NAIROBI, KENYA (JULY 27, 2010)- A passion fruit pathologist, a catfish breeder, and a pigeon pea researcher are among the 60 outstanding women agricultural scientists from 10 African countries who received a fellowship today from African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). The fellowship will help these top researchers strengthen their research and leadership skills, and enhance their contributions to poverty alleviation and food security across the continent.
"Today we debunked the myth that qualified African women researchers 'aren't out there'-an excuse that's often used to justify why women are not hired or promoted equitably within agricultural research institutions, universities, and corporations," said Vicki Wilde, AWARD Director. "We've proven that top-notch female scientists do exist in significant numbers and, equally important, they are conducting critical food security research that is desperately needed to feed future generations. We are recognizing and supporting these women today with an AWARD Fellowship."
Dr. Ruth Amata, a senior research officer at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, is one of this year's 60 fellowship winners. "I am so excited about this great opportunity," said Amata. "My main goal is to help rural women farmers to improve production of their food crops, including sweet potato and cassava, through disease management. This fellowship will help me link up with and learn from other women scientists who are making an impact, and to develop the leadership skills I need."
Amata was selected from 784 applicants representing 54 institutions in 10 countries; she joins 120 AWARD Fellows currently in the program. In total, 1,681 female scientists from 450 institutions have applied for the prestigious fellowships since AWARD began in 2008. AWARD Fellows benefit from a two-year program focused on mentoring partnerships, science skills, and leadership development. The fellowships are awarded on the basis of intellectual merit, leadership capacity, and the potential of the scientist's research to improve the daily lives of smallholder farmers, especially women.
"Agriculture is key to economic growth in Africa," said Haven Ley, Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports AWARD through a grant to the CGIAR's Gender & Diversity Program. "AWARD is changing agricultural research and development to better respond to the needs and challenges of women producers on the continent."
AWARD addresses many of the barriers, including a lack of role models and mentors, which prevent African women from playing a more active role in agricultural research and from considering a career in agricultural science.
Recent research conducted in 15 African countries by AWARD and Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) shows that between 2000 and 2008, the number of African women professionals employed in the agricultural sciences grew by 8 percent per year, while the number of African men grew by 2 percent per year. However, women still represent less than one quarter of Africa's scientists holding positions in institutions of agricultural research, and less than one in seven (14 percent) leadership positions is held by a woman.
"At the current rate of change, it will take another 20 years before women reach parity with men in African agricultural research institutions," said Wilde. "Africa cannot afford to wait two decades for women scientists' contributions to poverty alleviation and food security."
The critical role of women scientists and female smallholder farmers to Africa's food security is being increasingly recognized by international donors. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently announced that it is more than doubling its funding to AWARD.
"We know the people who matter most aren't the financiers or the agriculture ministers or the assistance workers and partners," said USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, in a recent speech. "They are the women farmers who are the untapped solution to this problem. We're working to ensure that women get equal access to services and support, such as financial services that preferentially target women and extension services delivered by female workers. To make this happen, we are investing in women's producer networks and expanding fellowship programs, such as the AWARD program."
Fellowship winner Olufunke Olayode says she is honored that AWARD is investing in her career. "I want to help Nigerians, especially poor, illiterate rural women, to understand the important role of forests in climate change mitigation," said Olayode, a lecturer at the University of Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria, who is researching biodiversity conservation in forest ecosystems. "AWARD will help me sharpen my research and leadership skills so I can carry out my teaching, research, and community service more effectively."