When Dr. Alusaine Samura received his PhD in plant protection from Njala University in Sierra Leone, there was no laboratory where he could focus on identifying the pathogens that were affecting crop productivity in his country. The frustration of not being able to apply the scientific knowledge he had gained over the past 15 years was compounded by the uncertainty of determining which diseases were present in Sierra Leonean fields and reducing agricultural productivity.

On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, as the WAVE (Central and West African Virus Epidemiology) Country Director for food security in Sierra Leone, Alusaine proudly witnessed the inauguration of the first-ever plant health molecular diagnostic laboratory in the presence of the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security. Surrounded by several members of the government and the administration, such as representatives of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, the One Health Platform and the management of Njala University, he declared: “With this functional laboratory as my legacy, I can die in peace”.

The construction of this laboratory is indeed an important achievement in many ways. As Gilbert Cooper, Senior Permanent Secretary representing the Minister of Higher and Technical Education stated, “the establishment of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory for Plant Health is an important step in building the human capacity required to develop a rapid response to diseases and curb plant disease outbreaks, as observed in the case of Ebola and the COVID 19 pandemic. Students now have the opportunity to receive hands-on training in disease diagnosis, which improves the quality of research and translates into policies for making informed decisions in agriculture”.

Now that the laboratory is established and equipped, thanks to the support of WAVE’s main donors, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) from the United Kingdom, the challenge remains to keep the laboratory in good condition and ensure its sustainability. The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Hon. Dr. Abu Bakarr Karim, addressed this concern by assuring that “the government of Sierra Leone will continue to provide support to ensure that the laboratory is functional and achieves its intended purpose. The government will also ensure that the phytosanitary sector is further supported, as we cannot succeed in achieving food security without good crop protection.

From the words of WAVE’s Executive Director, Prof. Justin Pita, “we will achieve food security in Africa, one step at a time, one fully functioning lab at a time, one trained scientist at a time, and with the power of togetherness!”