Agriculture / Article / Capacity Strengthening / Gender / Women

Not only right but also smart! ILRI develops future women leaders in agricultural research

Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub platform

Though the graduate fellowship program, women scientists and graduate fellows are finding opportunities to carry out agricultural research at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI/David White). 

Written by Joyce Maru, capacity development officer at ILRI

Global statistics still show that women are generally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is helping bridge this gap by empowering women across the organization and ensuring a gender-sensitive approach in livestock research in its mission towards ‘better lives through livestock’.

Though the ILRI’s graduate fellowship program, which is a key component of ILRI’s capacity develop­ment efforts, many women scientists and graduate fellows from national agricultural research organizations, university departments of agriculture and veterinary medi­cine and non-governmental organizations from across the world are finding opportunities to carry out agricultural research at the institute.

Currently, the program is hosting about 120 fellows out of which 45% are women. During the fellowships, graduates carry out research-for-development activities, which are embedded in ILRI projects. The graduates, who gain access to ILRI’s cutting-edge research facilities, often carry out research in the field and are mentored by ILRI’s senior scientists.

In marking this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March, whose theme is the clarion call of UN Women’s Beijing+20 campaign empowering women, empowering humanity: Picture it!’, this article shares the experiences of women graduate fellows at ILRI in an effort to encourage other young women who aspire to become scientists.

Thanammal Ravichandran is a PhD fellow with ILRI’s Livelihoods, Gender and Impact program and she is based in India. She is carrying out a comparative analysis of institutional efficiency for the inclusive dairy development in India.

What do you see as the impact of your work or research?
While I was working in Uttarakhand through the MilkIT project, I saw the positive results of involving women in a dairy development project. Many women became employed along the dairy value chain and participated in the innovation platform, which empowered them to express their views and to talk about their needs. As a result, their skills in feeding and managing animals was improved. The opportunities and benefits they received through the program continue to have an impact on their livelihoods. Through the gender and value chain research I am involved in, we hope to reach policymakers in the region to improve women participation beyond the dairy value chain.

What should be done to increase the number of women researchers in agricultural research?
• Financial assistance will encourage women in developing countries, many of whom face financial obstacles, to excel in science.
• More women need to take up leading positions in the agricultural research sector.
• Flexible work arrangements also help women work and fulfil their other social roles.

What is your advice to young girls who aspire to become scientists?
More than 800 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. Agricultural research helps to understand the problem and by taking up work in research, women become part of the solution to global food security and they also play a key role in ensuring healthy families.

Kayla Yurco is a PhD fellow with the Livestock, Systems and Environment program at ILRI in Nairobi where she is working on a project on pastoral livelihoods, nutrition and food security in southern Kenya.

What do you see as the impact of your work or research?
My research intends to have two impacts: illuminate women’s important but as yet understudied roles as livestock keepers in pastoral communities and contribute to efforts that engage women for improved pastoral nutrition and sustainable livelihoods in drylands. My research involves local women in all stages of data collection and for iterative feedback on findings. Long-term, I hope to continue to involve community members in policy-relevant research about environment, gender and development.

What should be done to increase the number of women researchers in agricultural research?
The more we can do to ensure that young women see the efforts, challenges and successes of strong women in science, the better – whether in the lab, in the field or through writing and teaching. Importantly, there is responsibility for both women and men to recognize the work that women scientists already do and that they can do. Increasing early educational opportunities for girls and young women to recognize what science looks like outside of the classroom is key, too. Helping children to turn their innate curiosity about the world around them into scientific inquiries of their everyday environments can open young minds to the endless possibilities of science and research.

What is your advice to young girls who aspire to become scientists?
Most importantly, know that you can reach your aspirations if you set your mind to do so. Reach out to women scientists to hear their stories and their challenges. Learn to ask for advice when you need it. And look to other women (and men!) in your life that you admire, no matter what they do. For instance, neither of my parents are scientists, but I know that any successes I have had in my path to becoming a female scientist have resulted from their support and my efforts to emulate their work ethic. Lastly, pursue a field that you are passionate about and the rest will come.

Clarrise Umutoni is a PhD fellow with the Livestock Systems and Environment program at ILRI. She is based in Mali, where she is carrying out a project to empower local institutions to sustainably manage natural resources in Sudano-Sahelian zone of Mali for improved livestock productivity.

What do you see as the impact of your work or research?
I am convinced that my research will help to identify innovative options that will facilitate optimum use and management of natural resources in the Sudano-Sahelian zone of West Africa thereby improving farmers’ productivity. It will also describe the status of the agro pastoralist and pastoralist systems in the region and help to adapt the functionality of these systems to a context highly affected by climate change.

What should be done to increase the number of women researchers in agricultural research?• Give them opportunities to realize that there is no magic in science
• Encourage learning experiences with women who have successfully combined their career whilst having a    family
• Governments should encourage women in science by providing them special opportunities
• Provide female role models, resources and support for activities that promote science for young girls and      women.

What is your advice to young girls who aspire to become scientists?
Go ahead! Believe in yourself that you can. It does not require a miracle to achieve your dream and goal in life but determination. Follow your passion and you will not be disappointed!

Find out more about International Women’s Day 2015 through the Twitter hashtag #iwd2015

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