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Volunteering was my compass

Nora Ndege, the chairperson of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development- Kenyan Chapter traces her rising star to her deep roots in Agriculture.

By CAROLINE MWENDWA 

Lift your hand and say, “I want to do it,” Nora Ndege the chairperson of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)- Kenyan Chapter tells women who aspire for a progressive career. She knows too well how this spirit of volunteering to run projects can set one on an upward trajectory having tested and proven it. “While working on a project-Fruiting Africa at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Mwala, Machakos County, I noticed that farmers there would harvest so many mangoes during peak season and sell them at very low prices while others run to waste and this prompted me with fellow team members to train them on how to add value to the mangoes and earn more from them,” she says. From her training in Food Science and Technology, she had enough knowledge and skills to pass on to these farmers and within no time, they were producing jam and dried snacks from the fruits which they sold to schools, hospitals and the public. 

A door to opportunities 

This initiative would make Ndege eligible for the African Women in Agricultural and Research Development (AWARD) Fellowship programme, which hooks mentees with established global figures (mentors) in the field of Agriculture to guide them in setting and achieving high career goals. “The AWARD programme is designed to give a future to the women pursuing a career in Agriculture,” she explains further elaborating that most women in this field seldom attain their full potential given its nature, but with this programme, they are not only opened to the many career possibilities, but also trained on leadership and negotiation skills for better terms of work. “There are about 500 alumni of the AWARD fellowship and all have high flying careers and are currently participating in projects of high impact in their countries,” she says.

The AWARD Kenyan Chapter is running several projects especially in reigniting the love for agriculture as a discipline among students in schools. “Agriculture is viewed as a lowly path especially because farming has been for a long time associated with peasantry and lack”. The concept of pursuing an agricultural specialty to its pinnacle such as nematology or agronomy is not well grasped among many students,” she says. This among many other projects is what KeAWARD is preoccupying itself with. They achieve this through offering mentorship in schools and working with students to come up with new agricultural inventions such as developing vaccines in the lab, which stirs enthusiasm in pursuing a career in Agriculture. 

A budding agriculturalist

Who would have thought that having to till land at a younger age, would nurture a love for agriculture and not a hate for it? Ndege’s childhood was riddled with hours in the farm, not out of interest at the time but need. Years later, she is into agriculture enjoying the transformation that has taken place while being a major part of it, through research and innovation. She currently works as a research fellow at the African Centre for Technology Studies. On the side, Ndege has cultivated vast pieces of land in Nakuru County for agribusiness. 

A gap in knowledge use 

Having researched about Agricultural Information and Communication extensively, Ndege reckons that if farmers were sufficiently edified on the numerous ways they could benefit from their farm produce, there would be minimal room for exploitation by the middlemen and other players in the supply chain. 

Another gap she says is how the farmers utilise the little information that they are fed with. “We may have made efforts to inform the farmer on better ways to earn from farm produce, but they don’t practise the learned skills for long before going back to the old ways,” she points out. Ndege recommends that the best way to ensure sustainability of these processes is to suggest a variety of options to them so that when one doesn’t work in a certain season, they can resort to another method. 

Of significance to note also, is the fact that there lies an extensive body of knowledge and skills in the traditional ways in which farmers grew, harvested and even stored their produce that has been totally ignored. “There is need for these methods to be re-affirmed and even documented for passage to future generations, before they are totally forgotten in this fast-paced evolution in agriculture,” asserts Ndege.

The emergence of digital farms

While the hoes and machetes are taking long to leave our lands, there is a fast approaching wave of sophisticated farming using not just machineries but automated systems that require minimal human input. “So much is happening in Agri-tech, and I cannot wait to see what farming will be like in the years to come,” she concludes.

Caroline Mwendwa is the Editor, Management Magazine. Email: cmwendwa@kim.ac.ke

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