Even as numerous reports point to women as a marginalized group in access to farm finance, land and inputs, women scientists in Kenya are defying the odds by coming up with innovations and science breakthroughs that have not only provided lasting solutions but received international accolades.
From low cost climate change innovations, to seed breeding that ensures that farmers access high yielding, disease and drought resistant varieties in time, the women scientists have attached emotional sense to their work, which has placed them ahead of their male peers.
Programmes like the African Women in Research and Agricultural Development, AWARD, have been crucial in finding women scientists, testing their ideas and turning these ideas into life changing agricultural interventions.
The programme which awarded 70 women scientists in Sub Saharan Africa with fellowships and funding has supported more than 390 African women scientists from the 11 countries including Kenya. In Kenya 11 scientists were awarded fellowship in the 2015 selection.
Among them is Nora Ndege who is doing a research on the efficacy of training and use of fruit processing technologies by women smallholder farmers in the arid area of Mwala in Machakos.
But there are other scientists who have championed their own course and have come up with major agricultural breakthroughs. One of them is Professor Monica Ayieko, a scientist who has been advocating for the use of the many insects like May flies and termites available in the country which she believes would be good as a food source. The professor argues that the termites would address the twin problem of environmental degradation and biting food shortage.
The insects produces less harmful gases than other food sources like livestock. The insects are also readily available and would, according to the professor, be a timely solution to the delicate food security situation that Kenya is facing. This has been occasioned by an unprecedented rise in population that is putting the strain on food production, as the population increase fail to match with the dwindling arable land.
Professor Ayieko has been exploring various ways of making the insects palatable including through samosas and sausages. Prof Ayieko’s conviction has received a backing from the United Nations which is advocating for the use of insects as food to close the biting food shortfall. According to the organization, insects are readily available to millions of food insecure families across the world and could offer a nutritional solution to these families. The insects are known to contain crucial nutrients like iron, zinc and fat. In Kenya approximately four million people are food insecure.
In 2013 Dr. Charity Mutegi another Kenyan scientist received world’s highly coveted prize, the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, for her role in championing the development of a biological control of the catastrophic and cancer causing organism aflatoxin. The aflatoxin has become a major concern in Kenya, leading to Kenya being announced as one of the biggest hotspot for aflatoxin. The country witnessed hundreds of deaths in 2010 after unsuspecting consumers took maize laden with aflatoxins.
Dr. Mutegi’s innovation involves introducing a strain of the aflatoxin fungus which is not toxic but which is superior than the toxic ones. The strain is in form of a bio pesticide that is pocket friendly to farmers and which doesn’t harm the environment, the maize or the consumers.