Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg's viewpoint
Interviews with Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the director of AWARD. She is the founder and ex-director of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator that invests in high-achieving young women from under-resourced families.
You recently became director of AWARD, a career-development programme that builds the research and leadership skills of African women agricultural scientists. Why is AWARD needed?
If Africa is to feed 2.4 billion people - double its current population - by 2050, it must increase its food production by 260%. To achieve this, the research outputs of agricultural scientists - both men and women - are urgently needed. However, one must take into account that women are hardly involved in research. Although those who produce, process, and market the majority of Africa’s food are women, only one in four agricultural researchers are female. Even fewer - one in seven - of the leadership positions in African agricultural research institutions is held by a woman. AWARD is helping to bridge that gap by equipping top women scientists with the skills they need to obtain leadership positions where they can influence research agendas and policies.
How can women scientists help food production? How does this differ from a male scientist’s approach?
Women play a decisive role in household food security, dietary diversity, and children’s health. Women agricultural scientists are well positioned to understand farmers’ needs from production to processing to marketing. They know the dynamics and limitations that farmers face in obtaining household food and economic security, and they are often more informed about relevant technologies that women farmers will readily adopt.
Please share with us two or three good examples of agricultural research undertaken by AWARD scientists.
There are so many. I think of Flower Ezekiel Msuya, a senior researcher at the University of Dar-es-Salaam. She is helping women seaweed farmers to process their harvests into value-added products such as soap, cosmetics, and even jam, thereby increasing their income. Dorcas Olubunmi Ibitoye, a principal research officer at Nigeria’s National Horticultural Research Institute, is focused on finding efficient and affordable screening methods for identifying drought-resistant traits in cowpeas. And Mary Obadai of Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is doing remarkable research on using agricultural waste for mushroom substrate. She has trained more than 3,000 farmers, predominantly women, in mushroom production.