Dr. Susan Kaaria is the Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). She has over 20 years of experience in international development, working with various organizations promoting gender equality and women empowerment in agriculture. Dr. Kaaria started her career as an Agricultural Extension Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya. Since then, she has worked with various organizations, implementing global and country programs on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Before joining AWARD, Dr. Kaaria was the Team Leader for Gender at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. She was also a Program Officer at the Ford Foundation Office for Eastern Africa, managing a diverse portfolio of grants to expand livelihood opportunities for poor households in Eastern Africa. Dr. Kaaria has also worked as a Senior Scientist and Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.
Dr. Kaaria holds a Ph.D. in Natural Resource Economics from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Iowa State University in the USA, and a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from the University of Eastern Africa in Kenya.
She talked to Capital about the upcoming nomination of women in influencing policy making in Africa countries. Excerpts;
Capital: Can you briefly tell us about African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)?
Dr. Susan Kaaria: African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (CIFOR-ICRAF), works toward inclusive, agriculture-driven prosperity for Africa by strengthening the production and dissemination of more gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation.
We are well-known for designing and implementing career-development programs for African women scientists in leadership, and we invest in African scientists, research institutions, and agribusinesses so that they can deliver agricultural innovations that better respond to the needs and priorities of a diversity of women and men across Africa’s agricultural value chains.
Capital: You are currently calling for an application for Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship to women. What is the main goal of this fellowship?
Dr. Susan Kaaria: The GRASP Fellowship, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aims to foster policy change for equitable agri-food systems across Africa, by catalyzing the design and implementation of gender-responsive agricultural policies on the continent.
We know that closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains for the agriculture sector in Ethiopia, for Africa and for society at large. For this to happen, policies have an important role to play in eliminating gender-based discrimination and addressing underlying causes of gender inequality in food systems.
The guidelines for country implementation of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) under the Malabo declaration highlight the need for agricultural policies that will facilitate stakeholder engagement and inclusive, equitable agricultural growth. Such policies require careful interrogation of the policy processes from decisions to actions.
By mentoring and equipping African women in policy, the Fellowship aims to ensure that public policies reflect the unique needs and challenges of women in agriculture while also inspiring the next generation of women leaders.
Capital: How do you identify your fellows? How can you be sure they will be impactful?
Dr. Susan Kaaria: Potential AWARD Policy Fellows can respond to the open call for applications that will require them to demonstrate their suitability for the Fellowship. A selection panel of global experts in the policy field, food systems, and related fields will review the applications and select the successful applicants.
This competitive selection process will assess candidates’ experience and leadership potential in gender, agriculture, food systems, and policy development. By targeting mid-career women with 10 years of experience in gender, agriculture, and food systems, working on policy issues at national, regional, or continental levels, the Fellowship aims to empower and equip a pool of African women already working in public policy to maximise their direct impact.
Capital: Can you describe the fellowship? How is it conducted and how long will it take?
Dr. Susan Kaaria: The GRASP Fellowship will support selected AWARD Policy Fellows for a two-year non-residential program that will involve intensive customized virtual and face-to-face mentoring and training programs. The training will tackle how policy professionals can become adept at being effective negotiators, sharpen their skills to design gender-responsive policies, and build collaborative relationships with different stakeholders for desired policy outcomes.
The Fellowship will also entail a two-tiered structured mentoring program in which each Fellow is paired with a carefully selected seasoned policy practitioner who serves as their mentor. The mentoring pairs are supported to build mutually beneficial and supportive relationships around their professional and personal capacities. At a later stage in the Fellowship, each Fellow is further supported to select a junior policy professional to whom they serve as a mentor, fostering continuous intergenerational learning.
Finally, AWARD Policy Fellows, their mentors, and Fellows’ mentees will be supported to form coalitions to work on Policy Innovation Projects (PIPs). The PIPs are the GRASP flagship interventions that will provide hands-on practical experience in collaborating toward gender-responsive policy development in the agricultural sector. Each AWARD Policy Fellow will receive modest catalytic funding to design and deploy gender-responsive PIPs that promise to drive inclusive policy processes in agri-food systems.
Capital: This is your second fellowship. Was the first fellowship successful? If so, how do you evaluate its success?
Dr. Susan Kaaria: The first cohort of AWARD Policy Fellows, announced in December 2022, comprises 49 women drawn from diverse organizations including the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies across six countries. These Fellows are now embarking on the GRASP Fellowship program with testimonials highlighting this as an opportunity to develop gender-responses policies that support climate adaptation and greater resilience.
AWARD has a long history of managing successful fellowships, including the US$19.2 million One Planet Fellowship, launched at the 2017 One Planet Summit in Paris, hosted by President Emmanuel Macron. Fellows have gone on to make significant contributions to African agricultural research, including a peer-reviewed analysis of the adoption of climate-smart agriculture in Africa.
Capital: You said effective policies are critical for Africa to transform its agriculture. How do you make sure your fellows will be helpful in advising policies to governments in Africa?
Dr. Susan Kaaria: One of the criteria for the GRASP Fellowship is that applicants are already working with government organizations, NGOs, the private sector, development organisations, civil society, regional and subregional communities, or academia. As part of the application process, we also ask candidates to explain the top policy challenges or questions they are working on and clearly articulate what policy idea they will work on under the policy innovation projects.
In this regard, AWARD Policy Fellows are not starting from scratch but are given the opportunity to refine their skills when it comes to negotiating and engaging with relevant stakeholders and policymakers and identifying gender gaps in the existing policies that require action. The Fellowship also provides mentoring from senior policy professionals to ensure that the Fellows receive practical and real-world guidance and insights. We are pleased to note that some of our mentors in the GRASP Fellowship are renowned policy actors in agri-food systems with extensive experience as policy advisors in national and international contexts. We see a tremendous potential in this mentoring model that promises to build an international pipeline of experts working to influence gender-responsive agri-food policies across the continent.