Improving lives through
sustainable bioinnovations

Sharon Kinyungu, a BioInnovate Africa Fellow, contributes to the fight against Fall Armyworm

Ms. Sharon Kinyungu

Sharon Kinyungu, a BioInnovate Africa Fellow, contributes to the fight against Fall Armyworm

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In the agricultural sector, women play a crucial role in contributing significantly to global food production and security. Studies show that women in Africa represent a substantial portion of the agricultural workforce, responsible for farm activities such as planting, weeding, harvesting, processing, and marketing. However, the emergence and spread of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) – Spodoptera frugiperda – has posed significant challenges to women in agriculture. This invasive pest, notorious for its voracious appetite and rapid reproduction, devastates crops like maize, sorghum, and millet which are staples for many communities particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many women rely heavily on these crops for both income and livelihood, and the loss of yields due to FAW infestations undermines them and their families. Amid this challenge, women are contributing to finding sustainable solutions to combat the FAW.

On this International Women’s Day (IWD), we highlight the contribution of one of BioInnovate Africa’s women fellows, Ms. Sharon Kinyungu, in the fight against the FAW. As part of the Fellowship, in 2021, Ms. Kinyungu who is a plant pathologist,  conducted research at icipe under the mentorship of Dr Sevgan Subramanian and Dr Komivi Akutse, on the effect of endophytic colonization of maize plants on the feeding preference, oviposition, and development of fall armyworm. The Fellowship introduced her to biological control of pests using the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy, an area in agricultural research that she had yet to explore. The Fellowship enabled her to learn new laboratory techniques, gained knowledge and skills in entomology, critically analyzing data, producing accurate and reproducible results, and providing recommendations and solutions to global challenges.

Ms.  Kinyungu recently published a journal article that outlines findings of her Fellowship research. The article provides groundbreaking study on the dual impact of endophytic fungi on maize plant and the fall armyworm. Endophytic fungi are microorganisms that live within the tissues of plants without causing apparent harm. Instead, they form symbiotic relationships with their host, offering various benefits such as enhanced nutrient uptake, stress tolerance, and defense against pathogens. The study findings show that these microorganisms positively influence the growth of maize seedlings while simultaneously negatively impacting the life-history parameters of the fall armyworm. The study suggests that the use of these microorganisms offer a natural solution for enhancing crop growth while serving as a biocontrol agent against the fall armyworm. To access the published article, click here. To read Ms. Kinyungu’s bio, click here.

IWD is observed annually on 8 March. It is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Each year, this day serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made towards gender equality and highlights the work that still needs to be done. The theme for this year’s IWD is “Inspire Inclusion”.  The theme emphasizes the importance of diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society. It encourages the recognition of women’ s contributions to building inclusive societies and driving sustainable solutions to addressing global challenges.

At BioInnovate Africa, we inspire inclusion through our Fellowship for Women Scientists initiative. The initiative empowers women scientists in Africa through regional cooperation in bioinnovation and bioentreprenuership. 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 organisations 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. The Fellowship has increased women’s participation in the implementation of BioInnovate Africa bioeconomy projects from 35% to 50%. To learn more about the Fellowship, visit here.

Written by Valine Moraa