Women scientists in sub-Saharan Africa set to recieve millions in funding

WNN Breaking

AWARD Ghana woman scientist fellowship recipient
Carolyn Tyhra Kumasi takes water samples from a polluted feeder stream leading to a reservoir. Kumasi is a Ph.D. student and AWARD fellowship recipient studying at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. Her research and the research that is being made by women in science throughout sub-Saharan Africa is considered by many to be vital to improvement of conditions in the region. Image: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

(WNN) Nairobi, KENYA: African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) has just announced that its program, which develops the research and leadership skills of top women agricultural scientists in Africa, has received new joint funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (US$14 million) and the United States Agency for International Development (up to US$5 million). This support will allow AWARD to launch a second five-year phase to equip more women agricultural scientists in 11 sub-Saharan African countries, in addition to the hundreds of researchers already served since 2008 in the program’s first phase.

An estimated 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are hungry, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This week, at the World Food Prize events in Des Moines, Iowa, global leaders are discussing strategies to boost food production worldwide. Ensuring food security in Africa is particularly challenging, and will require mobilizing the continent’s best scientific minds, including those of African women.

However, although the majority of those who produce, process and market Africa’s food are women, only one in four agricultural researchers is female, according to a 2008 benchmarking study conducted by AWARD. Even fewer—one in seven—hold leadership positions in African agricultural research institutions. Africa’s current leadership in agriculture and development is small in number, mostly male, and on the verge of retirement, with few experienced professionals equipped to succeed them.

“Cultivating a new generation of African leaders in food and agriculture is strategically important,” said Vicki Wilde, AWARD director. “That leadership will be all the more effective when women are highly represented, especially by those technically competent and strategically positioned to generate and promote the innovations needed by rural women, and other smallholder farmers.”

AWARD believes that effective solutions for African agriculture will come through empowered women scientists. “The Gates Foundation and USAID understand the critical role of women, both farmers and researchers, as a non-negotiable component of their strategies for agricultural R&D in Africa.  “AWARD shares this vision and is very proud to be an implementing partner,” said Wilde.

“We are thrilled to be extending our support for AWARD,” said Dr. Roy Steiner, deputy director of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation. “This program, and the fellows involved, help ensure that women are at the heart of agricultural development, advancing research and innovation to reduce hunger and poverty.”

The demand for AWARD is clear: more than 2,000 women have applied for the 250 fellowships available since the program began in 2008, and over 1,000 applicants are competing for 70 places in the next round of fellowships, which will be announced in December 2012.

As an AWARD Fellow, Professor Sheila Okoth of the University of Nairobi says her research on solutions to combat the aflatoxin contamination of farm produce in Kenya advanced significantly. “I changed tremendously following the training and exposure I had through AWARD,” said Okoth. “I am even more determined to help solve the aflatoxin problem that makes poor farmers even poorer.” She established the university’s first post-graduate mycology research lab, inspired by her three-month advanced science training at Stellenbosch University, which was sponsored by USAID through AWARD. “I’m pleased that AWARD has the funding needed to empower even more African women researchers. It’s making a difference,” said Okoth.

  • Preliminary data collected from the first 180 AWARD alumnae revealed that:
    137 different agricultural technologies and products are being developed by these women in their respective research institutions
  • at least 57 percent refocused their research to be more gender responsive or more relevant to the needs of women farmers
  • one in two increased their average annual publication rate in peer-reviewed journals
  • 52 percent were promoted, indicative of their growing influence

“It’s clear that AWARD is a game-changer,” said Wilde. “The new funding received today means even more African women will be empowered to be in the forefront of innovative gender-responsive agricultural R&D, where it is needed most.”

AWARD’s program aims to strengthen African women who are making advances in research and leadership in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in the Sub-Saharan regions of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.