IITA Bulletin 2266

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IITA Bulletin Issue No. 2266, covering week of 09 – 13 March 2015

Transcript of IITA Bulletin 2266

  • www.iita.org

    No. 2266 913 March 2015

    THECGIAR

    IITA Bulletin 2266

    Women in Science: Dream it, work hard, and you will Make it HappenWhen I went to the US to do my masters, I was the only black person in my class, the only female, and the only foreigner. And I had two small children. I had a very hard time, says Dr Mary Mgonja, the Head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

    Dr Mgonja was sharing her journey on becoming a successful scientist as part of a panel discussion organized to mark this years International Womens Day held at the IITA offices in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The event #Make It Happen for Women in Science was in line with this years theme, Make It Happen.

    The panel discussion brought together female researchers in Tanzania working in diverse fields and at various levels of their careerthose starting out and those at their peakto discuss and share their stories, successes, and challenges before an audience of IITA researchers and partners, the media, and aspiring young scientists drawn from surrounding secondary schools.

    In addition to Dr Mgonja, the other panelists were Dr Costancia Rugumaru, Dean, Faculty of Science at the University of Dar es Salaam, School of Education; Dr Francesca Nelson, Senior Food Security Specialist, IITA; and Mary Maganga and Edda Mushi, Research Supervisors at IITA. The session was facilitated by Dr Rose Shayo, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Dar es Salaam.

    All the panelists shared the various challenges they had faced and the lessons they had learned along the way; they offered words of encouragement to female potential scientists on the theme that kept repeating itselfhard work.

    In all the places you will work, be yourself, respect your superiors, and do

    your job well, said Dr Regina Kapinga who will soon be joining IITA as Head of Advocacy and Resource Mobilization from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr Kapinga also shared her journey from being a simple village girl to working as a Senior Program Officer with the Gates Foundation and all the lessons on the way and the wisdom she had gained.

    One of my biggest challenges was the lack of facilities to study science in my high school. We did not have laboratories and equipment; however, I persevered, did well, and proceeded to the university to pursue my degree in agronomy. At the university, there were very few students, as many women said agronomy was a very hard subject, Edda Mushi explained.

    Dr Franscesca Nelson focused on the importance of tackling existing social conventions which were disadvantageous to women. These included issues such as violence against women and the discrimination

    that was deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and social norms.

    She also noted that it was important for female researchers to use their knowledge and skills to find solutions to the challenges faced by poor rural women; for example, by developing labor-saving equipment and tackling inequalities.

    Gender at IITAWhile officially opening the event, Dr Victor Manyong, IITA Director for Eastern Africa, briefed participants on gender issues at the Institute. He said gender is a very important topic at IITA as an international research organization whose goal was to tackle hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.

    We cannot address these problems in Africa without understanding and addressing the constraints faced by women farmers. In most communities they provide the majority of labor on the family farm and process food for markets as well as for family consumption.

    IITA women researchers in Tanzania sharing their lifes journeys and experiences to motivate other potential female sientists.

    ...continued on page 7

  • IITA Bulletin 2266 page 2

    Transforming IITA to nourish Africa*Frank Rijsberman, CEO, CGIAR Consortium

    Frank Rijsberman (rightmost) in a huddle with (L-R) Dr Kwesi Attah-Krah, IITA Board Member Roel Merckx, and DG Nteranya Sanginga after the meeting in Ibadan.

    My first visit to IITA was in 1982. As a young scientist with the Delft Hydraulics Lab in the Netherlands I worked on my first soil science project that also happened to become my last. I had obtained funding for a project on the impact of soil erosion on soil productivity and I was looking for good data. My research led me to IITA soil scientist Rattan Lal who was among the five scientists I had identified across the globe that had the time series data I needed and he agreed to work with me. My funding enabled me to visit all 5 research groups to see their experiments and go over their data. This was my first visit to Nigeria.

    Staying overnight in Lagos and driving to Ibadan made an indelible impression on me. Lagos was already a bustling megacity and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was about getting mad with too many cars, buses and lorries competing for too little space at breakneck speeds. It was the first time ever I saw the burned-out and still burning wrecks of cars and trucks by the side of the road.

    And then we arrived at IITA. Once cleared by security the car started up the long driveway, flanked by rolling hills with bright green grass, cut smooth like a golf course, dotted with picturesque palm trees, painted bright white. The contrast of this oasis of quiet prettiness with the chaotic world outside the barbed wire fence could not be greater. A well-oiled, well-maintained, well-equipped island of advanced research. A small army of well-trained Nigerian staff to support a team of senior researchers that were almost without exception white, male and Anglophone or indeed, Dutch.

    Rattan Lal was a fine host, had many years of excellent data, and was a great collaborator for my project.

    Since then, I have visited and worked in Nigeria quite a bit, including a two-year stint as Chief Technical Advisor of a UNDP project to strengthen the Ministry of Water Resources in Abuja in the late 80s. But fast forward to 2012: I rejoined the CGIAR as the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium in May 2012 and started an effort to visit all 15 Centers. In July-August the Consortium Board Chair, Carlos Perez del Castillo, and I visited AfricaRice in Cotonou, Benin and then traveled overland to Ibadan. We were received by the new DG, Nteranya Sanginga, and the new Board Chair, Bruce Coulman and given the grand tour. We met with scientists,

    discussed the newly reformed CGIAR, enjoyed presentations of the key science groups, saw the laboratories, and hiked the forest.

    The new DGs enthusiasm was certainly infectious, and it was great to hear of his ambitious plans, but it was also obvious that the institute was a little tired. The infrastructure was aging and the scientists were, too. There were certainly a few young and enthusiastic scientistsin the biosciences group for exampleand there were some exciting projects such as the development of aflasafe as a biological control method for aflatoxins, but the labs had that look and feel of many other labs I have seen in Africa. Too much old or broken equipment and too few people behind the benches.

    Dare, an Agripreneur, explains the activities of the IITA youth in agribusiness to the visitors as other colleagues look on.

    DG Sanginga (second from left) tours the BIP with Frank (second from right) and other guests.

    *blogpost published in CGIAR.org: http://www.cgiar.org/consortium-news/transforming-iita-to-nourish-africa/

  • IITA Bulletin 2266 page 3

    Out of nostalgia I asked to see the soils lab, the place where I was hosted 30 years earlier. It was rather sad to see that while it was still active, the place bore clear signs of neglect and chronic under-investment in maintenance and new equipment. There was nothing sad about the people working here, though. On our last night we were invited to a sizzling staff party in which the new DG showed he did not just have big plans but also enjoyed dancing the night away.

    Early March 2015, I had the chance to visit IIITA again, as a participant in the International Conference on Integrated Systems Research organized jointly by the three CGIAR farming systems research programs. The event was the first big international conference organized at IITA after the Ebola Outbreak in 2014 and brought together over a hundred scientists to discuss and agree on a vision, mission, conceptual framework, and value proposition for systems research in the CGIAR. Not an easy task, but an important one if we are serious about sustainable intensification in smallholder agriculture.

    For me it was also a chance to see the new IITA. The differences are striking from the moment you drive up that driveway. The first thing you see is the new plant that can produce 5 tons of aflasafe per hour. The rolling hills are still around, but in the dry season the grass looks more naturally savanna-like and brown; the white paint on the palm trees has all but faded away, instead the pink, lilac, and yellow colors of the now flourishing African trees are dominating the colors of the campus.

    Next thing I noticed: the dorms that house junior staff and visitors were newly

    painteda first sign of the overall spring cleaning that has occurred at the institute. The impact of the doubling of senior researchers and the close to tripling of the budget is visible everywhere. Many more young scientists were hired in fact my tour of the Biosciences lab handed me from one young female African scientist to another.

    Our tour of the newly constructed Business Incubation Platform led to the aflasafe plant where the manager Lawrence Kaptoge showed us the letter he had just received from the Kenyan Irrigation Board requesting for 8.1 tons of aflasafe, being produced the days of my visit