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Spotlight On African Women In Agricultural Research

Nairobi, August 12 2011 – The drought and related famine engulfing the Horn of Africa continue to dominate discussions about agricultural development and management worldwide.

Finding sustainable solutions to the continent’s food security and environmental challenges requires the best scientific minds, including women agricultural researchers.

However, female researchers still make up less than 25 percent of Africa’s agricultural scientists, and few hold positions of leadership.

African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) is addressing that gap by building the capacity of African women scientists conducting pro-poor agricultural research.

In response to AWARD’s fourth annual call for applications, 785 qualified women researchers from 11 African countries competed for the 2011 AWARD Fellowships.

The 70 winners of this prestigious award will be announced next week in Nairobi.

In our continued commitment to provide media coverage to Kenyan women, Women eNews Kenya publish for you the outcome of a survey conducted in 2009 to provide baseline data in order to monitor and evaluate the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) project.

Growth in Women’s Participation by Country

Female participation in agricultural research and higher education is particularly low in Ethiopia and a number of Francophone countries (Togo, Niger, and Burkina Faso), but it is much higher in southern African countries (South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana).

From 2000/01 to 2007/08, shares of female professional staff increased substantially in some countries, such as Senegal and Zambia. Shares of female professional staff also rose significantly in three of the four largest countries: by 8 percent in Nigeria and South Africa and by 4 percent in Kenya.

The result in South Africa is particularly striking given that the 2000/01 share of female professional staff was already the highest of the 27 countries for which data were available.

In Ethiopia, despite the large increase in numbers of female professional staff during 2001–08, the share of female staff actually declined by 1 percent.

Degree-Level Distribution of Professional Staff by Gender

Female professional staff members were found to be consistently less educated than their male counterparts. In 2007/08, on average, fewer women than men held PhD degrees (27 compared with 37 percent), but more women held MSc degrees (43 versus 36 percent).

The high influx of BSc qualified staff has increased the female share in this category from 26 to 31 percent, and the male share from 20 to 27 percent. Interestingly, the relative shares of female and male staff with PhD degrees remained fairly stable over the seven year period.

Although capacity increased between 2000/01 and 2007/08 in terms of numbers of professional staff, overall, staff qualification levels deteriorated in terms of degree level. This trend is worrisome given existing capacity constraints in agricultural research and higher education in many African countries.

A number of organizations and publications have expressed concern over this issue. For example, an assessment of the national agricultural research and extension systems in Africa, conducted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), found that many agencies experience staff shortages (so that many positions remain vacant).

Some countries are also struggling with the challenge of an aging pool of research staff. The number of universities and faculties in agricultural sciences has grown substantially during the past three decades. Besides staff shortages, many suffer from insufficient funding, declining student enrollments, outdated curricula, and a disproportionate focus on undergraduate studies.

Shifts in the Gender Gap with Career Advancement

Although the proportion of both women and men in the total student population (in both enrollment and graduation) is higher than comparable shares at later stages of the career path, the shares of women are consistently lower than the shares of men.

More simply put, on average, the proportion of women disproportionately decline with career advancement.

Age Structure of Female Professional Staff

On average in 2007/08, the majority of professional women employed in agricultural research and higher education in Sub- Saharan Africa were between 31 and 50 years old.

Fewer than 20 percent of the female professional staff in a 15- country sample were younger than 31 years. Wide variations were reported across countries, however. More than half of the female staff in Ethiopia were younger than 31 years, in part due to the significant increase in overall number of professional staff between 2000 and 2007.

Botswana, Malawi, and Zambia also had relatively young pools of female professional staff.

Agencies in Burkina Faso and Togo, however, employed no female professional staff younger than 31 years, and those in Niger employed no professional female staff younger than 41 years.

In Togo, 44 percent of the female professional staff were 51 years or older (representing 4 of 9 women).

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