Apr 17, 2014
2014 AWARD Fellowship Winners Primed to Make a Difference for Smallholders During International Year of Family Farming

Phoebe Anyango Sikuku is a research scientist on a mission: she wants to identify rain-fed rice varieties that can withstand low soil fertility—a common problem on smallholders’ plots—and that require limited amounts of fertilizer, an input that many farmers cannot afford. “My ambition is ultimately to put more food on people’s plates and more money in farmers’ pockets,” says Sikuku, a lecturer at Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya.

Sikuku is one of 70 outstanding African women agricultural scientists who have received a 2014 fellowship from African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). The winners were announced publicly this week in Nairobi, Kenya, where they convened for an orientation workshop.

“Winning this fellowship is a dream come true,” says Sikuku, who had applied twice before but this time was determined to succeed. “I have just completed my PhD in crop science, and through AWARD training, I’m looking forward to learning how to write grant-winning research proposals so I can study issues such as striga-resistant sorghum and millet.”

The laureates were selected from among an impressive cadre of 790 applicants from 11 African countries. These women will benefit from AWARD’s two-year career-development program that is focused on accelerating agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills. AWARD Fellowships are granted on the basis of each scientist’s intellectual merit, leadership capacity, and the potential of her work to improve the livelihoods of African smallholder farmers, most of whom are women.

The scientists share an ambitious vision: they want to translate their agricultural research findings into concrete, tangible action that will benefit smallholder farmers—especially laudable in 2014, the African Union’s African Year of Agriculture and Food Security, which is being observed in conjunction with the United Nations International Year of Family Farming.

“Farmers will be in the spotlight this year, but will they get the technologies and inputs that they need to increase food security for their families and communities?” asks Dr. Josephine Songa, AWARD’s Acting Science Coordinator. “The research outputs of agricultural scientists—both men and women—are urgently needed if Africa is to deliver on the breakthrough commitment made recently by African heads of state to end hunger on the continent by 2025.”

According to an AWARD benchmarking study, the majority of those who produce, process, and market Africa’s food are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female. Even fewer—one in seven—hold leadership positions in African agricultural research institutions.

In order for African agriculture to become an engine for prosperity and well-being, it is critical to cultivate a new generation of African leaders in food and agriculture, including technically competent, confident, and influential women. And AWARD is doing just that.

“These talented, inspiring new AWARD Fellows are proof that things are changing—science is becoming less of a male-dominated sector,” says Songa. “They are the face of the future.”

This year’s AWARD laureates represent a wide range of agricultural disciplines and cutting-edge research—from promoting the use of solar-drying techniques to reduce postharvest losses, to assessing the effects of conservation agriculture on smallholder farming systems.

Microbiologist Olaitan Olubunmi Olajuyigbe is researching the bioconversion of agricultural waste to produce fish and livestock feed that farmers can afford. “My long-term aim is to ensure food security and sustainable development, while taking full advantage of the waste-to-wealth concept,” says Olajuyigbe, a senior research officer at the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research.

“I feel delighted and privileged to win this fellowship,” says Olajuyigbe, who eagerly anticipates working with her AWARD Mentor, a senior scientist who will help her to achieve her research goals. “Having a mentor will guide my career path and make me a better scientist so I can serve my country more effectively.”

AWARD works in partnership with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to promote leadership among women scientists, and this year’s cohort includes seven AGRA scholars, including two women who are currently completing degrees.

Lucia Victoria Chigamane, a Master’s student at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi, is involved in a farmer-managed study to determine the effect of P fertilizer on the availability of residual phosphorus and zinc in soils.

Chinyere Blessing Okebalama, a PhD candidate at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, is looking at developing targeted fertilizer micro-dosing to help smallholder farmers increase their maize and cowpea yields, and hence their incomes.

AWARD directly invests in women scientists, empowering them to help close the gender gaps across the agricultural value chain. It’s an investment that is returning dividends. Data collected from AWARD alumnae revealed that:

  • 84 percent experienced a significant increase in their confidence and motivation to excel, lead, and contribute toward a great vision for the future.
  • 87 percent improved their scientific skills and access to resources. This contributed to a significant increase in their scientific outputs, and a more than doubling of their annual publication rates in peer-reviewed journals.
  • At least 80 percent are involved in the development of new methodologies and/or technologies, about half of which are being developed together with smallholder farmers.
  • 52 percent were promoted in their workplaces.

Ugandan researcher Florence Lubwama Kiyimba is one of 390 women who have benefited from AWARD since the program was launched in 2008. “AWARD has made me more committed to working on gender-sensitive technologies to improve rural women’s livelihoods,” says Kiyimba, a program leader/head of the National Agricultural Research Organisation’s Agricultural Engineering and Appropriate Technology Centre. “It enabled me to focus on what I need to do and the road that I need to walk to achieve my career dream. As AWARD Fellows, we hold our heads high and want to keep the candle burning, for we owe much of our success to the invaluable lessons that we carry away.”



African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). Hosted by World Agroforestry Centre, United Nations Avenue, Gigiri. P.O Box 30677-00100 Nairobi, Kenya.

Email: awardqueries@cifor-icraf.org | Tel: +254 (0) 20 722 4242