A lifeline that supports sustainable development and addresses climate change
By Mevoyon Pamela Karrel Afokpe
Research Station Manager, East-West Seed, Benin
2019 One Planet Laureate Candidate
Pamela Afokpe works to ensure smallholders’ access to the seeds needed to meet the changing climatic conditions. The 29-year-old Afokpe runs the research station of a seed company that has received recognition for its inclusive efforts to reach remote villages, breed local crops, and address the needs of women farmers. Afokpe, who has a master‘s degree in agronomy and plant improvement, oversees a varietal improvement program for traditional leafy vegetables and fruits for West Africa.
We in Africa are on the frontline of the changing climate, so creating tailored solutions for the smallholder communities is crucial. The One Planet Fellowship is a lifeline, not just to me but also to all the program’s laureate candidates. The Fellowship helps me gain confidence in my research as I develop my scientific and leadership skills while building capacity at the front line where scientists are working to improve the livelihoods of African smallholder farmers.
One of the biggest obstacles we need to overcome for women scientists is colleagues’ doubt that they can do the job. A lack of women colleagues compounds this doubt, and limited space and decision-making power to contribute effectively and reach your true potential. One of the critical aspects of this Fellowship is that it also includes male scientists. Climate science must involve everyone to find solutions in our research that address the specific constraints faced by vulnerable groups. We must take an inclusive approach.
For example, I am investigating how traditional crops can better contribute to climate change resilience. Although they are part of the local food system and eaten daily in most African households, these crops are most often produced in marginalized systems, with their potential not fully explored. Supporting farmers with improved genetic materials and changing some traditional farming practices can help increase climate change resilience. One of the interesting findings is that men and women have different needs when it comes to seeds. Men often prioritize yield for traditional crops, whereas women often consider ease of harvest, cooking times, and taste. Women also play a significant role in the production, marketing, and conservation of traditional crops. This just shows how research must address the needs of both men and women.
Including men in the One Planet Fellowship will give them the training and tools they need to be better scientists and guide them to produce gender-responsive research. Having both male and female scientists working together will yield better and more efficient results in our fight against climate change, and will contribute to reaching our shared goals of supporting smallholder farmers, saving the world, and attaining broader development goals.