The Microbial Resource Center (MIRCEN) was established at the University of Nairobi long before the N2Africa Project (1977) and will continue its work afterward. Our activities include testing legume inoculants and other bio-fertilizers, maintaining a small working culture collection of symbiotic micro-organisms and conducting training and research on soil microbiology. The past eight years that MIRCEN has worked closely with N2Africa have proven mutually beneficial. Scholarship opportunities were extended to Kenyans earning MSc and PhD degrees. The University of Nairobi also hosted graduate students from D.R. Congo. These students were actively involved in rhizobial bio-prospecting with 387 isolates recovered from Kenya and six identified as elite strains. We followed these strains through authentication, symbiotic effectiveness and competitive abilities in the dedicated greenhouse provided by N2Africa, and led in field testing them in three countries. Working with N2Africa resulted in better fulfilling our laboratory’s obligation to test commercial inoculants and offer quality assurance to their distributors and customers. The drop plate procedures in use by our laboratory prior to N2Africa start-up were incorporated into its protocols and extended to other partner countries during Phase 1, and N2Africa laboratory technicians across Africa were trained in these methods in Nairobi at the onset of project activities.
We wonder what will happen with the critical mass in rhizobial microbiology developed over the past years. What will become of the N2Africa rhizobia culture collection being held in the different partner countries and consolidated only through development an electronic database? Will the best strains from different countries ever be compared? Will these same elite strains undergo thorough molecular description and speciation? Is there need for development of a grand catalogue for these elite strains for sharing with relevant laboratories and private inoculant producing industries? How will these proven and documented elite strains then be delivered to the private sector as described at the project’s onset? It is important that the microbial resources gained through N2Africa are well preserved for use in enhancement of crop production and advances in rhizobiology research in SSA and globally. We also question why MIRCEN, that has provided so many services across N2Africa’s past eight years, is now being cut from the project at the end of 2017 when the project itself will continue for another year to consolidate its gains. We state that MIRCEN is committed to work with N2Africa during 2018 to assist the project achieve its stated goals in advancing African rhizobia and rhizobiology in ways that may not occur otherwise!
Prof. Nancy K. Karanja, MIRCEN Director