This week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah attended the Annual Meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in San Francisco. U.S. universities share a long history of close partnership with USAID, including collaboration on agricultural capacity development activities in the developing world. See below how some of this work is reaching women researchers in Africa.

The majority of those who produce, process, and market Africa’s food are women, yet only one in four agricultural researchers is female. As an agricultural scientist from Mozambique, I am part of a growing movement to increase the number of female researchers who can help respond to the global challenges of food insecurity and hunger.

I completed my MSc degree part-time so that I could stay close to my children and support their studies and development. Now that they have grown up, I am hoping to attain my PhD and am participating in some of the unique programs offered to researchers like me so that we can pursue our long-term goals. For me, that goal is empowering rural women through informal agricultural education that will enhance their lives, the lives of their families, and their communities as a whole.

African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) is a professional development program supported by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science. As an AWARD Fellow, I am working to improve the livelihoods of those living in my country’s rural communities through the dissemination of agricultural technologies, using innovation platforms for technology adoption in maize and other crops – a method that involves all actors in the value chain – and at the same time testing the use of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes for both humans and livestock. This sweet potato variety helps reduce vitamin A deficiency in children under 5 years old and can improve food security not just in Mozambique, but also throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Its use for livestock can reduce the cost of animal feed, providing additional benefits to smallholder farmers.

Participation in AWARD has opened up opportunities for me to interact with well-known research and extension education experts from all over the world. These experts are helping and guiding me to better understand the agriculture innovation system and improve my skills to effectively deliver research results to farmers. For example, I have learned to focus on the diffusion and adoption of innovation by farmers based on interactive learning. And, after attending a course at New Mexico State University, I have increased my understanding of my field of work, as well as improved the public speaking skills, confidence, and assertiveness that I hope will help me be a role model for young girls, and one day perhaps inspire future agricultural leaders in Africa.

Mentoring is also a key component of the AWARD program. While there are many heroes in agriculture in Africa, the person who has inspired me most in my work is Dr. Maria Isabel Andrade, a crop breeder working with the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Dr. Andrade sets an example for researchers like me because she does not stop at plant breeding—she ensures that the developed varieties actually reach smallholder farmers so that the crop’s intended impacts in people’s lives are realized. Through my work, I hope to complement her efforts by diversifying the diets of rural Mozambican communities through the introduction of animal proteins, helping to increase nutrition and fight hunger in the areas of my country that need it the most.
See another recent blog post from a participant in a USAID-sponsored capacity building program.

See another recent blog post from a participant in a USAID-sponsored capacity building program.