WHEN little Gladness and her fellow pupils ran to and from primary school in Rauya village in what is now Moshi Rural District, Kilimanjaro Region in the late 80s, little did she know that at the turn of the century, her name will hit media headlines.
Being in the spotlight can be either positive or negative, but in the case of Gladness, her efforts in using biotechnology approaches to fight hunger and wretchedness in Tanzanian villages and beyond propelled her to near stardom.
Today, Dr. Gladness Elibariki Temu (PhD) --- a crop biotechnologist --- has an eye on farmers facing food insecurity due to losing their crops because of virus diseases.
Sequel to this, Gladness and her team in the last two years managed to add value in the lives of farmers in some parts of Zanzibar and Mainland districts, where their project has distributed quality planting materials of yams and taro in a deliberate bid to lay ground for conquering grassroots food scarcity and desperation.
Again, Gladness teams up with fellow young and old research scientists to fight hunger, malnutrition and increase disposable income of peasants through another project, which was directly implemented by Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI-Mikocheni) in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM).
In efforts to cope with the global climate change, the project achieved to uncover cassava varieties that can tolerate various stresses caused by global climate change, such as elevated cold, drought and virus diseases.
Gladness is involved in fighting cassava diseases and promoting root crops, probably because her PhD programme focused on Regeneration, Diversity and RNA interference strategies to enhance cassava mosaic disease resistance to Cassava, or simply put, strategies to fight plant virus diseases affecting cassava.
She was focusing on finding solutions to fight a disease called Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) (batobato in Kiswahili), a disease that sharply reduces cassava production.
She says the disease causes very narrow roots instead of healthy tubers the growers expect, thus lowering production to more than half of what was expected.
She has been fighting the disease using biotechnology approaches, because, as she says, farmers need improved, quality varieties in the entire East African region. But this goal is hard to achieve, except by using science and technological tools.
She says the protocols developed and some results obtained in her PhD programme are used in the cassava tissue culture laboratory to improve and select cassava varieties that are tolerant to CMD before releasing cassava seed to farmers.
"We trained farmers and extension officers using an established demonstration plots. We disseminated some suitable cassava varieties in areas where they never thought cassava could grow, such as Njombe," she says.
Her effort to guarantee food security at grassroots level continues to date with counterparts in Kenya and Spain.
Gladness has also been working on yam and taro (viazi vikuu and magimbi) project funded by Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) as a Principal Investigator.
The project, she says, intended to enhance availability of planting materials of the two indigenous crops.
In November 2018, she explains, their project distributed quality planting materials to selected farmers in Zanzibar and Mkuranga, Rufiji and Kibiti Districts in the Coast Region.
"We are still exploring and developing suitable technologies for farmers to adopt and produce quality seed yam themselves so as to boost production of these forgotten crops that serve a lot to ensure food security and complement income," she explains.
She is adamant that the knowledge of using science and technological tools must be passed on to as many young people as possible.
Apart from all these noble achievements, the young scientist is also a Lecturer and Researcher in crop biotechnology.
She lectures and supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students in the field of biotechnology and molecular biology, while also serving as a quality assurance officer and serves as member of various committees, including the College of Natural and Applied Sciences (CONAS) and University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM).
Born to peasant parents on Christmas day, Gladness did well from the very beginning in school.
Being the last born in a family of ten children, she grew up seeing her older brothers and sisters attaining a certain level of education because, she says, her parents valued education.
"My parents were so keen on educating us. Every other person went to school, and I kept asking myself why not me," she remembers, explaining that while she was still young, her eldest brother, Anderson Temu was pursuing his masters degree abroad.
"That was a big inspiration to me," she says. Besides, there was another incentive. That incentive was the fact that she was good at mathematics in primary school and always became number one in their class.
"I was so good in maths that my teachers gave me exercise books of my fellow pupils to mark at home," she remembers with a chuckle, praising one of her keen teachers in Standard Seven, a Catholic nun, Sister Ponsiana Macha, who was so helpful to her.
Gladness was the only pupil from her primary school that year who was selected to join a government school (Machame Girls Secondary School), where she completed in 1996 with division one and joined Mkwawa High School in Iringa Region. Science subjects, particularly biology was her favorite subject.
This fact probably explained why she has become a crop biotechnologist and academic faculty member at UDSM. "I liked the reality of it, and I got very nice teachers at all levels of study who helped to develop my interest in science subjects," she explains.
But the road to a doctorate award was bumpy. Gladness did not get a direct entry at the UDSM. She missed 1 point. Her brother in law who had just graduated at UDSM was aware of a three-month Female pre-entry programme at the university.
The programme was meant to prepare females in some science subjects, then they were given examinations before qualifying for admission at UDSM. "Women who joined the programme were regarded by other students as poor performers!
They would call them Viwango duni. Although I was lucky to join the programme, that classification by other students hurt me because I was number one at primary and secondary school levels," she says, adding that despite all this, she chose to soldier on.
After the female programme, she was selected to pursue BSc Nursing at Muhimbili College, at that time a constituent college of UDSM. "
It was horrible stuff to me since I never wanted to become a nurse," she says, but she reported for studies all the same. After a while, she was formally transferred to UDSM for BSc Gen degree programme. The second dilemma for her was in the 2nd year when she was supposed to choose her specialisation within BSc general.
"I was stressed and confused, not knowing what to choose, and I was about to go for Wildlife and Conservation before I met my university academic supervisor, Prof Amelia Kivaisi, who was by then the head of Microbiology Unit," she recalls.
Professor Amelia advised and encouraged her to go for BSc general with major in Microbiology, which she performed very well, and she believes she is what she is today because of her guidance.
Prof Amelia was her academic advisor. Later on she was mentored by Prof Anthony Mshandete and Dr. Joseph Ndunguru. Gladness believes the use of role models or mentors at an early stage shapes girls future.
"We delay in mentoring/role modeling until it is too late, secondary school is not early stage, it should start at childhood, and if possible it should start at home," she explains.
She says that preparation at childhood may have a great impact, but having role models and inspiration from experienced scientists shapes a girl child, but quickly adds that science needs commitment and passion.
She is currently a member of Ministerial advisory board of Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA). She has also been a member of other various biotechnology bodies, including National Agricultural Biosafety Technical Committee (ABTEC), Steering committee of the Biotechnology and Biosafety Rapid Assessment Policy Platform (BioRAPP) in Tanzania and among the founder members of the Biotechnology Society of Tanzania.
She is also a Lead Scientist in a number of projects addressing complex challenges faced by smallholder farmers, while also supervising a number of masters and doctorate students on biotechnologies applicable for improvements of various crops, including yam, banana, cassava, sweet potato and taro.
She is also a member of various professional associations in and outside the country.
Dr. Gladness has received formal mentorship from a number of renowned scientists in Africa and abroad under the following programmes: African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD); Africa Science Leadership Programme (ASLP) under Future Africa; and Intellectual Property Rights in Plant Genetic Resources (IPRGR) programmes.
Currently, she is a mentor and role model of numerous young scientists and youths in Tanzania. She is likely to become a great scientist, because, probably to borrow her words: I like what l am doing.