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East African Leading Woman Scientist Wins International Award

Written by Duncan Mboyah

The International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) Director General Dr Segenet Kelemu has won the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science award, making her the first woman from Africa to win the prestigious award.

Dr Kelemu got the award following her research on how microorganisms living in symbiosis with forage grasses can improve their capacity to resist disease and adapt to environmental and climate change.

According to the organisers, her work in providing new solutions for ecologically responsible food crop production, especially local small scale farmers.

Dr Kelemu, the first woman to head ICIPE and four other women scientists from Japan, Argentina, France and the United States of America (USA) are being honoured for major scientific advancements that are helping solve some of society’s greatest challenges, including cancer, depression, addiction and crop farming.

The Ethiopian born has received many international accolades, including CIAT's Outstanding Senior Scientist Award, for her numerous contributions to the Centre and its mission, and the prestigious Friendship Award granted by the People's Republic of China, for outstanding contributions to China's economic and social development.

In 2011, she jointly with ICIPE scientist Prof Zeyaur Khan, was awarded the TWAS Prize for Agricultural Sciences, by TWAS, The World Academy of Sciences.

The ICIPE boss is actively engaged within the global scientific community, having published widely in refereed publications and throughout her professional services, as an editor of peer reviewed journals and a member of a variety of international committees focusing on research for development.

Candidates for the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards were nominated by a network of more than 1,000 international scientists. The five Laureates were then selected by an independent jury chaired by Professor Günter Blobel and composed of twelve eminent members of the international scientific community.

Throughout the program’s 16-year history L’Oréal and UNESCO have worked to support the advancement of women researchers. Every year the program pays tribute to exceptional women scientists and highlights their contributions to changing the world. Since 1998 the program has recognized more than 2,000 women around the globe (82 Laureates, including two who later won the Nobel Prize) and 1,920 Fellows. 

The L'Oréal Foundation is committed to two main causes, that of science and that of beauty care as a means to helping the most vulnerable members of society. Based on values of excellence, generosity and creativity, science is at the core of the Foundation’s commitments, most particularly its commitment to supporting women researchers through its For Women in Science Program, a worldwide initiative in partnership with UNESCO.

During the ceremony, the findings of a report that addresses the status of under representation of women in the scientific professions and underscores the fact that the situation has improved only slightly over the past ten years will be launched.
Beginning March 14, 2014 passengers from around the world in all terminals of the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will discover portrait exhibit of the five Laureates of the five Laureates by renowned American photographer Julian Dufort. The photographer immersed himself in each Laureate’s daily routine in order to truly represent the reality of their lives and capture the person behind the female scientist.
The other winners are Prof Kayo Inaba – immunology and medicine (Japan), Prof. Cecilia Bouzat – Biophysics (Argentina), Prof. Laurie Glimcher – Immunology and Medicine (USA) and Prof Brigitte Kieffer – neurology (France). Each woman represents a unique career path combining exceptional talent, a deep commitment to her profession and remarkable courage in a field still largely dominated by men.
Prior to her appointment to head ICIPE, Dr Kelemu was the Vice President for Programmes at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). She joined AGRA from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where she served as Director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA). Previously, Dr. Kelemu was a Senior Scientist, and later the Leader of Crop and Agro ecosystem Health Management, at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia. She has also worked as a researcher at Cornell University, and at Montana and Kansas State Universities, in the USA.

 This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Newspaper Issue 45

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