text size: smaller reset larger

 

 
GFAR

The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) brings together all those working to strengthen and transform agricultural research for development around the world. As part of this role, GFAR is working with New Agriculturist to showcase and raise awareness of important initiatives and their outcomes, to update and inspire others.

Empowering Africa's women agricultural scientists

Filomena dos Anjos was sponsored to conduct poultry feed research (© Carlos Litulo)
Filomena dos Anjos was sponsored to conduct poultry feed research
© Carlos Litulo

The recent Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) put the needs of women in agriculture at the forefront of the agricultural reform agenda. Women comprise nearly half the world's farmers yet are often not even categorised as farmers; their needs receive scant attention, whether from agricultural research and advisory institutions, enabling policies or access to inputs and land. GCARD2 has highlighted the need for major change in the way institutions think about farmers, their knowledge and innovation needs and the gender-based differences and challenges in meeting these. The conference carried a strong and persistent message of change, with issues of youth, women, nutrition and sustainability at the heart of the processes discussed.

At the conference, Vicki Wilde, director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), chaired a session on the learning and empowerment of women and youth. She shared insights gained from AWARD, a two-year, career-development fellowship programme that builds the scientific and leadership skills of African women agricultural scientists. Each AWARD fellow is paired with a mentor, a senior scientist who guides her career, and is also provided with opportunities to build her scientific skills. This includes 'soft skills', such as people management, communication and negotiation, an important complement to academic and technical skills in supporting career progression. Since the programme began in 2008, 320 female scientists from 11 sub-Saharan African countries have been selected as AWARD fellows, on the basis of intellectual merit, leadership capacity and potential for their work to improve the lives of smallholder farmers.

Strengthening skills and institutions

Msekiwa Matsimbe, a 27-year-old MSc student and AWARD fellow from Malawi, participated in GCARD2. "I want to increase women's participation in aquaculture and fisheries to improve livelihoods in Malawi," she says. Her MSc research has involved investigating how land use and environmental changes are impacting on fish diversity in the rivers that feed into Lake Malawi. Results from her work will be used to inform a government management strategy to increase fish yields and prevent over-fishing. She credits her AWARD fellowship with strengthening both her capacity and her passion regarding agricultural research; she has won first and third prizes in poster competitions at international meetings, and is now planning to pursue a PhD focussing on improving food security in Malawi.

Msekiwa Matsimbe credits her AWARD fellowship with strengthening both her capacity and her passion regarding agricultural research (© AWARD/Karen Homer)
Msekiwa Matsimbe credits her AWARD fellowship with strengthening both her capacity and her passion regarding agricultural research
© AWARD/Karen Homer

AWARD fellows are not the only ones to benefit from the programme; their enhanced skills and expertise are also improving the capacity of their scientific institutes. Professor Sheila Okoth of the University of Nairobi undertook a three-month advanced scientific training at Stellenbosch University, funded by AWARD, to further her research on aflatoxin contamination. On returning to Nairobi, she established the university's first post-graduate mycology research laboratory.

Filomena dos Anjos, a senior lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, was sponsored by AWARD corporate partner, Novus International, to conduct poultry feed research in its Missouri-based laboratories. Her investigations into the potential to substitute soybeans with cowpeas or pigeonpeas could, she believes, open a significant new market for farmers. But the benefits of her experience will, she believes, be felt at many levels. "It is crucial that I transfer the technology and skills learned at Novus to Eduardo Mondlane University," she says. "It will help to create an environment for conducting quality research and teaching. This will in turn have direct impact on the poultry industry and the general well-being of the Mozambican people." Over 130 agricultural technologies and products have been, or are being developed by the first 180 AWARD alumnae in their respective institutes.

Further evidence of the success of the programme includes: around half the fellows increased their average annual publication rate in peer-reviewed journals, with a similar proportion being promoted since taking up their fellowship. Fifty-seven per cent refocused their research to be more gender responsive or more relevant to the needs of women farmers. Demand for fellowships has also been growing, with over 1,000 women competing for 70 places in the latest application round. The programme's goal is to strengthen the top ten per cent of women agricultural scientists in 11 sub-Saharan countries.

Five year funding

Professor Sheila Okoth established the University of Nairobi's first post-graduate mycology research laboratory (© AWARD)
Professor Sheila Okoth established the University of Nairobi's first post-graduate mycology research laboratory
© AWARD

Achieving that goal has been supported by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (US$14 million) and USAID (up to US$5 million) for the programme's second phase. Under this, AWARD aims to build a strategic alliance of African agricultural research for development leaders who will promote the contributions and prioritise the needs of women throughout the agricultural value chain.

Participants in the GCARD2 session recommended that the innovative approaches demonstrated by AWARD and other capacity-building programmes now be multiplied to create much wider, high-quality opportunities for women and youth in Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) to gain practical experience and to develop their careers, such as internships, fellowships, mentoring and secondments. They also called for processes to capture data on the gender composition of AR4D groups and institutions, and for action to compile and learn from efforts to reform agricultural education curricula so that future AR4D systems will fully include women and attract youth. Participation in the newly formed Gender in Agriculture Partnership was also strongly recommended, as a means of collective advocacy and action across institutions and sectors.

Date published: January 2013

 

Have your say

 

The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Accept
Read more