Female #FoodHeroes

Patricia Nanteza

Patricia is a Communication Specialist for the National Banana Research Program in Uganda.

What do you do?

All my work has one ultimate goal – enabling farmers to access improved technologies that when adopted, can help boost their incomes. I do this in my capacity as the communication specialist with the Banana Research Program of Uganda. I facilitate dialogue between researchers and policy makers/general public; researchers and farmers. I spend most of my work day talking about the importance of using biotechnology to increase bacterial wilt resistance and Vitamin-A levels in cooking bananas.

I also work with the Cornell Alliance for Science to train up-and-coming champions for biotechnology on how to communicate in a way that causes changes in behavior. Behaviors could include policy formulation, adoption of new crop varieties, or empathy.

Why is biotechnology important for Africa?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, “Africa needs to learn self-love. Let us have the presence of mind to make policies and choices that are pro-food, pro-development, pro-Africa.” I look forward to an Africa that embraces progress in agriculture be it biotechnology, mechanization, value-addition and asserting ourselves on the table of global decision making so that we stop getting the short end of the stick. I know this move is widespread over the entire continent and I want to thank every man and woman who’s working towards a Rising Africa yet remaining respectful, hardworking and never forgetting the value of collaboration.

Also, I call upon everyone who means well for Africa to get to know us and our unique circumstances. Europe may not need ag biotechnology but we do. Biotechnology can help us improve food productivity, nutrition and deal with heavier disease and pest burdens. Join us as we advance in food production. My 2019 call-to-action to Europe is this: For every African country that commercializes a new GM crop, do an African dance. Hint: The shaku shaku is trending!

Why do you love your job?

I think agriculture is only rivaled by education and health in tangible impact and making you ‘feel good.’ After training communities on improved agricultural practices – some as simple as mulching their gardens or encouraging mothers to grow and feed their children on vitamin-A enhanced sweet potatoes –  we return later and they tell stories of healthier children, buying iron sheets for their once grass-thatched houses, or sending their children to better schools. The evidence of changed lives is overwhelming and makes me realize that I am in the right field.

How did you get here?

My primary love has always been storytelling aka journalism. I was a writer and later copy-editor for seven years before the world of research discovered me! I got into science communication unceremoniously through responding to a vacancy announcement for a communications officer on the GM banana bio-fortification project. I quickly learnt the science of biotechnology as well the controversy that surrounds it. Agriculture tugged at my heart, so I stayed, and like they say, “the rest is history.”

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

Agriculture is not glamorous but it has immediate impact on livelihoods. Stay the course, remain steadfast and speak up. Today sustainable food production is being portrayed as an ‘either, or’ affair – it is not! We can sustainably grow food using old and new technologies/practices. Since women are traditionally charged with feeding their families with safe nutritious meals, we should not allow ourselves to be cowed into silence. Women, especially women farmers, should be at the forefront of speaking up for technologies that can enable food to be produced with less pesticide, less water, higher nutrition and yield.

How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

I’ll speak about the African context which I understand more intimately. Agriculture should be treated with the seriousness of a business venture. The days of planting everything and anything, without fertilizer are long gone. Along with climate change has come increased disease and pest pressure. Farmers should focus on quality if they are to get quantity starting from improved seed, better water management, fertilizer application to marketing. All other sectors are utilizing technology in order to spur growth and so should agriculture. I read about how the West especially the Netherlands is innovating in agriculture and I want that and more for Africa.

What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

Agriculture by its very nature is a field-based occupation be it farming, research or its communication. So it requires that I am away from home quite often. It’s challenging and heart breaking to continually be away from one’s family especially young children. But it’s prudent for one to develop a support system both at home and in the work place. As women, we need to drop the self-pity and talk of “woe is me who’s always away from home”. Agriculture feeds the world, provides an income for millions and it is something to revel in. So pack that suitcase and hit the road for that far-flung rural area or region and enjoy yourself while you are at it.

 

Patricia is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.