Partner Representative

Cornel Massawe

ARI-HORTI-Tengeru | Director
HORTI-Tengeru, Arusha, Tanzania

Cornel Massawe works with Ministry of Agriculture since 1990, currently is designated as Principal Agriculture Research Officer. He obtained his PhD in Plant Nematology from University of Zimbabwe, using nematode communities as bio-indicators to infer soil health in different land management and intensification levels. He obtained his MSc in Tropical Agriculture Development from University of Reading, UK. He has spent much of his precious time working on parasitic weeds in cereals (Striga spp.) and legumes (Alectra spp.) at Ilonga Research Institute, eastern Tanzania before joining the banana programme at HORTI Tengeru, Arusha as a nematologist since 2012. He is driven with passion of serving and working with smallholder farmers.

Graham Thiele

CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas
Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB)

Graham Thiele, PhD, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB) which brings together multiple partners to improve food security and reduce rural poverty through research for development. He provides intellectual leadership to develop a shared vision, build a strong partnership among participating centers, partners and other stakeholders and manage for outcomes. Graham is a social scientist and expert in targeting, priority setting, and impact and adoption studies of new agricultural technologies. He spent 17 years with the International Potato Center (CIP), most recently as the Leader for Social and Health Sciences. Graham has worked in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Tanzania, Kenya, Benin, Rwanda, Indonesia and the Philippines. He helped develop, implement, and assess several, novel participatory methodologies designed to link farmers with markets, inform research agendas, and promote innovation in policies, products, and technology uptake. Graham holds a PhD in Social Anthropology and a MSc in Agricultural Economics. Email:

Edson Perito

EMBRAPA | Banana Breeder
Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, Brazil

Edson is a researcher with Embrapa, responsible for the genetic improvement program for bananas and plantains and leader of the Musa technical team. He began his career as an agronomist before focusing on plant breeding, obtaining his PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding at the Federal University of Lavras in 2005. He additionally serves as Professor of the Postgraduate Course in Plant Genetic Resources at the Federal University of the Bahia Recôncavo, responsible for “Population Genetics”, as well as Professor of the Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology at the State University of Feira de Santana, responsible for “Biotechnology Applied to Plant Breeding”. He acts as adviser to numerous Master’s and Doctoral students and supervises Post-Doctorates and holds the CNPq Research Productivity Scholarship Level 2. His primary lines of research include genetic improvement, biotechnology, quantitative genetics, molecular markers, biostatistics and biometrics. Within the project Edson provides an important link to the Brazilian banana breeding program and germplasm accessions.

Jaroslav Dolezel

Institute of Experimental Botany, Olomouc, Czech Republic

Jaroslav Dolezel is Head of the Centre of Plant Structural and Functional Genomics of the Institute of Experimental Botany in Olomouc (Czech Republic), Research Director of the Centre of the Region Hana for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research in Olomouc, and Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Palacky University in Olomouc. Research of his team focuses on plant genome structure, function and evolution. Among other achievements he has pioneered the use of DNA flow cytometry in Musa taxonomy and banana breeding and has participated in several Musa genome sequencing projects. His laboratory serves as Musa Genotyping Centre and has been genotyping all the accessions from the International Musa Germplasm Transit Centre (Leuven, Belgium). J. Dolezel regularly teaches in international training courses and has received several prestigious awards for his scientific achievements.

Al Brown

Banana Breeder
IITA, Arusha, Tanzania

Allan Brown obtained his PhD from the University of Illinois in 2004 and has considerable experience with both conventional and marker-assisted breeding of several vegetable and fruit crops. Throughout his academic and professional career he has worked with sweet corn (University of Minnesota), chili peppers (New Mexico State University), broccoli (University of Illinois), peas (Washington State University), and peach and blueberry (North Carolina State University). At NCSU, he was the lead PI on an international collaborative project to generate the first genomic draft sequence of blueberry (Vaccinum corymbosum) and was the first researcher to use high density SNP arrays of rapeseed to generate saturated genetic linkage maps of related plant species.
While on the faculty of NCSU, he served as an inaugural member of the Plants for Human Health Institute and conducted collaborative research with industry partners to identify genetic factors in broccoli and blueberry that enhanced or modified the profiles of nutrients and phytochemicals in plants that are associated with human health (calcium, iron, zinc, glucosinolates, carotenoids, and flavonoids).
He is a believer in translational science and believes that we can and should bridge the gap between basic and applied research to find real-world solutions to agricultural and health concerns.

George Mahuku

IITA, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

George Mahuku, from Zimbabwe, is the Senior Plant Pathologist for Eastern, Southern and Central Africa. George holds a BS degree in Agriculture from the University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe (1986), MSc degree in Plant Pathology/Virology from Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA (1991), and a doctorate degree in Plant Pathology/Molecular Biology from the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada (1995).
Prior to his appointment, he was a Senior Scientist-Maize Pathologist for the Global Maize Program, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). He also served as a Senior Scientist-Plant Pathologist for the Bean Improvement Program, Centro International de Agricultural Tropical (CIAT) (1998 to 2007), and a Senior Research Fellow at the Crop and Livestock Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Canada (1997 to 1998).

Trushar Shah

IITA, Nairobi, Kenya

Trushar Shah is the Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP) Hub Manager. He is a Kenyan national. He graduated from the University of Bristol, UK, with an honors degree in biochemistry, molecular biology, and biotechnology. He holds a MSc in molecular modeling and bioinformatics from Birkbeck, University of London.
Before joining IITA, he was a Scientist (Bioinformatics) and Coordinator, Data Management Unit at ICRISAT. He also worked as Bioinformatics Specialist & Computational Biology (2007–2009) at CIMMYT on the analysis of gene expression, association mapping, marker and genomic data.

Rony Swennen

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Banana Breeder

Rony Swennen obtained his PhD at KU Leuven, Belgium in 1984. After a brief research stay in the Canary Islands, Spain, he joined IITA in 1979 as the first scientist at IITA’s High rainfall substation, Onne, Nigeria. There he started plantain research initially focusing on physiology in support of agronomy, and taxonomy. He became Associate Scientist (1982), Research Coordinator (1985), and in 1987 Core Scientist. He initiated and run the plantain breeding program that resulted in black sigatoka-resistant plantain hybrids for which IITA was awarded the International King Baudouin Award.
In 1990 he became Senior lecturer at KU Leuven University and by 1997 full professor. His group also developed the first transgenic bananas in the early 90s with field tests in two locations. He joined IITA again as banana breeder in 2013.

Uma Binita

National Research Centre for Banana, India
Director, National Research Centre for Banana, India

Uma Subbaraya has her MSc and PhD in Horticulture from University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, India. With a brief stint as Horticulture Officer in the State Department and as a Teaching Fellow in the University, she joined ICAR as Scientist at Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, Bangalore, India. She moved to the National Research Center for Banana at Trichy at the institute’s inception in 1993. Since then, she has worked with bananas and plantains at NRCB in various capacities, taking over as the Director in 2016. She is also the nodal officer for the ‘banana component’ of All India Co-ordinated Research Programme on fruits with 11 centers across the country. She has worked on various components of Musa Genetic Resource Management and banana breeding. She now works with a strong team of 16 scientists at NRCB and researchers from NARS, India. She has worked with grass root level functionaries implementing numerous NARS technologies with farmers and has been actively involved with PPV and FRA (Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority), India. Her team is committed to the raising living standards of banana farmers through a number of central schemes, such as Tribal Upliftment, North Eastern Hill programs etc. through awareness campaigns, training and entrepreneurship development.

Rodomiro Ortiz

Chair Professor, Genetics & Plant Breeding
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp, Sweden

Rodomiro Ortiz obtained his PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA in 1991, and his MSc, Biol., and BSc degrees at Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM), Perú in 1985, 1983 and 1981, respectively. He was researcher at UNALM, Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP) in Perú, Rutgers University in New Jersey (USA) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, held a Nordic professorship in plant genetic resources at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL) in Denmark, and was Director of the Genetic Resources and Enhancement Program at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India, Deputy-Director General, Director of Research for Development, Director of the Crop Improvement Division, and Officer in Charge of the High Rainfall Station (Nigeria) and the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Centre (Uganda) of IITA, and Director of the Intensive Agro-ecosystems Program, Director of Resource Mobilization and Senior Advisor to the Director General at the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT) in Mexico, and served as part-time Special Advisor to the Deputy-Director General Research of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA, Syria), as part-time Science Advisor of the interim Consortium Office of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and as independent free-lance consultant for various international, regional and national organizations. He has written in excess of 800 reports, of which about 50% are international refereed articles or edited book chapters and with h-index = 51; and has trained 30 students who did their degree thesis under his advice in Africa and Europe. In 1994, the CGIAR awarded IITA the prestigious King Baudouin Award for the multidisciplinary research of the team working in plantain and banana improvement, in which Ortiz was both a hands-on researcher and program leader. In 2010, UNALM Graduate School acknowledges him as an outstanding alumnus in plant breeding due to his international research and teaching. Plant Breeding Reviews dedicated him its volume 36 (2012). He holds a chair professorship on genetics and plant breeding at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) since 2011.

Yasmin Othman

University of Malaya, Malaysia


Yasmin is currently Director of the University of Malaya Centre for Innovation & Commercialization and Chairman of University of Malaya’s compliance committee, as well as the Vice President of the Innovation and Technology Managers Association Malaysia. She completed her BSc at University of Surrey and MSc at University of Malaya then received a Chevening scholarship to pursue a PhD in Plant Virology at the John Innes Institute, UK. She joined University of Malaya as a lecturer in the Department of Genetics and Cellular Biology and was appointed a full Professor in 2005. She runs an active research group focusing on utilising modern biotechnology strategies to tackle fundamental problems in agriculture as well on issues related to BioPolicies, Bioethics and Biosafety. She has published extensively, filed more than 10 patents and supervised over 12 PhD and 25 MSc students. She is an associate Fellow of the IMBN and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and was a founding trustee of the National Institutes of Biotechnology Malaysia. She is also a founding member of the Asian Network for Biosafety Education and currently sits on the National Biosafety Board. Yasmin was the first head of the Centre for Research in Biotechnology for Agriculture and Chair of the University’s Biotechnology and Bioproduct Cluster (UMBIO). She is also chief editor for the Asia-Pacific Journal for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. In 2009 she moved from UM for a 3 year secondment to the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation Malaysia as Undersecretary of the National Biotechnology Division. During her tenure Malaysia launched the Bioeconomy Initiative Malaysia designed to spur growth of the biotechnology industry. Whilst there, she spearheaded the committee which led to the formation of the National Bioethics Council. She has sat on the Board of Directors of MARDI, the Board of Governors of ICGEB, Trieste and was the National Point of Contact (NPC) for UNESCO’s Microbial Biotechnology Network and SEA-EU-NET (Biotech).

Her profile can be found in Scientific American World Vision:

Jennifer Ann Harikrishna

University of Malaya, Malaysia

Prof. Dr. Jennifer Ann Harikrishna is a Professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology at the Faculty of Science, University of Malaya. After completing her BSc in Microbiology at the University of Surrey, UK she was awarded a Whitbread Scholarship to pursue her PhD on the molecular genetics of industrial yeast at the Cranfield Institute of Technology, Cranfield University, UK. She graduated in 1990 winning the Chancellors Gold Medal for the most outstanding graduate student of the year. Jennifer then moved to the USA to take up a two year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California in San Francisco. She moved to Malaysia in 1991, continuing her post doctoral research at the University of Malaya, Department of Biology, before joining TropBio Research Sdn Bhd, a small private plant biotechnology company in 1996. In 2001 she joined the Institute of Bioscience at University Putra Malaysia as an Associate Professor. Prior to re-joining the University of Malaya in 2006, she was an Associate Professor of Biotechnology at the Malaysia University of Science and Technology. Her current research focus is on the functional genomics of moncotolydenous plants including orchid, banana, rice and oil palm. Jennifer became a full Professor at the University of Malaya in 2011 and currently holds 3 research grants, supervises 18 graduate students and is the author of several peer reviewed scientific publications.

Fatimah Kayat (Project Manager)

Senior Lecturer
University Malaysia Kelantan (UMK), Malaysia

Fatimah is currently the Dean of Faculty of Agro Based Industry at UMK. She completed her BSc in Genetics at the University of Malaya. She was awarded a National Science Fellowship to pursue her MSc and converted to a PhD on Plant Molecular Breeding at Faculty of Sciences, University of Malaya. She joined UMK as a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Agro Industry and Natural Resources in 2011. Her research interests are in the field of plant breeding, biotechnology, agricultural extension and social entrepreneurship. She has been involved in numerous research projects covering a wide range of areas: molecular markers for resistance to Fusarium in bananas, phylogenetics for species differentiation of Aglaonema, genomic differences in somaclonal variants of banana, risk assessment of Parthenium weed, enhancement of the production of antidiabetic compound from Ficus deltoidea, haploid induction in kenaf among others. She has also been involved with technology transfer to the community and disadvantaged groups. She has supervised 1 PhD and 2 MSc students and currently supervises 1 PhD and 8 MSc students.

Elizabeth Aitken

University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Liz obtained her BSc Hons in Agricultural Science (Crop Science) from Edinburgh University and her PhD in Forest Pathology from Aberdeen University. As a postdoctoral fellow in the UK she worked on transposon tagging of a rust resistance gene at Birmingham University and at the Sainsbury Lab in Norfolk. In 1993 she moved to Australia to the University of Queensland (UQ) where she has remained since.
Much of Liz’s research at UQ has focused on diseases of tropical crops in particular banana, ginger and sunflower. Research topics have included the genetics of plant-pathogen interactions, molecular aspects of pathogenicity and disease diagnostics. Her current research includes identification of resistance to Fusarium wilt in diploid banana lines for potential deployment against Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense tropical race 4 (TR4). Other studies include analysis of putative pathogenicity genes including six genes in Fusarium oxysporum affecting banana, strawberry and ginger as well as identification of cryptic plant pathogen species in ginger and sunflower.
Liz has mentored numerous postgraduate students and has a well-established teaching portfolio in plant pathology at all levels from 1st year undergraduate to coursework masters. She has an active commitment within the university in the areas of research integrity and biosafety.

Jenny Zhaoying Xiang

Director of Genomics Resources Core Facility
Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, USA

Jenny Xiang, MD as its founding director, has been leading the Genomics Resources Core Facility (GRCF) at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) since December, 2000. GRCF has been providing state of the art services in genomics and related high through-put technologies to the basic and translational research and clinical communities including WCM, Cornell University, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery and external collaborators. With the high demand for genomics technologies, GRCF has expanded its services and become an integrally affiliated part of the Institute for Precision Medicine at WCM, which has led to another dimension to laboratory-oriented research projects: patient-based clinical studies of cancers. The full-range and high quality of the Next Generation Sequencing services including experimental design, sample manipulation, instrumentation, data analysis/interpretation, and validation have helped a large number of researchers and clinicians to generate high-level scientific publications, secure their research funding and develop precision cancer care.

Rob Reid

Research Assistant Professor, Bioinformatics Services Division
University of Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Dr. Rob Reid works as a Research Assistant Professor for the Bioinformatics Services Division at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Focusing mainly on genomics, Rob has been involved sequence assembly projects include the assembly and analysis of the oat and blueberry genomes, the transcriptome assemblies of various plants as well as echinoderms, assay development for genotyping and marker mapping, genome annotating, gene expression studies and characterizing plant pathways using a variety of bioinformatics approaches.