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[NAIROBI] Funders have renewed support for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), a programme that helps women in Sub-Saharan countries to develop leadership and scientific skills.

A second grant, spanning five years, was announced on 18 October, comprising US$14 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and US$5 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

It will also spark more effective innovations in agriculture according to Karen Homer, AWARD's spokesperson. "We believe that effective solutions for African agriculture will come through empowered women scientists," she said.

The majority of those who produce, process and market Africa's food are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female, according to a 2008 benchmarking study conducted by AWARD.

Homer noted that even fewer women, one in seven, hold leadership positions in African agricultural research institutions. Currently there are few leadership positions available in agriculture and development, and of those that do exist, most are held by men.

Vicki Wilde, AWARD's director, told SciDev.Net that "cultivating a new generation of African leaders in food and agriculture is strategically important". She added that "leadership will be all the more effective when women are well represented, especially by those positioned to generate and promote the innovations needed by rural women and other smallholder farmers".

The first phase of AWARD, in 2008, enlisted 250 African women agricultural scientists from 11 countries. Women who complete a two-year fellowship programme — which are then rolled out in their own countries are said to be more confident and technically skilled, as well as having access to networks and more visibility to further their careers.

Every AWARD fellow attends courses on leadership and management, science skills and proposal writing. They are also twinned with senior scientists as mentors.

"In our second phase, we will conduct three rounds of fellowships for 210 more African women agricultural scientists. More than 1,000 applicants are competing for 70 places in the first round, and the winners will be announced in December 2012. The programme will begin in February 2013," noted Homer.

Willis-Oluoch Kosura, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, said AWARD is building the capacity of African women scientists in agriculture.

"The AWARD initiative is laudable and should be supported by all, as its mission of empowering women will provide a powerful avenue for unlocking the potential for African agriculture and the achievement of most of the eight Millennium Development Goals."

AWARD is hosted by CGIAR's World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi.