25 April 2024

Empowering Ugandan Farming Communities through Bees and Black Soldier Flies

The CSC is pleased to present its 25th case study demonstrating the impact of Commonwealth Alumni around the world. This study features Dr Deborah Ruth Amulen, a Commonwealth Split-Site Scholar who graduated in 2017 with a PhD in Applied Biological Science. During her PhD, she spent a year conducting research at Bangor University, an opportunity afforded to her by the Commonwealth Scholarship. She went on to be awarded the prestigious African Research Leadership Award, which enabled her to acquire a post-doctoral fellowship from Michigan State University. She has since returned to Uganda, where she is a leading voice in the field of insect research and development. She works as a Senior Lecturer at Makerere University in the Department of Livestock and Industrial Resources, where she leads a team studying insect and pollinator protection. 

Whilst on award in the UK, Deborah worked with researchers at Bangor University and Ghent University to develop an interdisciplinary action plan for beekeepers in Northern Uganda. Beekeeping had been promoted by the government and NGOs as having the potential to allow farmers to diversify their sources of food and income. However, Deborah’s research demonstrated that a lack of confidence in bee husbandry and a lack of ongoing support meant that this intervention failed to produce any meaningful improvement in farmers’ wellbeing. Deborah developed an interdisciplinary action plan in response to this finding. The policy documents that she produced on award formed the foundation of her future work.  

Deborah with the group of women waste collectors directly supported by CIRD.

In 2019, Deborah was awarded the prestigious African Futures Award, allowing her to do a postdoctoral fellowship at Michigan State University. Whilst studying in the US, Deborah was introduced to black soldier flies (BSF). BSF are highly valuable insects. They are cheap to produce, but provide a rich source of protein, and they are an excellent organic fertiliser. Deborah recognised the potential of these insects to be transformative in Ugandan farming communities. Following her postgraduate fellowship, Deborah went on to establish the Centre for Insect Research and Development (CIRD). The CIRD is now the leading insect-promoting organisation in Uganda, with the overarching goal of providing a centre of excellence for research and product development for beneficial insects in Uganda and beyond. The organisation directly supports 30 women and youth waste collectors, and it has helped to established hundreds of insect farms across the country. She identifies this as the most significant change that she has been able to enact:

‘Of all my work, I’m happy when I solve the problems in the communities. That is my best work ever, to leave smiles in the communities by addressing their actual challenges.’

‘Most of my impact is in the products or services that I have given to communities, and the jobs and the opportunities that I have been able to create, also because of my networks.’

Deborah and students screening bee samples under gut microbiome IFS project.

In addition to her work with the CIRD, Deborah is an active international researcher, and she has continued to collaborate closely with her UK supervisor. Deborah was also elected to the board of the Ugandan National Agriculture Development Organisation (TUNADO), where she sits as a representative for communities in Northeastern Uganda, the area in which she was born.

Deborah’s work supports several CSC Development Themes: science and technology for development; promoting innovation and entrepreneurship; and access, inclusion and opportunity. Furthermore, she contributes to multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities, SDG 13 – Climate Action, and SDG 15 – Life on Land. 

Read Deborah Ruth Amulen’s Case Study here.