The Paul Speijer Fund offers African students the opportunity to follow the Master Plant Sciences at Wageningen University. The fund prefers students currently employed at a local research institute working on food crops.
The impact of your gift
Your gift enables African students to study at Wageningen University. They return to their home country with their newly acquired expertise and knowledge and apply it in their local communities. In the long-run, this is how African farmers and food supply in Africa can be supported.
Paul Speijer Fund Students
Umer Aman Dido from Ethiopia was the first student to receive funding from the Paul Speijer Fund in 2010. Aloysius Beah from Sierra Leone joined him in 2011, and Susan Moenga and Margaret Kirika, both from Kenya, started their studies at Wageningen University in September 2012.
Susan Moenga and Margaret Kirika study Plant Sciences. They where classmates in Kenya, where they studied biotechnology. In Wageningen, Susan specializes in plant functional genomics, Margaret in molecular plant breeding and pathology: Susan: “I’m rather excited about technology, about using computer skills for practical application. My main interest is the improvement of legumes, for example the plant uptake of fertilizer.”
Margaret: “I’m interested in basic food crops and other important crops for small scale farming, like tomatoes and potatoes. The current breeding programs in Kenya can be improved, breeding for resistance and less abiotic stress.”
Susan became interested in biotechnology at high school: “Once, I attended a national science congress for pupils. You had to develop a gadget or something. A friend and I hit upon the idea of transferring the genes that make fire flies fluorescent to a plant. Then ornamentals could light the city, making electricity unnecessary. Everybody told us it never could work, but still, the principle never left me.”
For Margaret, biotechnology was just one of the studies she opted for after the entrance exams for university, as it sounded fancy. “But in my first class, it was biochemistry, everything was so new and exiting, that I became enthusiastic and wanted to learn more every day. As a scientist, you can contribute to a better world. With growing populations and plant diseases, we need solutions for survival.”
Susan: “The fun of science is to think of new ideas and solutions. Our bachelor study was very theoretical. Application, that is were the magic is. That’s why we liked to continue with a master in Wageningen.”
Family of farmers
Margaret: “The Anne van den Ban Fund and the Paul Speijer Fund gave us the possibility to achieve more than we’d ever expected. We’re both from a family of smallholder farmers. It was emotions and emotions, when I received the positive reply to my application. A week later, Susan got one too, and then I really felt happy.”
Susan: “Because of the funds contributions, my parents also didn’t have to consider sacrificing my brothers education.”
According to Margaret, she makes a statement, studying at the famous Wageningen University: “It shows that as a woman with my farming background, you also can achieve a lot. I expect this to stimulate my younger sisters and other youngster in the clan. Even a PhD seems to have come within reach now. But in the end, I really would like to return to my region and work with a crop I’m familiar with. But not just in the lab. In my opinion, you should be out in the field as well, interacting with farmers. Kenian farmers work with conventional methods, they keep on using their own seeds. I would like to empower them, and show them other options. With good quality seeds of good cultivars, farmers can obtain better results. My knowledge will certainly reach the farmers in my hometown.”
Susan also would like to continue with a PhD. “Off course. Maybe someone else can get married and have children for me? But whatever happens, back in Kenya I would like to translate my knowledge about bioethics and biosafety into policy and legislation. The government needs professionals who can advise them, to be able to give sufficient attention to agriculture. The major plant breeding companies are interested in Kenya too. We as a country must grab the opportunity to improve our agriculture.”
After having completed his bachelor in Crop Science, Umer worked at Jimma University in Ethiopia for two years. “I researched potatoes and corn, and gave classes on selective breeding of plants and botany.” He felt he needed to continue with his studies though because a bachelor’s degree alone wasn’t enough. “In the future, I want to do more research that is useful to Ethiopian farmers. They need a greater variety in crops and improved cultivation systems. Crop protection is important and Ethiopia’s population is growing steadily. Therefore, agricultural production must meet this growth in order to ensure food security.”
Umer wanted to find a university where he could learn the theory as well as its application. He wanted a university with good research facilities. “You can’t just learn from books and working in a laboratory. You need to acquire field experience as well.”
He knew about Wageningen from other Ethiopian students who were following their master or PhD study there. His brother also obtained his master degree at Wageningen University, aided by a Nuffic grant, and Umer knew that Wageningen was the place for him. “In order to qualify for a Nuffic grant, you need to have accrued four years of working experience. I didn’t want to wait that long. I didn’t want to lose time in further developing myself. When I return, I will get married. My previous salary wasn’t enough to support a family.”
The Anne van den Ban Fund allowed Umer to travel to Wageningen. “It is unaffordable for us to study abroad. Airfare to the Netherlands alone costs a few months salary.” When Umer arrived in Wageningen, his brother had just finished his studies. “We were happy to be able to see each other for a few weeks.”
Umer also receives funding from the Paul Speijer Fund. The fund supports African students who want to follow the Master Plant Sciences at Wageningen University. The fund was created by Nicole Smit, widow of entomologist Paul Speijer. Paul had worked in Africa for many years when he died in a plane crash in 2000. “The fund supports one student Plant Sciences per year and I was the lucky one,” laughs Umer. “I visited Mrs. Smit in Haarlem during Christmas. It was a very special visit.”
Umer is specialising in plant breeding and genetic research through his Plant Sciences study programme. Upon graduation, he wants to work at the university in Ethiopia to combine teaching with research. “Thereby increasing the capacity of agricultural production and that of people themselves.”
Nicole Smit Interview
Paul Speijer studied Plant Diseases Sciences at Wageningen University and obtained his PhD in 1993 at the University of Bonn. Thereafter, he worked for the ITTA (Agricultural Research for Development in Africa) in Uganda. He worked there for many years as nematologist and researched nematodes in banana cultivation. Paul died in a plane crash at the age of 42.
“Paul was very motivated in helping African farmers. By educating local researchers, he was able to contribute to developments there,” explains his wife, Nicole Smit.
She decided to set-up a fund in 2010 with the goal of supporting African students in obtaining an education at Wageningen University. “I am glad that I can carry on with Paul’s work in this manner. He guided many students in Africa during both their MSc and PhD studies. When the plane crashed, he was on his way to see two of his students in Nigeria.”
The compensation payment for relatives paid by the airline company forms the basis of the fund. African students can apply for funding in order to follow the Master Plant Sciences at Wageningen University.