Smallholder farmers across Africa are looking to science to boost farm productivity and to tackle emerging threats, particularly with regards to climate change and pandemics as demonstrated by Covid-19. This is according to Agspirations: Inspiring stories of African agriculture, a new report by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (Award).
The report demonstrates the gains of embracing gender-responsive research and increasing the number of female agricultural scientists in leadership positions.
Less than a quarter of agricultural researchers in sub-Saharan Africa are women and only 14% of those in leadership positions in agricultural research are women, found Award. Furthermore, women account for less than 16% of the research labour force in agricultural sciences in francophone African countries.
Inspiring women in science
“The world needs urgent and concerted efforts toward enabling agricultural-dependent communities to thrive in the face of a changing climate. The key to finding solutions is an enhanced focus on the systemic causes of the gender divide in various sectors, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” states the AgSpirations report.
To inspire more women into research, and invest in African women scientists working to improve the livelihoods of rural populations, Award has partnered with academic institutions, development agencies and governments to implement various initiatives and programmes.
The flagship Award Fellowship has, for the last 13 years, been working with women agricultural research scientists who undertake a career-development programme that builds their leadership, mentoring, and scientific research skills.
To date, the fellowship has been offered to 534 of the continent’s top women scientists, and has benefitted more than 1 000 individuals who participated in the programme as mentors and fellows’ mentees.
The fellows continue to record growth in their careers, with most taking up senior leadership positions, including as vice-chancellors, centre directors and policymakers.
“While this is a harsh reminder of the reality of the imbalance between demand and supply of capacity development on the continent, it is also an opportunity for increased partnerships to build local talent to address climate change in Africa,” noted outgoing Award director Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg.
“Gender balance is not only an issue of equity and equality, but also of efficiency. Indeed, integrating gender is key to greater effectiveness. Women all over the world are, whether recognized or not, critical players in decision-making processes,” emphasised Dr Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, director of Agropolis Foundation.