Women play a central role in African agriculture and do a substantial amount of work in food production, yet remain underrepresented in the sector.
For example, statistics show that women only make up 24% of professionals in agriculture research. Rhoda Ademba and Shaila Mtamila from our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning team agree that we can do more to inspire more women into the agriculture research space. They believe that if we align our different experiences and talents, we can drive innovation that boosts smallholder farming efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Here, they share their personal career stories and their aspirations to see more women joining the agriculture research space.
According to a 2017 report by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), only 24% of agriculture researchers are women, with an even smaller number in leadership positions. Does this statistic surprise you?
Rhoda: No, it doesn’t. As a woman researcher, I have witnessed this paucity. We must encourage knowledge sharing through personal career stories, capacity building and mentorship. In addition, I encourage everyone to be intentional about aligning career paths to a purpose. Let us use our knowledge and experiences to positively impact individual lives and communities.
Shaila: It is surprising, but I believe there is room for growth. Access to information is crucial for encouraging women to join agriculture research. I challenge myself and other women to take it upon themselves to share information and knowledge about the importance of having more women in the agriculture research space. Together we can contribute to shaping research agendas, setting priorities, decision-making and development. Our different experiences, talents and abilities can help us to solve problems, innovate and significantly contribute to the agricultural sector and farmers' lives.
Why is it important to you that we have more women in agriculture research?
Shaila: I am privileged and honored to work with farmers very often, and I know that there are more women than men in the farming community in Africa. These women face many challenges that women professionals in agriculture are better placed to understand. Having more women in agriculture research will accelerate the pace of solutions to the issues that farmers face, and which suitably fit the needs of our food supply and rural economy value chains.
The agriculture research team is sort of in the background of our work at One Acre Fund. How do you celebrate your accomplishments away from all the limelight?
Rhoda: Every time my team or I attain our goals is a reason to celebrate. We do celebratory meet-ups and appreciate each other for work well done. Such meetings always end in cake-cutting – is it even a celebration if no cake is involved? (laughs). Because we understand the nature of our work, as background enablers, celebrating amongst ourselves is often all the acknowledgment we need.
Shaila: We do a lot of surveys, and when those point to good findings or demonstrate something beneficial for our clients or the organization, we feel good about that. I celebrate with some personal time or fun activities with my friends and family. Most importantly, I reach out to my team to appreciate their efforts and congratulate them on their accomplishments. At the departmental level, staff often receive performance bonuses, which is one of the best ways we celebrate our accomplishments!
What is your proudest moment at One Acre Fund – and why?
Shaila: My team was affected by the restructuring in 2020. It was an exceptionally tough time for me losing exceptional teammates for reasons beyond anybody’s control. Despite that disheartening context, I am also glad that I remained calm and collected and led my team through that difficult time. When going through a tough time I always reach out for help, so I reached out to someone outside my team to help me go through that experience. In the end, we retained our cohesion and delivered strongly during a difficult period.
Rhoda: I am proud to have been part of One Acre Fund for seven exceptional years and to have put in the work to rise through the ranks from a data entry clerk to a supervisory role.
What women do you admire most in a professional/personal capacity?/Who are your favorite women superheroes?
Shaila: I admire Jane Goodall for her exceptional resilience in restoring a healthy habitat through community-centered conservation in Tanzania.
Rhoda: I appreciate Jennifer Lindgren, One Acre Fund-Tanzania country director. With all the pressure of leading the country’s activities and dealing with numerous people and departments, she remains respectful, and calm and takes up her role very well.
If we made a movie about your life, what genre would it be?
Shaila: A comedy-drama series. I’m the sort of person who will spend time with my friends doing something crazy, and fun and just enjoying life.
Rhoda: A musical. I enjoy music, so expect a lot of singing and dancing.
What do you do with your free time?
Shaila: I love cooking – and eating! You will often find me in the kitchen busy with my pots and pans and with my friends around laughing our hearts out.
Rhoda: I enjoy cooking and indulging in good food. My favorite meal is pilau with some chili.
What advice do you have for women looking to get into agriculture research?
Shaila: Trust in your abilities and believe in yourself. You are unique and have so much to offer to the world if you give yourself a chance. Show up to the world every day as yourself. Strive to increase your knowledge every day, and then put what you’ve learned to practice.Rhoda: Put your best foot forward every time. Align your efforts to your goals. Be self-aware. Know your strengths and play to them. Understand your weaknesses and work to improve them. Dream big, reach for your dreams with everything you have got and uplift others while at it – the view from on top is always better with your team.