Thought piece on Decolonising Knowledge in Africa

 

We are pleased to share with you a Thought Leadership column by icipe Director General & CEO, Dr Segenet Kelemu, on the emerging movement around the ideology of Decolonising Knowledge. Published in the latest icipe e-bulletin (Volume 11, Issue No. 1, 2021), the article highlights the impetus for the campaign, primarily ongoing global challenges that have amplified longstanding cracks in the international research and knowledge systems. The Director General states icipe’s stand based on the Centre’s unique practical and epistemic view within the debate. The article also details the urgency, points of contention and six key remedies to achieve the intended goals of the movement. Against this background, RSIF is highlighted as the perfect example of how more homegrown resources may well be the ultimate trump card for Decolonising Knowledge in Africa. The article concludes with a call-to-action to the African intellectual community not to forfeit its right and responsibility to contribute to the theorisation that will influence the outcomes of decolonisation of knowledge.

Please read the piece on the icipe website in Enlish and French

Building Innovative Systems and Adoption of ICTs for Agriculture in West Africa

The Inception meeting for the project on Accelerating inclusive green growth through agri-based digital innovation in West Africa (AGriDI) took place from 2-4 June 2021 in a hybrid style, at icipe in Nairobi and virtually. The meeting’s objectives were to welcome and introduce the core project team and parties, get a shared understanding on the AGriDI project vision, goals, key outputs to be delivered and implementation arrangements. Partner roles and responsibilitiesguidelines and manuals were also discussed.

AGriDI is a 4-year intervention that will be implemented in the ECOWAS states in Western Africa region and is expected to lead to; (i) increased uptake of agri-based digital technologies by farmers and SMEs especially women and youth in the region; (ii) strengthened linkages between research communities, industry and policy actors in digital innovations in the region and (iii) a strengthened policy environment for scaling agri-business digital innovations in the region. A call for proposals is currently open.

In the opening session, Dr Moses Osiru the Manager of The Regional Scholarship, and Innovation Fund (RSIF) at icipe welcomed participants and gave an overview of the AGriDI project. He said that its  implementation model involves a competitive grants scheme that will award grants to stakeholders in the various categories of agri-based digital innovations in West Africa. Grantees will benefit from technical assistance support and know-how towards the successful development and scaling the use of the digital technologies in the countries and West Africa region.

Dr. Sunday Ekesi, the Director of Research and Partnerships at icipe reiterated the importance of digital innovation in agri-business and emphasised the need for reforms that address digital infrastructure gaps and make the digital economy more inclusive –ensuring affordability but also building skills for all segments of society, with deliberate efforts towards improving connectivity, boosting digital technology adoption, and generating more and better jobs for vulnerable groups like youth and women. He thanked the ACP Innovation Fund, which is implemented by Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) Research and Innovation Programme, with financial contribution from European Union.

AGriDI is jointly implemented by the icipe as the Lead and its partners, the University of Abomey Calavi in Benin, Agropolis Foundation in France and Gearbox Pan African Network in Kenya and is one of the 8 granted projects financed under the ACP Innovation Fund.

Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Benin for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Prof. Rogatien M. Tossou said that

We believe that the AGriDI initiative will build innovative systems and adoption of ICT innovations for Agriculture in Africa

He was pleased that special focus was given to West Africa and he said he was optimistic that the solutions from the project would help Africa connect with the rest of the world and compete favourably.

A baseline/scoping exercise on digital solutions in ECOWAS will be undertaken, led by the university of Abomey Calavi and supported by the Agropolis foundation, Gearbox Pan African Network and icipe to understand the digital eco-system of the region and enable AGriDI achieve its intended objectives aimed at transform the livelihoods of youth and women through the use, application and uptake of agri- based digital innovations.

While closing the meeting, Dr Julius Ecuru, Head of Bioinnovate Africa at icipe, thanked all the partners for their active participation and contributions.

Find the Call for proposals here

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

RSIF 10th Webinar: Potential of underutilized food resources: Insects for food, feed and other uses

Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa region is highly biodiverse with large rural populations that are highly dependent on nature, livestock, agriculture as well as consumption of insects and wildlife products. This not only creates a heavy burden on the biodiversity, it also threatens livelihoods because of the human activities that contribute to climate change and Food insecurity.

Through the flagship programme of the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) runs monthly webinar series aimed at promoting information and skills sharing in its five thematic areas.

The 10th webinar of its series which took place on 28th April 2021, aimed at helping participants understand the under utilised food resource potential in insects and their other uses. The webinar was based on research conducted on insects as a very important source of protein in the wake of food insecurity.

The guest speaker Dr Chrysantus M. Tanga a research scientist with the Insect for Food, Feed and Other Uses (INSEFF) programme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) started by introducing participants to icipe’s research for development framework on Insects as Food and Feed,then general understanding of edible insects and the role they can play as an alternative source of protein to both human beings an Animals.

The Value of insects for food and feed

He could not emphasise enough the importance of insect protein, saying that research had shown that it was between 28-73% higher than plant protein and more superior to animal protein, in addition to being rich in iron and zinc. There are 1900 species of edible insects being consumed by approximately 2 billion people globally and Africa is the hotspot, with 45 countries and approximately 330million people actively consuming 552 species of insects as food. He added that two news edible species of crickets (Scapsipedus and Gryllus madagascariensis)  have been discovered and research is being conducted.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are some of the biggest consumers of insects in Africa. Understanding how different communities use insects for food and feed is critical in informing research on consuming patterns, seasons, benefits and cultural norms around both edible and non-edible insects.

For communities that eat insects, we promote them as food and for communities that do not eat insects, we promote them as animal feeds, so that we enhance mass adoption across the board without leaving anyone behind, said Dr Chrysantus M. Tanga

Some of the benefits of insects include the fact that they are an excellent alternative source of protein, extremely rich in minerals, excellent source of oils for bakery and other nutraceutical products, excellent source of therapeutic sterols in addition to having the potential for development of innovative products and income generation.

Grasshopper widely eaten across Africa

The RSIF webinar series are important forums for capacity building and creating synergies for partnerships and collaboration. Listen to the complete 10th webinar Serie on the Potential of Underutilized Food Resources: Insects for Food, Feed and Other Uses” by clicking this Link (Access Passcode: SU^%X^N3).

 For more information of how to participate in the RSIF webinar series, please contact Mr. Nyagah Bonface Karugah via bnyagah@icipe.org

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