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Dr. Segenet Kelemu

Biosciences eastern and central Africa

When she gave this interview, Dr. Kelemu was Director of the Biosciences for Eastern and Central (BecA) Hub in Nairobi, Kenya*. As a native of Ethiopia, she has experienced the challenges and successes of African agriculture from field to high-tech laboratory.  

She is a molecular plant pathologist with experience in host-pathogen interactions, novel plant disease control strategies, and pathogen population genetics and dynamics. Dr. Kelemu holds degrees in molecular plant pathology and in genetics from Montana and Kansas State Universities, with postdoctoral research at Cornell University (US). Before assuming her duties at BecA, she led crop and agro-ecosystem health management at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).


How would you briefly explain your public-private partnership (PPP) with the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA)?
We have an excellent and highly productive partnership. SFSA is very committed to science and technology’s role in bringing Africa out of poverty. BecA’s main objective is to increase food security for resource-poor farmers by improving African orphan crops and livestock, using modern bioscience technologies. To achieve that, we have to strengthen the research capabilities of African scientists and institutions. SFSA provides financial, managerial, and scientific support to BecA, and thus facilitates affordable access for African scientists and post-graduate students.
Why does a PPP work best to accomplish the project goals?
For me, a PPP can enable effective use of resources. It emphasizes efficient development and delivery of project outputs, and creates added value through synergies between public and private sector skills, knowledge, and expertise. Private sector contributions sometimes also include significant funding for long-term projects that have potentially major impact.
What has been unexpected so far in your SFSA PPP?
Even though I knew about the Foundation’s excellent reputation, I have been surprised by its high level of commitment and the depth of support provided to make a difference for African smallholders. You also have to remember that the Foundation’s support has no strings attached!
From your general experience of PPPs, what would you personally say are the most important topics to consider in the planning phase?
Agree upon common goals and measurable outcomes. Develop relationships of mutual trust, respect, and commitment. Create a good communication mechanism. Balance power and share resources, while building on strengths and assets.
What advice would you give to people from your sector embarking on a first PPP?
Again, agree upon roles, processes and common goals. Identify the various skills and resources that each party brings to the table. Communicate, develop and evolve. And share the credit for accomplishments!
What do you see as the future of PPP?
I see them continuing to be an effective way to achieve vital goals in R&D. These partnerships can optimize the comparative advantages of the public and private sectors, and achieve mutual objectives faster and more efficiently.
* In December 2012, Segenet Kelemu became Vice-President, Programs, for AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.