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Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture


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As the CGIAR began celebrating its 40th anniversary, we felt it was timely to repackage this series of diverse interviews featuring young people under the age of 40. This booklet highlights the work of 13 highly talented individuals; people who are already making a difference in the AR4D arena. Each interview gives a unique insight into their roles, perspectives, experiences and aspirations …

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Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture

  1. 1. Youth in Agriculture40 years on, the CGIAR looks at agriculture through the eyes of the under 40sForewordThe voices in this collection of stories tell us that many young people first embark on a career inagriculture because they feel personally driven to make a difference in addressing the current andfuture challenges facing mankind. Young people today are far more aware and keen to make alasting impact to meet these challenges, not just in their own generation but also for the future.Such young professionals often bring with them new ideas, boundless energy and a desire to make adifference that will leave a mark well into the future.Unfortunately, many young people don’t have a voice.We feel strongly that there has to be a place at the table for youth. While there is no substitute forthe experience, knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, young people can add a differentperspective and offer fresh ideas. It is vital that we listen to their voices, realize their ability tocontribute to agriculture research for development (AR4D), and involve them in activities that willhelp determine their future. We can do this by actively engaging them in efforts to reduce ruralpoverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and health, and sustainably manage naturalresources.With the launch of the United Nations’ International Year of Youth on 12th August 2010, the ICT-KMProgram of the CGIAR began recognizing the achievements of some of the youth they encounteredthrough their work by giving them a space to talk on the Program’s blog.As the CGIAR began celebrating its 40th anniversary, we felt it was timely to repackage this series ofdiverse interviews featuring young people under the age of 40. This booklet highlights the work of13 highly talented individuals; people who are already making a difference in the AR4D arena. Eachinterview gives a unique insight into their roles, perspectives, experiences and aspirations …We can see ourselves, our experiences, and our struggles in many of these young inspiringindividuals, and hope that younger generations will also be inspired by their stories and perhaps beencouraged to make similar contributions. We also hope that these young professionals willstimulate others professionals and also young farmers to make a lasting difference in the lab,classroom, greenhouse, trial-plot, field, water basin or forest.Our thanks go to all our interviewees for giving up their valuable time to talk to us, Nadia Manning-Thomas for facilitating the interviews, and Mary Schneider for the text.Lloyd Le Page Enrica PorcariCEO Senior Information and Knowledge OfficerConsortium of International Agricultural Research Consortium of International Agricultural ResearchCenters CentersYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 2 
  2. 2. Table of ContentsForeword ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………2Chapter 1: The good, the bad and the ugly: a closer look at opportunities, challenges andissues Courtney Paisley ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..4Chapter 2: Youth making agricultural knowledge travel #1 – Nadia Manning-Thomas ……………………………………………………………………………………6 #2 – Evelyn Katingi ……………………………………………………………………………………………………8Chapter 3: Mapping for the future: youth and spatial information for ARD # 1 – Stephen Kibet ……………………………………………………………………………………………..…10 #2 – Silvia Renn ………………………………………………………………………………………………………12Chapter 4: Learning together: youth involved in training and capacity building Grace Mwaura ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….14Chapter 5: Youth and innovation Eva Schiffer …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….16Chapter 6: Concerned with climate change #1 – Lieven Claessens …………………………………………………………………………………………….18 #2 – Andy Jarvis ………………………………………………………………………………………………….....20Chapter 7: Carrying on the fight for gender equality #1– Jemimah Njuki …………………………………………………………………………………………………22 #2– Alessandra Galié ………………………………………………………………………………………………24Chapter 8: Behind the scenes: Youth in laboratories #1 - Teddy Amuge.......................................................................................................26 #2 - Soroush Parsa ………………………………………………………………………………………………….28Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 3 
  3. 3. Chapter 1: The good, the bad and the ugly – a closer look atopportunities, challenges and issues – Courtney PaisleyGiving a voice to young people Sometimes, all it takes to change the course of our lives is a little whisper that stirs something within us, or an image flashing for a moment across a television screen, or, in the case of Courtney Paisley, a few well-placed words uttered during a coffee break. For it was during a short break from her work that this Canadian national heard the words that would ultimately lead her to cross continents to take up her present position as the Coordinator of the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).Filling a needWhen Courtney first began her work with the ICT-KM Program’s Online Learning Resources (OLR)project, she had never even heard of YPARD. But all of that changed when she attended a coffeebreak presentation four years ago at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya. “TheYPARD Coordinator at that time was visiting my Center,” Courtney recalls, “and he really grabbed myattention when he took the floor and said, ‘I want to speak to everyone under forty in the room.’ Asa young professional, I was curious to find out more. That’s when I learned that there is anorganization that gives a voice to young people involved in agricultural research for development(AR4D) by giving them an opportunity to air their views.”YPARD especially appealed to Courtney because, like many other young people embarking on acareer in AR4D, she felt she was being passed over by senior staff members during the moreimportant discussions relevant to her work. Of course, she also admits that a lack of confidence hada role to play in her silence too. “I didn’t have much experience back then, and I wasn’t confidentthat my opinions and views were all that well-informed or even relevant to certain discussions,” shesays. “Still, I was rarely asked for my input. I think it’s important to encourage youth and make themfeel that their views are useful and helpful. YPARD can help build up their confidence by allowingthem to tentatively present their ideas online for feedback from their peers before sharing theirthoughts with their superiors.”Making a detourShortly after joining YPARD, Courtney, who has a Master of Science from the University ofManchester (UK) in Environmental Governance, left the CGIAR to focus on environmental educationprograms on the ground, working with organizations like Oxfam and SolarAid. Her busy schedulegave her little time to even think about YPARD. Until, that is to say, the position of Coordinator wasadvertised in early 2010.“When I saw the advertisement, something just clicked,” says Courtney. “I immediately saw whatwas needed and felt that the requirements matched my background extremely well. At the time, Ireally didn’t want to leave Kenya, but I was drawn to the position. I thought I could help connect thevoice of youth with larger debates and discussions, something that still appears to be lacking fouryears after my initial involvement with YPARD. Although there’s a lot of understanding in the AR4Dcommunity that young people are important and that they should be more involved, it’s just a lot oftalk with not much coming from young people themselves.”Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 4 
  4. 4. So, a few months after applying for the Coordinator’s position, this versatile young woman packedher bags and headed for Rome, where she is hosted by GFAR at FAO headquarters.Knowledge sharing and ICTsYPARD focuses heavily on knowledge sharing, and Courtney’s skills in this area will be an asset to hernew position – through her earlier work with the ICT-KM Program, she familiarized herself withvarious knowledge sharing methodologies and tools that can now be used to best effect. “When Iwas working on the OLR project, I studied ways of sharing resources,” she says. “As a result, I try toavoid the replication of activities. For example, within YPARD we are looking to increase links withother networks, taking advantage of resources that have already been created by others; andconversely, sharing our resources with others. My work with the project also helped me facilitateonline sessions. Sharing knowledge, information, ideas, opinions and funding news online will alsohelp us build a solid network.”Courtney also acknowledges the importance of ICT and social media in expanding YPARD’snetworking. As she says, “They are both very important because YPARD is global, with members allover the world. It’s definitely the key way to link people together – and not just to create our ownnetwork, but to also use existing networks and the ways that people already communicate with eachother. We also plan to change our method of dissemination of the funding news from a newsletterto a blog.”Building a network of valueThis young woman speaks enthusiastically about her new role and the possibility of helping youth toequip themselves for the best possible start as they embark on a career in AR4D. “We want everyyoung professional to know about YPARD; to know there is a place where they can find and shareinformation, and look for opportunities. By bringing youth to the table at different discussions,encouraging members to tell their friends and have them stream relevant discussions back to thecommunity, we will surely become a network of value.”There’s no doubt that Courtney will be successful in her new role.If you are interested in finding out more about YPARD, please visit the website at or send Courtney an email at ypard.coordinationunit@googlemail.comPhoto: Courtney PaisleyYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 5 
  5. 5. Chapter 2: Youth making agricultural knowledge travel #1 – NadiaManning-ThomasA very special knowledge sharing specialist When it comes to knowledge sharing, Nadia Manning-Thomas just can’t seem to get enough. She first worked with the CGIAR ICT-KM Program between 2007 and 2009 as the Project Leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research project, and came onboard again in 2010 as a Knowledge Sharing in Research Specialist while also working on the global initiative for Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD). As if juggling these two positions isn’t enough, this energetic young woman still finds time to play an active role on the Steering Committee of the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).Making agricultural knowledge travelNadia likens her present work to that of a travel agent, as she focuses on learning about, promotingand supporting the implementation of appropriate pathways for making CGIAR agriculturalknowledge travel. In particular, she works on improving knowledge sharing in research by trying tofind out how to motivate researchers to share knowledge more, while also exploring and promotingways in which researchers and research projects can effectively share their knowledge.“The knowledge that exists within various institutions, people and places often stays within the smallspheres in which it is generated and is not widely shared, limiting wider learning and theenhancement of practices,” she says. “Some say we need better knowledge sharing, others talkabout coherence in information systems, but all we want is for valuable knowledge about agricultureto travel: to move from one person to another, from one place to another, from one institution toanother …“This is where not only traditional media but also the growing range of ICTs and social media toolshave a role to play. Such tools offer us new ways of having conversations and collaborating withothers across geographical spreads, while helping to keep travel costs and our carbon foot prints to aminimum. My heart is always in face-to-face interactions, but if we can get similar benefits fromvirtual methods, then we will be able to increase our interactions with a wider and more diverse setof people.”YPARD involvementNadia’s interest and involvement in youth in AR4D stems from her own experiences. “The voices ofyoung scientists in the CGIAR, my own included, are not always being heard,” she explains. “I’vesometimes felt hesitant about putting up my hand or saying something or being chosen to have amore direct role in meetings. I’ve worked hard to give myself more confidence to overcome that. Inthat regard, YPARD is trying to partner with other groups to give training in leadership andpresentation skills, while exploring other training avenues that can benefit young people.”The YPARD Steering Committee draws mainly on Nadia’s knowledge sharing in research experienceand her exposure to and involvement with ICTs. When she first joined the organization, sheadvocated the development of a more innovative communications strategy, which resulted in a newYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 6 
  6. 6. website. So when they were looking for a new YPARD Coordinator, she felt strongly that the terms ofreference should mention the need for strong communication and knowledge sharing skills, as mostof the Coordinator’s work involves getting the word out there through multiple avenues, using toolslike social media, and finding innovative ways to reach young people and inform organizations aboutthe role of young people.“YPARD is trying to use a number of different channels for sharing and brokering relevant and usefulinformation for young professionals,” she says. “Although our website offers information on jobopportunities, funding opportunities, student opportunities, etc, we have found that young peoplewant more than just information pushed from our side. They also want to discuss things with eachother – like what it’s like to be a young person in agriculture, university curricula, what they arelearning (and not learning) and their views on key topics in agriculture. We need to see YPARDknowledge as a combination of the ideas, perspectives and experiences of all of our members, andwe need to ensure convenient access to this collective resource if it is to be of benefit.“We’ve been looking at ways of facilitating these kinds of discussions: pulling together ideas fromour young professionals, packaging them and sharing them in proposals, projects and big agriculturaldevelopment meetings and conferences, so we can represent the views of the youth on things likeclimate change, sustainable agriculture and conservation agriculture. We’ve also fought hard tosecure a certain number of places and funding for young professionals at some of the bigconferences to give them a greater perspective of how their work contributes to the larger picture.”Changing mindsets“YPARD needs to focus on reaching out, creating engagement and interactions, and keeping abreastof those new social media tools that are being taken up to help knowledge travel,” says Nadia.“Young professionals need to establish a mindset about the value of knowledge sharing and beinginnovative with communications, learning, and monitoring and evaluation. All of which can primethem to take their growth and embed it into future management policies.”Personal benefitsNadia feels she has benefited greatly from her work both with the Program and with YPARD.“Through the Program I’ve had many opportunities to learn new skills, share my ideas, and grow. Asfor YPARD, this is the first time I’ve been on a steering committee, so it has been a real learningcurve. I never thought I would have had such an opportunity at my age, so this experience has beeninvaluable. I’ve increased my own skills while expanding my professional network. Also, with all myknowledge sharing work, being part of YPARD gives me another hat and increased credibility as aresult of my work with young professionals and my attempts to get them involved.“Overall, whatever I do, whether it be for the Program or for YPARD or for my own personal benefit,it’s all about making knowledge travel.”And it is that attitude that makes Nadia a very special knowledge sharing specialist.Photo: Nadia Manning-ThomasYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 7 
  7. 7. Youth making agricultural knowledge travel #2 – Evelyn KatingiThe woman behind the map Evelyn Katingi is a woman with Africa at her fingertips. With a click of her mouse, a map of the continent appears on her computer screen. At once you can see the breadth of CGIAR ongoing research in Africa: from Tunisia in the north all the way down to South Africa at the tip of the continent, and from the Gambia in the west to Somalia in the east. Her eyes light up when she talks about the map. “CGIAR Ongoing Research lists almost 400 projects from the 15 CGIAR Centers, and more are being added as we speak,” this young Kenyan woman says. “Also, every day, more and more people are visiting the site.” A collaborative effort between the ICT-KM Program and CGIARCollective Action in Eastern and Southern Africa, the map shows CGIAR projects: who is doing what,where and with whom. It makes research information accessible to all CGIAR staff and other keystakeholders, thereby facilitating information sharing, promoting partnership opportunities andencouraging collective action.The map’s coverage“Initially, the map was designed to align research activities in eastern and southern Africa,” saysEvelyn, “but the more we developed it and the more we continued to gather information, the moreit became increasingly difficult not to include projects carried out in other parts of Africa. So theinformation grew and exploded, and it’s now a research map of Africa.“Plans are also afoot to expand the map’s reach beyond Africa to other areas where the CGIAR isworking. One of my personal goals is to have a distributed but linked system with other agricultureinformation management systems in the world.”Maintaining the mapAsk anyone responsible for a map’s content, online or otherwise, and they will tell you about thechallenges they encounter maintaining such a resource. Evelyn is no exception.“I’m in charge of collecting information about the map, identifying areas of development, gettingusers’ feedback about what they think about the map, analyzing it to see if we’re meeting theirneeds, assessing how best to address some of the needs, and creating relationships with differentCenters and key people in charge of updating the map,” she says, all in one breath. “Then, of course,I have to communicate the information on the map, and also maintain the Collective Action blog andcontribute news and circulate the Program’s newsletter, which goes a long way to spread newsabout the map and was recently awarded a bronze medal by the Association for CommunicationExcellence (ACE) in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences in the newslettersclass of the 2010 Awards.“Some scientists update the map without me having to remind them; but others need a littlenudge,” she says. “This is understandable because there is always competition for users’ time andattention. So I try to encourage them by maintaining a very simple data entry form and easy-to-follow procedures for using the map. As a result of keeping things simple and straightforward,Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 8 
  8. 8. anyone can access the information on the map with just a few clicks of their mouse.” At the same time, Evelyn acknowledges the contribution made by the Centers. “Without their participation, the map can’t survive,” she explains.CGIAR Ongoing Research“I’ve tried to identify focal people in the different Centers who can update their Center’sinformation, making the process more participatory.”The road to the mapThree years ago, when Evelyn knew little about research maps, or blogs or e-newsletters, she beganworking for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, where she wasemployed as an intern for three months. As a fresh graduate with a degree in statistics, she threwherself into her work developing a database of research activities carried out in eastern andsouthern Africa. Six months later, when a permanent position became available, she jumped at theopportunity. At that time, the Coordinator of the Program was Ravi Prabhu, a man who wasinstrumental in shaping this young woman’s career.“Ravi wasn’t just my supervisor,” she says, “he was also the one behind the map – I only took fullcharge of it in 2009. He helped me develop a vision for the map. He had a way of making people feelappreciated, gave credit where it was deserved, and acknowledged everyone who made acontribution. I also wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my current supervisorBruce Scott, the Director of Partnership and Communication at ILRI who oversees the Program’sactivities. He’s always available to offer key strategic decisions on the map. I also worked closelywith the ICT-KM Program team, who are always up-to-date with the latest technology and provideexcellent ideas to develop the map and address user needs to achieve greater impact.”Get your product right so that people are awed by it – Robin SharmaA fan of motivational speaker Robin Sharma, Evelyn applies his philosophy to the map.“If it’s something good and it’s useable, then people will use it. You have to be passionate aboutyour work, challenge yourself to do better, and take advantage of opportunities.”“Young people should strive and work to upgrade their skills,” says Evelyn, who is pursuing herMaster’s degree in Agriculture Information Communication Management. “It’s also important tohave a vision. My vision is to enhance the efficiency of key information and knowledge resourcesamong the CGIAR Centers and their partners to increase the impact of agricultural research.”Looks like she’s already got that road mapped out.Photo: Evelyn KatingiYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 9 
  9. 9. Chapter 3: Mapping for the future: youth and spatial information forARD # 1 – Stephen KibetA passion of the heart Growing up in rural Kenya, Stephen Kibet witnessed first-hand the effects of soil erosion on the land surrounding his home village of Iten. Deep trenches mar the once picturesque landscape and have rendered valuable farming land useless. Each year, wind and rain ravage the land further, causing nutrient-rich top soil to be swept down the region’s steep slopes, straight into the Keiro River. Soil erosion and landslides not only lead to the destruction of property and a decrease in agriculture production, they also claim lives. “Late last year, five people lost their lives in landslides in the Kerio Valley,” explains Stephen. “This led to theevacuation of people in lowland areas to the higher areas of Iten. Soil erosion also causes heavyboulders to roll down the slopes, rendering some roads dangerous and/or impassable, especiallyduring heavy rain. The Kerio River is also experiencing reduced water levels due to the landslides,which in turn greatly affects the livelihoods and wildlife that depend on it as a source of water.According to an article on the causes and consequences of soil erosion in Kenya, nature washesaway some 9.3 billion tons of soil a year. But when man interferes, the rate goes up to around 24billion tons a year. Kenya’s soil erosion problems stem from its semi-arid climate (in the interior), thefuel wood crisis and poor land management and agricultural practices.”Knowledge is powerIt was against such a backdrop that Stephen grew up, making him determined to devote his life tohelping his community contain soil erosion. The same sort of determination that he applies to mostaspects of his life also ensured him a place at Kenya’s Moi University. Currently, he is the only personfrom his village pursuing tertiary education. “Although families in my district have begun investing intheir children’s education, the number of students who join institutions of higher learning is still verylow compared to other districts,” he says. “Most students finish their studies in form four and thenventure into agricultural farming, with a small number engaging in trading activities.”When Stephen began studying geography at university, he was exposed to Geographical InformationSystems (GIS) for the first time, enabling him to explore further his idea of applying his knowledge tohelp his community. “At last, I was given some insights into reducing soil erosion in my district. Andever since then, my work with GIS has become a passion in my heart,” says this young man. “Withmy zeal for this field, I began looking at ways of revising a soil erosion model that I came acrossduring a university course on Hydrology and Watershed Management. Such models can provide uswith a sophisticated tool for the selection of appropriate soil conservation practices.”AAGW as a catalystShortly thereafter, Stephen and his model (The Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation -RUSLE)received the sort of exposure that many of his peers can only dream of. As he recalls: “Fortunecomes to one’s life at a specific time and at a specific place. It came to me when I attended theAfrica Agricultural GIS Week (AAGW) 2010, a conference that brings GIS experts, proponents andstudents together to look at ways of improving agriculture through the use of location specificYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 10 
  10. 10. information. The event, which took place in June 2010 in Nairobi, Kenya, adopted a Share Fair format that called for presenters to showcase their GIS projects, ideas and experiences. I saw this as an opportunity to introduce my RUSLE model. As a first-time presenter at an international event, I initially felt inadequate and uneasy.Soil erosion in KenyaHowever, the warm welcome and lively interactions I received from the organizers and otherparticipants soon put me at ease. Then my spirits were lifted even higher when others began takingan interest in my idea.”Response to the RUSLE modelAfter his presentation, Stephen received a prize for the best first-time presenter, which also helpedmotivate other geospatial scholars present. “I have been receiving messages from people fromdifferent backgrounds complimenting the idea and wanting to know how the model can be used topredict soil erosion on their land,” says Stephen. “Others have shared ideas on how to improve themodel and use it to predict soil loss in a wider area, and yet others want to know more about howthe model works. Some of my classmates have also been inspired to major in GIS after discoveringits usefulness as a decision-making tool. Most of them have developed GIS-related projects aimed atresolving agricultural problems. The award has also motivated me to become a GIS analyst in thefield of agriculture. My classmates now know all about AGCommons and the other organizationsinvolved in AAGW 2010.The road aheadStephen hopes to be able to use the RUSLE model to compute soil erosion in his district and sharethe results at the next AAGW. He would like to have been able to carry out research using his modelas a fourth year university project, but financial constraints preclude this project from happening.Instead, he has opted to map the passion fruit woodiness virus in the same area (Kamariny Division)in the Rift Valley Province. “Given a chance, I would also like to carry out research by computing theamount of soil deposited in the Keiro River,” says Stephen. “Currently, there are no availablestatistics on this, even though it is one of the issues that have been of great concern to me and mycommunity.”Even when Stephen returns home during breaks from his university, he finds it difficult to sit still.Instead, he has initiated a program that encourages school children in his village to study hard sothey can help their families and their community in the future. He also shares ideas and insights withthem so they know what university has to offer them.We probably haven’t heard the last of Stephen Kibet.Photos: Steven KibetYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 11 
  11. 11. Mapping for the future: youth and spatial information for ARD #2 –Silvia RennUsing GIS to overcome Malawi’s water woes Take a short drive from Silvia Renn’s office in Zomba, Malawi, and you will see the signs of a country under siege. As you travel across this small landlocked country in southeast Africa, lush greenery and fields of ripening maize suddenly give way to barren stretches of land. If you look to the horizon, the thing that strikes you the most is the lack of trees. “Much of Malawi has been stripped of trees to provide wood and charcoal for cooking,” says Silvia, a research analyst and GIS (geographical information systems) specialist with the CGIAR’s WorldFish Center. “This plays a huge role in the climate change that is taking place in the country. Fewer trees mean less watercan be held in the ground; water that is necessary for farming. This is where the Lake Chilwa Projecthopes to have an impact on rural communities around the Lake. In the last 50 years, Lake Chilwa hasdried up completely (twice!) and each time fishermen and farmers have had to adapt. The project,which also has large farming and forestry components, looks at previous and possible future climatechange adaptation strategies.Small-scale irrigationAnother Worldfish project in Malawi in which Silvia is involved looks at small scale irrigation incombination with fishponds. “The project looks at water management issues in the face of climatechange,” says Silvia. “I’m using GIS to model climate change. Presently, we’re setting up stations tomeasure temperature, discharge from rivers, evaporation, etc. We’ll also be looking closely at howthe people in this region actually manage water. For example, in Chingale, people irrigate their landby redirecting rivers. So we’re looking at the best way to manage that water so that the people canget the best benefits."This project finds out what the farmers are doing and not what we think they should be doing. Andthen we see what’s actually working; what sort of irrigation schemes they are using and how andwhich ones are making their fields and ponds more productive. Using spatial information can reallyhelp to prioritize what type of land is available, what type of soil, and what types of water availabilitycould influence productive agriculture and aquaculture. We’re providing information, we’recombining it, and then we’re using this combined information to make suggestions to extensionagents on where to put fish farms that will actually help the farmers to produce more fish.”Find out more about this project in a video interview with Silvia at Africa Agriculture GeospatialWeek (AAGW10).Shaping a careerA native of Cologne, Germany, Silvia first became interested in GIS and its applications when she wasstudying landscape and urban planning at a university in Germany. Part of her coursework involvedmodeling tidal waves in Australia to see how far they could travel and the number of people whomight possibly be affected by them. During this period, the destructive force of the 2004 tsunami inAsia claimed more than 230,000 lives along the length of the Indian Ocean. Like millions of peopleYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 12 
  12. 12. around the globe, Silvia watched the hopeless scenes unfolding on her television screen. As the bodycount crept ever higher, she felt devastated. “To think that I’d just been looking at wave data andmodeling it,” she says. “It was hard to see those models being played out in real life. I knew that a lotof information was already out there about tsunamis, and all it needed was for someone to put ittogether…” That’s when Silvia decided it might be a good idea to also focus on informationmanagement and development.Learning from life’s lessons After working with WorldFish for more than two years, Silvia sees herself as more of a practitioner than a researcher. “I would like to combine research and practicability,” she says. “Maybe take other people’s research and see how it can fit with what’s actually happening on the ground in Africa, because there’s sometimes a big gap between the work of researchers and the reality facing farmers. Also, I feel that much of the research carried out in Africa doesn’t get back to the farmers, who are often underestimated by researchers. Farmers usually know what they’re doing and have a reason forSilvia gathering data in Malawieverything they do, even if those reasons aren’t initially apparent. It’s also difficult to expect farmersto plan long-term (as is often recommended by researchers) if they are engaged in subsistence-levelagriculture. Researchers need to make their research more applicable and then get the results oftheir research out there. In that regard, local knowledge can really help make research morerelevant and increase the chances of research outputs being taken up by the farmers.”Collaboration — the way aheadThis young woman also believes in the power of collaboration; sharing knowledge and workingtowards a common goal. “As there are a few CGIAR Centers in Malawi, I feel it would be good ifWorldFish had an opportunity to start collaborating with them to see what they’re working on andjoin forces,” she says.It seems that Silvia might be making some waves of her own in the future.Photos: Silvia RennYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 13 
  13. 13. Chapter 4: Learning together: youth involved in training and capacitybuilding – Grace MwauraTeaching the children – shaping a generation Grace Mwaura is someone who knows all about the power of education and coaching to transform lives. Her own experiences tell her that the best way to empower people is to make them self-sufficient enough to help themselves and society. This attitude is evident in everything that this young woman does, especially her work with the Healthy Learning Programme, an initiative of the Kenyan Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB), and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Grace, an intern at ICRAF’s Nairobi campus, works with 30primary schools in eight districts in the dry lands of Kenya. Many of these schools receive assistanceunder the School Meals Programme of the UN World Food Program (WFP). One school meal a day isoften all it takes to ensure that children don’t drop out of school to help their families earn money toput food on the table, and Grace’s work makes a difference by complementing these WFP efforts.“The Healthy Learning Program focuses on training young people as early as possible, giving themthe necessary skills to address issues relating to nutrition, food production and environmentalconservation,” explains Grace. “We encourage schools to start up small projects based on thechallenges they are facing. Such projects range from water harvesting, to tree growing (includingfruit trees), to establishing kitchen gardens, to beekeeping. The schools also get technical supportfrom the relevant ministries and development partners.“Entire communities and neighbouring schools have learnt from these projects. Parents visit theirchildren’s schools to see what we are doing and take the lessons learnt home with them. Teachersare also using the projects to teach all their class subjects. For example, they can teach arithmetic bylooking at the amount of water needed to irrigate a small school garden and asking the children howmuch water would be needed for a garden, say, 2.5 times that size. It’s a more exciting and relevantway of learning for them.”From university campus to international stageBefore joining ICRAF in February 2010, Grace took a year off after completing her Bachelor’s degreein Environmental Sciences to focus on an initiative close to her heart. “While I was on campus, I ledan environmental club that spearheaded the establishment of a network of Kenyan-wide universityenvironmental groups called the Intervarsity Environment Network (IVEN),” says this industriousyoung woman. “Shortly after, my African youth colleagues and I decided to build another networkfor youth groups across Africa working on climate change. We were further motivated because therewas support for African youth both within national and international climate change policyprocesses. Thus, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) was born to empower,ensure and enhance the participation of African youth in the climate change agenda.“I spent all of 2009 helping build the movement across more African countries,” says Grace. “Theyear ended with more than 50 African youth participating at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the biggest numberYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 14 
  14. 14. from Africa to ever attend and play a role in international climate change negotiations. AYICC is nowrecognized by the African Union, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African MinisterialConference on Environment (AMCEN) and is also a part of the YOUNGO (youth NGOs ) within theUNFCCC.”Mentoring future mentors While Grace talks enthusiastically about her role nurturing other young people, she also acknowledges the people who have mentored her. “One person who has been instrumental in shaping my professional life is my supervisor at ICRAF, Tom Vandenbosch, the Programme Coordinator of the Healthy Learning Programme,” she says. “He keeps everyone’s spirits high and makes you want to be the best inGrace giving a talk at one of the Healthy Learning Programme schoolseverything you do. He has also helped me grow career-wise by encouraging me to get involved inactivities outside my work. He is truly a champion of youth, and I appreciate everything he has donefor me.”Oxford and beyondIn October 2011, Grace will begin studying for her Masters in Nature Society & Environmental Policyat Oxford University, England, on a Rhodes scholarship. She sees this as another opportunity toimprove her leadership skills and work with other young people.Looking ahead, Grace would like to focus on capacity building in other youth. “I believe in the powerof young people,” she says. “I think it’s important that young people find out what it is that theyreally want to do with their lives. Then they need to start small. After all, you don’t just wake up oneday and become the president.”A few years ago, Grace began her journey by organizing clean-ups on her university campus andputting up posters informing other students about environmental issues, and now she is ready totake on the challenges of Oxford. It is not clear what the future holds for her, but there is little doubtthat she will continue to make a difference in the lives of many people.Photos: Grace Mwaura and Wangari Mathenge (VVOB)Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 15 
  15. 15. Chapter 5: Youth and innovation – Eva SchifferRealizing a dream As a young girl, Eva Schiffer was once asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Without hesitation, she said, “I want to be a writer and I want to feed the children in Africa.” But, as often happens with childhood aspirations, she soon forgot what it was that she wanted to be. It was only many years later, as a successful, award-winning consultant, that she discovered that she had inadvertently realized those dreams. When Eva first travelled from her native Germany to Africa, it was not to fulfil a childhood dream but to carry out research work as an intern with a nature conservation organization in Namibia in 1997. This endlessly curious woman was fascinatedby what she saw and returned some years later to carry out field research for her PhD, a stint thatsaw her living in a Volkswagen Combi in the Namibia desert for four months.The woman with the toysIt was while she was in Namibia that Eva came up with an idea that would germinate and grow intothe early version of Net-Map, an interview-based mapping tool that helps stakeholders understand,visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which different people influence outcomes. “This earlyversion of Net-Map used influence towers, represented on a map by checkers and toy figurines, toshow visually the level of influence people have within community-based networks,” says Eva.Later, after finishing her doctorate studies, she took this early model with her to her first jobinterview at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). “I was very fortunate that thepanel with whom I spoke that day in 2004 shared my enthusiasm,” says this social scientist andfacilitator. “They appreciated my method and saw that I was a good fit for their work with the CGIARChallenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). I also think those months spent living in the desertprobably told them that I wouldn’t have a problem living in a small town in Ghana for three years.”The missing linkSo Eva went off to Bolgatanga in Ghana armed with her ‘box of toys’ and tried to use her method tounderstand water governance in the country’s Upper East Region. “But something was missing,” shesays. “And I couldn’t work out what it was. Then the Program held a workshop in Accra, whereparticipants used network mapping. Shortly after that, I woke up one morning and knew that socialnetworks and the influence towers had to go together.”Helping hands along the wayEighteen months after coming up with the network mapping tool, and despite it having applicationpotential beyond the scope of her work in Ghana (two others had already used it in their work), Evawas ready to move on to something else. However, a colleague persuaded her otherwise. Then Klausvon Grebmer, IFPRI’s Head of Communications, suggested that she turn her method into a product.“He said I would have limited impact if I continued going around with my cookie tin full of toys; hefelt I should give my tool a name and a brand. Through him, I was able to get some seed money todevelop it further. Then a number of people at IFPRI began using Net-Map in their projects, giving iteven more credibility.”Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 16 
  16. 16. Promising young scientistThe Net-Map Toolbox (above left) developed by Eva Schiffer, and Net-Map showing influence towers andsocial networks (above right)For her efforts, Eva was awarded the CGIAR’s Promising Young Scientist of the Year Award in 2008.“The external recognition helped give a strong sense of validity to and appreciation of Net-Map,even though my approach was fundamentally different to the highly quantitative and agronomisticapproaches often used by researchers in my field,” she says.ARD and Net-MapSince developing Net-Map, Eva has trained many people to use the tool independently. IFPRI is alsoincorporating it into the planning processes of a number of projects, while HarvestPlus is using it in aproject that looks at nutrient-rich crops and how conditions can be developed at the national levelso that these crops are accepted and actually used. Another project, Alive & Thrive, funded by theBill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is currently being evaluated by IFPRI, using Net-Map as the majorevaluation method. However, Net-Map is not just confined to AR4D. It can be used in any situationwhere you have multiple stakeholders with different goals. Its broader applications, outside ofagricultural research for development, have already included strategic positioning analysis within aresearch organization, customer relationship development in a large corporate firm in the US, andnetwork facilitation in the UK health sector.Spreading the word“It’s important to talk about your ideas with others,” says Eva, when asked if she had any advice forother young professionals interested in developing innovative tools. “You never know who can helpyou. It’s also important to share your finished product and not be afraid that others will steal yourideas. I became an independent consultant in 2008, enabling me to try the tool in many differentfields. I believe that if you really want something badly enough, and work towards that goal, it willhappen.”From a young girl with a dream, to a young woman with a cookie tin of toys, to a much-sought-afterprofessional in her field, Eva has shown us what can be achieved when you combine a vision withstrong determination.Photos: Eva SchifferYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 17 
  17. 17. Chapter 6: Concerned with climate change #1 – Lieven ClaessensA model researcher at work When the name Lieven Claessens is mentioned in the CGIAR, everyone’s thoughts immediately turn to the tragic Ugandan landslides that killed more than 300 people and displaced thousands of others last year. You see, Lieven, an environmental scientist with the International Potato Center (CIP), had accurately predicted that these landslides would occur. However, what Lieven was unable to foresee was the magnitude of human suffering that climate change and deforestation would bring to several rural Ugandan communities. Back in March 2010, as the swollen rivers flowingdown Mount Elgon burst their banks, resulting in vast mud slides that wiped out entire villages, hecould only watch the stark images unfolding on his television screen with a sense of sadness andfrustration.Three years earlier, Lieven had used a soil erosion model (the LAPSUS-LS model), which he haddeveloped during his PhD studies at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, to assess therelationship between the landscape, land use and soil conditions on this mountain. However, theresults, which were arrived at using existing data on landslides, were not passed along to policymakers who could have used the information to save lives – simply because the appropriatecommunication channels were not open to Lieven. Nonetheless, he is heartened to see that action isnow being taken. Villagers have begun planting trees on the mountain slopes under a reforestationprogram that is helping to reverse soil erosion. (See Lieven’s video interview on these landslides.)Landscape models in practiceToday, Lieven, who is based at CIP’s regional office in Nairobi, Kenya, devotes much of his time todeveloping landscape and agricultural system models, as well as using these same models in hisclimate change work. An example of the latter is the Participatory development and testing ofstrategies to reduce climate vulnerability of poor farm households in East Africa through innovationsin potato and sweet potato technologies and enabling policies project, which he has beencoordinating for more than two years. “It must be the project with the longest name ever,” says thisjovial man. “We are now looking at ways of building on our past work by collaborating with theCGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), focusing onKenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.”Lessons learnedAs a result of the Ugandan landslides, Lieven and his colleagues now emphasize the importance ofcommunicating the results of their work to all stakeholders. “A participatory component has beenbuilt into my current project from beginning,” he says. “We’ve been talking to the variousstakeholders to try to identify the problems they’re facing, what they’re already doing to cope withongoing climate change and variability, and what they see as potential future adaptation strategies.We’re testing these possible strategies with computer models to see if they might be able toovercome the negative effects of climate change.”Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 18 
  18. 18. Lieven and a colleague at work in the fieldLieven, who is also involved in the Tradeoff Analysis Project, which provides tools to assess thetradeoffs and synergies associated with changes in complex agricultural systems, talksenthusiastically about his early involvement with spatial analysis. “I’ve always been fascinated byagriculture and how it can vary globally in terms of soil, water, climate and landscape,” he says. “Thisfascination began while I was growing up in rural Belgium and eventually led me to study soil sciencein university, pursue my PhD in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and carry out research inthis area. I’ve been working for CIP for six years now and I still use these spatial models and spatialanalysis in my work.”Adapting and sharingAlthough Lieven seems to have slipped effortlessly into his chosen career, he’s the first to admit thatit hasn’t been without its challenges. “Since arriving in Africa more than five years ago,” he says,“I’ve had to learn to work across different cultural backgrounds. Initially, I was also challenged tofind people working in the same area of research. Fortunately, this has improved and I’ve also foundmentors and collaborators in the CGIAR’s Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI).”The future of spatial analysisLieven plans to keep improving his climate change and agricultural system models. “There’s much tobe done to make them more accurate,” he explains. “But I see the importance and the role of spatialanalysis in research and also in targeting developmental research efforts. I also see the demand forspatial analysis growing as more and more spatially explicit data becomes available.”Lieven has already made a significant contribution to the development of climate change adaptationstrategies, and it seems there is much more to come.Photos: Lieven ClaessensYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 19 
  19. 19. Concerned with climate change #2 – Andy JarvisMapping: a lifelong passion Andy Jarvis has always been fascinated by maps. Indeed, his earliest memory is of his mother opening an atlas to show him where his father was staying during one of his many business trips overseas. That initial spark ignited a passion that would eventually take Andy to King’s College London to study geography, and then half way round the globe, with nothing more than a small backpack, to take up a research fellowship at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia. “When a geography professor showed me slides of Colombia’s beautiful forests and ecosystems, I was so inspired that I just hadto see the country for myself,” Andy explains. “So when a job opening at the Center coincided withthe end of my undergraduate studies, I jumped at the opportunity.”More than 11 years after this affable young man departed his native England, his passion for hiswork developing spatial modeling techniques to map biodiversity and climate change garnered him aprestigious international award, saw him rise rapidly to the position of senior scientist at CIAT, andcatapulted him to the forefront of the climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts at theConsultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). While juggling his responsibilitiesas the leader of CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis Program with a staff of about 75, Andy also co-leads the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change and Agriculture Food Security (CCAFS), whichinvolves all 15 CGIAR Centers and is more of a System-wide leadership and management role.A constant juggling actAndy, who has the distinction of being the youngest person to spearhead a CGIAR ResearchProgram, talks openly about getting started with CCAFS. “Although I was interested in working withCCAFS, I didn’t want to give up all my work with CIAT,” he says. “So Andy Challinor, a renownedclimate scientist at the University of Leeds, and I made a successful joint application to co-lead theProgram. I’m used to juggling more than one set of responsibilities at a time. When I first arrived atCIAT, it was to take up a joint position with Bioversity International. During my early years at theCenter, I also obtained my Doctorate on the spatial distribution of plant diversity in forests, whileworking with CIAT focusing on agricultural biodiversity – two fields that are largely unrelated.”CCAFS – short and long term plansAndy’s enthusiasm is palpable when he talks about CCAFS and the five-year plan that aims to get all15 CGIAR Centers talking to each other. “I hope to get the Centers and scientists working on climatechange thinking in terms of the CGIAR as a system and not as individual Centers,” he says. “Once wehave all the Centers working together for a number of years, we should be producing technologiesand more knowledge about how agriculture can stand up to the challenges of climate change. At thesame time, research on the ground should be showing that we have the agricultural knowhow to getthe right solutions to smallholder farmers. Our responsibility as scientists right now is tremendous.”Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 20 
  20. 20. "Zen avocado": Andy showing his playful sideTwo Degrees UpTwo Degrees Up, a CCAFS video series on climate change narrated by Andy, highlights the possibleimpact of rising temperatures on smallholder agriculture in Colombia, Ghana and Kenya. Learn morewith the Two Degrees Up introductory video, followed by Part One, which focuses on Colombia, PartTwo (Ghana) and Part Three (Kenya).Sharing international recognitionAndy’s passion for biodiversity conservation work was recognized when he received the prestigiousEbbe Nielsen Prize for 2009 for ‘combining biosystematics and biodiversity informatics research in anexciting and novel way’. “I have to credit my CIAT team for this award,” he says. “Their hard workmade it possible.” He acknowledges the people who helped him earlier in his career. “One of myprincipal mentors has been Simon Cook, the Program leader before me,” he says. “When I firstjoined CIAT, he would drive me to work every morning, and I’d ask him non-stop questions and learnfrom his experiences. Another CIAT mentor, James Cock, now works for the Decision and PolicyAnalysis Program.”Collaboration and communication: the way forwardAndy believes that the way forward for scientists is in communicating their research. “Climatechange adaptation and mitigation is moving at an incredibly fast pace,” he says. “Scientists workingin this area need to communicate their work better for greater impact. Collaboration is also vital. Noone person has all the knowledge to do what they want to do.”And if there’s one person who knows about the power of collaboration and communication, it’sAndy Jarvis.Photos: Neil Palmer (CIAT)Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 21 
  21. 21. Chapter 7: Carrying on the fight for gender equality #1– Jemimah NjukiGender in rural Africa: women on the brink of change Jemimah Njuki didn’t set out to make gender issues the focus of her life’s work. She came across her passion in life quite by accident. While working as a livestock scientist in her native Kenya, she witnessed firsthand the inequalities that leave many African women marginalized and voiceless. And she knew in an instant what she had to do. “After graduating with a degree in Dairy, Food Science and Technology, I began working for the Kenyan Ministry of Regional Development as a project officer coordinating activities on the ground,” Jemimah says. “Although women did most of the work, men controlled the assets and made all the major decisions;women just didn’t seem to have the capacity to change anything.”The Ministry did begin a participatory program with women as the central focus, but Jemimah didn’thave a clear understanding of how she could really impact them. That’s when she decided to pursuea Master’s degree in Rural Development, specializing in gender and development.Speeding along the gender fast trackWhen Jemimah talks about her work, there is a sense of urgency in her voice. It’s as if she can’t waitto do what needs to be done. While she was at university that same sense of urgency, coupled withher drive and passion, must have shown through in her work, because one year into her Master’sdegree at Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, she was fast-tracked into what became thesecond year of a PhD program, a first at the university.Several years later, in 2003, she joined the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) andworked with smallholder women farmers in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya toimprove food security, increase access to markets and achieve gender equality. She then moved tothe International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2009. “I joined ILRI because Iwanted to come home and also because it’s one of the CGIAR Centers with a critical mass of socialscientists working with development interventions that might have some impact addressing genderissues on the ground,” she says. “I lead the Poverty, Gender and Impact team. My work focusesmainly on empowering women. We’ve taken the ILRI theme of livestock as a pathway out of povertyand applied it to help women farmers. I work with some of ILRI’s projects to ensure that theirstrategies involve and impact women, that project staff have the capacity to address gender issues,and that their impact assessments have specific gender outcomes and targets.”ILRI the gender championJemimah talks enthusiastically about the support she and her team receive from both ILRI’s DirectorGeneral and Deputy Director General (DDG) of Research. “In February 2011, I co-organizedAgriGender 2011, a workshop that brought together researchers, development practitioners, donorsand policymakers working in Africa and Asia to discuss ways of enabling women to participate in andbenefit from agricultural markets, and the DDG of Research was at the forefront,” she says. “Thiskind of commitment is necessary if we are to mainstream gender into agriculture research anddevelopment. Participants exchanged knowledge, ideas and experiences: what worked and whatYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 22 
  22. 22. didn’t. There was also a strong government presence at the workshop, which is needed if we are to scale up our efforts. The Ethiopian Minister for Agriculture attended and said that his government also needed to address gender issues. We still have a long way to go, but it was gratifying to bring all these people together who are behind the same cause. ILRI has projects that are reaching a thousand women, but we need to reach millions. And I think the people in that room actually have the capacity to do that.” Watch Jemimah’s TED talk for more insights into her work.Jemimah Njuki speaking at the AgriGender 2011 workshopFurther down the trackThis dynamic woman also plans to increase the reach of her work. “I’m reaching out to partners andglobal networks carrying out similar work,” she says. “I often link with the International Food PolicyResearch Institute (IFPRI) team carrying out gender research, and with some teams from donororganizations that are either funding or are interested in seeing change in the way research anddevelopment is done. I’m also linking with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, trying to assess theimpact they are having on women with some of their projects. I hope to have a critical mass oforganizations involved in these networks within the next five years. I’d also like to see genderresearch recognized as an area of research in its own right. It’s not just something that you add on toexisting projects, like an afterthought. Even when we mainstream gender, it has to be an integralpart of what we do.”Encouraging the next generation“Working with gender is very fulfilling, especially when you see women who previously wouldn’tspeak up leading their community and doing things like conducting participatory research in theirgardens and marketing their produce in high value markets,” says Jemimah. “I’m also mentoringyoung women scientists interested in working with African women farmers. We have to startbuilding a generation of young people who have that commitment. Currently, there’s so muchmomentum for agriculture development and gender equality and we need to take this opportunityto change things.”Knowing Jemimah she probably wants to seize the opportunity right now.Photos: Jemimah NjukiYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 23 
  23. 23. Carrying on the fight for gender equality #2– Alessandra GaliéEmpowering women to get to where they want to go When Alessandra Galié began working with the Participatory Plant Breeding Program at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a research fellow in 2007, she wasn’t aware that she was embarking on a journey that would leave her forever changed. Through her work, she met many Syrian women who worked the land; wives and mothers who toiled without recognition or a voice. As she talked to them and listened to their stories, she began to question her own perceptions. As she witnessed them slowly becoming empowered, she became more empowered herself.The invisible work forceWhen this native Italian first arrived at the Center’s headquarters in Aleppo, Syria, she was surprisedto find that women played a key role in agriculture. “Although statistics showed that the womendidn’t work in the fields,” she explains, “a subsequent study showed that they were actually workingalongside the men. They just weren’t participating in the Program.“Previously, Program scientists would cross the best varieties of crop seeds based on the needs andpreferences of the male farmers, who would then grow them in their own fields, after which theywould select the varieties they wanted to adopt. No women were involved in the process, so weadopted a pro-active approach that now sees both men and woman deciding together thosevarieties that best meet their needs as a family.”Assessing the social impactThis young social scientist’s work with the Program fed into her PhD studies, and she is nowcompiling the results of a four-year action-oriented social impact assessment, which will form part ofher thesis, Participatory Plant Breeding in Syria: Women, Governance and Rights. “Other than gettingthe woman involved in decision making about seed development, the Program also gave visibility tothem at conferences,” say Alessandra, as she talks about her findings. “As as a result, they becamemore self-confident. One such conference, the International Farmers’ Conference that took place atthe Center in 2008, brought together more than 50 farmers and researchers from nine countries,and was one of six pilot projects of the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research initiative. Ihelped organize the conference because the gender approach to knowledge sharing is important tomy research in terms of appreciating gender-differentiated knowledge in agronomic management,informing women, sharing knowledge with them and understanding their needs.“The women and men farmers helped set the agenda for the event. However, the women feltembarrassed about making a formal speech in official Arabic. So we organized the conferencearound storytelling, a traditional knowledge sharing approach in rural Syria. The stories gave rise toeven more stories, and all the participants felt involved.”Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 24 
  24. 24. Alessandra (third right) with four of the Syrian women farmers and their childrenAssessing the personal impactAs Alessandra conducted exercises with the women to assess changes in their empowerment, shebecame more aware of her own limitations. “The exercises revealed that despite my efforts atchallenging my own understanding of empowerment, I still had some preconceived ideas when Istarted my fieldwork,” she says. “Although I was working to facilitate women’s access toempowering opportunities, I realized that many of them just wanted to be good mothers and wives.Initially, this was not what I had in mind, but I now know that empowerment is not about whereyou’re supposed to go, it’s about having the means to get to wherever you want to go. It’s not forme to determine their goals. Playing the traditional role is not a lesser goal, as long as it’s based onan informed decision. This helped me develop strategies to conduct my personal life and my career.”Supportive mentorsIn 2011, Alessandra received the Storm-van der Chijs award from Wageningen University in TheNetherlands. The award recognizes promising female PhD students while stimulating theirparticipation in science. She credits her supervisors as being key to the success of her research andher work. “Social gender and analysis expert Janice Jiggins, and crop physiology expert Paul Struik,both from the University, guide me, while two Program leaders at ICARDA, Salvatore Ceccarelli andStefania Grando, support my work. It’s important to have someone to guide you through the theory,practice and politics of research. Respected supervisors also make my work more credible.”The importance of finding balanceAlessandra recently completed her research fellowship at ICARDA and is now employed by theCenter as a consultant specializing in social and gender analysis. “I would like to continue carryingout applied research as a social scientist with a specific focus on gender research,” she says. “Atsome point, I would also like to be able to split my work: carry out research, say, in the morning, andwork the land in the afternoon. My family has a small organic farm near my home town of Ascoli incentral Italy, and also a bed and breakfast establishment. Working the land is extremely gratifying.”Looks as if Syria’s women farmers have made quite an impact on Alessandra.Photos: Alessandra GaliéYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 25 
  25. 25. Chapter 8: Behind the scenes: youth in laboratories #1 - Teddy AmugeStrength through adversity When Teddy Amuge was 11 years old her father passed away, leaving behind a widow and 10 young children. Teddy’s mother did what she could to feed and educate her family, mainly by selling vegetables grown on their own land in northern Uganda, but there often wasn’t enough money to make ends meet. Whenever the household’s meagre income couldn’t be stretched to cover school fees, Teddy helped her mother work the land and compensated for her long absences from school by studying especially hard during the few months a year she was able to attend. Such adversity has helped mould Teddy into the determinedyoung woman she is today. Her hard work and self belief earned her several scholarships thateventually enabled her to graduate with a Masters degree in Crop Science from Kampala’s MakerereUniversity.Getting to the root of cassava diseases“I’m a product of a farm,” says Teddy. “Even when my father was alive, we ate the food we grew onour own land. We grew and ate cassava. Cassava provides about 50% of the dietary needs ofUganda’s population, so when the country was badly hit by the Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) in theearly 1990s, the disease became vividly known to me. I knew I had to do something to help find asolution. I joined NaCRRI in 2006 on a Masters fellowship and was part of the team using moleculartools to produce cassava lines resistant to CMD. Towards the end of my studies, we had identifiedsome markers that could be used to create such lines. At the same time, another virus began toattack the cassava, and sadly all our lines succumbed. We had to start looking for plants to begin thebreeding process all over again.”Then in 2010, this dedicated scientist became only one of 180 African woman scientists to have wonan AWARD Fellowship. AWARD is a professional development program that strengthens theresearch and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them tocontribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in Sub-Saharan Africa.Under the AWARD fellowship, Teddy now carries out her PhD research at the International Instituteof Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nairobi, Kenya, where she works on finding a solution to both theCMD and the emerging Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) pandemics.“Unfortunately, many of the farmers can’t recognize this new aggressive disease,” explains Teddy.“It’s only at harvest time that they usually discover that the roots are completely rotten. We’retrying to educate them so they can identify the aerial symptoms of the CBSD, but it’s proving verydifficult to detect. It’s a struggle for the farmers, because cassava is both a food and cash crop andsome crops have been totally wiped out. My project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,seeks to combat CBSD using biotechnology applications.”Youth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 26 
  26. 26. Teddy Amuge at work in the labThe mother of all mentorsThe AWARD Fellowship also provides Teddy with free training on proposal writing and development,scientific writing, and leadership skills, and has assigned a mentor, Dr. Lilian Waiboci-Muhia, a seniorscientist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, to guide her for one year.“Teachers and lecturers aside, my greatest mentor is my mother,” she says. “I’m so proud of her.She always puts her family ahead of everything else.”Influencing policy makersTeddy hopes one day to influence policy makers in her country, so that poor farmers can get thehelp they deserve in a timely manner. “It seems that certain government policies in my country areso held back by bureaucracy that it limits some processes,” she says. “This means that we are losingvaluable time; time that can be used to make a difference in agriculture. In the future, if I could beinvolved in implementing such policies, I would focus on handling crises as quickly as possible andincorporating more rural people in policy networks.”From Uganda to New York and home againDuring the 55th Meeting of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) held at the UNheadquarters in New York in February 2011, Teddy was given an opportunity to speak about cassavaproduction and highlighted the lack of institutional and social support for women farmers in theindustry.“It was a great experience,” she says. “When I got home, I couldn’t wait to tell my mother all aboutit.”Her mother’s response? “She reminded me that they need good cassava, which is exactly what shetells me every day.”Photos: Teddy AmugeYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 27 
  27. 27. Behind the scenes: youth in laboratories #2 - Soroush ParsaFinding a home and a calling In 1978, Soroush Parsa’s parents were forced to flee their native Iran shortly after their son’s birth. With the Shah of Iran struggling to stay in power as the rumblings of revolution grew ever louder, the young Baha’i parents envisaged a life of persecution for their religious beliefs should the ruler fall. So they abandoned their homeland and eventually found refuge in Peru. Today Soroush dreams of visiting Iran someday to find the relatives they left behind and to see some of the places his parents often describe to him. But he has another bigger dream; a dream that came about as a result of the poverty he witnessedin his adopted country. “I want to be of service to others,” says this entomologist. “I want to get to apoint in my work where I can feel I’ve done something meaningful, even if it’s only for a smallnumber of people.”Soroush points out that his education has done more than just help him work towards achieving thatgoal. “Obtaining my PhD in Ecology in 2009 was a big deal for me because my parents weren’t ableto finish their undergrad education,” he says. “But earning a Fulbright fellowship in 2006 was one ofthe most validating things I’ve ever experienced. I cried when I received it. It came 10 years after I’dmoved from Peru to the United States to pursue a career in development and it enabled me returnto Peru to spend a year with poor Andean farmers and learn about their agricultural challenges. Atthe time, I’d only been a naturalized American citizen for a few years, so I finally felt ‘adopted’ by theUSA and began to believe in the so-called American dream.”The accidental entomologistShortly after receiving his doctorate, Soroush took up his present position at the InternationalCenter for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia. As the Center’s chief entomologist, he is in chargeof developing integrated pest management programs for tropical crops and forages.“I almost didn’t become an entomologist,” says Soroush, when asked why he chose his particularcareer path. “Initially, I began studying for a degree in Economics and Finance and InternationalRelations but changed my mind after watching a documentary about a missionary woman whotraveled around the Amazon Basin visiting native communities. Along with a physician whoaccompanied her, she brought in some basic medicine and treatments for these people. This reallymoved me and I gave up my business studies and eventually graduated with a degree in Biology andPre-medicine. Then I realized that if I studied medicine in the USA, it would take about 12 yearsbefore I would be able to help people in the field. So I decided to take a year off.”An ancient cradle of agricultureFor the next year, Soroush focused on volunteer work in the Andes. “During this time, I became veryinterested in the development of Andean agricultural communities,” he says. “It’s fascinating tothink that this is one of the few areas in the world where agriculture emerged independently. WhenI returned to the USA, the McKnight Foundation took me on board to help with an agriculturaldevelopment project in the Central Andes. Then, in 2005, I got an internship with the InternationalYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 28 
  28. 28. Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru, to investigate the influence of certain potato pest outbreaksamong peasant farmers. This work made me realize that I’d finally found my calling and I ended updoing my Masters thesis at the Center.”Soroush at work in the fieldToday, Soroush spends much of his time at CIAT leading a team of 19 people while thinking aboutsystems and technologies that can potentially enable multiple crops to inherently fight peststhemselves. I’m excited because, from the perspective of the farmers, one solution that tacklesmany problems will be cheap, easy to apply and multi-functional.”Crediting mentors“I’m here really because of my mentors,” Soroush claims, “especially Harry Kaya from UC Davis, mymentor when I was studying for my Masters. He supported me, encouraged me and allowed me toexplore. Jay Rosenheim, my Ph.D advisor from the same university, taught me about the humandimension of research: the fundamental importance of collaboration, working in groups andestablishing teams – things I’m trying to incorporate into my work today.”Likewise, Soroush currently has three thesis students on his team. “I think it’s important for studentswho want to pursue a career in entomology to consider the complexity of both the agriculturesystems and the farmers involved,” he offers by way of advice. “We often come up withtechnologies that are effective in the lab but which can’t be adopted by the farmers.”Now that this dynamic young man has finally found his true calling, there’s no telling the impact thathe will have on poor farmers in his region.Photos: Soroush ParsaYouth in Agriculture ‐ July 2011  Page 29