Q&A with ARPPIS-DAAD scholarship holder Thomas Gbokie, Jr.
Thomas Gbokie, Jr. is a Liberian agriculturist pursuing his doctoral studies in China, and is a former beneficiary of the DAFI refugee and ARPPIS-DAAD scholarship programmes. Gbokie, Jr. spoke to the GIC Africa about the impact these scholarships have had on his life.
I am currently in China pursuing my doctoral studies in Plant Pathology at the Nanjing Agricultural University in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. I am also affiliated with the Environment and Plant Protection Institute of the Chinese Academic of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) in Haikou, Hainan Province. Prior to my coming to China, I was permanently residing in my home country Liberia.
2. How did you find out about the DAFI refugee scholarship, as well as the ARPPIS-DAAD scholarship programme?
Due to the civil unrest in Liberia, my family fled in 2001 and sought refuge in Ghana. I learned about the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) through the scholarship recruitment notices that were issued by the Christian Council of Ghana Office to the Buduburam Refugee Camp Community in Gomoa District, Central Region. After I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Ghana, I was made aware of the African Regional Programme for Insect Science (ARPPIS) programme at the University of Ghana in 2008. The following year, I was recruited into the two-year ARPPIS Masters’ degree training programme which is mainly funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
3. What areas of research or study did you pursue whilst on the DAFI Refugee Scholarship, and DAAD-ARPPIS Master scholarship programmes respectively?
The DAFI Refuge Programme provided me with a four-year full scholarship support in 2004 to pursue my undergraduate studies in Agriculture. I also received a two-year full scholarship from the ARPPIS-DAAD programme to pursue my Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) degree in Entomology.
4. What impact did the scholarship programmes have on your studies and on your life?
These fully funded scholarship programmes afforded me the opportunity to attend one of the best institutions of higher learning in Ghana and also to attend a highly ranked university in Africa. I am proud of this education and as well remain very grateful for these privileges accorded to me. I was able to successfully complete my studies which would not have been possible at the time if I and my family had to personally fund my studies. My participation in the ARPPIS-DAAD and DAFI Refugee scholarship programmes has helped me build up lasting professional networks with colleagues from West and Central African sub-regional countries.
5. Do you have any connection to Germany? Have you ever been there and if so, what was your experience in the country?
I visited Germany once, in November 2009. The GIZ office in Liberia facilitated my travel to Germany to participate in a short training course held in Feldafing. This was my first trip outside of the African continent, and it was an excellent experience. Visiting places and interacting with people in Germany helped me learn a lot about the rich cultural heritage and history of Germany.
6. You have a keen interest in food security and agricultural research, which are crucial in the African continent. Based on your research and experience in the field, what factors should we consider when looking at the future of food security on the continent?
The greatest global challenge that we have is to feed the world’s growing population that is estimated to reach nine billion by 2050. Sadly for Africa, despite being a continent endowed with productive agricultural resources, our continent still has a huge portion of its population that continues to face chronic food deprivation. This situation is exacerbated by poor governance, persistent conflicts, global economic meltdowns, and climate extremes. Despite all of the above limitations, we still have very huge potential for the African continent to not only feed herself but to also meaningfully contribute in the future to sustainable global food security. This can only be realized through effective partnerships, increased and sustained investments for agriculture research and development efforts, responsive social protection, strong governance structures in the environment, food, and health systems, and the protection of our African farmers against unfair trade activities. There is also a need for stronger public, private, and civil society sector agricultural extension and advisory services systems.
7. After completing your studies, what sort of career did you pursue?
Following completion of my undergraduate degree, I returned to my home country and sought employment as a Crop Protection Officer with the Liberia Ministry of Agriculture. Also, when I finished my master’s degree under the ARPPIS-DAAD programme at the University of Ghana, I received an appointment in February 2012 from the former President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to serve as the Deputy Minister for Regional Development, Research and Extension at the Ministry of Agriculture. With my technical training in agriculture, entomology, and plant pathology, my career goal is to become a renowned plant health management expert with continuous engagements in the areas of agricultural research, extension and training.
To ensure youth involvement in agriculture and food security efforts, they must be afforded the opportunities for their active participation. Young farmers’ organizations and programmes that serve as networking platforms, and the awarding of youth innovation through competitions must be encouraged. Long-term funding commitments also ensure and sustain youth engagements in agriculture and food security efforts.
9. What’s your advice to young Africans who want to follow in your footsteps?
I encourage my fellow African youth to always be guided by the sense of giving back to meaningfully impact their respective communities through their chosen career pathways. I would encourage youth to seek out people who inspire and challenge them as well as those who can provide them with coaching and mentoring. I certainly would not have made it to this point without benefiting from the immense support of coaches and mentors who have guided me along the way.