University of Embu Don Wins Ksh 106 Million DFG Research Grant

Dr. Mark Otieno, a Senior Lecturer in Agroecology in the Department of Water and Agricultural Resource Management (WARM), University of Embu, has been awarded a research grant worth €779,392 by the German Research Foundation (DFG). This is equivalent to Kshs. 106 million. The research will investigate “The functional complementarity between nocturnal and diurnal pollinators along a land-use gradient in Taita Hills biodiversity hotspots in Kenya.”

Pollination is a crucial process in a plant’s life that involves transferring pollen from the male to the female part of a flower, leading to the formation of fruit and seeds. Animal pollinators, such as bees, are responsible for facilitating this process, which is essential for approximately 75% of the crops grown for human consumption worldwide. This research aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Kenya Vision 2030, which both aim to promote sustainable development and protect biodiversity. By studying the impact of human activity on pollinators and plant reproduction, this research can inform sustainable agricultural practices that support biodiversity and promote food security. The study will also contribute to achieving one of the goals of the Kenya Vision 2030 to promote environmentally sustainable development.

The three-year research will run from May 2023 to May 2026, and will be jointly implemented by a panel of researchers from the University of Embu represented by Dr. Mark Otieno; and the University of Wuerzburg in Germany represented by Prof. Dr. Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, a professor of spatial ecology, plant-pollinator interactions, tropical agroecosystems, and crop pollination; and Dr. Marcell Peters, an expert in montane biodiversity and ecology, organismic traits and ecosystem functions, and land use change.

Dr. Otieno holds a PhD in Agroecology from the University of Reading (UK), a Master of Science in Animal Ecology, and a Bachelor of Education (Science) degree in Biology from Kenyatta University in Kenya. After his PhD, he joined the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as a Research Fellow, where he did a study on the influence of landscape and field-scale factors on pollinator and pest natural enemy communities and pollination, pest control, and gene flow in field beans in Lower Franconia, Germany. Dr. Otieno is the University of Embu Researcher of the Year Awardee, 2022 for his outstanding research portfolio.

Upon receipt of the grant, Dr. Mark Otieno, who is also the Director of Research and Extension at the University of Embu, expressed his gratitude to the DFG selection panel for the award. He also thanked his research collaborators from the University of Wuerzburg for their support and teamwork. Dr. Otieno believes that this study will have a significant impact on food security in Africa, by increasing the number of pollinators, which is crucial for the reproduction of many plant species. The University of Embu’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Daniel Mugendi, congratulated Dr. Mark Otieno for winning the research grant, emphasizing that the grant would be a major boost in achieving the Kenya Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. The VC said the research has the potential to inform policy and agricultural practices that promote sustainable development and protect biodiversity in the entire world.