As a 2013 AWARD Fellow you were mentored by Dr Mary Gikungu, a senior researcher at the National Museums of Kenya. What did you gain from this mentorship?
The mentorship helped me to draw up feasible goals, and follow through to achieve them. The AWARD training introduced me to the ‘purpose road map’, which, working with my mentor during the workshop, helped me to break down those goals into doable steps – and 3 years later, I’m still on track! I am so glad to have had the privilege to participate in this fellowship, and Dr Gikungu has continued to play the role of an advisor whenever I need to consult with her. I will be graduating with a PhD at the end of this year, which was one of the original goals that I wrote down in the first AWARD mentorship training workshop – the research I am undertaking in the programme was inspired by my experience during the AWARD Fellowship.
You are currently working with the Ogiek indigenous community  . Why is indigenous knowledge important for building climate resilience?
I have been working with the Ogiek people, Kenya’s last forest-dwelling indigenous community, who possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge. This knowledge is extremely important in building climate resilience because it is holistic in its approach. Indigenous knowledge does not operate in silos, and therefore takes a kind of ecosystem approach: it touches on people, plants, animals and their interactions. The approach to problem solving is localised and based on what has worked in the past.
How has your involvement in the AWARD Fellowship shaped the work that you do to help rural communities?
Rural communities are often marginalised communities. For the Ogiek people, this is most likely due to their lifestyle choice of not pursuing formal education. To empower such communities and improve their livelihoods, I have to be conscious of the marginalising factors affecting them.
Through the AWARD Fellowship, I have developed a deeper understanding of the concept of ‘gender responsiveness’, which has been very useful in my work with rural communities. Now, I ensure that every intervention I undertake is gender responsive. If I am promoting a project to empower the community, for instance, I ensure women are involved in training as well as the men – who naturally attend such meetings.
Have you had the opportunity to pass on the skills you acquired to other young women in the sector?
Yes, gladly so. A role-model event at my former high school, which I organised as part of the AWARD Fellowship, was the beginning of a mentoring programme that I and a few former schoolmates now run. We hold annual events in the school to talk to the girls on various topics that can help to improve their academic and social lives, and their career paths. It has been very fulfilling. I mentored two colleagues using the AWARD mentorship guidelines, and now I proudly see them walking the ‘purpose road maps’ they drew up for themselves.
Why is it important that more women are supported in agricultural research? What more needs to be done to ensure this happens?
In the communities that I have been working with, women are the major drivers of agriculture. They are the ones interacting with the farms, feeding the family and nation at large, and bearing the burden for food production. Unfortunately, women mostly operate at the farm level and are not in a position to make decisions. Women should be given the tools to access more information, empowering them to make informed decisions as they drive agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.
We need to encourage girls to choose agriculture-based careers while at school, and to draw young women into the agricultural sciences through long-term mentorship initiatives. Agricultural research centres could also offer training positions to young women graduates, such as internship programmes to help them build experience and boost their career aspirations.