12 Kenyan women experts win fellowships

Friday July 30 2010

 Dr Waceke Wanjohi of Kenyatta University. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT

Dr Waceke Wanjohi of Kenyatta University. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT 

By Jacob Ng’etich [email protected]

A plant nematode specialist and a passion fruit pathologist are among 12 Kenyan women who were feted early this week by the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (Award).

The 12 were in a group of 60 outstanding women agricultural scientists from 10 African countries awarded with fellowships.

When Prof Waceke Wanjohi, a plant nematologist, visited a farmer in Githunguri, she was saddened by what he had gone through.

The farmer, seeing that the crop was not doing well, decided to replace it with dhania.

“I felt saddened because this farmer did not know that the problem of root-knot nematodes, that had affected his spinach, would also impair the growth of his dhania,” said Prof Wanjohi.

After explaining to the farmer what the problem was, the university lecturer decided that there was need to do more because many farmers were in the same situation in the area and across the country.

Emphasise intercropping

The Kenyatta University professor said she started going round visiting farmers and emphasizing the need to intercrop different crops to fight the problem.

The second winner, Dr Ruth Amata, is a senior research officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

 “I am so excited about this great opportunity,” said Dr Amata.

“My main goal is to help rural women farmers improve production of their food crops, including sweet potatoes and cassava, through disease management.

“This fellowship will help me link up with and learn from other women scientists from Africa,” she said. 

In total, 1,681 female scientists from 450 institutions have applied for the prestigious fellowships since Award opened its doors in 2008.

The fellowships are awarded on the basis of intellectual merit, leadership capacity, and the potential of the scientist’s research to improve the daily lives of smallholder farmers, especially women. 

According to Award director Vicki Wilde, the fellowship will help these top researchers strengthen their research and leadership skills, and enhance their contribution to poverty alleviation and food security across the continent.

“Today we debunked the myth that qualified African women researchers ‘aren’t out there’ — an excuse that’s often used  to justify why women are not hired or promoted equitably within agricultural research institutions, universities, and corporations,” said Ms Wilde.