Building a better future for Pacific lands: SPC Soil Scientist Dr. Ellen Iramu
Soil is life for the Pacific’s agricultural communities. The fruits of their livelihood feed the region, and are vital year-round, particularly during a crisis such as COVID-19 that has resulted in unprecedented challenges for building a food secure future. Women farmers and smallholders are key to this recovery, as are the women scientists that help keep the crops healthy and bring knowledge and skills to agricultural communities.
On February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, SPC pays tribute to its women leaders that are stepping into this demanding post COVID future. Soil Scientist Dr. Ellen Talairamo Iramu of the Land Resources Division Sustainable Agriculture Programme joined SPC shortly after the height of the COVID crisis in 2020. A native of the Solomon Islands, Dr. Iramu brings over 15 years of Pacific experience to the pursuit of more resilient post-COVID agricultural development. Dr. Iramu comments below on her background and why it is important to uplift women and girls in science.
- What is you academic and work background?
After completing my primary and secondary school education in the Solomon Islands, I undertook undergraduate studies for a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at the University of the South Pacific in Samoa. Post degree I worked with the Ministry of Agriculture in the Solomon Islands as a Research Officer for five years before embarking on Masters studies at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology in Lae. Upon graduating with a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Agriculture, I returned to the Solomon Islands and became a Senior Research Officer, still with the Ministry of Agriculture. I was awarded a John Allwright Fellowship Scholarship in 2008 that enabled me to undertake Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) research at the University of Queensland in Australia, and I graduated with a PhD in the field of Horticulture in 2013.
As an Agricultural Scientist, I have a wealth of experience in agricultural research and project management in the Pacific region. In the Solomon Islands, I worked in the Crops Agronomy Section of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock for more than 10 years. Additionally, I had worked on donor funded regional projects in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Most recently, I have worked in Australia with CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) Food and Agriculture at the Australian Cotton Research Institute in Narrabri, New South Wales. I then moved on to working at the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute, Narrabri Campus before taking up the Soil Scientist/ Agronomist position with the SPC Land Resources Division in October 2020.
- Why did you decide to study and work in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field?
Growing up in rural Solomon Islands made me interested in agriculture because I started working in the garden at a very early age, so my dream was to become an Agricultural Scientist. Agricultural science is a dynamic and interesting field, and I am an enthusiastic learner with the willingness to learn new things. I have always enjoyed my work as a researcher because of my strength in not giving up easily when faced with a problem.
- What impact does your work have in your community?
Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the rural population in the Solomon Islands and other Pacific Island countries. Therefore, in my role as an Agricultural Scientist in the Solomon Islands, I have contributed to training rural farmers on soil and crop management practices. I am confident this has helped the farmers to improve their farming practices to become more resilient in the face of the current changing weather patterns.
- As a woman that has studied and worked in a traditionally male dominated field, what would you identify as one of your key learnings?
For me, a key learning is to be a team worker. In this way, each member of the team is seen as a valuable and equal contributor to achieving a common goal. As such, it is not so much about the gender but what contributions I can make as an individual.
- Any advice for the younger aspiring women and girls in entering the field of science?
Being a woman or a girl does not limit your career options in the field of science. If you have a dream job, pursue it and be prepared to overcome any challenges on the journey. It is not always smooth sailing, but commitment and perseverance will pull you through all walks of life.