This year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science was marked on 11 February. It commemorated the invaluable contributions of women scientists around the globe. The day not only highlights the achievements of women scientists but also serves as a reminder of the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in science.
At BioInnovate Africa, we promote gender integration in biologically based innovation initiatives. With our BioInnovate Africa Fellowship for Women Scientists initiative, we empower women scientists in Africa through regional cooperation in bioinnovation and bioentreprenuership. Established in 2018, the Fellowship provides opportunities to early and mid-career women scientists to work with and learn from diverse BioInnovate Africa bioeconomy projects and networks in eastern Africa. Fellows are hosted in BioInnovate Africa organizations outside their home countries for a period of three to six months, where they gain experience and establish networks to advance their skills, innovation capacity, overall career progression and make meaningful contributions to society. The Fellowship encourages the exchange of ideas, expertise and resources, enhances the quality and impact of research, and strengthens regional networks and partnership. Fellows who completed the program have continued to interact and collaborate through the BioInnovate Africa Fellows Alumnae Network that was established in October 2020. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, six of the alumnae Fellows shared with us their experience and strides they have made since completing the Fellowship.
Gloria Kuhumba, Tanzania
I am a researcher in food science and human nutrition. I work at Tanzania Industrial Research and Development Organization, in the food and biotechnology division. My roles include writing research proposals and articles for publication, as well as implementation of funded projects. As a researcher, I am also involved in providing consultancy services to various industries and participating in trainings.
I am a cohort one BioInnovate Africa Fellow. I undertook my Fellowship research on the effects of extrusion conditions, amylases and proteases on phenolic antioxidants in finger millet and sorghum varieties, at Makerere University, Uganda, under the mentorship of Prof Yusuf Byaruhanga. The Fellowship enhanced my proficiency with laboratory analysis equipment and product processing techniques. It also honed my professional skills in writing and project management. Both pre and post-Fellowship training opportunities have been instrumental in my career growth, with sessions like proposal writing proving indispensable for research work. Additionally, training in gender issues has been valuable, given their relevance in project management. Beyond skill development, the mentorship and interactions within and outside the Fellowship have enriched my technical and social capabilities, exposing me to diverse backgrounds and cultures.
As a woman in science I am right now spearheading innovative initiatives and overseeing operations at the food chemistry analytical laboratory within my organization. Here, we conduct analyses of samples for both research purposes and clients’ needs. Additionally, I actively contribute to national technical committees, providing technical insights in the development of standards for various food products.
Eden Lencha, Ethiopia
I am a lecturer and researcher, working at Hawassa University, school of human nutrition, food sceince and technology. My research experience includes post-harvest management of highland fruits and assessment of antioxidants in Ethiopian herbal plants.
I am a cohort three BioInnovate Africa Fellow. During my Fellowship, I conducted research on the analysis of ways to produce high quality aroma honey toffees with improved shelf-life, at Aroma Honey Toffee Limited in Uganda, under the mentorship of Dr Sarah Mubiru. Through this experience, I received advanced training in honey processing techniques and acquired valuable leadership skills for managing small-scale industries. Moreover, the fellowship expanded my professional network and facilitated scientific collaborations through the BioInnovate Africa Fellowship Alumni Network.
As a woman in science, I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. studies on the characterization of improved cassava varieties for utilization of different foods in Southern Ethiopia. My research endeavors to evaluate the morphological, physicochemical, thermal, and functional attributes of cassava varieties cultivated in Ethiopia, with the aim of integrating them into staple food products. This exploration holds significant promise in identifying an alternative crop and could potentially bolster food security within Ethiopia.
Asero Diana, Uganda
I am an assistant lecturer at the department of agribusiness and extension in Busitema University, Uganda. I am a cohort one BioInnovate Africa Fellow. During my fellowship at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, in Kenya, I conducted research on fruit and vegetable dehydration using a locally fabricated refractance window dryer, under the mentorship of Prof Arnold Onyango. Inspired by my experience and knowledge gained during the fellowship, I initiated a similar project at Busitema University. The project involved students engaging in fruit drying using locally fabricated solar dryers, which have been integrated into the bachelor’s programs in agribusiness and agriculture as course units. This initiative has facilitated the development of numerous products by students.
I am currently advancing my academic pursuits as a woman in science, pursuing a Ph.D. in agricultural economics and policy, at the University of Ghana. I am also a mentor at the Uganda chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE).
Agnes Otwani, Kenya
I am a principal zoologist currently working for the nation department of livestock development, seconded to the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council. I oversee planning and coordination of tsetse and trypanosomiasis control and research activities in western region of Kenya. I collaborate closely with various stakeholders to promote the research and adoption of innovative trypanosomiasis control strategies within communities, with the aim of creating an enabling environment for livestock production and public health.
I am a cohort two BioInnovate Africa Fellow. I undertook my Fellowship research at Gulu University, Uganda, under the mentorship of Dr Richard Echodu. My research focused on “Combating tsetse and trypanosomiasis: A practical approach”. The experience enhanced my skills in research design and proposal writing pertaining to tsetse and trypanosomiasis management. Upon returning to my workstation in Busia, I collaborated with the County Directorate of Veterinary Services to successfully secure a grant for the construction of seven metallic spraying crush pens and the renovation of two cattle dips, along with provision of insecticides for farmers in Busia County. The adoption of permanent metallic crush pens by the county serves as a sustainable alternative to the traditional wooden structures, mitigating environmental impact by reducing the need for tree cutting. Through collaboration with local farmers and stakeholders, my vision is to create a region free from Trypanosomiasis, facilitating the rearing of improved livestock breeds and enhancing farmers’ returns on investment by redirecting resources previously allocated for treatment towards livelihood improvement projects.
Recognizing the importance of women to play pivotal roles in decision making processes within scientific projects and organizations, I am committed to advocating for gender-inclusive policies and outcomes in scientific research. I continuously seek for opportunities, both domestically and internationally, by writing proposals for research and development grants. I am also preparing and taking a keen interest in leadership opportunities that arise by taking short courses on management and leadership.
Jeanne Rusizana, Rwanda
I am a lecturer at the University of Rwanda, and a Ph.D. Fellow in Plant Biotechnology at Egerton University. I am a cohort two BioInnovate Africa fellow. During my fellowship, conducted at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, under the mentorship of Prof Elijah Ateka, I focused on designing and implementing a web application for the automation of sweet potato production schemes. The experience not only laid a strong foundation for my career progression, but also provided me with practical skills crucial for my Ph.D. research. I am contributing to agricultural sustainability by providing virus-free planting material to local farming communities, thereby positively impacting the areas where I live.
As a woman in science who works in academia and the community, I interact with younger generation. I take time to support and demonstrate to them that anything is achievable if one has determination, passion, persistence, and consistence.
Dorah Momanyi, Kenya
I am the founder of iPoP Africa, a climate-smart agribusiness that is reclaiming the sovereignty of Kenya’s traditional indigenous grains. I am also a young professional at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research.
I am a cohort three BioInnovate Africa fellow. I undertook my fellowship research on unlocking the commercial potential of new sorghum and millet products in the development of ready to eat snacks for improved nutrition and social-economic gains in Eastern Africa, at Makerere University, Uganda, under the mentorship of Prof Yusuf Byaruhanga. The fellowship grounded iPoP Africa’s objectives on laboratory evidence-based data showing the nutritional potential of sorghum and millet products in addressing some forms of malnutrition including overnutrition and its contribution to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of ending hunger. iPoP Africa also uses local bioresources that are drought tolerant contributing to SDG 13 of climate action. This offers a practical example of achieving policy coherence where policies targeting healthy diets fail to speak about environmental sustainability filling in the missing link among stakeholders in food systems who work in silos. iPoP Africa is also propelled by cross-cutting issues of women empowerment, youth inclusion, and innovation that reshape the adoption of a sustainable future promoting social, economic, and environmental dimensions.
As a woman in science, I am contributing to changing food environments and promoting healthy food systems, particularly in institutions like schools and hospitals, by making available healthy alternative foods and also contributing to the development of regulatory and legislative frameworks that promote healthy environments.
Click here to view profiles of all the BioInnovate Africa women fellows.