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Photo of Robert B Mabagala

Robert B. Mabagala

Professor Emeritus, Plant Pathology, Sokoine University of Agriculture

Tanzania

What most impressed the professional colleagues who nominated this role model?

Among Robert B. Mabagala’s many innovative undertakings, he is most widely remembered for establishing a modern African Seed Health Centre at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania.  With its cutting edge, state-of-the-art training and laboratory facilities, the center provides top-notch research as well as modern facilities for degree training and short courses in seed health and seed technology.  The center forms a critical component of the seed health platform in Africa, facilitating the movement of germplasm across Africa and globally. 

What motivated you to pursue a career in agriculture?

  • I grew up on a small farm operated by my parents in Ukerewe island, Mwanza region, northern Tanzania, which motivated me to think about the need to contribute to improving the lives of smallholder farmers.
  • Even so, I specialized in agriculture partly by accident.  Initially, I had wanted to study medicine. But my secondary school grades did not permit me to gain admission to medical studies.  Agriculture was my second choice, after advice from friends. 
  • My early deep interest in pathology, discussion with my professors, coupled with the agricultural background of my parents, led me to understand that the study of pathology is common to both medical and agricultural professions. Therefore, I have always advised my students to study plant pathology in order to contribute to reducing food losses caused by plant diseases in Africa and globally.

How can agricultural education institutions more effectively prepare African students for successful agribusiness careers? 

  • Institutions should focus more on practical training rather than theoretical training.  Unfortunately, tight budget constraints have forced institutions to make difficult choices.  Many times these choices have led to theoretical training and underfunded support for practical training.
  • Value-chain activities will dominate most of the agricultural activities in future. Therefore, curricula of institutions must include agribusiness activities to address future job markets.
  •  PhD programs at many African Universities do not have the course work component. It is time now that such programs consider introducing course work to allow students to catch up with the fast changes in science, technology and innovations of today’s world.
  • African institutions should plan their academic programs focusing on challenges that will face their nations 20-50 years from now (planning ahead of time) rather than the current short plans of 2-5 years.
  • Review of curricula with involvement of private sector to accommodate the requirements of future industries and demand for employment.

 Career highlights

  • Professor of Plant Pathology, Sokoine University of Agriculture (2004-todate)
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Soil, Water and Climate, University of Minnesota (June 2002).
  • Founder, African Seed Health Centre, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro
  • Country Coordinator, Tanzania – International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) (2013-2014).
  • Board Chairman, Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI)(2012-2014).
  • Member, Technical Advisory Panel, Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI)(2012-2014).
  • Representative, Tanzania – Technical Committee for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy Development in Eastern Africa (BIO-EARN)(Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) (2004-2006).
  • Regional Chair-East and Southern Africa Bean/Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP), USAID,Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and USA (2002 -2003).
  • Acting Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro (1997-98).
  • Acting District Agricultural Development Officer, Kasulu District, Kigoma (1978-1980)

Educational background

  • Primary school:                     
    • Igalla Primary School, Ukerewe Island, Mwanza (1962-1969).
  • Secondary school:     
    • Bwiru Secondary School, Mwanza (1970-1973).
    • Mkwawa    High School, Iringa (1974-1975).
  • National Service:
    • Ruvu/Nachingwea National Service Camps (1976).
  • Diploma
    •  Diploma in Crop Production –Ukiriguru(1977-1978).        
  • University:                             
    • B.Sc. Agriculture, University of Dar-es –Salaam, Faculty of Agriculture(1981-1983).
    • M.Sc., Plant Pathology and Breeding, Michigan State University (1985-1987).
    • PhD, Plant Pathology and Breeding, Michigan State University (1987-1991).