In 2008 an innovative fellowship programme was launched in Africa to help support and strengthen the role of women in the continent’s agricultural sector. The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Fellowship has since become a recognised leader in increasing women’s participation in agricultural research. In February 2018, for the first time, AWARD opened its landmark Mentoring Orientation Workshop (MOW) to the rest of the world in the hope of fostering insights and exchange of ideas on agriculture outside Africa. In response to this call, two members of the Pacific Community (SPC) were selected to take part in the workshop.

Arshni Shandil, Research Technician, and Logotonu Waqainabete, Curator, at SPC’s Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT), are taking part in a two-year programme designed to strengthen the leadership skills and qualifications of women in the agricultural sector. Over the mentorship period, Ms Waqainabete will train and guide Ms Shandil to become a mentor to other women in the region who are pursuing careers in science. Creating a strong mentorship tradition will have a positive impact on women’s representation in the agricultural and scientific sector, and will inspire more women to be part of this growing group of female leaders in the Pacific.

The programme for 2018 began in February, when Arshni and Logotonu were invited by AWARD to participate in a week-long workshop in Kenya. While there, they interacted with participants from across the globe.

For Arshni representing the Pacific at a gathering of women in science made her feel like a proud ambassador. In her words, she was thrilled to be the first Fellow from the Pacific: “Normally I am a technical person, but after attending the AWARD program in Africa, I was inspired to learn more on science leadership skills. I want to share my knowledge with our Pacific women.”

Logotonu was similarly motivated, and hopes to be able to establish a fellowship programme for Pacific women. She expressed confidence that SPC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) would be able to create a network to promote women’s work in science and research in the region. She noted that ACIAR, a key partner of SPC’s Land and Resources Division (LRD), share the same aspirations and supported the two women’s participation in the programme.

LRD Director, Jan Helsen, hopes that the AWARD Fellowship, and a prospective ‘Pacific Women in Agricultural Research and Development’ programme,   would serve as a catalyst for increasing the role of women in agricultural science in development, leading to improved nutrition and food security globally.

“This is the beginning of a thrilling journey to excellence in science. As the Director of the Land Resources Division of the Pacific Community, I see Arshni’s participation and her eventual mentorship as providing a robust roadmap to excellence of women in agriculture science in the Pacific and beyond. SPC will provide its full support in the unlocking of this great potential,” explained Helsen.

Jan Helsen

LRD Director, Pacific Community (SPC)

Logotonu has been particularly impressed with how the AWARD Fellowship highlighted the importance of social aspects in scientific development, such as the need to maintain healthy relationships between a mentor and a mentee. “Problems in the mentor/mentee relationship can hinder development, so it is really important to understand and strengthen a positive and professional relationship”, she explained.

Having returned from the MOW workshop in Africa, Arshni now plans to complete her Master’s of Science, and develop new proposals to fund her work at SPC. As part of the AWARD Fellowship, Arshni will also need to complete an attachment period with an AWARD-associated university before officially graduating from the mentorship programme.

Logotonu is convinced that helping women like Arshni to build their leadership capacity is an important step in inspiring other Pacific women to make scientific contributions towards the development of their communities and nations. “Every new mentor we gain in the Pacific will help us guide and inspire even more women from the region,” she said.

“Pacific women can bring positive change to our region’s future and I am very proud to be helping make that change happen”, she added.

About SPC

The Pacific Community (SPC) is the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region, proudly supporting development since 1947. We are an international development organisation owned and governed by our 26 country and territory members. We work for the well-being of Pacific people through the effective and innovative application of science and knowledge, guided by a deep understanding of Pacific Island contexts and cultures. Our Pacific vision is for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy and productive lives. This is a shared vision for the Pacific under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Our unique organisation covers more than 20 sectors. We are renowned for knowledge and innovation in such areas as fisheries science, public health surveillance, geoscience and conservation of plant genetic resources for food security.

About AWARD

African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) is committed to working toward inclusive, agriculture-driven prosperity for the African continent by strengthening the production and dissemination of more gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation. AWARD understands gender-responsive agricultural research as research that addresses the needs and priorities of a diversity of both men and women across Africa’s agricultural value chain. Evidence indicates that gender-responsive research is more efficient; it results in more inclusive, better targeted, more relevant innovations with higher rates of adoption. We envision a robust, resilient, and gender-responsive agricultural innovation system working to drive prosperity and food and nutrition security for Africa. Contributing toward this vision, AWARD is investing in African scientists, research institutions, and agribusinesses to deliver innovative, sustainable, gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation.