THE National University of Lesotho (NUL) has been awarded a US$58 000 (about M758 692) prize for a research project on intestinal parasites for sheep and goats.
The prize was awarded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) — a consortium of 66 African universities operating within 26 countries on the continent.
Established in 2004, RUFORUM is coordinated by a secretariat hosted by Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Its core mandate is to oversee graduate training and networks of specialization in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
RUFORUM supports universities in addressing their largely unfulfilled role of contributing to the well-being of small-scale farmers and economic development of countries throughout the sub-Saharan region.
The consortium fosters the development of Africa’s innovation capacity by engaging universities through running several grant competitions among member universities.
It is against this backdrop that NUL entered its research project on the prevalence of intestinal parasites among Lesotho’s sheep and goats in the RUFORUM grant competition.
According to the university’s parasitologist Moeketsi Phalatsi, the research project seeks to assess the effect of the parasites on sheep and goat farming – a sector which contributes millions to Lesotho’s economy through wool and mohair production.
The wool and mohair industry has been steadily growing over the years, generating revenue of M330 million in the 2014/16 financial year, up from M250 million in the 2014/15 financial year.
Mr Phalatsi said the university’s preliminary research started in Maseru and was extended to Quthing after realising high prevalence of the parasites among sheep and goats.
He said they then decided to apply for a grant to expand the research project. The project is expected to be completed by the end of May with the results published later in the year.
“Many universities apply for grants in different categories and based on a mark sheet. RUFORUM then awards grants to the most deserving universities,” said Mr Phalatsi.
“Lesotho submitted its application for a grant in 2015. Not only did we receive the grant, but we were informed that our research project gained the most points compared to other universities.”
He said the project notched high points because of its inclusivity since they engaged farmers from the start – a prerequisite for the awarding of RUFORUM grants.
“Research projects are not carried out merely for the sake of establishing the problem, but to find solutions. As a result, we knew from the start that a project without the input of farmers wasn’t going to bring a solution.”
Mr Phalatsi also indicated that involving farmers in the project ensured that all proposed solutions would be applicable and beneficial to the country.
“Without farmers and their livestock, there would be no research. So, from the onset, we made sure that farmers understood the importance of their involvement in this research.”
He said the research team consisted of two masters’ degree students, four undergraduate students and the university’s lecturers.
He said one of the masters’ degree programme students also received an award from RUFORUM, signaling that Lesotho was on the right track in conducting academic research that is responsive to the country’s needs.
Mr Phalatsi further explained that the project also sought to address challenges related to the country’s rangelands as livestock ingested the gut parasites from the grass.
He said Lesotho was among countries whose farmers still share rangelands, adding that there was a need to ensure they understood the importance of taking care of them to reduce the prevalence of gut parasites in sheep and goats.
Responding to criticism that the university was not doing enough in addressing some of the country’s economic problems, Mr Phalatsi said their project was ample testimony of the efforts they were making.
“I also think it is our responsibility as researchers to make our completed research projects known to the people so that they can use the findings in solving some of the challenges,” he said.
“Education needs to be beneficial to the people. For us to achieve this, we need to find practical ways in which intellectuals and ordinary citizens can closely work together to find and apply solutions to our problems.”
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