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Kenyan scientist aims high

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 27 – The name Dora Kilalo may not ring a bell to many people.

But she is one of the recipients of US government initiative dubbed ‘African Women in Agricultural Research and Development’ (AWARD) program which provides fellowships to women scientists from Sub-Saharan Africa as they seek to support farmers from their countries.

A scientist by profession, Ms Kilalo works with the University of Nairobi where she teaches entomology in the Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection.

“This is a program for African women in agriculture, research and development (which is) intended to help them to grow both in science skills, improvement of leadership and also mentoring,” she explains adding that they have been able to go through the various kinds of training since it started.

In its second year, the AWARD program which is coordinated by the Gender and Diversity Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has provided scholarships to 121 women scientists from 10 African countries.

Ms Kilalo emphasises the importance of having women in decision making roles in agriculture where she says they can exert more influence over priorities, policies and programs.

Her view is shared by US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who argues that if women succeeded in applying more pressure over such issues, then Africa would be able to ward off future food crises.

Although their access to land and services such as credit and improved technologies is extremely limited, women account for approximately 80 percent of Africa’s food production.

Only a quarter of the continent’s researchers and development experts are women, and only 14 percent of the management positions in agricultural research and development are female.

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Ms Kilalo regrets that women’s hard work is not recognised right from the family level but reckons that its time this notion was changed.

“Leadership is about change and this is the kind of leadership that we are being offered so that we can communicate this change and carry that vision until the time when a particular impact is felt in the society,” she explains.

This is the kind of change that she wants to impact her students with so that they can understand the role they have in agriculture development and productivity.

This is particularly because about 80 percent of her students do not apply for agriculture courses but join the classes by default and thus the need for encouragement.

She says she’s mentoring other people and participates in helping farmers in the field so that they are able to grow their crops in simpler ways and (she) also researches to come up with techniques that can assist them to move forward.

While she admits that women need to be more proactive, Ms Kilalo says the government needs to do more to encourage young people to especially take up science courses.

She says young people should start appreciating agriculture as a rewarding career both in monetary terms and experience.

“Many of our students view agriculture as a dirty career but we are trying to change this attitude by showing that you really do not have to touch the soil. If you have the knowledge, you can instruct other people to do that which you are supposed to be doing,” she says.

For farmers they need to be encouraged to stop relying on subsistence farming but go into commercial farming where every input is rewarded and thus encourages them to farm more.

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