RSIF: An initiative on the rise

In May 2021, the Government of Mozambique signed an agreement with icipe, for the investment of USD 6 million in the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF). icipe is the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) of RSIF, the flagship programme of the Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), an initiative established in 2013 by African governments and partners. Mozambique becomes the eighth country to invest in RSIF, joining the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal, in addition to the World Bank, Government of Korea and the European Union.

In the interview below, Moses Osiru, Manager, RCU-RSIF, discusses the Fund’s tremendous growth over the past two years including rising investments, soaring demand for opportunities from prospective scholars and grantees, surging interest in partnerships, rapid increase inRSIF scholars and body of world class knowledge being generated, as well as progress in promoting gender representation in RSIF.

Q. RSIF is built on the vision of becoming a sustainable pan-African science fund. What is the progress in this regard?

A. Over the past two years, RSIF has gained incredible momentum with rapid evidence of the Fund as an outstanding platform for socio-economic transformation in Africa for example by embracing the fourth industrial revolution. Indeed, many stakeholders are appreciating RSIF as an effective channel for resources to achieve continental visions and agendas, as well as acceleration of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The most significant outcome of this appreciation is growing support by African governments. As of May 2021, the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal had committed investments in RSIF. In addition, the Government of Korea, the World Bank, and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), through the European Union, are supporting RSIF. Private sector partners including Nestlé, South Africa, and the Samsung Dream Scholarship Foundation, who are also financing various aspects like research activities linked to optimising industrial applications and language support for students on sandwich placements in Korea. Several other private sector partners are supporting collaborative research activities to co-create knowledge related to their for-profit activities. Meanwhile,we are in the process of establishing a professionally and independently managed Permanent Fund that will ensure sustainability of RSIF and its goals of capacity building for science training, research and innovation in Africa. We have also commenced discussions with a range of potential endowers including individuals and family foundations, corporate-sponsored foundations, corporate donors, charity programmes and independent foundations.

Q. How appealing is the RSIF model to the academic and innovation communities in Africa and beyond?

A. RSIF has a unique approach that combines intra-Africa exchange, and international training. The Fund incorporates a network of 11 African Host Universities (AHUs), which are competitively and rigorously selected universities that offer a PhD programme in any one of RSIF’s thematic areas. RSIF is also building a network of international partner institutions (IPIs), globally recognised universities, research institutes, public and private companies. The RSIF hybrid model takes scholars from their home countries to an AHU where they are initiated into research working directly on challenges facing the continent. The scholars then proceed to an IPI for sandwich placements where they have access to state-of-the-art research and training facilities, advance their scientific skills, broaden international networks, and strengthen industry linkages, among other outcomes.

The best evidence for the appreciation of RSIF design is the soaring demand from prospective scholars and grantees. Currently about 8,200 individuals are registered on the RSIF database. In the third call for scholarships in 2021, we received a total of 2577 applications. Also, there is significant demand from top international institutions to be part of the network evidenced by numerous requests received by RCU-RSIF.

Q. How is RSIF demonstrating return on investment?

A. Primarily, this is evidenced by the rapid pace with which the number of RSIF scholars is increasing. In May 2021, following the third call, RSIF awarded 103 scholarships, bringing the total number of scholarships awarded so far to 184. Of these, 117 have gone to countries investing in PASET and RSIF, while the rest have been allocated to other African countries, with geographical diversity across sub-Saharan Africa. Investing countries also benefit from the competitively awarded grants to strengthen research and innovation ecosystems and outputs in public higher education institutions. Yet another indicator is the growing body of world class knowledge generated by RSIF scholars and its potential translation into solutions and innovations for social economic transformation. As of May 2021, RSIF scholars had authored 39 peer reviewed journal articles. We have created a repository for this growing knowledge base:

Q. RSIF has set itself an ambitious goal by reserving at least 40 percent of its support for women? Why is this important, and what is the progress?

A. The issue of gender is very central to RSIF. Women constitute 30 percent of researchers in science fields in SSA, about the same as the global average of 28 percent. Still, this means that only a fraction of women’s potential contribution to science and technology is currently being harnessed. Therefore, enabling more women to enter and thrive in the field will substantially contribute to the overall ambition of increasing the continent’s scientific capacity, and to achieving inclusive and holistic development. Currently, 39 percent (a total of 71 scholars) of the 184 RSIF scholars are women. This is good progress, but we keep aiming higher. Also, RSIF appreciates that achieving gender equity requires a holistic approach that brings together numerous actors, including men. Indeed, we have recently published a study titled ‘Making it to the PhD: Gender and Student Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa’, which illuminates obstacles and opportunities in higher learning. These findings will inform the RSIF gender strategy while also supporting efforts of likeminded stakeholders, and opening avenues for collaboration.

A good example is a recent partnership between RSIF, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and Africa Renewal, the United Nations information programme dedicated to the continent’s economic issues. This collaboration was in honour of International Women’s Day (March 2021), and it was located within the wider view of the UN Decade of Action, launched in 2020 by the UN Secretary General to accelerate achievement of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The outputs were profiles of three RSIF female scholars published by the two UN partners and promoted through successful social media campaigns. The personal narratives of the selected scholars demonstrated how RSIF is unlocking and nurturing women’s scientific potential, and the impact on critical developmental challenges. These insights should inspire the continent and the world to do more to harness the mighty resource of women scientists, including by supporting RSIF.

This article has been prepared by the icipe Communication Unit for the icipe e-bulletin.

 

 

 

 

Face à l’explosion de la demande continentale, les gouvernements africains tiennent leurs promesses en matière de formation avancée en sciences appliquées et en technologie

Un total de sept gouvernements africains ont rejoint le Fonds régional pour les bourses d’études et l’innovation (RSIF), l’initiative naissante du continent pour soutenir la formation avancée en sciences appliquées, ingénierie et technologie. Le RSIF offre des bourses de doctorat complètes et des subventions pour la recherche et l’innovation, afin de renforcer les capacités techniques et scientifiques pour l’avancement et l’utilisation de technologies transformatrices afin de relever les défis les plus urgents auxquels fait face l’Afrique. Au moins 40 % du soutien du RSIF est consacré aux femmes.

Lancé en 2017 en tant qu’initiative phare du Partenariat pour les compétences en sciences appliquées, ingénierie et technologie (PASET), le RSIF est soutenu par les gouvernements africains qui versent chacun une contribution minimale de 2 millions de dollars US au programme. Le financement devrait atteindre au moins 65 millions de dollars US d’ici 2024.

En février 2021, le gouvernement du Bénin a signé un accord avec le Centre international de physiologie et d’écologie des insectes (icipe), l’unité de coordination régionale du RSIF, rejoignant ainsi le Burkina Faso, la Côte d’Ivoire, le Ghana, le Kenya, le Rwanda et le Sénégal. D’autres investissements ont été fournis par la Banque mondiale, le gouvernement de la Corée du Sud et l’Union européenne.

« Nous estimons que les objectifs du RSIF/PASET sont alignés avec nos stratégies de renforcement des capacités scientifiques, techniques et d’innovation dans les domaines prioritaires tels que l’agriculture, l’environnement, l’énergie, le numérique, les infrastructures et la santé. Par ailleurs, le partenariat intra-africain et celui avec les autres continents tels que prévus dans ce programme est essentiel pour le développement socioéconomique au Bénin et en Afrique Subsaharienne » déclare le Professeur Eléonore YAYI LADEKAN, Ministre de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique de la République du Bénin

Depuis sa création, il y a eu un intérêt immense et croissant de la part des chercheurs et lauréats potentiels, dont plus de 6 500 se sont inscrits dans sa base de données. Ayant entamé ses activités en 2018 grâce aux 15 bourses de doctorat offertes par les gouvernements du Kenya et du Rwanda, aux 67 bourses en 2020 financées par le Burkina Faso, la Côte d’Ivoire, le Ghana et le Sénégal, et à une projection de 120 bourses en 2021, le RSIF devrait octroyer plus de 300 bourses de doctorat à l’horizon 2022.

« Le grand intérêt des communautés scientifiques africaines à faire avancer leurs connaissances et leurs compétences fait ressortir la nécessité pour les gouvernements africains d’investir davantage dans les talents locaux afin de renforcer les capacités en matière de science et d’innovation. Nous croyons que le Bénin et les six autres pays qui ont jusqu’à présent contribué, serviront d’inspiration permettant à de nombreux autres gouvernements de rejoindre cette importante initiative », a déclaré le Dr Segenet Kelemu, Directrice générale et PDG, icipe.

Le Fonds contribue directement à la mise en œuvre de la Stratégie de l’Union africaine (UA) pour la science, la technologie et l’innovation (STISA) 2024, de la Stratégie continentale pour l’éducation en Afrique (CESA) et des Objectifs de développement durable (ODD) à l’échelle mondiale.

« Le RSIF est le premier fonds scientifique panafricain détenu et géré par des Africains, qui promeut un modèle d’étude intra-africain de haute qualité pour la formation doctorale. Le fonds de dotation du RSIF en cours de création permettra de mettre en place une plateforme africaine durable pour renforcer la production de connaissances et l’innovation au niveau local en vue d’accélérer la croissance économique. De solides partenariats avec les pays du Nord rendent cela possible, » a déclaré le professeur Aminata Sall Diallo, Directrice exécutive du PASET.

 

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NOTE AUX RÉDACTEURS

Le Centre international de physiologie et d’écologie des insectes (www.icipe.org), dont le siège est à Nairobi, au Kenya, est la seule institution de recherche en Afrique qui travaille principalement sur les insectes et autres arthropodes. La mission d’icipe consiste à veiller à l’amélioration de la sécurité alimentaire, de la santé et des moyens de subsistance en Afrique, en produisant des connaissances de premier ordre, puis en mettant au point des solutions écologiques, accessibles, abordables et faciles à utiliser au niveau des communautés. Ces objectifs sont atteints par le biais de quatre domaines thématiques – santé humaine, santé animale, santé végétale et santé environnementale – qui constituent un cadre unique permettant de s’attaquer de manière globale aux problèmes interdépendants que sont la pauvreté, la mauvaise santé, la faible productivité agricole et la dégradation de l’environnement.

En juillet 2018, la Banque mondiale et le PASET ont retenu icipe, à l’issue d’un processus compétitif, comme Unité de coordination régionale (UCR) du RSIF. Son mandat comprend la coordination globale, la planification, la gestion et le suivi et l’évaluation des activités du RSIF. Plus précisément, icipe assure la coordination du renforcement des capacités de certaines universités africaines et institutions partenaires en matière de formation doctorale, de recherche et d’innovation dans les secteurs prioritaires du PASET. En outre, icipe facilite la création de partenariats avec les gouvernements, les universités et les organismes de recherche nationaux et internationaux, par exemple par le biais de la formation en alternance et de la collaboration avec des centres d’excellence en recherche. Enfin, icipe présente le PASET aux gouvernements africains et à d’autres partenaires stratégiques potentiels, dans le but de développer le RSIF et d’assurer une portée et un soutien continus à l’échelle du continent.

Les gouvernements du Sénégal, de l’Éthiopie et du Rwanda, avec la facilitation de la Banque mondiale, ont lancé le Partenariat pour les compétences en sciences appliquées, ingénierie et technologie (PASET)  en 2013. Il vise à combler les lacunes systémiques en matière de compétences et de connaissances dans les domaines prioritaires du PASET en Afrique subsaharienne, et à renforcer les capacités des établissements d’enseignement et de formation africains à former des techniciens, des ingénieurs et des scientifiques de grande qualité pour répondre aux exigences de l’économie. Depuis 2013, plus de 20 pays africains, ainsi que des représentants du Brésil, de la Chine, de l’Inde, de Singapour et de la Corée du Sud ont participé aux différentes activités du PASET. Le PASET est actuellement dirigé par les ministères de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur du Bénin, du Burkina Faso, de l’Éthiopie, du Ghana, du Kenya, du Rwanda, du Sénégal et de la Tanzanie, ainsi que par la Corée du Sud et la Banque mondiale. Les organes de gouvernance du PASET, à savoir le Conseil d’administration (CA) du PASET et son Conseil exécutif (CE), se chargent de l’orientation stratégique de l’Unité de coordination régionale (UCR) en ce qui concerne la mise en œuvre du projet RSIF. Le CA est responsable de l’orientation stratégique globale et de la vision du RSIF, tandis que le Conseil exécutif interagit plus régulièrement avec l’UCR, en surveillant l’avancement régulier des activités et en fournissant une orientation générale. Le groupe consultatif du PASET donne des conseils au Conseil d’administration et au Conseil exécutif sur les priorités régionales, les objectifs et les aspects techniques du RSIF.

Le Fonds régional pour les bourses d’études et l’innovation (RSIF) est le programme phare du PASET, une initiative des gouvernements africains visant à combler les lacunes systémiques en matière de compétences et de connaissances nécessaires à une croissance économique durable et à long terme en Afrique subsaharienne (ASS). Le RSIF vise à soutenir la formation doctorale, la recherche et l’innovation dans les universités africaines sélectionnées comme centres d’excellence dans des domaines identifiés par le PASET comme des secteurs économiques prioritaires pour la croissance et le développement : TIC, y compris big data et intelligence artificielle ; sécurité alimentaire et agro-entreprises ; minéraux, mines et ingénierie des matériaux ; énergie, y compris celles renouvelables ; et changement climatique. Régime de subventions concurrentielles, le RSIF comporte deux composantes : (i) le fonds général, qui soutient chaque année des projets de formation doctorale, de recherche et d’innovation et (ii) le fonds permanent ou de dotation, dont les recettes sont versées au fonds général. Les étudiants des pays de l’Afrique subsaharienne, principalement les professeurs des universités de l’Afrique subsaharienne qui n’ont pas de doctorat, peuvent bénéficier des bourses de la RSIF.  Le RSIF renforce la capacité de la région à soutenir durablement ces scientifiques titulaires d’un doctorat au-delà de leur formation, lorsqu’ils se lancent dans le monde universitaire, l’industrie ou deviennent entrepreneurs. Le RSIF fonctionne par le biais de trois fenêtres : la première offre des bourses aux doctorants et renforce les capacités des universités hôtes africaines du RSIF ; la deuxième accorde des subventions de recherche ; et la troisième octroie des subventions en matière d’innovation. Le RSIF se concentre sur les technologies transformatrices qui ont un impact positif considérable sur la société.

African governments make good their pledges for advanced training in applied sciences and technology, as continental demand soars

A total of seven African governments have joined the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), the continent’s nascent initiative for bolstering advanced training in the applied sciences, engineering and technology.  RSIF provides full doctoral scholarships and grants for research and innovation, to boost technical and scientific capacity for the advancement and use of transformative technologies to tackle Africa’s most pressing challenges. At least 40 percent of RSIF’s support is reserved for women.

Launched in 2017 as the flagship initiative of the Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), RSIF is supported by African governments that make a minimum contribution of USD 2 million each towards the programme. Funding is expected to grow to at least USD 65 million by 2024.

In February 2021, the Government of Benin signed an agreement with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), the Regional Coordination Unit of RSIF, joining Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal.  Further investments have been provided by the World Bank, the Government of South Korea and the European Union.

We believe that the objectives of RSIF / PASET are aligned with our strategies for building scientific, technical and innovation capacities in priority areas such as agriculture, environment, energy, digital, infrastructure and health. In addition, the intra-African partnership and that with the other continents as provided for in this program is essential for socio-economic development in Benin and in Sub-Saharan Africa“, declared Professor Eléonore YAYI LADEKAN, Minister of Higher Education and of Scientific Research of the Republic of Benin.

Since the establishment of RSIF, there has been immense and growing interest from prospective scholars and grantees, with more than 6,500 registering to its database. Having started off with 15 PhD scholarships in 2018 with contributions from the Governments of Kenya and Rwanda; 67 scholarships in 2020 with contributions from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal; and a projected 120 scholarships in 2021, RSIF is set to top 300 doctoral scholarships by 2022.

The great interest by African scientific communities in advancing their knowledge and skills highlights the need for greater investment by African governments in local talent to boost science and innovation capabilities. We believe that Benin and the other six countries that have so far contributed, serve as an inspiration for many more governments to join this important initiative,” said Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Director General and CEO, icipe.

The Fund directly contributes to the implementation of the African Union (AU) Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy (STISA) 2024, the Continental Strategy for Education in Africa (CESA) and the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

RSIF is Africa’s first African-owned and managed Pan-African science fund that promotes a high-quality intra-Africa model of study for PhD training. The RSIF endowment under establishment will ensure a sustainable African platform for strengthening locally grounded knowledge production and innovation for accelerated economic growth. Strong partnerships with the global north are making this possible,” said Prof. Aminata Sall Diallo, Executive Director of the PASET Executive Board.

 

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Notes for Editors

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (www.icipe.org), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, is the only research institution in Africa working primarily on insects and other arthropods. icipe’s mission is to ensure better food security, health and livelihoods in Africa, by producing world-class knowledge and then developing solutions that are environmentally friendly, accessible, affordable and easy-to-use by communities. These objectives are delivered through four thematic areas – human health, animal health, plant health and environmental health, resulting in a unique framework to tackle the interlinked problems of poverty, poor health, low agricultural productivity and environmental degradation in a comprehensive manner

In July 2018, icipe was competitively selected and appointed by the World Bank and PASET as the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) of RSIF. Its mandate includes overall coordination, planning, management and monitoring and evaluation of RSIF activities. Specifically, icipe is coordinating capacity strengthening of selected African universities and partnering institutions in PhD training, research, and innovation in PASET priority sectors. In addition, icipe facilitates the creation of partnerships with governments, universities, and national and international research organizations, for example, through sandwich training and collaboration with centres of research excellence. Furthermore, icipe introduces African governments and other potential strategic partners to PASET, with the aim of growing RSIF and ensuring continued continent-wide reach and support.

The Partnership for skills in Applied Science, Engineering and Technology (PASET) was launched in 2013 by the governments of Senegal, Ethiopia and Rwanda with facilitation by the World Bank. It aims to address systemic gaps in skills and knowledge in sub-Saharan Africa’s priority ASET fields, and to build the capacity of African education and training institutions to train high-quality technicians, engineers and scientists to meet the demands of the economy. Since 2013, more than 20 African countries, as well as representatives of Brazil, China, India, Singapore and Korea have participated in PASET’s various activities. PASET is currently led by the education and higher education ministries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania, along with Korea and the World Bank. The PASET governance bodies, comprising the PASET Governing Council (GC) and the PASET Executive Board (EB) provide strategic direction for implementation of the RSIF project by the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU). The GC is responsible for the overall strategic direction and vision of the RSIF, while the EB interacts with the RCU more regularly, monitoring the regular progress of activities and providing overall guidance. The PASET Consultative Advisory Group provides guidance to the GC and EB on regional priorities, goals and technical aspects of the RSIF.

The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) is the flagship program of PASET, an initiative by African governments to address systemic gaps in skills and knowledge necessary for long-term, sustained economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  RSIF aims to support PhD training, research and innovation in African universities that are selected as centres of excellence in fields identified by PASET as priority economic sectors for growth and development: ICTs including big data and artificial intelligence; food security and agribusiness; minerals, mining and materials engineering; energy including renewables; and climate change.  A competitive grants scheme, RSIF has two components: (i) the general fund, which supports PhD training, research and innovation projects annually and (ii) the permanent or endowment fund, with proceeds going to the general fund. Students from SSA countries, primarily faculty of SSA universities lacking PhD degrees, are eligible for RSIF scholarships.  RSIF builds capacity in the region to sustainably support those PhD scientists beyond their training as they go into academia, industry, or become entrepreneurs. The RSIF operates through three windows: Window 1 offers scholarships for PhD students and capacity building for RSIF African Host universities; Window 2 offers research grants and Window 3 offers innovation grants. RSIF focuses on transformative technologies that have a far-reaching positive impact on society.

 

IWD 2021 – Future Women Leaders. Spaces, Time and Temperature

Susan Ojochide (Nigeria), talks about her research that will contribute to tackling one of Africa’s worst enemies: Drought.

Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Kwara State, western Nigeria, and I grew up in Kano State, northern Nigeria.

What inspired you into science in general, and the specific discipline?

I was fascinated by nature and the environment from an early age. As such, I always knew that I wanted to study science. The major turning point in my scientific path came during my undergraduate studies in Kogi State University, Anyigba town, Central Nigeria. I noticed that the town’s periphery was always cooler than the core within which the University is situated. This scenario sparked my curiosity and desire to understand variations in temperature in different spaces. Therefore, as part of my BSc studies in Geography and Planning, I conducted an analysis of the University as an urban heat island. I proceeded for an MSc at the Federal University of Technology Minna, Niger State, to study spatio-temporal variation of temperature in Kano State.

What is the focus of your PhD research?

I commenced my PhD studies in 2020, supported by the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF). I am registered in Bayero University Kano, Nigeria, an RSIF Host University. My research employs earth observation datasets and climate models to investigate drought as the result of spatio-temporal variations.

My area of focus is northern Nigeria, a semi-arid region that is part of the Sahel. While this region is the major producer of cereals and grains in Nigeria, it is prone to constant drought, with significant implications for food security. I aim to develop a model integrating ground station meteorological data, earth observation data and climate models.

I will undertake part of my studies through two-year sandwich program at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), Greenwich University, United Kingdom, to analyse the climate models using high computational systems, and compute my results.

How does your research contribute to the sustainable development goals?

This research contributes particularly to SDG 2: Zero Hunger. Drought is one of the major causes of food insecurity in Nigeria. My findings will boost existing knowledge on this phenomenon, and also contribute to the development of early warning systems to predict possible drought episodes.

The results will be useful to agro-meteorologists, farmers, decisionmakers and indeed, many stakeholders in agricultural production. Beyond the study area, the knowledge could also be applicable to other semi-arid regions across the content.

Who have been your key mentors?

First, is Prof. Salihu Danlami Musa, my supervisor during my undergraduate studies, and an environmental enthusiast who brought a captivating way of learning, through practical examples and analysis that are applicable in real life. Second, Dr Michael Thiel, who co-supervised my postgraduate studies, whose research focus is on climate change, land use and land cover, application of remote sensing for climate change studies in Africa. He has been very crucial in my growth, mentoring me in all research pursuits and encouraging me along the journey.

 

Interview published in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA): International Women’s Day 2021: Future Women Leaders – Young African women scientists reflect on their research journey.

It also appeared in the April 2021 edition of Africa Renewal: Tackling one of Africa’s greatest enemies – Drought

IWD 2021 – Future Women Leaders. Agriculture 4.0

Fatoumata THIAM (Senegal), talks about her groundbreaking research on Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence in agriculture, with broader implications for Africa’s ambitions to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)

Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. I grew up between the city and my home village, Diofior, about 150 kilometers away.

What inspired you into science, and the specific discipline?

I interacted with science from a very early age because my father is a computer scientist. When I was young, he would take me to his office where he allowed me to mess around – draw, write, print and play – on the computers. He also had access to the latest technology gadgets, which were at my disposal, as long as I wasn’t destroying them, of course! As a result, I choose to study computer science at university.

My mathematics teacher in secondary school influenced my interest in mathematics and sciences because he taught us with patience and passion.

How did your early path in science progress?

I obtained a BSc in computer engineering in 2013 at Université de Thiés, Senegal. I then proceeded to the University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal, for an MSc in Distributed Information Systems, which I obtained in 2015. I worked on a distributed architecture of Voice over IP (VoIP), which are networks that do not rely heavily on centralised server nodes to facilitate communication. For my MSc thesis, I worked on real-time storage techniques for Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN).

I consider my greatest achievement to be a two-year tenure as an engineer of telecommunications networks and services in the Department of Information Services, at Thies University, Senegal. Our mission was to set up a distributed authentication system for the University. It was a very challenging project that we managed brilliantly.

What is the focus of your PhD research?

In 2018, I commenced PhD studies, through the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), registered at the University Gaston Berger, Senegal. My research focus is on the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI), as applied to agriculture and farming.

I am assessing energy efficiency within irrigation networks, and clean energy within solar-powered systems. The aim is to develop an automated irrigation system that will compute the right amount of water for overall crop growth, ensuring that only the required amounts of water are supplied to the plants. The goal is to propose a solution that will optimise and automate the irrigation paradigm in The Niayes.

A geographical area in northwestern Senegal, The Niayes has an exceptionally favourable climate for farming, and represents a natural base of agricultural production in Senegal. However, the region is confronted with difficulties related to increasing salt intrusion, destruction of the strip of casuarina trees, caused by speculation and irregular sale of land. So far, I have been able to establish a mathematical model of reliability and accessibility based on energy efficiency. I also have an IoT testbed, and several projects are being built from it for novel publications, in the context of our research focus.

How does your research contribute to the sustainable development goals?

My research has a cross cutting impact on several SDGs.  The need to regulate and optimise water resources, as well as the move to more sustainable farming systems is a shared concern in many developing countries, and across the globe. This research will contribute much needed knowledge towards this goal.

What are the broader implications of your research?

The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the importance of IoT beyond the traditional focus of industrial applications. More human-centric applications of IoT have emerged, for example in making visible the web of human connections as a critical part of the track and trace strategy to monitor and contain the spread of the pandemic. Although our research focuses on agriculture, we are also assessing IoT in a more generic format, with extensive potential for broad transfer of the applications that we will develop.

Overall, this study provides strong evidence of the transformative potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Africa, and the need for the continent to invest strongly in the necessary infrastructure, capacity and policies.

 

Interview published in partnership with United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA): International Women’s Day 2021: Future Women Leaders – Young African women scientists reflect on their research journey.

It also appeared in the April 2021 edition of Africa Renewal: Using Artificial Intelligence to transform agriculture in Africa.

IWD 2021 – Future Women Leaders. Crops for Health

Sylvia Wairimu Maina (Kenya), talks about her PhD research on the nutritional and health benefits of the African cabbage.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in rural Kenya. I attended boarding school, thus learning to be responsible and independent at an early age.

What inspired you into science and into your specific area of research?

My passion is in biotechnology and health, largely inspired by memories of my grandfather who used to extract plant-based therapies to treat sheep suspected of having sustained snake bites.

Where did you obtain your earlier degrees?

I hold a BSc in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2011), and an MSc in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics (2014), both from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya.

Who is your key influence?

I am inspired by Dr Florence Wambugu, a Kenyan scientist renowned for her research and development initiatives on tissue culture banana as a way of enhancing food security in Africa.

What is your research focus?

My research aims to synthesize compounds in the African cabbage (known scientifically as Cleome gynandra), that have value for human and animal health).

Although widely used as a vegetable and a medicinal plant, C. gynandra is one of African orphan crops; neglected or overlooked plants that are often more nutritious and better suited to local agricultural systems than exotic varieties.

My studies are supported by the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund. I am registered in Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania, and I am currently on a sandwich programme at Korea Institute of Science And Technology, Seoul, South Korea.

What progress have you made so far?

I have conducted and published a systematic review that updates knowledge on glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables like the African cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale.

These compounds play an important role in human and animal health (disease therapy and prevention), plant health (defense chemicals, biofumigants and biocides), and food industries (preservatives).

The study also presents factors that affect the natural occurrence and biological availability of the compounds, supporting increased harnessing of their therapeutic values.

What is the contribution of your research to the sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

Broadly speaking, my research is aligned to the SDG 2: End hunger. Central to this goal is the understanding that a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish the more than 690 million people who are currently hungry.

Because of their high nutritious value, African orphan crops are a vital way of addressing malnutrition, especially hidden hunger, in Africa. My research will contribute much needed scientific knowledge, as well as awareness towards unlocking the full potential of these crops.

How does your academic journey contribute to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic?

Alongside two other female RSIF PhD scholars, I contributed to an article discussing the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on our personal lives and research journeys. We believe that the candid presentation of the challenges we have faced, lessons learnt and our sources of resilience will help to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on other scholars and researchers.

 

Interview published in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA): International Women’s Day 2021: Future Women Leaders – Young African women scientists reflect on their research journey.

It also appeared in the April 2021 edition of Africa Renewal: What’s in an African cabbage? A lot, says researcher

Intellectual Property Rights Management Underpinning Successful International Collaboration

As countries seek new ways to strengthen their economies including through diversification, the need for increased local, regional and global collaborations in scientific research, technological development and innovation has become evident. However, lack of human capacity remains a challenge.

Building skills for increasing locally relevant knowledge production is one of the aims that African governments together with development partners, have committed to support through the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) of the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET). The program approach relies on building strong regional and global research networks involving the private sector.

“Intellectual property (IP) management underpins the success of any of these collaborations”, says Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Director General and CEO of icipe, the Regional Coordination Unit of RSIF.

It is, therefore, imperative to have guidelines for IP frameworks that safeguard the interests of parties as they engage in collaborative research and innovation activities.

New RSIF IP Manual

The newly published Intellectual Property Management Manual provides guidance on IP Rights (IPR) provisions applicable in the RSIF program.

“Proper management of IP facilitates the use and dissemination of results emanating from RSIF interventions in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA), which is a key objective of PASET”, says Dr. Moses Osiru, RSIF-RCU Manager.

Scientists and all partners in a scientific research or innovation collaboration project should therefore consider protection of IPR and related issues early on when developing joint activities.

The Manual has been prepared through intensive consultations with partners involved in RSIF research and innovation activities, including faculty at African Host Universities (AHUs) and International Partner Institutions (IPIs) as well as RSIF Scholars and other relevant third parties. The guidelines also benefits from lessons from the BioInnovate Africa program at icipe.

Document Outline

The manual provides guidance on key issues including ownership of background and foreground IP, protection, dissemination and use of foreground IP, patent applications, publications, access rights and commercialization of IP generated from collaborative research and innovation activities.

The Manual should be used as reference in conjunction with relevant institutional policies of the collaborating partners as well as related project or partnership agreements.

 

Download the Manual

English version

French version

Celebrating #WomenInScience and our first 30 female RSIF PhD Students

Addressing imbalances in the number of women and disadvantaged groups in applied sciences, engineering and technology fields in Africa – This is one of the targets of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund of PASET.  This is critical for RSIF, whose objectives include creating a stock of highly trained men and women scientists, professionals, and innovators, nurturing talent, and building research and innovation capacities in African universities.

Diverse perspectives are important to scientific advancement.  Yet, as in other regions, women’s participation drops progressively moving up the education and career ladder. Currently women constitute around 30% of Africa’s researchers.

As we mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February, we have reason to celebrate our first 30 female RSIF PhD students. These scientists represent the diverse pool of talented women from across the African continent who will go back to teach and undertake high-quality research and innovation at their home universities.

The African government-led Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) focus on Climate change, Energy including renewables, Food security and agribusiness, ICT, including data science and artificial intelligence, and Minerals, mining and materials science.

The number of female RSIF PhD students is expected to triple in the year ahead as new students are recruited, with priority to qualified women and young faculty without PhD.

African Talent and Gender Equality in Science

“Africa is not deprived of talent. There are a lot of bright people. But that support infrastructure needs to be created there for these people to really meet their full potential”, explains Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Director General of icipe, the RSIF Regional Coordination Unit.

RSIF will address this through strengthening the institutional capacity for quality and sustainable doctoral training, research and innovation in transformative technologies in sub-Saharan Africa.

A newly published paper, ‘Making it to the PhD: Gender and Student Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa’,  examines the association between gender and PhD performance in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using new survey data collected from 227 alumni of PhD programs in 17 African countries as part of the 2020 RSIF gender research study, it elucidates gender-based differences in PhD performance.

Findings suggest that having a female supervisor, attending an institution with gender policies in place, and pursuing the PhD in a department where sexual harassment by faculty was perceived as uncommon were enabling factors for women’s timely completion of their doctoral studies.

This RSIF gender study has informed RSIF’s gender strategy and is also adding to the global body of knowledge on how to break the barriers for women in science.

Impact of Covid-19

When Covid restrictions came into force in 2020, RSIF cohort I students were in Korea and the USA on their sandwich programme at RSIF advanced international partner institutions.

The pandemic brought additional challenges and affected men and women in different ways, as day care for children, labs and universities closed. We expect that the pandemic may affect women disproportionately and are studying its impacts on the RSIF program.

Three female RSIF PhD students share their experiences of studying abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. This essay shows how Covid-19 impacted on their studies and research progression and also their resilience.

RSIF Cohort II students recruited in 2020 had their orientation online and were forced to start their PhD studies from a distance due to Covid-19.

Read on below and watch brief video profiles of five of them expressing their excitement and hopes for the future and what the opportunity of an RSIF doctoral scholarship and support network means to them:

Dreams and stories of female RSIF PhD scholars

  1. Meet Barbara Kabwigia Asingwire. An RSIF PhD student at University of Rwanda, Africa Centre of Excellence in Internet of Things (ACEIoT)

“My dream is to become a great researcher, problem solver and innovator,” says Barbara Kabwigia Asingwire. “My research is on use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to improve health care services; minimizing delays in response to time-sensitive conditions”.

“I believe RSIF will help me by availing me with a platform to interact with a number of people at an international scene and discover how to use IoT to improve the quality of life”.

According to the United Nations, only 26% of AI and data professionals globally are women. PASET has selected AI and Data Science as a priority thematic area for RSIF doctoral training and capacity building.

  1. Meet Fenet Belay Daba. An RSIF PhD student at Bayero University, Nigeria, Africa Centre of Excellence in Dryland Agriculture (CDA)

“Through my RSIF PhD research, I will be a problem solver for my country, serve the community and use this knowledge to teach students, because I am a lecturer at Jimma University”, says Fenet Belay Daba from Ethiopia. Her research is on climate change adaptation strategies.

  1. Meet Grace Gachara. An RSIF PhD student at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania

“I am really passionate about using science to solve problems”, says RSIF PhD student Grace Gachara. “My research is on the maize problem of aflatoxin and post-harvest issues that affect millions and millions of farmers. It is a really big deal in our country Kenya”.

“I want to believe that the RSIF scholarship positions people for greatness and open doors to connect with other platforms and communities.  Teaching at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, I would also mould other students to get greater in their respective areas of research”.

  1. Meet Jacinta Okwako. An RSIF PhD student at University of Nairobi, Kenya

University lecturer Jacinta Okwako’s background is in physics and energy policy. “My biggest dream is an Africa that has a 100% energy access rate. We need to improve this to grow our economy”, she says.

“Thanks to RSIF resources, capacity building and networking, my hope is to end up becoming the renown researcher I always wanted to be, and also to be able to lecture and guide my students to come up with new ideas in the field of energy. By doing this we all grow together!”

  1. Meet Kay Nyaboe Nyakundi. An RSIF PhD student at University of Nairobi, Kenya

“I would like to reach out to my fellow women and say – Don’t be scared to move on with your studies!” says energy engineer and RSIF PhD student Kay Nyaboe Nyakundi. “We have an opportunity to nurture the young people to join us and offer solutions that are African-based for African problems.”

Explore more of our content on #WomeninScience:

Photo caption: “As a woman, I want to achieve my goal and show the nation that we are able”, says RSIF PhD scholar Pauline Munganyinka from Rwanda.

References:

For more information: https://www.rsif-paset.org/

Fisher M, Nyabaro V, Mendum R, Osiru M (2020) Making it to the PhD: Gender and student performance in sub-Saharan Africa. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0241915. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241915
The paper examines the association between gender and PhD performance in sub-Saharan Africa; it uses new survey data collected as part of the 2020 RSIF gender research study.

The ADVANCE Journal – Covid-19 Special Issue, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting women in higher education. Also featuring experiences of three RSIF scholars on studying abroad during the pandemic