US$32-million joint initiative to boost food production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia announced

Working in the maize field in Malawi

Small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, like this woman in Malawi, will benefit from a US$32 million initiative that is supporting research to boost production of vital food crops (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Research funders from the United Kingdom, the United States and government departments from the United Kingdom and India have announced a UK£20 million (US$32 million) joint research initiative to relieve constraints to food production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development program, which was announced on 11 January 2011, will fund research teams from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the UK working to improve the sustainable production of vital food crops. Funding will be awarded to teams that show their research can improve food security and increase crop yields within the next 5 to 10 years.

Food security is a key concern across the world as countries face the challenge of producing and supplying enough safe and nutritious food in sustainable ways for their growing populations. Climate change, urbanization and rising food prices also are reducing access to food by many of the world’s poor people in developing countries.

The program aims to establish mutually beneficial partnerships between researchers in the United Kingdom and developing countries through intellectual collaboration and also to enhance the scientific capabilities of its partners in the South.

A joint multi-national initiative of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Department for International Development, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC) in the USA, the Department of Biotechnology of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the program will focus on research conducted to counter the effects of stresses that are ‘abiotic’—e.g., drought, temperature, salinity, nutrient deficiencies—and/or biotic—e.g., pathogens, pests and weeds in nature—in nature.

The program is offering standard research grants for projects of up to five years led by a principal investigator from any eligible institution. The program is also funding ‘Projects for Emerging Agricultural Research Leaders’, in which some 5–10 grants of up to £2 million in total will be awarded to four-year projects whose principal investigator is an early- to mid-career scientist from a developing country of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia and employed in a national research program, institute or university.

Successful proposals will focus on biological or biotechnological research and are to be submitted by 31 March 2011.

The Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, a regionally shared research facility hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, invites African researchers and scientists interested in exploring use of the Hub for this project to contact Jagger Harvey (crop research and related microbes: j.harvey@cgiar.org) or Rob Skilton (livestock research and related microbes: r.skilton@cgiar.org).

‘I invite African scientists to take advantage of the world-class facilities that BecA offers to participate in this program,’ said Segenet Kelemu, the Director of the BecA Hub. She notes that ‘the Hub is open for use by researchers focused on African agricultural improvement and is an excellent facility for use by those engaged in research initiatives to improve Africa’s food security.’

The BecA Hub provides a common biosciences research platform, research-related services and capacity building opportunities to the region and beyond. The Hub aims to increase access to affordable, world-class research facilities and to create and strengthen human resources in biosciences and related disciplines in Africa.

If you would like to be included in an open-access database of scientists interested in African agricultural improvement—which is managed by the Hub, funded by the Gates Foundation and designed for use by scientists, donor representatives and others—please contact the Hub’s communications officer Jane Hawtin: j.hawtin@cgiar.org. You can also visit the BecA Hub website: http://hub.africabiosciences.org.

____

For more information see

http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/food-security/2011/110111-pr-developing-countries.aspx and  http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/opportunities/2011/1103-sustainable-crop-production-international.aspx

If pigs could fly: Reducing the ‘gender asset gap’ in agricultural development–the beginnings of a ‘transformative gender’ paradigm shift?

10GenderWorkshop_AtPresidentialRedCarpet_GroupPhoto1

RED CARPET WELCOME: His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya, generously allowed his presidential red carpet to be briefly used for a photograph of a group of pro-women agricultural scientists this month at the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Unusually, and, if truth be said, thrillingly, the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute and BecA—a Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub that ILRI hosts and manages—have, within the space of 12 months, been visited by two very seriously important persons: Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in early December 2009; and Mwai Kibaki, president of the Republic of Kenya, early this month (November 2010).

Biotech men
Both VIPs expressed excitement in, and support for, BecA’s recently launched state-of-the-art biosciences facilities, which they happily toured, donning crisp white lab coats to inspect BecA’s ultra-modern, super-molecular laboratories, including a half-million-dollar ‘454’ DNA sequencer, a space-agey-looking biosafety containment facility and a shiny brand-new greenhouse.
 

Bill Gates visits the BecA Hub at ILRI in December 2009

BILL GATES, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and former CEO of Microsoft, toured the ultra-modern laboratories of BecA at ILRI last December (2009) (photo credit: ILRI/Ouma).
 

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

HIS EXCELLENCY Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on a tour of the same labs this November (2010), led by BecA Hub Director Segenet Kelemu (third from left) (photo credit: ILRI/Masi).
 
The feminization of biotech
While the entourages of both Gates (who was on a private visit) and Kibaki (on a State visit) were mostly male, BecA’s director, Ethiopian Segenet Kelemu; as well as a key initiator and supporter of BecA, Australian Gabrielle Persley; and some half the students and African scientists the VIPs met and interviewed while they toured the labs, were female. On both visits, our male VIPs appeared impressed by the high 'girl power' in these high-tech labs. And so they should have been, both VIPs coming of age (Gates is 55 this year, Kibaki, 79) when such visible expression of the closing of the gender gap was rare.

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

POLITICIANS AND SCIENTISTS: Segenet Kelemu, director of the BecA Hub at ILRI, explains to President Kibaki the significance of a metal and glass sculpture of a DNA helix unveiled by the president at the official opening of the Hub earlier this month (5 November 2010) (photo credit: ILRI/Njuguna).
 
Closing the gender gap
Fortuitously and aptly, then, on the morning of President Kibaki’s visit to ILRI on 5 November 2010 to officially open the BecA Hub, another meeting, arranged by research groups much earlier than the State visit was arranged, was starting in another venue on the same ILRI campus, far from the imposing presidential dais, marching band, schoolgirl choir and guest and refreshment tents erected and assembled down the hill, in front of ILRI’s Mara House office building.
 
Back up the hill, then, in a meeting room adjacent to a quiet quad and out of the fray, a group of (mostly) women experts on gender and agriculture in developing countries opened an ‘inception’ workshop for a new scientific project aiming to reduce inequalities between men and women (and boys and girls) in agricultural development.
 
We know that Bill Gates supports this work, because his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the project. And we suspect that President Kibaki would also be supportive. (Upon learning that a schoolgirl choir, standing near the presidential dais, had awaited his arrival from the labs for several hours to sing for him, Kibaki admonished his staff that the girls ought to be in school, this being a Friday, and instructed them to have all the schoolgirls immediately seated under the tents.)
 

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GIRL POWER: A schoolgirl choir walks past one of several red carpets laid out in honour of a visit to BecA and ILRI by President Mwai Kibaki (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
Historic beginnings for closing the gender gap in agricultural projects
The gender research project being quietly kicked off in ILRI’s N’Dama Lounge was, in its way, as much an historic beginning as the advanced labs being opened further down the hill. Scientists at ILRI and elsewhere have known for years that more—much, much, much more—should be done to address women’s issues in agricultural development. And they have struggled for years to incorporate women’s issues into their research programs. With little success.
 
Women continue to have fewer assets than men
If small-scale agriculture remains the backbone of most developing-country economies, women remain the stuff that makes up that backbone. Across nationalities, cultures and religions, women more than men tend to invest their time and energy and income in the stuff that matters most to most of us, with the greatest benefits provided to the greatest numbers of poor. Yet women have fewer assets than men—whether we look at land, natural resources and other tangible assets or less tangible ones like human capital. This gap between men’s and women’s assets not only reduces agricultural productivity, but also restricts women’s decison-making power, which affects such vital matters as sustainable food production, children’s nutrition and education, and economic development. 
 
That’s what we know. Not what we do. And the disconnect between what we know to do in ‘gender’ issues in agricultural development and what we do do has been getting bigger and more glaring every year.
 
When pigs fly, we used to say, not so long ago, we will all be working to help women help the rest of us in development—just because that’s what women tend to do, regardless of their material circumstances. The disjunct between what women do for agriculture and what we in agricultural research and development do for them, we said, was a disgrace. And then we would sigh and crawl back into a ‘what to do?’ cynicism. What our staff lacked, we said, was the training and technical assistance needed first to identify and then to address disparities in agricultural development and in assets. That’s now changing. At ILRI the change is due to the institute’s recent hiring of people who know what to do—and are ready to do it.
 
These new staff and positions include some of the best scientists in the world who are champions of gender research in agricultural development. These relatively new ILRI staff include Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan leading sociologist in gender and agriculture studies; Nancy Johnson, an American agricultural economist and poverty analyst; and Canadian Patti Kristjanson, a long-term ILRI economist who just two years ago launched a 'Women and Livestock Challenge Dialogue'. (In January of this year, Kristjanson moved to the World Agroforestry Centre, across town from ILRI, to lead a research team that is part of a new global climate change initiative involving all 15 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, to which ILRI belongs.) These three women formed a Gender, Poverty and Impacts research team which, despite starting only one-and-a-half years ago, has already created the momentum across ILRI for re-focusing on gender and agriculture.
 

10GenderWorkshop_AtPresidentialRedCarpet_JohnMcDermottAndJemimahNjuki

ILRI PUTS WOMEN'S ISSUES FRONT AND CENTRE: Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan expert in gender and agriculture and impact analysis working for ILRI, waits with ILRI's deputy director general-research John McDermott, a Canadian veterinary researcher, beside the red carpet laid down at ILRI's entrance for the presidential visit happening at the same time, in front of an office building down below (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
Can a few women make a difference?
Can a few committed women and some supportive men make a big difference in gender research for development? With institutional support, we're betting on it. ILRI’s seriousness about, and new serious expertise in, empowering women farmers and marketers got the attention of other groups working toward the same goal. The ILRI group has joined forces with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) team of Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Agnes Quisumbing, long-time researchers on gender and agriculture.
 
This inception workshop for the ‘Gender, Agriculture and Assets Project,’ held from 5–7 November 2010, is a 3-year initiative of IFPRI and ILRI funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The overall aim of the initiative is to improve rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by helping agricultural development programs significantly reduce inequalities, including disparities in assets, between men and women.
 
The workshop brought together research and development partners from different organizations. In addition to IFPRI and ILRI, these included BRAC, CARE Bangladesh, East Africa Dairy Development project, Fintrac Inc, Grameen Foundation, Helen Keller International, International Rice Research Institute, Kickstart International, Land O’Lakes, Rural Development Institute, Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility initiative at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and the World Vegetable Centre (AVDRC), as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the United States Agency for International Development.
 
As part of the initiative, the team will evaluate some 10 agricultural research and development projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and others to identify the impacts of these projects on women’s assets and to clarify which strategies have been successful in reducing gaps between men and women in access to, and control of, assets.
 

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THINKING BIG: IFPRI's Ruth Meinzen-Dick gives an overview of the ambitious aims of the Gender Assets Gaps project (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
The project is based on several premises: (1) that control over, and ownership of, assets is a critical component of well-being, (2) that increasing control or ownership of assets does more to help create pathways out of poverty than increasing incomes or consumption alone and (3) that the different kinds of assets addressed by a project—whether tangible or intangible, for example, or whether defined as natural, physical, financial, human, social or political ‘capital’—matter. Project staff are investigating the control of assets because who controls assets in households matters a lot. Household members typically do not pool all resources or agree on what their scarce resources should be used for. The benefits of policy changes in any given household or community are determined largely by who in the household or community is the main beneficiary of the new resources. And we now have evidence from many countries that increasing the resources under the control of women not only improves the nutrition and health of children, but also increases agricultural productivity and household incomes.
 
Astonishingly, although women make a significant contribution to agriculture in developing countries and are much more likely than men to use their (scarce) resources to improve the nutrition, welfare and well-being of their families, they are still neglected in most agricultural research and development programs. At a Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development, held in Montpellier, France, last March (2010), IFPRI’s Ruth Meinzen-Dick argued that accounting for gender in our research and development work is not an option but a necessity if we are going to reduce world poverty and feed the world’s growing populations (which are expected to peak at mid-century, falling after that): ‘Changing agricultural research and development from male-dominated to gender-equitable is not merely an issue of political correctness or ideology; it is a matter of development effectiveness that can benefit everyone.’
 
Although getting reliable, accurate and timely statistics disaggregated by gender remains a formidable challenge for most countries (in 2010, the United Nations found that no census had been carried out in the last three decades in 41 per cent of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa), what we know is probably enough to be getting on with. The following should give a flavour of the depth and scope of the issues.
 
More women than men:
  • own no land
  • are poor and hungry
  • are illiterate
  • are refugees
  • are living with HIV (in Africa)
  • are caring for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Most women:
  • work longer hours than men
  • work in jobs with lower pay, status, power and authority than men
  • get paid less than men for doing the same work
  • provide most of the family labour and are unpaid for that labour
  • bear double responsibility for household and farm work
  • receive a fraction of the agricultural extension and support services provided to men
  • have half the education levels of men
  • have less access to health care services than men
  • have fewer legal rights than men.
Flying pigs?
Fortunately, as detailed and dissected in this inception workshop, projects from South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal) and sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zimbabwe) have potential to address such asset disparities.
 
These projects are working across the spectrum of women’s rural livelihoods and concerns in these regions, from animal husbandry to vegetable genetics, from nutrition and sociology to agricultural economics and development management. An enumeration of some of the more obvious specific topics tackled in the projects presented at this workshop gives some idea of the broad disciplinary expertise demanded by those working to help women use agriculture to better their lives. These include dairy development, land transfer to girls, vegetable production, development and dissemination of nutrient-rich foods such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, value addition and processing, market information systems, high-value horticulture, crop management and irrigation.
 
Some of the opportunities described in overviews of these projects include the following.
  • Fully 94 per cent of the vendors in vegetable markets in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
  • Twice as many women as men in Uganda cultivate sweet potatoes, most sweet potato traders in towns as well as villages are women, and women tend to be less risk-averse in crop choice than men.
  • Contrary to previous reports, information tips delivered by mobile phone delivery of market and other agricultural information in Uganda show female farmers are very interested in receiving, and acting on, timely market information.
  • Legumes, once considered a 'woman's crop in much of Africa, can directly benefit the nutrition of poor households.
  • With increasing migration of men from rural to urban areas in South Asia, the roles of women are shifting from unpaid farm labourers to de facto farm managers.
  • Seedling nurseries are an opportunity for women because they require relatively little labour and can be established close to homesteads.
  • East African women dairy producers have most control of the milk they sell informally in the evening.
According to this group of scientists, the gender research areas in greatest need of addressing are:
  • Training in methods to integrate gender and asset-based approaches in agriculture development programs.
  • Evaluating agriculture development programs to understand what works and what does not work in building women’s assets and scaling out those strategies that work.
  • Collecting gender-disaggregated data. 
  • Initiating, and training in, gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation work. 
  • Expanding measurements of income and consumption to include evaluations of how projects build assets.
 

Village food seller in Nigeria

THE TARGET, THE BENEFICIARY, THE HOPE: A young girl sells food to villagers outside Kano, Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).
 
The gender and agricultural assets initiative wants to learn from the most promising successes in these projects so as to help redress imbalances in power. The project leaders are dreaming and thinking big. They aim no less than pushing a ‘paradigm shift’ in agricultural development programming from ‘gender exploitive’ to ‘gender accommodating’ to ‘gender transformative’. This will of necessity mean taking on a lot, including ‘challenging the ideological, socio-cultural, economic, political and institutional frameworks and structures that create and recreate gender inequalities’. The project leaders are well aware of the danger that such targeting, if not done well, can lead to a backlash that further marginalizes rather than supports poor women. And they recognize the role of men in achieving gender equality.
 
This project will train teams of experts in how to use tools to assess the assets held by men, women and households as a whole and in how to integrate and measure the effectiveness of strategies for increasing the assets of women. To this end, IFPRI’s Ruth Meinzen-Dick proposed a conceptual framework for analyzing assets while ILRI’s Jemimah Njuki presented different strategies for addressing gender in agricultural programs, explaining why and how to complement quantitative tools in monitoring and evaluation with qualitative tools. IFPRI’s Dan Gilligan described methods for evaluating quantitative impacts and ILRI’s Nancy Johnson and IFPRI’s Agnes Quisumbing discussed different types of assets, data needs and data collection instruments. Project implementers and evaluators in this initiative are expected to work hand in hand over the life of the selected projects, using both qualitative and quantitative methods  to assess and document changes from baselines in levels of control and ownerships of assets.
 
And pigs, then, will perhaps have a chance to start to fly.
 
For more information, visit, the following:
The Gender Assets Gap project’s blog:
 
ILRI’s Gender & Agriculture blog:
http://agrigender.wordpress.com/
 
All slide presentations given at the workshop:
http://www.slideshare.net/genderassets/slideshows
 
Pictures of the workshop:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/sets/72157625322903538/
 
News of a forthcoming ILRI-organized workshop on ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture’, 31 Jan to 2 Feb 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
http://agrigender.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/workshop-on-gender-and-market-oriented-agriculture-revised-dates/
 
Announcement of a forthcoming TEDx event at IFPRI, on 14 Devember 2010, in Washington, DC, with talks by ILRI’s Jemimah Njuki and IFPRI’s Agnes Quisumbing and Ruth Meinzen-Dick on gender as the ‘missing ingredient’ in many development policies and programs:
http://genderassets.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/upcoming-tedx-event-on-gender/
 
A filmed presentation by ILRI’s Jemimah Njiki making the case that animal agriculture can be used to help redress skewed resources available to rural women worldwide (in societies where women are unable to own anything else, farm animals provide women with incomes; and when those women’s incomes rise, the health, nutrition and education of their whole families also rise, with everybody winning):
http://ilri.blip.tv/file/3418393/

Biosciences for Africa: Fuelling africa’s agricultural revolution from within

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, listens to Lydia Wamalwa, a plant molecular biologist, during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub on 5 November 2010; in the middle, Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the BecA Hub, looks on (photo credit ILRI/Masi).

A world-class research facility, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, was officially opened in Nairobi, today, by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. This opening follows a scientific conference, Mobilizing Biosciences for Africa’s Development, which was held the day before at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the new facility.

The BecA Hub is open for use by researchers from Africa and around the world who are working to improve African agriculture. The BecA Hub puts Africa’s research capacity on par with some of the world’s most advanced research institutes.

‘With the help of our many partners and investors, the research undertaken here will have a lasting impact in developing agriculture in Africa,’ says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI.

The BecA Hub at ILRI brings the latest cutting-edge technologies into the hands of African graduate students and scientists. The Hub serves as a science integrator, allowing researchers to work together across institutional, national and disciplinary boundaries. There are already some 150 scientists, technicians and students using the facility today. The BecA Hub intends to double this number in the next five years. Since 2007, almost 1500 scientists have participated in BecA Hub conferences, workshops and short-term training and 100 graduate students and 57 visiting scientists have undertaken research at the facility.

‘This facility,’ said Kibaki, ‘will be used to develop what Africa requires and will serve as a focal point for Africa’s scientific community to enable them to carry out research to increase agricultural productivity and food security.’

Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan plant molecular biologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), says, ‘I left Kenya to start my PhD research with CIP laboratories in Lima, Peru. The opening of these facilities in Nairobi allowed me to return home to work on our agricultural challenges here in Africa.’

While the BecA Hub was formed to directly serve 17 countries in eastern and central Africa, demand for its use has been so strong that it now serves Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as other countries beyond the continent.

Research at the BecA Hub focuses on some of Africa’s biggest agricultural problems, including frequent droughts, devastating crop pests, diseases and weeds, lethal livestock diseases and unsafe foods.

‘We aim to help build Africa’s capacity by empowering its scientists to lead the coming African agricultural revolution from within,’ says the facility’s director, Segenet Kelemu, a leading Ethiopian bioscientist.

‘Many of the research findings generated so far look like they will find quick application in agriculture.’

African and international scientists are working here to develop drought-tolerant food crops. They are also working to improve food safety in Kenya by reducing the amount of its maize crop that is contaminated by aflatoxins, which cause cancer, stunt children’s growth, increase vulnerability to disease and, at high levels, kills. In addition, these scientists have developed and validated a new test for detecting bush meat being sold in Kenya’s butcheries, a diagnostic that can safeguard both wildlife populations and human health.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s African Biosciences Initiative, which was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. The Hub was also aligned with regional priorities set by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Aggrey Ambali, director of the Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says, ‘The BecA Hub offers Africa’s bioscientists the opportunity to conduct high-level research within the continent.’

The Canadian International Development Agency strongly supported the Hub by funding renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus and the construction of new facilities. The 10,000-square-metre laboratories already host many researchers from Africa’s national agricultural research systems and several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The facilities are now complete and the BecA Hub is ready to operate at full capacity.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a long-time supporter, is helping to fund the Hub’s operations through 2014. And many other investors are supporting specific research and training projects.

‘The BecA Hub at ILRI serves as a focal point connecting African science to fast-moving scientific superhighways in the rest of the world,’ says Knut Hove, chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

For example, BecA Hub graduate students have formed a group dedicated to bioinformatics. They are using the Hub’s high-performance computing platform, fast internet connectivity and bioinformatics expertise for ongoing peer-to-peer training. The group has organized international workshops and published a paper in a leading international journal. Some of these students have been awarded scholarships from the Australian Agency for International Development; Nescent, Durham, USA; and EMBL‐European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, says that Kenya is proud to host a facility that is allowing leading African scientists to return home to work on African problems.

‘The BecA Hub,’ says Kiome, ‘should help this continent become a breadbasket for the world.’

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For more information on the BecA Hub, visit http://hub.africabiosciences.org

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

ILRI women in science: What’s changed this International Women’s Day?

8 March is International Women’s Day. ILRI women share their thoughts on what has changed for women in science over the last decade.
Celebrated on 8 March every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) connects women around the world, inspiring them to achieve their full potential (http://www.internationalwomensday.com/). Three ILRI women share their thoughts on this year’s International Women’s Day.

Zimbabwean veterinary scientist Siboniso Moyo

New book on livestock in developing countriesSiboniso (‘Boni’) Moyo, an animal scientist from Zimbabwe, is ILRI’s regional representative in Southern Africa, based in Maputo, Mozambique. Boni spent her youth fighting for her country’s freedom, which she was forced to leave at an early age. She managed to obtain an MSc in animal husbandry from the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow in 1984 and went on to obtain a PhD in animal science from the University of Pretoria in 1997. She has spent the last 22 years conducting livestock research in Zimbabwe and the region. Married to Polex, a fellow Zimbabwean veterinary surgeon she met in Russia, she is raising three extraordinary daughters and loves making a difference among the poor in her community.

What do you see as the biggest change for women in science over the last decade?

‘The number of women in senior management positions in public-sector science has increased. Although their numbers are still too small, this is an improvement over the situation a decade ago.

‘This should encourage young girls to take up science careers. They now have role models. And these women in senior management are now in position to influence policies for gender equity.

What’s your International Women’s Day message to the world?

‘To women in science I say: Encourage girls to take up science in high schools so that they can be enrolled for science subjects at the tertiary level. Mentor the young to grow in this field!

‘To the women in agriculture in the villages and the cities, I say: Keep up your good work! Your contribution is vital for food security and critical for the survival of each and every human being, family and nation. Use this day to acknowledge yourself and to encourage another woman to rise up to the challenges you and others have faced.

Ethiopian plant scientist Segenet Kelemu

Segenet Kelemu, Director of the BecA-ILRI HubSegenet Kelemu, a molecular plant pathologist from Ethiopia, is research director at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Platform, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Segenet graduated with a PhD degree in molecular plant pathology from Kansas State University, USA in 1989, and is a graduate of Montana State University, USA, where she obtained an MSc in plant pathology/genetics in 1984. Before joining ILRI, she was a senior scientist at the International Centre for Tropical Agricultural Research (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia.

Segenet enjoys reading, spending time with her family and investing in the education of resource-poor and very bright young girls. She is married to Arjan Gijsman, a soil scientist and computer modelling expert, and has one daughter, Finote.

What do you see as the biggest change for women in science over the last decade?

‘Things are changing positively for women, slowly but surely. Over the last decade we’ve seen an increased number of women leading research teams, as well as more women in senior management positions.

What’s your International Women’s Day message to the world?

‘Women have penetrated and excelled in fields that were largely perceived as male-only areas. The future for women is a lot brighter and lots of progress has been made around the world. We have elected women presidents and leaders in Argentina, Chile, the Philippines, Germany and Liberia and many women now hold top positions in universities, companies and national governments.

‘The acceptance and appreciation of female leaders, by both men and women, represents positive change and progress. Those few women who have made it to the top have demonstrated their effectiveness in their jobs. That is paving the way for other women starting down that road.’

Canadian agricultural economist Patti Kristjanson

Patti Kristjanson, Leader, Innovation WorksPatti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist from Winnipeg, one of the coldest places in Canada, leads ILRI’s Innovations Works, based Nairobi, Kenya.

Married to Frank, a fellow scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre, she has a teenage son and daughter, the latter of whom is already on the path to self-determination.

What do you see as the biggest change for women in science over the last decade?

‘The biggest positive change is that there’s beginning to be some critical mass in female scientists working on sustainable poverty issues in the developing world.

What’s your International Women’s Day message to the world?

‘Women in science tend to understand the power of dialogue, where diverse people work together towards common understanding. Scientific debate, on the other hand, is oppositional and assumes one person is right.

‘Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions. Debate defends one’s own position as the best solution and excludes other solutions.

‘Women scientists can and will lead the global dialogue on innovative and collaborative solutions to sustainable poverty.

Improving women’s lives and livelihoods through livestock

ILRI is facilitating a global consultation to improve lives and livelihoods through women and livestock. This consultation aims to bring together men and women who are passionate about fighting poverty and improving women’s lives.

Patti Kristjanson is leading the Global Challenge Dialogue on Women and Livestock.

Why have you organized a global consultation on women and livestock?

‘Because it’s time to bring together the best and brightest minds and experience from all over the world to increase the awareness of the importance of livestock to the poor – it is often the only asset a poor woman has.

‘The goal is to come up with creative new collaborations and solutions that empower women and enhance their incomes through innovations related to this key asset.’