Stories tagged: women in agricultural science

Getting More Women into Science Can Help Solve our Food System’s Challenges Faster

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Keri Carstens, Global Regulatory Lead – Seed Applied Technologies & Biologicals at Corteva Agriscience, speaks to Farming First about how we can encourage women into agricultural research.

From water scarcity, to pests and diseases that move into new regions and devastate crops, to access to information technology resources, the challenges faced by farmers around the world are complex and ever-evolving.

To solve these problems and enable food production, we need the best and brightest minds working in agricultural research. We need new ideas and diverse viewpoints. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science highlights the great need for women in science, and promotes the impact they can have.

I grew up on a multi-generational farm in Iowa; my family produced corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hogs, sheep, and the occasional hay and oats crop. My dad was a science teacher before he came back to farming full-time. Early on he got me interested in the technical and scientific aspects of farming, by describing the types of equipment and crop protection tools he used, and answering my endless “why” and “how” questions.

For many years, I was certain I would become a veterinarian, so I pursued a pre-veterinary biology degree. One summer during my undergraduate studies, I applied for a Program for Women in Science and Engineering summer research internship. I was accepted and was assigned to a lab that does pesticide toxicology and risk assessment research.

This area of study is the interface between the tools farmers need, like pesticides, and protecting the environment. I fell in love. I have always had a passion for agriculture and the environment, and that area of study sits at the very nexus of the two, helping farmers to make decisions that will protect their harvest and environment at the same time. That summer, I decided that my next steps would be to pursue a Ph.D. in pesticide toxicology, and a career in the field.

I now work at Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, and I serve as Global Regulatory Lead for Seed Applied Technologies and Biologicals. Around the world, there are special regulatory processes required for each pesticide used as a seed treatment to prevent food loss.

My job is to coordinate with the team of scientists and regulatory specialists around the globe to make sure we do the studies we need to demonstrate safety and efficacy of the seed treatment products, and that we deliver those data to regulators so they can make a decision about the new products we are proposing. In addition to this work, I have the opportunity to lead our company’s engagement around pollinator stewardship.

I love my job. I work at the intersection of agriculture, science and environmental stewardship, with the goal of enriching lives of farmers and consumers, so we all see sustainable progress. And, every day I am amazed at the number of smart, compassionate, fun, diverse people I have the opportunity to work with – all who care about the same things I do.

While barriers remain, I believe the situation for women in science has improved over where it has been historically. Around the world, movements like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science help to highlight the gaps that remain, but more importantly, the achievements of women in STEM fields. These are important steps in the right direction. The old saying “to see is to believe” in many ways applies to inspiring the next generation of scientists; young people need to see people like themselves in careers to feel inspired and empowered to pursue the path.

To overcome the barriers that do remain, I think it boils down to two needs: encouraging fearlessness and building on programming. Mentorship programs and internships are key to bringing more females into STEM fields, but we cannot overlook basic encouragement. At several points in my academic studies and my career, I have benefited from advocates who took a strong interest in me and said “go for it.”

At the same time, that bolstered my initiative to pursue internships, or new roles. One example from my own past that I would highlight – during my undergraduate studies at Wartburg College, I worked in a professor’s biology lab a few hours each week, conducting very basic experiments for some extra money. This man had unbelievable patience with me, while I trialled new CO2 probes and re-ran experiment after experiment for a small-scale study I was conducting.

All along, he encouraged me to try new things and take my time, so that I could learn. What he was teaching me was the basic research process.

To this day, I credit Dr. Ventullo as instilling in me the confidence to apply for the summer Women in Science research internship, which led to my “discovery” of the field of toxicology, which became my career. It can be as simple as one person’s words of encouragement. And, if each of us can play that role for one young woman, we will make a difference.

Featured photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

The Path to Empowering Women in Agricultural Science

In this guest blog ahead of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of AWARD, shares the impact that empowering female scientists in Africa can have on the challenges that farmers on the continent face.

At the age of 12 Fetien Abay Abera was engaged to be married to a 36-year-old man. Her mother intervened and she was able to complete her high school education in rural Northern Ethiopia. The first female lecturer at her university and now the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Plant Breeding and Seed at Mekelle University in Ethiopia, Professor Fetien Abay Abera connects the dots between early childhood marriage, climate change, and agricultural productivity. Her research is helping to strengthen Ethiopian farming families’ ability to cope with drought.

Professor Abera is one of 1,158 agricultural research scientists who have been part of a fellowship program run by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). AWARD is working toward inclusive, agriculture-driven prosperity for the African continent by strengthening the production and dissemination of more gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation.

Recognizing that the underrepresentation of African women in agricultural research represents a tremendous missed opportunity for the continent, AWARD offers a two-year career development fellowship aimed at strengthening the science, leadership, and mentoring skills of African women agricultural scientists. Through the AWARD Fellowship, we are fixing the leaky pipeline of women in agricultural research by cultivating a growing pool of African women scientists who are equipped and eager to use cutting-edge research to solve the challenges facing African farmers.

For Professor Abera, the AWARD Fellowship experience allowed her to grow her confidence and clarify her career goals. She now leads major projects developing sustainable drought-resistant crop varieties that respond to the needs of farmers in Northern Ethiopia. She makes intentional efforts to understand farmers’ needs and priorities and is a leading advocate of participatory agricultural research and development who recently emerged the second runner-up at the prestigious Impact Research and Science in Africa (IMPRESSA) Awards. The lives and careers of women like Professor Abera and other AWARD fellows speak to the wealth of under-recognized female talent in Africa’s agricultural research sector.

Still, we recognize that building a pipeline of capable, confident, and influential African women scientists is necessary but not sufficient to attain inclusive agriculture-driven prosperity for the continent. This is why AWARD is now expanding our mandate to include investing in strengthening the institutions within which AWARD Fellows and their colleagues work and innovate.

As articulated in our  2017-2022 strategic plan, we are committed to helping build a gender-responsive agricultural innovation system that is working toward agriculture-driven prosperity for Africa. We define gender-responsive agricultural research as research that addresses the needs and priorities of a diversity of both men and women across the entire agricultural value chain.

Implementing our new strategy means that, beyond the AWARD Fellowships, moving forward, we will also support agricultural research institutions as they work to prioritize and embrace gender responsiveness in both policy and practice. Further, appreciating that researchers and institutions are embedded within a broader enabling environment, we are also working to see gender responsiveness as a norm across the culture and practice of agricultural research on the African continent.

In many attempts to “mainstream” gender into institutions, gender issues are often treated in isolation rather than as a vital component of the agricultural research process. We believe that these efforts must not remain simply procedural; rather, they should help to redefine the objectives and purpose of agricultural research itself. We have already begun building exciting partnerships with institutions that believe that gender equity should be fully integrated into supporting the overarching mandate of a research institution, including the development of research questions and methodologies.

Once produced, gender-responsive research should not just remain on the shelf, but rather be disseminated to drive real change on the ground. We believe that agribusinesses can play a critical role in scaling up and promoting agricultural innovations that have the potential to help bridge the gender gap in African agriculture. Through a call for applications, intensive boot camp, and an ag-tech solutions marketplace that connects innovators with peers and potential investors, our latest initiative, Gender in Agribusiness Investments for Africa (GAIA) ensures the visibility, commercialization, and scaling up of gender-responsive agricultural innovations.

Our deepest desire is that these initiatives to invest in strengthening the gender responsiveness of Africa’s agricultural research scientists, the institutions where they innovate, and the agribusinesses that disperse these innovations will lead to more inclusive agriculture-driven prosperity for the continent.

If together with our partners we are successful, then we will be closer to a reality where farming families across the continent are more food secure, and agriculture is a means for them to support their children’s education rather than a reason to seek to marry off their young daughters.