Women driving AFRICAP’s development agenda

Gender equality lies at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which asserts gender equality as a fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Women are not only more affected by the many complex problems of our time, but also possess ideas and leadership to solve them. 

In honour of International Women’s Day 2021, we want to celebrate some of the outstanding women who are working to make agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa more productive, sustainable and resilient to climate change. This diverse group of women are engaged in a £9.2 million GCRF-funded programme, Agricultural and Food System Resilience: Increasing Capacity and Advising Policy (AFRICAP). Though they work at different levels and across different countries with vastly different realities, opportunities and challenges, each of the following 15 women are key to AFRICAP’s progress.

Agatha Kiama, Research Assistant, Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Agatha is a Research Assistant working with the Economic and Social Research Foundation. She provides direct support to the regional country node in implementing AFRICAP programme activities in Tanzania. She enjoys working in the agriculture sector as it gives her room to explore various ways through which she can help farmers improve their farming activities in the face of climate change. One of Agatha’s highlights of the project was being awarded the prestigious Chatham House Fellowship which focuses on policy leadership, through training and capacity-building from Chatham House’s Academy for Leadership in International Affairs. Reflecting on having more women in influential, Agatha says, women are natural leaders, and should be given space in the echelons of decision making in agriculture.

Claire Quinn, Professor in Natural Resource Management, University of Leeds     

Claire leads the Policy Engagement component of the project, supporting the country coordinators and nodes in the policy-facing activity of AFRICAP. Her work, along with the work of the country coordinators and nodes, is critical to the influence that AFRICAP has in policy.

She believes that agriculture is hugely important for the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who live in Africa. Making agriculture climate smart and sustainable means that their lives and livelihoods will be too. She says that in her field – research and academia – there is a real lack of women in professorial positions, let alone diversity in other ways. Diversity is critical because it brings in different perspectives, ways of thinking and doing research, and different interpretations, all of which contribute to developing better solutions to the global challenges we face.

Caroline Orfila, Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Nutrition, University of Leeds     

Caroline’s work on AFRICAP focuses on building academic teams to answer research questions on food science and nutrition. One highlight from her involvement in AFRICAP has been successfully securing collaborative funding with the University of Pretoria and FANRPAN to increase nutrition research skills in sub-Saharan Africa.

Reflecting on women in agriculture, she says more women are needed to bridge the gap between agricultural production and food consumption as they bring unique perspectives and lived experiences of the African food system.

Harriet Smith, Post-doctoral Research Fellow – AFRICAP, University of Leeds     

Harriet is a post -doctoral research fellow with the AFRICAP project and has been responsible for leading the design, coordination and delivery of a 2-week capacity building and training event in Tanzania.

Reflecting on having more women in influential positions, she says it is a necessary first step in addressing current biases and limits in science. Representation therefore matters, but it is more than just representation for women. Representation in science must be inclusive, of gender -which is more than just men vs. women-, of culture, nationality, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and more. Until we have complete inclusivity and representation in science, we have no hope in solving the world’s biggest challenges, one of which is building sustainable and resilient food systems.

Helen Coskeran, Monitoring & Evaluation/Capacity-Building Lead, University of Leeds

Helen leads the capacity-building, training, knowledge-sharing, monitoring, evaluation and learning components of the programme. She also provides programme management and governance support. One of her highlights from the project has been the Partner Institutional Viability Assessment process which has seen her work with the country nodes to showcase their strengths and encourage cross-programme learning on those areas of expertise, as well as identifying areas in which AFRICAP can provide support through a tailored programme of activities to help the nodes attract future grants.

Reflecting on women in agriculture, she says that agriculture is a massive sector in Africa and vital for food security and livelihoods. She enjoys being part of sharing pathways to making the agri-food sector more resilient in the face of climate change so that it can continue to perform that important role.

Lauren Phillips, Communications & Events Officer, University of Leeds     

Lauren leads all communications for the AFRICAP programme. She manages internal communications, storytelling, writing and editing, social media, newsletters, and the AFRICAP website.

She believes her biggest contribution to the programme has been developing a communications strategy and leading storytelling initiatives that showcase the outstanding work of the AFRICAP team. Lauren says she is not a scientist by training, so being involved in the AFRICAP programme has given her an opportunity to use her skills in communications to help build climate resilience and achieve food and nutrition security.        

Mushiba Mushiba, Assistant Accountant and Administration Office, Agricultural Consultative Forum (ACF) Lusaka, Zambia

Mushiba is an Assistant Accountant and Administration Officer responsible for the AFRICAP account at  the Zambia Node led by the Agriculture Consultative Form (ACF). She appreciates the capacity building opportunities presented by the AFRICAP Project.

Her highlight in the project has been the Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP) training workshop she attended in Kigali, Rwanda in February 2020.  She believes that more women should be in influential positions in agriculture because women are good at spearheading and devoting themselves to whatever they do; they nurture ideas and are keen to see them come to fruition.

Nomantande Yeki, Economist: Transformation, National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), Pretoria, South Africa

Nomantande is a member of the South Africa Node led by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC). She is responsible for coordinating AFRICAP implementation in South Africa and is a member of the AFRICAP Monitoring and Evaluation Working Group.

She believes that agriculture remains one of the key sectors that can bring economic transformation to South Africa, particularly to previously disadvantaged individuals, and finds being part of working towards that goal fulfilling. 

Onele Tshitiza, Economist: Trade, National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), Pretoria, South Africa

Onele is a researcher within the project, working for the South Africa FANRPAN node host organisation, the NAMC. She says she enjoys the complexity of the sector because it has various linkages which make you interact with people from different backgrounds. She is also amazed to see the amount of work that goes into putting food on the table, even from the policy level.

She believes women have foresight and can contribute to building the sector for the benefit of everybody. Policies can often exclude the marginalised. For example, women were previously not allowed to own land in some societies. It is important to have representatives involved in drafting policies to correct injustices.

Pamela Kuwali, National Director, Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET), Lilongwe, Malawi

Pamela is the Malawi Node Coordinator and National Director of the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET). Her role is to oversee implementation of the AFRICAP project in Malawi.  One thing she finds challenging about the project is that it involves translating research findings into policy advocacy messages for action of policymakers. She says that at times explaining models and concepts in a way that is easy to understand takes a lot of skill.

The highlight for her in the project has been the scenarios workshop with multiple stakeholders. She found the process of thinking about Malawi food systems in several years to come, but also considering what kind of policy actions they think should be undertaken, very interesting and a unique approach to policy planning.

Sarah Chapman, Post-doctoral Research Fellow – AFRICAP, University of Leeds     

Sarah is a climate science post-doctoral researcher for AFRICAP. She has contributed to the climate science and seed systems research, the capacity building of meteorology departments in the focus countries, the climate model subset for ECOSSE modelling and the AFRICAP Food Systems massive open online course (MOOC).

She enjoys undertaking research as she believes it is important and impactful. She says climate change will have a serious impact on African countries and on agriculture. Understanding what this impact will be is necessary for adapting to it and she finds contributing to better food security and livelihoods in Africa extremely fulfilling.

Shiluva Nkanyani, Projects Officer, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Pretoria, South Africa

Shiluva supports the coordination of the AFRICAP project at Regional level working at the FANRPAN Regional Secretariat. She has been impressed by how the project team has been flexible and has adapted in light of COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions which affected various planned project activities.

She believes that in the past, women were known to be just labourers in the field with little knowledge about what happens in the markets and were also not included in policy decision making, but this is fast changing. She says, the more women we have in influential positions, the better it will be for women who are in the field.

Sithembile Mwamakamba, Director of Policy Research and Analysis, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Pretoria, South Africa

Thembi is the Regional Policy Officer responsible for coordinating implementation across the four AFRICAP focus countries. She loves a good challenge and one thing that she enjoys about AFRICAP is balancing researchers’ ideas with reality on the ground.

She says sometimes what researchers want to do is not exactly what is needed on the ground, so the challenge is finding ways to make a research project that has set goals and objectives relevant to the local needs. She believes more women should be in influential positions in agriculture so that even at the highest levels, be it in the science or policy space, the needs of the many women in agriculture are heard, acknowledged and catered for.

Susannah Sallu, Associate Professor Environment & Development, University of Leeds     

Susie is the Country Coordinator for Tanzania from the University of Leeds. She has been responsible for coordinating new research and capacity building initiatives on climate-resilience in agricultural and food systems in Tanzania that is being fed into subnational level planning and practice.

Reflecting on women in agriculture, she says that it is common to be alone, or one of few, female scientists working in interdisciplinary teams made up of predominantly male science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) scientists and with largely male policy makers. Ensuring a more equitable gender balance in interdisciplinary teams is important to enable a wider range of values and perspectives to feature. She adds that we need to go beyond a focus on gender balance as a simple solution to consider the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of all forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect.

Vivian Kazi, Head of Commissioned Research Department, Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Vivian heads the Commissioned Research Department at ESRF, she is the country node coordinator for FANRPAN, and leads in-country implementation of the AFRICAP programme in Tanzania. She believes the project has brought evidence based research on climate change and food security in Tanga and is excited that as one of the key activities of the project in its final year would be to establishment of the Muheza Learning Alliance that will bring together all stakeholders on climate change mitigations and CSA practices.

Reflecting on getting more women in influential positions in agriculture, she says that women shoulder the heavy burden of being the majority producers and therefore, getting more women in influential positions in agriculture will ensure food security for the households and the nation but also employment for many