‘Agricultural research and development in Mozambique is an important tool for increasing production, and consequently reducing household malnutrition and poverty, particularly in children and women,’ says Olivia Narciso Pedro, a lecturer and researcher at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique. ‘My vision for agriculture-led growth in Mozambique is to design alternatives to mitigate loss of genetic diversity, and ensure conservation of species, while improving household food security.’
Pedro is one of 70 outstanding African women agricultural scientists to have been awarded a 2015 fellowship from African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) in Nairobi, Kenya, early this week.
‘I first found out about the AWARD Fellowship in 2009 from my colleague who worked at the veterinary faculty, and was an AWARD Fellow. Late last year when I received the notification that I had won, I felt overwhelmed, happy and excited to be part of such an outstanding network of African women scientists,’ says Pedro.
This year’s laureates were selected from among an impressive cadre of 1,109 applicants from 11 African countries. These scientists and researchers will benefit from AWARD’s two-year career-development programme that is focused on accelerating agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills. AWARD Fellowships are 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.
AWARD Fellows share a common vision: they want to translate their research and knowledge into tangible action, tangible action that will benefit smallholder farmers—especially laudable in 2015, the African Union’s Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.
‘We have a long journey ahead with women still underrepresented in agricultural research and higher education in Africa. AWARD is at the forefront, working to increase the numbers of professional women at the decision making table in Agricultural Research and Development (ARD) across Africa. We are committed to Africa’s prosperity with this year’s cohort of AWARD fellows joining our vibrant Pan- African community that is building the capacity of Africa’s women researchers to contribute to the continent’s food security,’ says AWARD Director, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg. ‘We congratulate the 2015 winners of the AWARD Fellowship. In this special year, where empowerment of women in all areas of development is being highlighted by the African Union, we are proud of the impact these women are making in their different areas, and the contribution that the fellowship will make in fast-tracking their innovation,’ adds Kamau-Rutenberg.
According to an AWARD benchmarking study, the majority of those who produce, process, and market Africa’s food are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female. Even fewer—one in seven—hold leadership positions in African agricultural research institutions.
In order for African agriculture to become an engine for prosperity and well-being, it is critical to cultivate a new generation of African leaders in food and agriculture, including technically competent, confident, and influential women.
This year’s AWARD laureates represent a wide range of agricultural disciplines and cutting-edge research—from evaluating aquatic pollution, climate smart agricultural practices, aflatoxin mitigation, capacity building and empowerment of rural women, to biotechnology.
Researcher Rashida Abdul-Ganiyu screens plant samples for desirable traits using molecular biology techniques to help facilitate the development of improved crop varieties for farmers. ‘My vision is to conduct research that directly solves problems for farmers in order to improve their livelihoods. Since agriculture has the potential, as a positive driver of food security, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity for Ghanaians, strong Agricultural research must be responsive to farmer’s needs. Agricultural research should also make use of cutting-edge technology like biotechnology for improved ARD’ says the research technician at CSIR-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Ghana.
Out of the 70 winners of this year’s fellowship, 10 had prior experience within the AWARD Fellowship as junior mentees to AWARD Fellows, with four having applied for the fellowship at least once before:
Ngozi Edoh, a Research Scientist at the National Root Crops Research Institute Umudike in Ghana is currently focused on biosafety research and genetic improvement of root and tuber crops.
Belinda Kaninga, a soil scientist from Zambia on the other hand is developing appropriate soil fertility technologies in order to improve agricultural production and income for small-scale farmers. Kaninga is an Agricultural Research Officer at the Zambia Agriculture Research institute.
Crop scientist Catherine Nwokwu is currently a post-graduate student at Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki. Her vision for agricultural research and development is to develop at least five high yielding and drought tolerant rice varieties.
Juliana Amaka Ugwu, an entomologist, is also a former AWARD junior mentee. She is on a mission to develop ecological and environmentally friendly approaches to sustainable production of fruits and vegetables in Nigeria. Ugwu is currently a lecturer at the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria.