Peter Ojiambo is a native of Kenya. He received a B.S. degree in agriculture with first class honors in 1994 and his M.S. degree in plant pathology in 1997, both from the University of Nairobi. He received his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of Georgia in December 2004. Following a 2-year post-doctoral fellowship at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, he was appointed as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University in 2007. Ojiambo gained considerable insight into a variety of fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases of potato during a 4-year assignment at the International Potato Center, Sub-Sahara Africa Regional Office in Nairobi, between his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. That experience laid the foundation for an exceptionally productive early career in plant pathology. That research resulted in 14 publications in applied research for controlling diseases of potato through cultural practices, resistant cultivars, and chemical control. His doctoral thesis complemented those skills with research integrating ecological, mathematical, and statistical tools to understand the epidemiology of Septoria leaf spot of blueberry.
Since receiving his doctoral degree, Ojiambo has made significant contributions as an independent post-doctoral fellow and then as an assistant professor. His efforts from the two positions resulted in 25 publications. As a post-doctoral fellow at IITA in Nigeria, he conducted multidisciplinary research on diseases of maize, cassava, banana, and soybean. From that experience, he published fundamental contributions to our understanding of the population structure, diversity, pathogenic variation, and epidemiological dynamics of Phakopsora pachyrhizi on soybean. Further, he published on the genetic diversity of Mycosphaerella species and resistance to those organisms in banana and plantain in Nigeria. He also was a contributor to publications elucidating the potential of atoxigenic strains of Aspergillus species to serve as biocontrol agents for toxigenic Aspergillus species.
Since his appointment at North Carolina State University in 2007, Ojiambo has provided leadership to the IPM-PIPE for downy mildew on cucurbits in the United States. He coordinated the efforts of 26 cooperators throughout the eastern United States and Canada to monitor downy mildew in the field, to provide advisories to growers, and then to refine epidemiological models. The goal of these studies was to develop predictive models that could provide advisories for growers when the risk of downy mildew becomes high enough to warrant treatment as well as to identify when spraying was not warranted. Early on, he and his colleagues published a description of a web-based tool for the management of downy mildew and for extension outreach. The tools continue to evolve for delivery on mobile devices. So as to not lose sight of the need to link the model with the actual management of the disease, he has conducted fungicide trials to validate findings from a meta-analysis of fungicide efficacy for cucurbit downy mildew to ensure that management recommendations are optimized with information on the latest available registered fungicides. This system is widely recognized by growers and industry alike. Its success has been the subject of many articles in the popular press and it has also received praise from grower organizations and the agricultural chemical industry. In addition to his role as coordinator, Ojiambo has also made fundamental contributions to further our understanding of the downy mildew-cucurbit pathosystem. He and his graduate student and a visiting scientist have developed quantitative models for germination and infection of Pseudoperonospora cubensis as influenced by temperature, leaf wetness, and host species. Ojiambo and his post-doc associate have also determined that solar radiation can impact the survival of sporangia during transport in the atmosphere. These findings have been used to improve the effectiveness of the IPM-PIPE forecasting system. Ojiambo has provided the high level of leadership to the IPM-PIPE program for downy mildew on cucurbits that is required to develop a management tool that is valued not only by the cucurbit growers of North Carolina but across all of the eastern United States. In addition to his publications on downy mildew, he has advised or coadvised two graduate students who have published on the epidemiology of Stagonospora nodorum and P. cubensis. He also continues to collaborate and publish on soybean rust with colleagues from his position at IITA. Ojiambo is an excellent citizen in the Department of Plant Pathology, serving on the Departmental Advisory Committee and teaching and mentoring students. He is particularly active in The American Phytopathological Society, serving as a section chair on the Annual Meetings Board, and has previously served as vice chair and chair of the Epidemiology Committee. He currently serves as an editor of the Plant Pathology.
Ojiambo’s list of accomplishments is one of the most distinguished for an early career scientist. His program will serve as a model for other young scientists developing programs in plant disease control. First, his program is well grounded by an enviable record of publications related to the epidemiology of soybean rust, cucurbit downy mildew, and Stagonospora blotch on wheat. Second, he has provided leadership to a regional program (PIPE) that has directly impacted the cucurbit growers of the eastern United States. Many scientists far more senior than Ojiambo have become consumed by such leadership responsibilities, allowing the rest of their program to falter. Thirdly, he is an excellent citizen and colleague in the department and makes a substantial contribution to APS via the Annual Meetings Board and to the community as an editor for Plant Pathology. It is this combination of a high level of productivity and collegial nature combined with the balance of leadership and commitment to his work and to the discipline that distinguish him from other scientists. His accomplishments and contributions to disease control are deserving of the William Boright Hewitt and Maybelle Ellen Ball Hewitt Award.