Established in 2008, AWARD is a professional development programme that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa.
By Zachary Ochieng
Nairobi--—The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Thursday announced 70 winners of its 2011 fellowships. In a colourful ceremony held at Nairobi’s Jacaranda Hotel, Ms Vicki Wilde, both Director of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Gender and Diversity Programme and AWARD, said the outstanding researchers were picked through a highly competitive process that attracted 785 high calibre applicants from 11 African countries, bringing the total number of women in the programme to 250.
“These talented women are conducting critical agricultural research that is desperately needed to feed Africa’s people and help mitigate crises like we are seeing in East Africa right now”, said Wilde. “We are recognising and supporting these women today with an AWARD fellowship.”
Established in 2008, AWARD is a professional development programme that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The programme offers two-year fellowships focused on mentoring partnerships, science skills and leadership development. Women agricultural scientists from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia who have completed a bachelor’s, master’s or a doctoral degree are eligible to apply. Another eligibility criterion is that these women must already be working with the communities to address issues of food security and climate change, among others.
The 2011 fellowships couldn’t have been announced at a better time. More than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are currently facing starvation occasioned by the worst drought in 60 years and the effects of climate change. There is no gainsaying that ensuring the continent’s food security will require mobilizing the best minds from every discipline, including women agricultural researchers.
“My parents paid for my primary education by selling a cow or a goat, so I know from experience that livestock is the cornerstone of people’s livelihoods in rural Africa”, said Dr Lillian Wambua, a molecular geneticist at the University of Nairobi’s School of Biological Sciences and one of this year’s fellows. “Diseases are the greatest challenge to livestock farmers. As an AWARD fellow and upcoming researcher, my goal is to use my scientific skills to engage with like-minded researchers in finding lasting solutions to secure healthy herds”, enthused the AWARD winner who hails from Kenya’s semi-arid Eastern district of Makueni.
Ms Beatrice Ekesa-Onyango, a Research Fellow at Bioversity International and a PhD student at Nairobi’s Kenyatta University could also not hide her joy following her nomination for the fellowship.
“This AWARD fellowship is a great honour to me. It is very timely as it will give me an opportunity to enhance my research and leadership skills to help the communities overcome their myriad challenges of food security”, said Ms Ekesa-Onyango.
Prof Samuel K. Oppong, Head, Department of Wildlife and Range Management, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and AWARD mentor 2009, 2011 said the fellowship programme is an opportunity to bring talented female scientists on board and have them to be more influential.
“We must encourage the female scientists in our institutions; help them get to that next level. Women need to be represented in leadership positions so they can help set the agenda for what research is conducted, so they can inform and influence decision and policy makers”, Prof Oppong observed.
A project of the CGIAR’s Gender and Diversity Programme, AWARD is supported by the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It is a US$15 million, five-year project with plans to expand to a second phase starting 2013. AWARD currently partners with over 75 national agricultural research institutions, raising awareness and support for the career development of African women scientists.