As an upcoming youth I have always been fascinated with the enigma of agriculture especially with youth active participation in this sector. My mum is a trader who works with farmers. On countless occasions, I witnessed farmers bring in their produce and most of these were rotten. There were times the produce looked fresh and healthy but in few days’ time, we find it became rotten. I was curious to know what caused the pepper to rot and hence was causing both farmers and my mum to run at a loss. This was when I realized that plants get sick.
My focus since then has been to know how plants get sick and how the farmers can identify that the plant is sick and hence administer treatment. But unfortunately plants cannot speak to us when they are sick neither can they express what goes on unless the farmer is able to diagnose the sickness. But most of these farmers were illiterate. This was what fueled my interest in studying agriculture at secondary school and then specializing in Plant Pathology. This is a passion I have developed over my education and my exposure to various courses of study in my academic life has further fueled my interest in this profession.
I have come to understand that diseases that affect crops goes beyond the symptomatology we observe but there is a molecular aspect of it. This encouraged me to pursue my goal to the graduate level where I can learn the technicalities and modalities of plant pest and disease and with this knowledge in molecular base, identification of pathogens and devising of effective disease control measures, I intend to help resolve food security issues in Ghana and beyond.
As an undergraduate, I worked on the thesis: “Effect of different rate of fertilizer application on the incidence and severity of Anthracnose of chilli pepper“. This was because of the perception I had about farmers applying more fertilizer which can enhance the disease. But after undertaking an internship at the Molecular and Biotechnology Centre at the University of Ghana, I understood the molecular basis of infectious disease and how this knowledge in biotechnological approaches can help devise practices to protect crops from diseases. This has led me to furthering my education at Wageningen University in the Netherlands – to understand the molecular aspect of bio interaction and how through effective research I can help my country have sustainable crop protection.
I am currently in my first year at the Wageningen University and taking various courses and mini projects have enabled me to do more laboratory work and improve my skills and knowledge base in crop protection. During one of the courses, I undertook a mini project on a disease in onion; the onion neck rot which is a major challenge not only to farmers in the Netherlands but also in my country Ghana. I came to understand that there are several pathogens that could cause this disease but the most damaging one is the Botrytis aclada. Though onions have defense mechanisms the fungus is able to produce enzymes that detoxify the defense system. Understanding the genomics of the various enzymes helped us to identify the enzyme responsible for the detoxification and hence further research is ongoing on this topic by a PhD student in the phytopathology group.
Similarly, one interesting project I am currently working on is the defense systems in plants and how plants are able to develop immunity against pathogens. “Phosphorylation of co-receptor protein in immune signalling” was the topic and understanding the various cascade in the plant that play a role in immune signalling when the plant is attacked by a pathogen has helped me to gain insight into plants interaction with various pathogens and what goes on during this interaction.
Making mutants of Arabidopsis in the potential target systems of the pathogen suggest that when virulence targets (what pathogens attack and enable their successful colonization of a plant) are taken off, then pathogens can be rendered ineffective in their attack. This is my interest.
I want to take a further step into this aspect of bio interaction and identify the virulence factors of plants especially tomatoes and its pathogens and help me to devise strategies to achieve sustainable crop protection. I intend to use the tomato plant as my model plant because tomatoes are a household crop in my country and the losses of this produce due to disease is so huge that we mostly import from neighbouring countries. This I intend to undertake in my second year of Masters as a thesis/ project.
The practicality of my course of study is really helping me to appreciate the fact that there is hope for food security in Africa. I believe that with all this knowledge and skill I can be an asset to enhancing crop protection in my country. I have the strong conviction that being part of this conference will be another step and opportunity to realizing this dream. I look forward to being part of this great congress.
Agnes Omabour Hagan, Ghana