Dr. Richard Edema is the Director of Makerere University Regional Centre for Crop Improvement (MARCCI). He was born in July 1967 to Mr. Onziga Joseph, a retired soldier. When growing up, Dr. Edema’s childhood was partly in Jinja Army Barracks and Bugolobi before his family was torn into pieces by the war that overthrew President Idi Amin in 1979. His memory of the war is a tough and sad one. He remembers the whole family walking from Arua while escaping the war to a Refugee Camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo and life in the refugee camp was not the best; they did not have schools to go to and life was so miserable. While in the Camp, dreams had to be pursued, although he did not have any way of fulfilling them.
One day, an opportunity knocked at his door as someone came in to help him try and fulfill his dream. That was Fr. Salvano Renzo, a Comboni priest who had set a mission in the Refugee Camp to help the young boys become priests. Fr. Salvano would search for young boys to join seminary, and he would enroll them to St. Peter and Paul Minor Seminary in Arua Diocese. While on his mission, Fr. Salvano spotted Dr. Edema and thought he could join the vocation; the young Edema was then enrolled in Bakara Preparatory Seminary in Congo. Dr. Edema’s dream was to serve God at the altar as a priest.
In 1983, the young Edema joined the minor seminary of St. Peter and Paul Pokea in Arua diocese. He says at that time peace was beginning to return to Arua. But having lived in a refugee Camp for a long time, his parents had nowhere to begin from; Fr. Salvano came in and supported him financially through the minor seminary. The young Edema recalls being among the good students the Seminary had academically and he was good in Sciences. He was the best Science student at his school in Senior Four that year and so the management recommended that he joins another school for his A-level where he could pursue the science subjects then he could return to the Seminary after. He was then admitted to Mvara S.S for his A-level. At the finals, he was once again the best student in Sciences and was admitted to Makerere University to pursue a Bachelor of Sciences in Agriculture.
Before his journey to Makerere, Dr. Edema had hoped that that was the perfect time for him to return to the seminary and follow his dreams. Unfortunately, that did not happen, though he was still promised that he would go back after university. That changed immediately after he acquired BSC Agriculture with Hons of Makerere University. He was awarded a scholarship to study MSc Agriculture bias in Plant Pathology at Makerere University. Since Dr. Edema had always been a very good student all the days of his school, after his Master’s program, he secured a prestigious five year scholarship by the Rockafella Foundation to the USA for a Doctorate in Plant Pathology with a bias in molecular plant Virology at the Ohio State University.
In 2001, he graduated and returned to Uganda in 2002 and he was employed by Makerere University as a senior lecturer and Director of MARCCI. With a backing from Rockafella which had promised to support his activities and research program, Dr. Edema has not disappointed either Makerere University or Rockafella. He has mentored a number of students and still mentors many. To many, he is a professor, role model, a teacher, mentor and adviser.
Dr. Edema not returning to the seminary was a blessing in disguise for him and the students he has mentored. He received a new calling he did not realize until recently. In 2008, Rokafella expanded the sponsorship and Bill and Melinda Gates also joined the sponsorship of the research program, they helped build a regional plant breeding centre at Makerere Univeristy which Dr. Edema is supervising. The centre under the leadership of Dr. Edema has trained 117 MSc and 58 PhD students from several key African countries.
Dr. Edema is passionate about his job which has become a calling for him. This is evident because he not only looks at training students but also involve in finding solutions to end hunger in Uganda and Africa at large; he noted that he is involved in a research to improve breeds in sorghum and cowpeas. He added that Africa should be the food hub for the world. “As we think about African Agriculture, we have to contribute towards the World Population, if we work and put in more people, we can reduce hunger in Africa but also commercialize Africa,” he said. His research program has contributed so much in marketing Makerere University, because it has become a flagship for the University in internationalizing it. MARCCI has a well-equipped laboratory which makes learning easy for the students.
The program has also lady students and student mums because they are encouraged to take up the research program. Dr. Edema says that he encourages women to take up the program because many women go through a lot of trouble to feed their families. Dr. Edema is happy with his achievement so far and he feels he has made his contribution to Makerere University, Uganda and Africa at large. “I did not know that what I was building would become continental, I feel good because it’s worth it. I have made my contribution to MUK, Uganda and Africa. I hope it can be replicated elsewhere in Africa. What am doing here is just a drop in the ocean because expertise needs more people, I am doing one part in breeding we need pathologists and Agronomists. I am happy because it’s like a renaissance in agriculture in Africa,” commented Dr. Edema. He also has no regret that he didn’t make it to priesthood because he believes that this is his best calling. Dr. Edema is married to a beautiful wife and is a father to eight children.
Being an academician is not an easy job. The professor feels challenged because keeping the program running is no job for the faint hearted, he hardly has time for his family and children. Professor believes in doing things differently if one has to be effective.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Director MARCCI Prof Paul Gibson says his boss Dr. Edema is a great company to the program, because the latter is the architect of the MARCCI program and invited him to help at the research centre. He continued that Dr. Edema being the overall director of the program has an excellent working relationship with him and the whole team. Prof Gibson also noted that Dr. Edema has also provided an overall visionary leadership to the team and for the program. Prof Gibson says Prof Edema has left him to do what he loves doing most which is teaching the program which is right; he added that they need to pass on what they have to be much more effective teachers and researchers than they are. Dr. Edema is also a fellow of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, this a group of scientists judged by their peers to have made exceptional contribution to knowledge in their field.
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