Smallholder farmers in eastern Africa produce a diverse variety of fruits and vegetables that have unique nutritional and economic value. However, the value that can be derived from these crops is adversely reduced due to postharvest losses, seasonal production, limited value addition and challenges in market access. This in turn compromises food security and economic empowerment in the region. The use of affordable food preservation technologies has the potential to reduce postharvest losses by up to 68%.
Nadege Mugisha, a BioInnovate Africa fellow and electronic engineer from University of Burundi, has been actively participating in the development and fabrication of the Refractance window drier under the mentorship of Prof John Muyonga and Dr Julia Kigozi from Makerere University, Uganda.
During the four-month fellowship, Nadege has had the opportunity to interact with scientists, visit fabricators developing the refractance window dryer thus gaining experience in the designing, testing, fabricating and commercializing the technology. In the process, she has improved her research and publication skills.
“With guidance from my mentor and my engineering experience, I have developed a logical framework for a research proposal for a solar water heating system to be used as a power generation system for the dryer in areas with no electricity”.
Working away from her home and country has helped Nadege to learn to adapt to new and academically challenging environments, as well as expand her professional network.
“As a female engineer from Burundi, living in Kampala, Uganda and working at Makerere University has been an enriching experience because I have learnt to adapt to a different, unfamiliar and unusual environment from what I am used to. I have faced new and unique challenges and that have given me the opportunity to learn and develop as a person.”
According to Nadege, some of the important lessons she has learnt from her four-month experience are:
- The need to advocate for women empowerment and gender-sensitive policies in the development of the African bioeconomy
- The importance of goal setting and measuring personal and organisational progress and persisting until these goals are achieved.
“As a woman scientist in the early stages of my career, I am now convinced that I should never give up before the achievement of my career goals despite the societal duties and challenges as a woman”, Nadege recounts.
To an aspiring female scientist Nadege advices that :
“You have a role to play in the society, in innovation and research as well as in gender integration. Social and cultural differences between male and female behaviour and expectations do not have to be an obstacle to dreams but rather a good opportunity to prove that working together as women and men can boost research and economy”
After the fellowship, Nadege plans to pursue a PhD degree and in addition actively engage other young women in Burundi to get involved in research and innovation as a solution to poverty and unemployment.