Growing Solutions

Most graduate students feel successful if they complete their degree or land a job. For Isaac Kamweru, the stakes are far higher: Can he protect 47 million Kenyans from famine?

Kamweru, who is from Nairobi, is now completing a master’s degree in Plant and Soil Sciences. As UD’s pioneer Borel Global Fellow, he’s the first graduate student in a new program funded by donors Jim and Marcia Borel to boost food security in famine-prone Africa.

For his thesis, Kamweru is genetically characterizing 400 varieties of maize—corn—to find strains that are drought resistant. The search is urgent. Drought is sweeping Africa, and Kenya hasn’t fully recovered from a devastating corn blight in 2012.

“We had up to 90 percent crop failure in Kenya’s grain basket,” Kamweru says. “Many people here are still on relief food.”

Kamweru has skin—and kin—in the farming game.

“I grew up on a two-acre farm,” he says. “My mother still lives there, and I go twice a month to help manage it. When I’m there, the neighbors come visit; they ask questions. It’s like a demo farm. When I can inform and inspire my neighbors, it’s a good feeling.”

Even better is knowing that he can help his entire nation.

“We need to bring modern science to Kenyan farming. With my education from the University of Delaware, I’m sure I can fill that gap and make a difference. The impact of what we scientists do at these research stations is huge. Huge.

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