AATF Pays Tribute to Its Departing Director

  • After close to ten years, the Executive Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr. Denis Tumwesigye Kyetere, takes a deserved retirement.
  • Dr. Canisius Kanangire, previously of theAfrican Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), takes over as the Executive Director of AATF.
  • Founded in 2003, ATTF primarily works to provide farmers in Sub Sahara Africa with practical technology solutions capable of addressing their farm productivity constraints and improving their livelihoods.
  • Below is the complete text from AATF.

‘Our success comes from the support and collaboration of many partners’ were the words of the founders of AATF in 2003 during its conceptualization and formation. 

In addition to the contribution of partners, the success recorded thus far by AATF has been due to far-sighted vision and astute leadership at the institution. 

Dr Denis Kyetere, or just Denis as he prefers to be called, joined the AATF in 2012. He found the fledgling institution in dire need to build trust and confidence with its partners and internal stakeholders following turbulent leadership challenges. At the time, AATF needed to maintain its gains and realize growth. 

With a steady hand, always on the ready, Denis lifted the hearts and spirits of all he worked with at AATF. With clarity and compassion in equal proportions, he wove around him an endearing web of enduring friendships and partnerships that would anchor the organization on a steady course during the ten years of his leadership at AATF. 

Magnanimous to the extreme, Denis has comportment that exudes absolute humility. The man who prefers to be addressed simply by his first name created sound harmony among staff that has helped build synergy within and across projects and departments, creating room for focus on the organization’s bigger picture – serving smallholder farmer interests. 

A scientist of no mean repute, Denis commanded respect among the organization’s scientists and experts as he constantly nudged them to evaluate their work against the ever-increasing needs of smallholder farmers on the African continent. 

His leadership and management style centered on building teams and teamwork, encouraging selfevaluation and ownership of results while building confidence and mutual respect among AATF staff and partners. 

Denis joined AATF with a rich dossier of impressive leadership credentials. He had served on the Board of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), chaired the Board of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) for two terms and led the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda as Director-General.

As the Executive Director of the AATF, Denis knew only too well that rural communities thrive when smallholder farmers prosper. Under his leadership, AATF has worked with partners to help farmers in SubSaharan Africa access practical technology solutions that have increased yields by between 100 and300 percent across several crops, thus having a direct impact on livelihoods. 

His passion for agriculture is rooted in a childhood spent tending livestock and crops on his family’s homestead in rural Uganda, and this has contributed to his drive to see an Africa with greater agricultural innovations. 

Under his watch, AATF was able to demonstrate how progress is possible when the private sector, governments, NGOs, researchers, and farmers work together to develop technologies that address specific production challenges. He led AATF and its partners in collaborations aimed at making that needed difference, such as in developing maize (corn) varieties that can withstand the dual impacts of drought and insect pests, including attacks by the destructive fall armyworm, which can ruin an entire field in just a few days. 

Denis has a special interest in maize because it is an essential food and cash crop for Africa’s smallholder farmers. In fact, his Ph.D. research at Ohio State University, USA, identified and mapped the first gene which confers tolerance to the devastating maize streak virus disease (MSVD). He sees real value in using technology to improve staple crops. 

During his leadership, AATF delivered on its promise to produce a cowpea crop that is resistant to the pod borer Maruca vitrata that had hitherto devastated farmers’ crops. He led the organization in coordinating an efficient and effective international partnership that culminated in the historic release of the first transgenic food crop variety in Nigeria and Africa other than South Africa. Commercialized as SAMPEA 20-T in 2019, the pod borer-resistant cowpea is a pioneer crop that is already popular among farmers who have tried it. 

One of his popular statements is that ‘biotechnology is an approach that can complement conventional crop improvement methods, address huge food deficits and reduce poverty in Africa. I am proud that AATF is contributing to wealth creation and the health of smallholder farmers. Biotechnology is one tool in the farmers’ toolbox that contributes to food production with precision and speed.’ 

As a reward for his dedication, commitment and untiring efforts, Denis was recently named the Biotechnology Food Hero for 2020 by CropLife International. Innovation and initiating new ways of doing things was not strange to Denis. 

During his tenure, AATF established two new entities, including QualiBasic Seed Company, often referred to as QBS, and Agridrive. QBS is the first in Africa to focus wholly on availing foundation seed for seed companies as contribution towards certified seed availability, while Agridrive is a social enterprise that seeks to grow farmer interest for commercial mechanization for sustainable agriculture. 

Denis also helmed AATF through the realization of the commercial release of the first hybrid rice varieties indigenous to Africa with yields surpassing other varieties at over 10 tonnes per hectare and the seeds are already being produced for farmers’ use. 

Another key achievement during his tenure is building the Cassava Mechanisation Project (CAMAP) that turned out clear differences at the farmer level – increasing yields by over 250%, incomes by over 180%, and saving time by over 90%. The success story of CAMAP in Nigeria saw the birth of Agridrive Ltd, formed to continue with the mechanization service provision on a sustainable and commercial business model.

Denis’ name will stand out prominently when the success story of biotechnology and technology transfer in Africa is written. 

Although his term ends at a time when the world faces a serious challenge brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic that affected the operations of many organizations, through his leadership, AATF and partners have surmounted the challenges by delivering technologies to farmers. 

He leaves a diverse portfolio of projects at AATF, well-resourced to deliver their mandates, including those addressing challenges in maize – (TELA maize Project and TAAT Maize Compact), rice (Hybrid Rice for Africa and Nitrogen Efficient, Water Efficient and Salt Tolerant Rice – NEWEST), an enabling environment for technology (OFAB, TAAT Policy), cowpea (PBR Cowpea), improved seeds (Seeds2B), and mechanization (CAMAP, AgriDrive), among others. 

Under his leadership, AATF also established wide networks with like-minded partners, including various governments, the African Union Commission (AUC), African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF), Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD), agricultural research organizations, local and international private sector, farmer organizations and community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, academia and many development partners. Denis exits AATF at a time when he should be celebrating some of the gains he helped to champion. 

Under his watch, the organization has made steady progress towards reaching its goal of 16 million farmers as proposed in its current strategy 2018-2022. 

Dr. Ousmane Badiane, Chair of the AATF Board of Trustees, paid glowing tribute to Denis, saying that his leadership had helped steer the organization into a professional technology transfer outfit with a team of dedicated staff who are committed to getting agricultural innovations to farmers most efficiently and effectively. 

As Dr. Kyetere retires, I wish to convey appreciation from the Board, staff and partners recognize his commitment and undivided attention to leading AATF through some of the most challenging situations and the realization of key strategic goals.”

Dr. Ousmane Badiane, Chair of the AATF

From AATF, we say Kwaheri Denis, for you came, you improved and delivered when it mattered the most. You toiled in fidelity and humility – Walking the talk and not talking the walk!

Dr. Canisius Kanangire, new AATF’s Executive Director

Dr. Kanangire holds a Ph.D. and an MSc degree in aquatic sciences, with a specialization in freshwater ecology, aquaculture, and wetlands management, both from the University of Namur in Belgium. He also holds a degree in biology with a major in environmental sciences and an undergraduate certificate in Biology and Chemistry, both from the “Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Bukavu,” in D.R. Congo. 

Dr. Kanangire has over 35 years experience in leadership roles, having served previously as the Executive Secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) between 2011 and 2016 and Regional Manager for Capacity Building, and Head of Strategic Planning and Management at the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) between 2004 and 2011. 

Before these international positions, Dr. Kanangire served as a lecturer and Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Rwanda and member of the Board of Directors of ISAR, the Rwandan Institute for Agricultural Research. Following the restructuring, ISAR became the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB). 

Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Director of AATF. Image credit: AMCOW

“He is an astute administrator and experienced technocrat with a wealth of knowledge in leadership and management of international institutions, including developing strategic partnerships and networks at regional, continental and global levels,” reads a statement from AATF.

A national of Rwanda, Dr. Kanangire speaks various languages, including English, French, Kiswahili, and Kinyarwanda. As the Executive Director of AATF, Dr. Kanangire is expected to lead the organization towards attaining its overall goals and realizing its mandate for Sub-Saharan Africa. AATF primary mission is to improve food security and reduce poverty by providing smallholders with greater access to improved farming technologies and know-how.