Aspiring researchers who attended ICRISAT’s capacity building programs in gender and youth research in East and Southern Africa say their learnings from the programs involving extensive field work have given them a strong orientation in these areas vis-à-vis agriculture research for development.
The value of research, technological change and innovation in agriculture for transforming economies is well-known. It also goes without saying that the success and impact of agricultural research and development depends in large measure on the quality and quantity of human resource capacity. Through a Postdoc Fellowship and Gender Internship Programs in Gender and Research, ICRISAT has created a niche in capacity building by hosting Masters, PhD and Postdoctoral students for thesis and research. We profile three aspiring researchers (one PhD graduate and two Masters’ interns) to learn about their experiences and learnings from the programs.
Dr Katindi Sivi, Strategic Leadership and Strategic Foresight (PhD) graduate from Regent University, Virginia Campus, USA
Dr Katindi specializes in research, policy analysis and futures strategies. Most of her work has been around youth demographics and un/employment. During her doctoral study, she researched systemic challenges of youth unemployment in Africa and found that future youth employment lies in, among other sectors, dryland agriculture. “The opportunity to do field research in Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia enriched my research. On the other hand, ICRISAT was looking for a youth researcher to support empirical data collection for designing a youth strategy for drylands agriculture in the Semi-Arid Tropics. Our objectives aligned, hence the opportunity to work together,” explains Dr Katindi.
Despite the study being intense, Dr Katindi is grateful for the interactions and discussions she had in the study countries because they helped refine her PhD research questions, which further clarified the research direction she was going to take. “The technical and financial support to conduct field research helped me cover much more ground than I could have done independently,” she adds.
From the youth study results with the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, a Seed Revolving Fund (SRF) was designed in December 2019 in partnership with The Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) Project to engage youth in accelerated seed delivery in Tanzania. Dr Katindi anticipates that some of the ideas pertaining to holistic development of youth, addressing social-cultural barriers, rural infrastructure development as well as addressing political barriers such as discriminatory policies, laws and by-laws will be tested, and the theory of change improved upon through the SRF.
She also hopes that the completion of the CGIAR Research Program-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) youth strategy and its eventual implementation would lead to an increased interest among youth in global Semi-Arid Tropics and help improve their livelihoods.
Rachel Gitundu, candidate in Master of Arts, Anthropology, The University of Nairobi, Kenya Since joining ICRISAT, Ms Gitundu’s internship journey has been empowering as she was able to experience fieldwork, from project planning, data collection, data cleaning and analysis to report writing. This was through community engagements and participation in workshops and conferences.
She narrates, “I have had a lot of growth through activities such as write shops and development of research papers from field data, which has helped me participate in a number of international conferences. Further, I have had the opportunity to travel and collaborate with people from different backgrounds and countries. These gave me the pleasure to experience life and see it through the eyes of our study participants in different countries. For an anthropologist, this is nothing short of a dream come true.”
Ms Gitundu’s take-home message from the internship is, gender equity is prerequisite to development because there is a need to ensure that both men and women are provided with necessary resources to enable them to uniquely perform their roles to the best of their capabilities. “Empowering women so that they can achieve their potential, and therefore realize meaningful milestones as a people is critical. After all, we cannot have half the population disadvantaged and expect to reach our optimum in development,” she concludes.
Phillip Miriti, Master of Science student in Agricultural and Applied Economics at The University of Nairobi, Kenya
Mr Miriti is thankful to ICRISAT for an excellent opportunity to advance his skills in research, develop a high quality thesis and author two scientific papers which are currently under review, network with scientists and work in a multicultural setting with people from diverse countries.
In his study, Mr Miriti, who has keen interest in gender responsive agricultural research and development, explored productivity, technical efficiency and technology gap ratios among male, female and jointly-managed sorghum plots in Uganda.
“I’m grateful for the mentorship from Dr Esther Njuguna, our program lead. Her mentorship has helped nurture and shape my dreams and aspirations. The internship not only gave me an opportunity to interact with smallholder farmers especially women in the field, but also showed me the challenges women face in accessing productive resources, social norms and cultural barriers that limit economic empowerment. Through this experience, I have documented various challenges and demand driven interventions that can be implemented to build capacity of smallholder women farmers to help them realize higher margins in agricultural productivity,” explains Mr Miriti. He adds that through the internship, he has gained skills, especially in gender-specific approaches, to use when reaching farmers in different communities.
According to Dr Esther Njuguna-Mungai, Senior Scientist, Gender Research at ICRISAT-East and Southern Africa, the first studentships fellowship was through a Postdoc Fellowship Program that was facilitated by the CGIAR Gender Network, funded through the CGIAR Systems Office. “We identified two key research topic areas – one on Gender and Breeding (a position that was based in ICRISAT-Mali) and the other one on Gender Gaps in Legumes and Cereals production (based in ICRISAT-Kenya),” explains Dr Njuguna-Mungai. When the second phase of the CRP–GLDC was developed, the gender internship program was designed. Excited by the progress made in this program, the team also designed a PhD funding program from the operational funds received for implementing an explorative youth study.
The two capacity building programs not only allow scientists to convert some well-articulated activities to studentships to help candidates work towards skills enhancement and thesis, but also offer an opportunity for young scholars to immerse in a development/research program to learn and grow their skills and capacity as researchers. The program also offers operational funds to students struggling to access fieldwork resources and aids in collecting field without resource limitations.
In a small but significant way, the capacity building fills the pipeline of future researchers that are gender responsive and builds personal capacity while empowering young scientists who leave the program with confidence and with a clear vision of what they want to become. Through this program, Dr Njuguna-Mungai narrates, she had the privilege of hosting researchers of great potential especially, Dr Edward Bikketi, Dr Katindi Sivi Njonjo, Ms Rachel Gitundu, Mr Isaiah Okuku and Mr Philip Miriti. Through these engagements, the program was able to have the first gender-disaggregated datasets and some of the students have contributed to peer reviewed papers and global policy documents.
Youth engagement, gender and social inclusion are cornerstones of ICRISAT’s policies. The capacity building program has been supported to grow and contribute to the institution’s broad agenda. As she wraps up, Dr Njuguna-Mungai is happy that the team has lived up to what they preach: gender equality is not about being equal to women alone, but also engaging men as champions for gender integration by shortlisting men and women in the program. “We also wanted to balance disciplines that are considered social sciences – to include economics and sociology/anthropology. I also designed joint assignments for the team, so they learn from each other, see issues from various perspectives and I think they appreciate each other’s discipline more. I think they will make great team players in multi-disciplinary groups after this.”
Grace Waithira, Communication Assistant, ICRISAT