy and the main source of income for most of the population, I always dreamt of pursuing a career that would improve the agricultural sector to enable small-scale farmers to escape the poverty trap and alleviate problems of hunger and malnutrition in the country.
I decided to pursue a degree in agronomy, which provided invaluable skills and knowledge in areas such as crop and animal production, disease and pest management, plant genetics, soil sciences and sustainability in agricultural production. However, during my third year, I developed a strong interest in plant breeding and genetics, envisioning it as a tool that could grant farmers access to improved crop varieties with an increased yield, nutritional value and tolerance to different environmental stresses such as prolonged droughts, pests, and diseases.
I therefore pursued a master’s degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics, which I completed in 2021 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. My initial exposure to a breeding and genetics program during my internship was illuminating, so I decided to pursue this area with a particular interest in improving food crops such as maize, which are highly important to my home country and the African continent. During my master’s, I worked with 12 organic farmers in a participatory breeding network, who hosted on-farm strip trials to evaluate experimental maize hybrids developed by the Bohn-Lab. The results of my research enabled us to identify the challenges and traits of interest for organic farmers, such as tolerance to weed pressure, nutritional value, and nitrogen-use efficiency. The development of maize hybrids with the traits identified in this project would have a huge economic and social impact by enabling organic farmers to access high-yielding genetic materials that are well-adapted to organic growing conditions.
Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. at Illinois and working on a new project that focuses on establishing a rapid cycle breeding program using speed-breeding techniques, such as genomic selection, doubled haploids and off-season winter nurseries. My research focuses on identifying and integrating new sources of genetic diversity for these traits, which would be beneficial for better adaptation to organic systems.
I believe my research will make fundamental contributions and innovations to organic agricultural research in the U.S. and enable me to acquire more knowledge and skills in plant breeding to ultimately contribute to improving food systems in my home country, Uganda. I thank the Pestalozzi donors for the opportunity offered to me ten years ago, which has opened many doors for me. I would not have come this far if it was not for this life-changing opportunity.”