Agriculture / Article / PIL / Staff / Women

From research to action – Jemimah Njuki sails on!

Jemimah Njuki On Set
Jemimah Njuki, at her TEDxWashington talk (photo credit: IFPRI photo set on Flickr)

When vision, passion and commitment meet, what emerges is a leader who inspires and motivates her team to achieve great things and propels them to great heights. It is nearly impossible to have a conversation around gender at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and within the region without mentioning Jemimah Njuki. Her profound understanding of gender issues and her passion and commitment for addressing gender inequalities has made her a voice of authority when it comes to gender and agriculture issues not only at ILRI, but within the agriculture community globally. Jemimah has been leading the Poverty, Gender and Impact team at ILRI for the last 2 years, a team that she helped weave together soon after she joined ILRI.

It is that time in her career when she moves on to new challenges, in this blog post, we look at some of her achievements while working in the CGIAR, her thoughts about gender and the changes in the CGIAR and her future plans.

Growing up in a small holder agricultural setting and seeing the significant role that women played in the  agricultural sector, putting in a lot of labour and yet, with such little access to and ownership of the resources and assets that mattered, and with such low benefits from their hard toil,  left a lasting impression on Jemimah. She was however propelled to do something about it much later in her life. Soon after her Bachelor’s degree in Dairy, Food Science and Technology at Egerton University in 1995, she got a position as a projects officer with the then Kenyan Ministry of Regional Development working in Tana River, Ijara, Garisa, Kwale, Kilifi, and Taita Taveta. Working in these arid and semi arid districts, she experienced firsthand the daily struggles of women to access basic services such as water, and health care, saw their endless toils to sustain their families on land they did not own but also saw the potential to change the face of agriculture by addressing these inequalities and by giving women the voice and resources they needed to advance their lives and those of their facilities and communities.  This gave her the real affirmative that made her decide to devote her life to improving the condition of women in agriculture.  She however felt she was ill equipped for this, and decided to go back to school and get the skills that would enable her do something that would empower rural women in agriculture. She would later graduate from Sokoine University in Tanzania with a PhD in Rural Development specializing in gender and development.

Living her passion and realising her dreams

Jemimah has worked extensively on gender issues in the CGIAR for the last 9 years and has been a part of many projects that have transformed many rural lives. In her previous position at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) she was part of and later led a team implementing a program called Enabling Rural Innovation in 9 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. The idea behind the project was to build small holder farmers capacity to understand and engage in markets. The project employed development and action research oriented approaches, working with rural men and women. She vividly recalls taking a group of Malawian women to  markets in Lilongwe to understand what the market demands were, what quality and quantities were required and discussing with them how they could organize themselves and use improved agricultural practices to supply these markets. In one of the villages, households that could not produce enough to eat all year round became major suppliers of pork and piglets to the country.

In ILRI, Jemimah has been working on various projects with partners. Some of the notable ones include working with the International Food Policy Research Institute and 8 international NGOs and research organizations to influence agriculture programming so that it has impacts on gender disparities in asset ownership, and working with the East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD) to ensure that women participate in and benefit from improved dairy markets.  She singles out one project that has been very exciting for her. The project was informed by some of Jemimah’s research that revealed that even when women were linked to agricultural markets and economically empowered, it could lead to male appropriation of benefits with women often losing control over the enterprises. The project links women’s economic empowerment with a broader societal change that involves working with men and women and more interestingly integrating women’s awareness and exercise of their rights into the broader economic empowerment discourse. It integrates two critical components of empowerment- creating economic opportunities for women, and increasing their awareness and exercise of their rights.

A good leader is one who transitions while leaving behind a well equipped and empowered team to keep working on attaining the team goals and carry on with the challenges. Jemimah has left behind a new ‘Strategy and plan of action to mainstream gender in ILRI’, that guides ILRI on how to more systematically integrate gender in the research agenda in a transformational way. It is the first time the institute is having such a document to guide it on how to promote gender equality and equity within the livestock and agriculture sectors.

Gender advancements in the CGIAR

When Jemimah joined ILRI and indeed the CGIAR, only a handful of people were talking about gender. Jemimah acknowledges that the CGIAR has made a lot of progress in incorporating gender in its research agenda. But cautions that there remains a lot to be done. The commitments that we have put on paper especially in the CGIAR research programs have to be followed through. Within ILRI, gender is now a strong component in the CGIAR Research Programs on Livestock and Fish, on Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health that she has been part of developing. Within the research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, ILRI has received a grant to see how best to address gender in climate smart agriculture on recognition that the impacts of climate change are different for men and women, and women have a great role to play especially in adaptation to climate change.

She believes that ILRI is well positioned to play a bigger role in influencing how gender is addressed in agricultural research. For ILRI to do this, addressing gender and gender inequalities must be an individual commitment by all whatever their role in the organization is, and the organization must invest in specialized capacity that supports individuals and partners with tools and expertise.

Her next assignment – more work on women in agriculture

For last 9 years Jemimah has been working on gender and agriculture from the international research side, gathering evidence on the role of women in agriculture and using this with partners to influence policy and practice. Her burning passion has however been to get back on the ground, be part of the action and implement what she has been recommending to others.

Jemimah is leaving ILRI to join CARE International, USA to head a new program on Women in Agriculture called PATHWAYS. She will be working in both Africa and Asia and will be based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  The exciting thing about the program for her is that she will not only be building on her previous work on women and agriculture but will be doing it at scale. The program will work directly with 11,000 women’s groups and co-operatives, using these groups and co-operatives and agriculture as the entry point for women’s empowerment. She sees this as a good transition from generating evidence to using evidence to have an impact on women’s lives.  In this role, she hopes to continue to collaborate with ILRI and with other research organizations. As she says, ‘once a researcher, always a researcher’

A tribute to ILRI

Jemimah Njuki at the AgriGender 2011 workshop

Jemimah Njuki at a Workshop on Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

To keep progressing one must learn, Jemimah has grown professionally over the years and she is grateful to ILRI for the opportunity to network globally with others working on gender and agriculture. She has addressed numerous global gatherings, talking about the role of women in livestock and the importance of livestock for women. Even though she is leaving the CGIAR, she hopes to still maintain some leadership and advisory positions with the CGIAR. She is currently in the management committee of the CGIAR research program on Policies, Institutions and Markets. She will continue to work with ILRI on her new book on Gender and Livestock due in September this year.

Jemimah has managed to create synergy in her team by being very supportive, clearly setting and articulating the goals that the team is working to attain, involving them throughout the projects, listening and also learning from them. She has mentored and nurtured many along her course and is one of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) mentors.

As she stretches her wings to other heights, the team she has influenced and leaves behind to continue working on gender issues at ILRI had this to say in their farewell messages to their mentor:

I have worked with you for the last one and half years and I must confess, what I have learnt under your mentorship is close to a 10 years period. I have always admired your quick grasp of your juniors’ problem and your practical advices throughout the period. I hope and wish that your departure from ILRI does not mean closer of this Nobel tie. I promise to apply and replicate what I have learnt under your leadership. It’s what I can describe as holistic mentorship. Go shine and shine. Harrison Rware…. Read more

More about Jemimah and her work in the links below:

TEDxWashingtonCircle- Jemimah Njuki – The Missing Link

Carrying on the fight for gender equality: Growing talents: youth in agriculture jemimah-njuki

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