Gerardine Mukeshimana, a 2013 graduate of Michigan State University’s (MSU) doctoral program in plant breeding and genetics in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and Pulse CRSP student, was appointed the new Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources of Rwanda by H. E. Paul Kigame, president of the Republic of Rwanda, on July 24, 2014. Mukeshimana received financial support for her doctoral work through USAID’s Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program (Pulse CRSP), currently branded as the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Grain Legumes (Legume Innovation Lab). The Legume Innovation Lab addresses issues of hunger and poverty through science and technology research.
Mukeshimana is an example of how the CRSPs and the current Innovation Labs are contributing to the new generation of agriculture leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa. While in a Ph.D. program at MSU, Mukeshimana’s research focused on the genetics of common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, to identify drought tolerant genes and traits. Common bean is an important food and nutritional security crop in Rwanda, which has the highest per capita consumption of beans of any country in the world. She received USAID’s Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP) fellowship, which enabled her to spend three months at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT-Colombia), a CGIAR center, receiving training and research mentoring. In addition to addressing important constraints to bean productivity in Rwanda, Mukeshimana acquired knowledge and skills in molecular genetics that will be important for the future growth and competitiveness of Rwanda’s agriculture sectors.
In 2012, the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development (BIFAD) recognized Mukeshimana’s achievements by awarding her the prestigious 2012 BIFAD Student Award for Scientific Excellence in a USAID CRSP. The recognition was based on her contributions to Rwanda’s bean breeding program including the identification of genes for drought tolerance and the development of a fast and cost-effective method for screening for drought tolerance mechanisms. She recently authored two scientific papers on drought tolerance in common bean including “Quantitative Trait Loci Associated with Drought Tolerance in Common Bean” in Crop Science and “Identification of Shoot Traits Related to Drought Tolerance in Common Bean Seedlings” in the Journal of the American Society of Horticulture Science.
Mukeshimana had been working as a plant scientist at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub before being appointed to Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).
In response to learning about her appointment Mukeshimana said, “I didn’t expect it at all. But when I was appointed, I told myself, this is an opportunity to serve my country and Rwandans and I’m happy about it. We [MINAGRI] are here to help Rwandans get where they need to be. We are not working for ourselves, but for all Rwandans and our country, so we are going to work as hard as we can to increase plant and animal productivity although we are facing climate challenges. ”
This story was adapted from an article authored by the Legume Innovation Lab.