To most women farmers, acquiring new ideas from men are a tall order as opposed to their interaction with female scientists.
With the increased demand for food in the world, though under many challenges, the best minds of both genders are needed to help bridge the gap to food security.
“Scientists must include all genders since proven statistics reveal that women form majority of farmers and therefore require competent advice from womenfolk,” said Dr Vicki Wilde, the Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).
She was speaking at a ceremony where 70 African women scientists were awarded fellowships to accelerate agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills. Wilde challenged female scientists to help women farmers improve their production.
She observed that agricultural sector must greatly increase its responsiveness to the needs and contributions of women if it is to be effective and sustainable in the continent.
“Advances and innovations in agricultural research and development will take place easily when led and enriched by skilled and influential African women,” Wilde observed.
She noted that in addressing gender inequality, root causes of poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation are also being managed.
Wilde called for the free use of science and technology in producing and processing of food that is produced by small scale farmers.
“Africa requires a new generation of scientists in food and agriculture to replace the retiring male experts,” she noted.
Africa is the world’s only region where the number of hungry is growing, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the past four years. Clearly, the status quo in the agriculture sector is not working.
Dr Segenet Kelemu, Vice President for programmes, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) challenged the recipients to help transform the society through their research work.
“The programme is making a difference already and you must make sure that you excel in your work to justify the award,” she noted.
Kelemu said that outstanding women are needed in all fields since the world has changed and accepts the contributions of all genders. “It is very important to have a programme that is especially focused on African women scientists,” she reiterated.
She observed that AWARD should explore ways to expand into other areas, such as women in IT, engineering, medical and environmental sciences and other areas where women are severely under-represented.
“I believe in empowering people by increasing each individual’s belief in their potential, integrating and inspiring people to work together with mutual respect,” noted Kelemu.
Cultivating such a culture of empowerment and respect within an institution is critical to achieving impact for the disadvantaged people beyond its gates.
Dr. Lucy Murungi, one of 16 Kenyans to win the fellowship this year plans to help change the game for resource-poor smallholders by developing simple, affordable tools to combat poverty.
“I am researching the chemical components of extracts of the hairy African nightshade, Solanum sarrachoides, for management of red spider mites,” said Murungi, a lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
The plant is not ordinarily cultivated for consumption in East Africa and her results could impact on smallholder farmers who would grow the vegetable and sell it to manufacturers for botanical crop protection products.
The outstanding women scientists were selected from among an impressive cadre of 1,094 applicants from 11 African countries.
AWARD directly invests in women scientists, empowering them to help close the gender gaps across the agricultural value chain.
Preliminary data collected from the first 180 AWARD alumnae revealed that 84 per cent experienced a significant increase in their confidence and motivation to excel, lead and contribute toward a great vision for the future.
Of these, 87 per cent improved their scientific skills and access to resources. This contributed to a significant increase in their scientific outputs and more than doubling of their annual publication rates in peer-reviewed journals
At least 80 per cent are involved in the development of new methodologies and technologies with the help of smallholder farmers. So far 52 per cent of scientists, who had receivedthe awards, were promoted in their workplaces.
“This is credible evidence that AWARD fellows are becoming more confident, skilled, and influential,” observed Wilde.
The fellowship is two-year career-development programme that is focused on building their science and leadership skills.
It is granted on the basis of each scientist’s intellectual merit, leadership capacity and the potential of her work to improve the livelihoods of African smallholder farmers, most of whom are women.
The AWARD laureates represent almost 20 agricultural disciplines and a wide range of innovative, transferable research from plant breeding to improved fodder production, climate change and post-harvest processing among others.
The programme is to help open up novel opportunities for sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers, especially the women.
AWARD was launched in 2008 and has provided fellowship to 320 African women scientists from 11 countries Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
It is generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Agropolis Foundation.
AWARD will be expanding its scope and sustainability by partnering with institutions where the fellows work and study.
“We will be offering gender responsive training in mentoring, science skills and leadership to other women and men in fellows in the institutions,” Wilde noted.
This article was originally published in the Reject Online Issue 82