10 influential African women in agriculture


The African agricultural landscape is changing rapidly. While the proportion of women in agriculture research is quite low, with only 1 out of 4 agricultural researchers and 1 out of 7 agriculture research leaders being women, there are women playing an influential role in shaping the growth of African agriculture. Below is my list of 10.

H.E Rhoda Peace Tumusiime

Rhoda TumusiimeHE Rhoda Peace Tumusiime is the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union. She has championed causes such as women empowerment, poverty eradication, agricultural development, strategic planning and partnership building, among others. Her portfolio as AU Commissioner covers multiple sectors ranging from crop agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry, land, water, environment, climate change, climate services, and disaster risk reduction to rural development. She has mobilized and closely worked with other pan-African institutions and development partner agencies in all those areas to secure and provide support to AU Member States. Her efforts have yielded increased responses in the framework of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Programme. HE Tumusiime holds a Bachelor’s in Agricultural Economics; Master’s in Economics, Planning and Managing Rural Dev.; and Diploma in Women and Dev. Previously she held senior positions in the Government Uganda, including as Commissioner for Agriculture Planning and Commissioner for Women and Development. Her expertise and experience as well as commitment have won her a number of key positions on regional and international organisations, such as membership of the High-level Advisory Panel of UNISDR, Advisory Board of Expo 2015 dedicated to the Theme: Feeding the Planet, Energy For Life, Governing Board of the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), Chair of the Governing Council of the African Fertiliser Financing Mechanism (AFFM), Chair of the ALive Platform for livestock development in Africa, member of the Global Panel on Nutrition, among others.


Dr Agnes M. Kalibata
agnes kalibataDr Agnes Kailibata is the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. As president of AGRA, Dr Kalibata oversees programs in  in 17 African countries including Kenya, Ghana, Mali, Mozambiq ue,  Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso. Before joining AGRA, Dr Kalibata was Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), where she was widely considered to be one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to this, she was the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. She also served as a scientist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). She holds a Ph.D. in plant, soils, and insect science from University of Massachusetts Amherst, an M.S. in agriculture and forestry from Makerere University, and a B.S. in applied entomology and biochemistry from Makerere University.

Mme Elisabeth Atangana

elisabeth atanganaElisabeth Atangana is a farmer by profession. In 1980 she established the Association of Women for Sustainable Development “Entre Nous” in the town of Esse; established the Chain of Solidarity and Support of Actions for Sustainable Development (CHASAADD-M) in 1991, the organization of integrated local development and vocational training center for farmers; and the creation of the Common Fund to Support Grassroots Organizations (FOCAOB), a specialized tool in rural finance created and managed by farmers themselves. Since 1998, she has been involved in the establishment of the National Peasant Movement through the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Cameroon (CNOP-CAM) and in the process of creating the PROPAC (Sub-regional Platform of Peasant Organizations of Central Africa) in 2005, of which she has been the president until today. Between October 2010 and September 2012, she acted as the first President of the Platform of the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO) and on 29 May 2012, she was appointed as Special Ambassador for Cooperatives by FAO. She has made it a priority to take into account the specificity of women and rural youth in policies and strategies for sustainable development, as well as to work to develop vocational training and employment for young farmers and rural people.

Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg

wanjiru kamauDr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is the Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). AWARD is career-development program for women in agricultural research and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to joining AWARD, she founded and served as Executive Director of Akili Dada, an award-winning leadership incubator that invests in high-achieving young women from under-resourced families, who are passionate about driving change in their communities. Kamau-Rutenberg also served as an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and a lecturer in International Relations at the Jesuit Hekima College, a constituent college of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. Her academic research and teaching interests centered on African politics, as well as the politics of philanthropy, gender, international relations, ethnicity, and democratization, and the role of technology in social activism. She has received widespread recognition for her work investing in women, including being honored as a 2012 White House Champion of Change, named one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine, recognized as a 2012 Ford Foundation Champion of Democracy, awarded the 2011 Yamashita Prize, and the 2010 United Nations Intercultural Innovation Award, among others. An energetic activist, Kamau-Rutenberg serves as on the Boards of the African Democratic Institute and of Opportunity Collaboration, in addition to being a juror for the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award, offered by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the BMW Group. She is also a strong advocate and passionate public speaker about the need to transform some philanthropic practices in Africa and what it means to build a life in service of driving social change. Born in Kenya, Kamau-Rutenberg holds a PhD and a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Whitman College in Washington, U.S.A.


Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

lindiwe sibandaDr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda has been the chief executive officer and head of mission of the Africa-wide Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) since 2004. Dr Sibanda led the development of the strategy and business plans that FANRPAN is currently implementing (2007-2015). She is currently coordinating policy research and advocacy programs within the African continent, all aimed at making Africa a food-secure region. Her portfolio includes policy research and advocacy programmes on food policies, agricultural productivity and markets, rural livelihoods and climate change.  Dr Sibanda is an animal scientist by training and a practicing commercial beef cattle farmer and has been on the forefront of the agriculture, food security and climate change global policy agenda.  In 2012, Dr Sibanda was appointed Board Chair of the world’s leading livestock organisation, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). In 2011, Dr Sibanda was nominated to serve on the independent science panel of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research of the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Programme (CCAFS), aimed at driving new research on the interactions between climate change, agriculture, natural resource management and food security, and to create unique possibilities in the search for cutting-edge solutions to climate change and food-security problems. In August 2010 she was co-opted into the Guardian Global Development advisory panel as one of the world’s most influential thinkers and provocative new voices. In 2009 she led the No Agriculture, No Deal global campaign and mobilised African civil society organisations to push for the inclusion of agriculture in the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) Copenhagen negotiations. Since 2008 Dr Sibanda has been a leading advocate for the Farming First global campaign – advocating for a holistic approach to sustainable agricultural development. Dr Sibanda holds a BSc degree from the University of Alexandria in Egypt, and an MSc and PhD from the University of Reading in the UK.


Dr Segenet Kelemu

segenet kelemuDr Segenet Kelemu is the Director General of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Nairobi, Kenya, and the first woman to lead icipe. Dr Kelemu is a molecular plant pathologist with emphasis on elucidation of molecular determinants of host-pathogen interactions, development of novel plant disease control strategies including genetic engineering, biopesticides, pathogen population genetics and dynamics and endophytic microbes and their role in plant development. Prior to joining icipe, she was Vice President for Programs at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). In 2007, she became the Director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya. Under her leadership, the BecA initiative grew from a contentious idea into a driving force that is changing the face of African biosciences. BecA’s research capacity, staff, facilities, funding, partners and training programs have expanded at an ever-accelerating pace. She assembled and inspired a scientific and technical team bound by a common passion for using science to enhance Africa’s biosciences development. She has also worked at Cornell University in the USA, and at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) as a Senior Scientist and Leader of Crop and Agroecosystem Health Management. Dr Kelemu was featured in the top 100 most influential African women of 2014 in Forbes Africa and has been celebrated with numerous awards. In 2014 she was named the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Laureate for Africa, one of five Laureates chosen from around the world for their leadership and scientific excellence. The People’s Republic of China awarded her their prestigious Friendship Award, granted to foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social development. She has been elected a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, and was awarded The World Academy of Sciences 2011 TWAS Prize for Agricultural Sciences jointly with Prof Zia Khan – the first African to win this prize since its inception.


Prof Ruth Oniang’o

ruth oniangoProfessor Ruth Oniang’o currently serves as Professor of Nutrition at the Great Lakes University of Kisumu. She is founder and editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development and founder and leader of the Rural Outreach Program, a Kenya based NGO working with farmer associations. She has taught at the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. She is also Adjunct Professor at Tufts University in the USA. As a member of Kenya’s Parliament (2003-2007), she worked to alleviate poverty and hunger, with special focus on science and technology, agricultural research and productivity, food security, nutrition, bio-safety legislation, use of fertilizer and other inputs, HIV/AIDS and gender issues. She also served as Shadow Minister for Education for 5 years, while in parliament and advocated for reforms in the education sector. Currently working as a strong advocate of resource mobilization towards food and nutrition policies and attendant programs, and emphasizes the need to practice good governance and political will to address hunger and child malnutrition in Africa.  Prof Oniang’o has served on several boards including the board of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agriculture Strategy Advisory Committee, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Sasakawa Africa Association, and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture research.  Prof Oniang’o holds a PhD in Food Science and Nutrition.


Ms Lucy Muchoki

lucy muchoki

Ms Lucy Muchoki is Chief Executive Officer of the Pan African Agribusiness and Agroindustry Consortium (PanAAC), a Regional Agribusiness platform that is mobilising and supporting the domestic private sector in Africa. She is also the coordinator of the Kenyan Agribusiness and Agroindustry Alliance (KAAA). Ms Muchoki, an accomplished Kenyan entrepreneur, has a major interest in the tea and horticultural industry. She is the Vice Chair of the CAADP Non-State Actors Regional Taskforce and has been instrumental in developing the Agribusiness strategy for Africa through collaboration with the African Union Commission and the Nepad Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA). She is a member of several advisory councils, such as those in Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI), an international food industry network that supports sustainable agriculture, in the ‘Scale up programme’ funded by the Dutch Government, a programme that supports small holder farmers and in the UNDP report on inclusive business models guiding council. She is also the private sector representative and steering committee member of Paepard, African Europe partnership programme on research for development and Global Form for Agricultural Research (GFAR). She is member of the steering committees of the AUC for an initiative on Aflatoxin control programme for Africa (PACA), rural infrastructure/market access programme and Ecological Organic Initiative. Ms Muchoki holds a BA in sociology from the University of Nairobi and a Master’s degree in Marketing and Business administration. She is the private sector representative at the board of FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), ASARECA (Association for Strengthening Agriculture and Research in Eastern and Central Africa) And Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR).

Dr Eleni Z Gabre-Madhin

eleni gabre medhinDr. Eleni Z. Gabre-Madhin, is the Chief Executive Officer of Eleni LLC. She was the Founder and first Chief Executive Officer of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange from 2008. Dr Gabre-Madhin is an internationally recognized thought leader on agricultural marketing in Africa and global development, with a career spanning both research and development practice, and now business. Prior to returning to her native Ethiopia, she served as Senior Economist at the World Bank and Senior Research Fellow with the Washington-based think tank, the International Food Policy Research Institute. She has also worked at the United Nations as a Commodity Trading Expert, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Dr. Gabre-Madhin holds a PhD in Applied Economics from Stanford University, an MSc in Agricultural Economics from Michigan State University and BA in Economics from Cornell University. She was awarded Outstanding Dissertation by the American Agricultural Economics Association in 1999 for her thesis titled, “Social Capital, Transaction Costs, and Market Institutions in the Ethiopian Grain Market.” As a voice for African markets, she represented the African business community at the G-20 Business Summit in London in 2009, and is presently on the Nike Foundation-sponsored Advisory Panel on Girls in Rural Economies, as well as the Expert Group on Development Issues for the Government of Sweden, the African Union Task Force on Commodities, and the Stiglitz Task Force on Africa. Dr. Gabre-Madhin is a Founding Fellow and Board Member of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, and was nominated in 2010 for Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year by African Business Awards. Eleni was selected as “Ethiopian Person of the Year” for the 2002 Ethiopian calendar year (2009/2010 Gregorian) by the Ethiopian newspaper Jimma Times. Dr. Gabre-Madhin was among The Africa Report’s “50 Women Shaping Africa” 2011, was named Ethiopian Person of the Year 2010 and was nominated for Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year 2010 by African Business. She received the African Banker Icon Award for 2012 and the Yara Prize 2012.

Dr. Susan Kawira Kaaria

susan kaariaDr. Susan Kaaria is a Senior Gender Officer, in the Division of Social Protection, at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She currently leads the Gender Work under FAO’s Strategic Objective on Reducing Rural Poverty with the overall goal of promoting rural women’s social and economic empowerment by helping to reduce rural gender inequalities and increasing access to rural organizations, productive resources and services, decent employment and social protection.  Prior to joining FAO, Dr. Kaaria was a Program Officer Financial Assets in the Ford Foundation Office for Eastern Africa programming in the area of Expanding Livelihood Opportunities for Poor Households in East Africa. At Ford Foundation, she supported a program to increase incomes and assets of poor rural women and men by supporting a range of interventions, including: strengthening producers’ organizations and farmers groups; analysis to develop policy recommendations on integrating women and poor smallholders into value chains; designing and piloting new agricultural loan products; and approaches for improving access of poor smallholder producers to markets. Dr. Kaaria has worked as a Senior Scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) working in both Latin America and Eastern and Southern Africa. At CIAT, she played an important role in the development of a participatory program for catalyzing rural development, entitled “Enabling Rural Innovation (ERI)”, an inter-disciplinary collaborative program that was implemented Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and DR Congo. ERI catalyzed rural innovation processes by increasing access and benefits from technology innovation and market opportunities, by poor communities. Dr. Kaaria holds a BSc in Agriculture from University of Eastern Africa – Kenya, an MSc in Agricultural Economics from Iowa State University, USA and a PhD in Natural Resource Economics from University of Minnesota, USA. She has a strong commitment to promoting gender equality and is a keen advocate for innovation and development processes that are led by local resource users. She has also published widely on these subjects and is co-editor of Innovation Africa: Enriching Farmers’ Livelihoods.

Who would you add to this list of African women, working to advance African agriculture?

Jemimah Njuki, Editor in Chief, Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security

Beyond the numbers


091514_2059_Goodpractic2.jpgSitting at a meeting a few weeks ago listening to a presentation on the gender results of a program, I was fascinated by the “fascination” with reporting gender outcomes from a numbers perspective. Despite there being so many opportunities and entry points for addressing gender issues in the program including working on gender and technology issues through addressing men and women’s priorities, addressing intra-household food allocation, increasing women’s autonomy and decision making, the main highlights of this particular presentation were all about the numbers—the numbers of women!

In an effort to keep the gender simple and straight forward, there is a tendency by donor organizations, research and development programs to focus on the numbers of men and women, accessing technologies, getting training, participating in project activities, male and female students who have been trained, the number of men and women in project teams, among others. Focusing on reaching women, given the historical disadvantage that women have faced in research and extension systems is important in its own right. But several issues are critical here: one is a focus on numbers can mask the underlying causes of gender inequalities which can often remain unchallenged; and second, it can reinforce the notion of women as victims and not important agents of change and active players in the research and development process. It can be a lost opportunity for organisations to more meaningfully address gender issues in agriculture and food security programs.