My Plant Path: Zennah Kosgey
When plant pathology graduate student Zennah Kosgey dreams about the future of her home country Kenya, she sees a country free of poverty. Kosgey sees that day coming soon and won’t stop pushing herself until that dream becomes a reality. Zennah grew up in Kaptebee village in Turbo, Kenya with close familial ties to agriculture. Her family grew maize and were also involved with poultry and dairy farming.
“I just grew up loving farming,” says Kosgey. “That's what I do every day when I’m back at home. I help my mom and my dad out in the field. I grew up knowing that farming is just part of us.”
Along with that close tie to and love of agriculture came another realization for Kosgey, that it is an economic backbone of the country and something that should be appreciated and cherished. Keeping this in mind, when Kosgey went off to college at Moi University in Kenya, she studied botany and began to see an opportunity for her to inspire change.
“As I began to better understand the food insecurity issues in my country, and keeping in mind the love I feel for agriculture, it became clear to me I wanted to be among the people who contribute to improving the food security issues in my country.”
Kosgey was later employed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) as a research assistant under the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project. Under the DRRW project, she helped with inoculations, disease scoring, selection and harvesting and was also responsible for completing a database on wheat accessions planted, disease notes taken and selected accessions during the screening seasons.
Still having her goals in sight, she then pushed on to pursue an M.S. in Plant Breeding at Egerton University, Kenya. While in Njoro, Kosgey had the opportunity to work with Dr. Matt Rouse and Dr. Pablo Olivera from the University of Minnesota whenever they visited Njoro to take stem rust disease notes on their wheat materials.
Realizing that the University of Minnesota had a strong history of impactful stem rust researchers and having already interacted with some of the Department of Plant Pathology’s researchers, Kosgey saw another opportunity to increase her knowledge about plant pathology and desired to enroll in the Plant Pathology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota. With funding help from the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) Program and the Vaala-Henry Endowment (in support of the Norman E. Borlaug Fellowship for International Agriculture and the Stakman-Borlaug Center), Kosgey was able to make that dream a reality and became Ph.D. student in plant pathology at the University of Minnesota.
Now advised by Professor Ruth Dill-Macky, Kosgey’s research focuses on characterizing disease resistance and pathogen diversity to stem rust and Fusarium head blight (FHB) diseases of wheat.
But Kosgey’s work won’t stop there. She hopes to fully take advantage of her time here so she can build research capacity, help farmers, and have an impact on food security issues in Kenya, where she hopes to either be a research scientist or professor.
“I just don’t want to give up. I have a program that is fully funding me and I don’t take that for granted because I’ve seen students here who work to pay for their school fees. I have a bright future ahead, and giving up will never be an option for me, I just have to keep going. My future plans and the dreams I have for my country are what motivate me to do what I do every day.”