Fellowships for African women scientists a big hit

Wilde: 'Our wish is to double, or more than double, the number of women scientists benefiting from the programme' Copyright: AWARD

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[NAIROBI] The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship programme has been inundated with applicants.

Since 2008, around 2,200 women have applied for only 250 available fellowships. This year there were 785 applicants from 11 African countries — more than 10 times of available fellowships.

Vicki Wilde, director of the gender and diversity programme at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which runs AWARD, said the fellowship had been remarkably successful over the past four years.

"Our wish is to double, or more than double, the number of women scientists benefiting from the programme over the next five years," Wilde told SciDev.Net at the AWARD fellowship ceremony last month (18 August).

The scheme, which imparts leadership, science, networking and partnership skills to women scientists working in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, has already mentored 180 women, and a further 70 women were awarded the two-year career-development fellowships in August.

AWARD fellows are involved in research in 16 fields of agricultural research and development.

"The impacts of AWARD are real and in the preliminary evaluation results of our 2008 AWARD fellows — the first to complete our two-year programme — there is concrete evidence that 69 per cent of our fellows have strengthened science skills," Wilde said.

"A total of 74 per cent of AWARD fellows demonstrate increased confidence and assertiveness, and a greater desire to lead and guide others. In other words, AWARD is fostering a cadre of women scientists ready to play an influential role in African agriculture and development," she added.

AWARD pairs each fellow with a senior scientist; around half of the mentors are men.

"We’ve realised yet again how important, and how profitable, it is to engage men to collaborate with women if we are to improve food security and alleviate poverty. And we know from experience that it works," said Wilde.

AWARD will in future put more emphasis on working with research and academic institutions to help fellows build their capacity for gender-responsive research, in turn, it is hoped, strengthening the capacity of their institutions.

Isibhakhomen Shirley Ejoh from Nigeria, one of this year’s winners, hopes the skills she gains though AWARD will help her advance her research on underused traditional vegetables.

"The food basket in Nigeria is shrinking because of an over-dependence on a few promoted crops. I want to assess how indigenous plant foods can contribute to the protein and macro-nutrient intake of children and women of reproductive age," she said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the programme since its inception, with additional support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Link to SciDev.Net‘s spotlight on Overcoming Gender Barriers in Science

See below for an AWARD video about the fellowships: