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2015 AWARD Fellows Graduate from Fellowship

In February 2015, 71 African women scientists from across the continent were selected to receive the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Fellowship. This year, these same women met in Kampala, Uganda from May 7-9, 2017 to culminate their two-year Fellowships during the 2017 Progress Monitoring Meeting (PMM). Honourable Rhoda Peace Tumusiime of the African Union served as the keynote speaker for the event and encouraged fellows to continue innovating and collaborating to achieve food security in Africa. The meeting’s theme, “Collaboration and Innovation to Transform Africa’s Agricultural System”, guided the fellows, AWARD staff and trainers, and special guests through the two days of activities.

The PMM is more than just a celebration marking the graduation of the Fellows. The meeting also serves as a space for reflection where the Fellows, guest mentors, AWARD staff, and other stakeholders can assess and evaluate the personal and professional progress the fellows have made over the course of their Fellowship experiences. “The PMM is the highlight of the AWARD journey. As we plan for the fellows’ official crowning as AWARD ambassadors and alumnae, nothing prepares me for the extent of their growth – it always catches me by surprise. From the increased number of publications, career promotions, improved personal and professional confidence, increased research outputs and more—to see these changes makes my work all the more fulfilling”, said AWARD Fellowships Officer, Everlyne Otunga, who has seen over 150 fellows graduate from the programme.

On the first day of the meeting, the fellows articulated their progress relative to the goals they set in their “purpose road maps”. This takes place during a Share Fair in which they present posters to each other across six different thematic areas: biotechnology; crop protection- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and post-harvest technologies; capacity building, gender, participatory approach, indigenous knowledge and knowledge management; bio-energy and green technology; agribusiness, value addition, markets and market access; and human health, environmental protection and vulnerable and marginalized groups. The fellows and guest assessors provide feedback and then the assessors select the five outstanding fellows who were best able to share their experiences.

Though each of the fellows’ scientific research is different, the Share Fair brought out commonalities among the fellows, including stories of growth, achievement, collaboration, and the desire to help their communities. "In two years, we should have drought-resistant cassava reaching farmers," shared Dr Catherine Taracha, a Kenyan scientist working on the improvement of food security and poverty reduction through genetic engineering of maize and cassava for insect resistance. During her Fellowship, Taracha not only made progress on her research output but also received a promotion, moving from being the Head of Crop Biotechnology to being the Centre Director of the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) housed in the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).

Following the Share Fair, the fellows participated in a panel featuring AWARD mentors, AWARD Fellows, and other special guests. Panel participants included Dr Fina Opio, an AWARD Mentor and advocate since 2008; Dr Charles Mugoya, an AWARD Mentor; Dr Pamela Paparu, a 2008 AWARD Fellow and (a bit later) AWARD Mentor; Dr Maureen Mayanja, a 2014 AWARD Fellow; and Major General Benon Biraaro, president of the Farmers’ Party of Uganda. Each panel member shared some of the major challenges they’ve overcome in the agricultural space and in their work-life balance. They also urged fellows to persevere and use each other as a network for future collaborations.

Sharing her experiences in balancing her research career and family needs, Dr Paparu said, “As African women, we have cultural expectations placed on us. But, we have to balance them. Always negotiate; you never know what might work out.” She then shared stories of how she had to negotiate throughout her career in order to balance work and family.

Afterwards, AWARD Director Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg introduced the meeting’s keynote speaker, Her Excellency Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the former Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission. Dr Kamau-Rutenberg began by emphasising that AWARD Fellows are uniquely positioned to make African agriculture more inclusive through their research and community engagement. In introducing HE Tumusiime, Dr Kamau-Rutenberg called her a “big sister” and “an inspiration” in African agriculture. 

HE Tumusiime opened her address by saying that "Behind the AWARD Fellows are a group of powerful mentors.” She continued by encouraging the 2015 fellows to continue persevering and working in agriculture for Africa’s prosperity. “It is my prayer that the beneficiaries of AWARD programmes, including the last cohort of AWARD Fellows under the AWARD Phase II strategy continue to carry this forward, your commitment will contribute to addressing the challenges we see in 1.29 billion people earning less than 1.2 dollars a day,” she said.

Afterwards, the AWARD Monitoring and Evaluation Team led the fellows through a “sense-making” session to present and engage with the fellows on the data that has been collected on the Fellowship programme since 2008. “During the progress meeting, the fellows themselves reflect on these data, which is of tremendous value. We get to know which findings resonated with the fellows most strongly; which important changes the survey data might be missing; how these changes happened; and how AWARD could improve the programme,” explained Dr Apollo Nkwake, AWARD Senior Manager for Monitoring and Evaluation.

From the end of Fellowship data collected before the 2017 Progress Monitoring Meeting, the AWARD M&E team found the following: 93% of the fellows graduating this year increased their access to research opportunities compared to 85% in the previous rounds (2013 and 2014); 98% formally mentored other emerging scientists; 82% received professional recognition; and 93% improved their professional visibility, among other outcomes. 

The 2017 PMM culminated with the presentation of certificates to the 2015 AWARD Fellows. These certificates embody the hard work they’ve put in over the last two years and mark the beginning of a new phase in their relationship with AWARD. The 2015 fellows will remain engaged through the AWARD Country Chapters. "Country chapters are the way AWARD alumni stay connected and continue to impact African agricultural research and development,” said AWARD Director Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg. "We are building a movement of women dedicated to African agriculture and men committed to gender equality.”