More women scientists ‘needed to spur food production’

building science skills
Copyright: Flickr/ Muthoni Njiru, ILRI

Speed read

  • The new AWARD director says she would work to empower African women researchers
  • AWARD has given fellowships to 390 women agricultural scientists in 11 nations
  • An expert says women scientists face more challenges, and should be helped

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[NAIROBI] Sub-Saharan Africa needs more female agricultural research scientists to accelerate food production and to strengthen leadership skills among women, says the new leader of a career-development programme for women.

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, who became the director of African Women Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) last month, says that having more female researchers in agriculture in Africa will help generate new ideas, necessary skills and attract the young among the womenfolk to the sector, adding that the move could even help majority of African smallholder farmers who are women.

Kamau-Rutenberg said these in Nairobi, Kenya, last month (27 March) at a special ceremony to welcome her. 

“Women produce, process and cook the food people eat but the harsh reality is that they are only seen as manual labourers in farms, which should not be the case.”

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, African Women Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)

Kamau-Rutenberg is founder of Akili Dada, an initiative in Kenya that invests in high- achieving young women from under-resourced families. She says her experience with Akili Dada makers her understand need to empower women who have skills and talent to succeed in life and will work vigorously towards that in her new position.

“Women produce, process and cook the food people eat but the harsh reality is that they are only seen as manual labourers in farms, which should not be the case,” she adds.

The AWARD, which has its headquarters in Nairobi, was established in to empower young women in agriculture and research to accelerate agricultural gains.

In February this year it awarded 70 fellowships to women agricultural scientists from Africa to take part in a two-year career development programme to improve daily lives of smallholder farmers, bringing the total number of fellows to 390, according to information on its website.

The fellows are from 11 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Idah Sithole-Niang, the chair of AWARD steering committee, says that if girls and women in Africa are empowered in science and development, they could help the continent move in the right direction.

Rose Emma Mamaa Entsua-Mensah, an AWARD steering committee member from Ghana, agrees, but underscores the challenges women face, including the fact that “women must struggle to be twice as good as their male colleagues”.

Entsua-Mensah tells SciDev.Net: “Women scientists should be more empowered and nurtured within the African society because of the skewed competition in favour of male counterparts, alienation in society, lack of support and mentorship which are key aspects that AWARD seeks to achieve.

The AWARD has many partners, including Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and International Livestock Research Institute.

Willis Kosura, a professor of agricultural economics at Kenya’s University of Nairobi, says: “The AWARD initiative is very good because it grooms women to excel in a field that very few [of them] take willingly in Africa”.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa news desk.