On February 3rd of 2020, the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) launched its annual Basic Wheat Improvement Course (BWIC). The Borlaug Training Foundation’s Janet Lewis had a chat with Fatima Camarillo Castillo, CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program Training Coordinator, to discuss the course and her role as coordinator.
Janet Lewis: “Can you give our audience a brief description of the Basic Wheat Improvement Course?”
Fatima Camarillo Castillo: “The wheat improvement courses at CIMMYT are short-term programs designed to train breeders working on national agricultural programs from countries where wheat is a major staple crop. During the basic training program, we provide participants an overview of the breeding pipeline and review breeding methodologies utilized in the Global Wheat Program for developing superior wheat germplasm. We also review core concepts on support disciplines for breeding such as genetics, statistics, plant pathology, and physiology. A set of practical and hands-on exercises follow where trainees collaborate directly with scientists and technicians on breeding activities of the program.”
JL: “What is your main role as the Training Coordinator?”
FCC: “I organize the content of the programs and communicate with the scientists to conduct the course. I also contribute to the training by lecturing on basic statistics, programming and genetics. During the training course, participants submit reports and prepare an oral and poster presentation. I support them by providing feedback on these activities. With the assistance of the training team, we also facilitate all the accommodations and arrangements for the participant’s trips and lodging in Mexico.”
JL: “What sparked your interest in being the training coordinator at CIMMYT?”
FCC: “As an alumnus, I personally understand the value of being part of this course. My goal as the current coordinator is to contribute to ensuring food security worldwide through training and capacity building on wheat research!”
JL: “2019 was your first year as the training coordinator. What experiences captivated you the most from 2019?”
FCC: “My greatest experience last year was that, as a coordinator, you do not expect to learn. The class of 2019 was a wonderful group of bright researchers that challenged me to keep working to become a better teacher and scientist. Some of them already excel in specific disciplines, so they provide me invaluable support to cover the academic content of the program.”
JL: “The 2020 class started on February 4th. Do you have any special expectations this year? The Women in Triticum group is participating this year, yes?”
FCC: “We will spend a couple of weeks at the CIMMYT research station at El Batan and move to Ciudad, Obregón to complete the training. We hope that trainees will interact with current scientists already established in Obregón. In the past, trainees were assigned to specific research groups in the middle of the course, but this year trainees will be integrated into the breeding activities starting the first day of their arrival in Obregon! We expect this will expose and familiarize the trainees with the breeding pipeline on a larger scale.
This year we will also have the recipients of the Women in Triticum Early Career Award. All our young scientists that have dedicated their scientific career to wheat research from Ethiopia, Uruguay, Germany, India, China, Mexico, and Pakistan.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Basic Wheat Improvement Course or any programs offered at CIMMYT, you can find them at https://www.cimmyt.org/events/
The Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (Awla) fellowship program, the first of its kind, is designed to develop a cadre of aspiring Arab women researchers who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make a positive difference in agriculture sustainability, in their countries in particular and the Arab region as a whole.
The cornerstones of the Awla fellowship are team-based capstone projects designed to put the skills, tools and knowledge gained during the program to practical use. Diverse teams of Fellows from varying nationalities and backgrounds are expected to produce a solution to a key challenge to women in agriculture, guided by the mentors, the Awla Steering Committee and selected stakeholders nominated by the Fellows. Fellows can choose from a variety of interdisciplinary topics as well as agriculture specific, as long as their topic of choice has a convincing value proposition. At the end of the fellowship program, the teams will present their capstone projects to relevant stakeholders to seek funding.
The first cohort of Awla Fellows — which includes researchers from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia – met from June 30 to July 7 in Tunisia for an introductory workshop to kick off their 10-month fellowship. WHEAT is funding two students in this cohort.
The Awla Fellows are a highly successful group of agricultural engineers, professors, wheat breeders and working researchers in agronomy, biotechnology, soil sciences and other technical agricultural fields. The orientation workshop gave them the opportunity to get to know each other and their selected mentors, participate in trainings designed to build their leadership and project management capacity, and gain an understanding of the online coursework and assignments that will make up their training.
Leadership and guidance The workshop began with 6 days of training in positive psychology applications in leadership – a course that covered how to integrate concepts of resilience, creativity, finding meaning and purpose and more into both their interpersonal relationships and their organization management.
Next came a 3-day course to introduce the concepts of design thinking, a process for creative problem solving that encourages organizations to focus on the human needs of the people for whom they are creating. The Awla Fellows were encouraged to use these concepts to brainstorm notes for their team-based capstone projects, which involved addressing a key challenge faced by women in agriculture.
Mentorships An important objective of the Tunisia workshop was to clarify roles and set expectations for the Fellows’ relationships with their mentors. Awla mentors, nearly all of whom joined their mentees in Tunisia, ranged from laboratory directors, lead professors, and government officials. A 2-day mentoring orientation helped to establish the semi-structured mentoring relationship, whereby mentors will share their knowledge, skills and experience with the Fellows to help their development during the course of the Awla program and beyond.
Coursework The Awla Fellowship consists of a series of online courses ranging from project planning to science writing, research methods and data management. Awla administrators ensured each Fellow had full access to the customized set of courses. Senior Fellows who complete the Awla program will have access to more than 3000 other courses across domains.
Support Throughout the program, Awla administrators will continue to support the Fellows both virtually, by following up their on-line courses and capstone projects and seeking funding for conference participation, and in person during an upcoming workshop in Tunis from October 28 to November 4, 2019. A final closing workshop, hosted by the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates, will take place in February 2020. The Awla funders will then plan another cycle of the program, with a new cohort of Fellows.
The MENA region faces critical and urgent agricultural challenges related to improved food security and nutrition, a better research and development landscape, and economic and social benefits of a narrowed gender gap that will require both innovative and inclusive solutions. With this strong foundation, the Awla Fellows are poised to become leaders that can take on these challenges.
Awla fellowship program aims to help women researchers in agriculture secure leadership roles by encouraging gender-responsive working cultures and creating platforms that showcase their intellect, capability and contribution.
The Awla fellowship program aims
to help women researchers in agriculture to secure leadership roles by
encouraging gender-responsive working cultures and creating platforms to
showcase their intellect, capability and contribution.
Awla’s first cohort will help establish the first R&D forum in the MENA to
address pressing regional agricultural challenges and take part in the region’s
first networking platform for women researchers across agricultural
The call for applications will
lead to the selection of a group of 20 to 30 researchers from Algeria, Egypt,
Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. The program will be delivered
from two regional hubs – Jordan and Tunisia – over a 10-month period, starting
from 1st June 2019.
Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director
General of ICBA, said: “Women-led contributions to agriculture, both on the
farm and in the lab, are essential components of global food security. And our
program is designed to address structural causes of gender inequality and
encourage women to take an active role in future scientific developments and
innovation. Tapping women’s knowledge and potential today will set the world on
course for a more sustainable and food-secure future.”
H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar, President
of the IsDB, said: “We are delighted to be partnering in launching this new
program, which is a solid step in making sure no one is left behind. At the
IsDB, we are focused on putting in place the next steps to help achieve gender
parity and the Awla fellowship program is a welcome addition to the number of
high-profile projects we have launched and designed to promote women and
women’s empowerment, along with our IsDB Prize for Women’s Contribution to
Mr. Hassan Damluji, Deputy Director
– Global Policy & Advocacy and Head of Middle East Relations at the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation said: “This year’s call to action for International
Women’s Day is to build a gender-balanced world – and that’s precisely what Awla aims to
do for regional agricultural research and development. By
providing female researchers with the resources needed to build their skills
and networks and a platform to be heard, the program aims to address the gender
gap in agricultural R&D and create a more balanced playing field for women
and men. This will improve the quality and impact of agricultural
research in MENA overall, resulting in more solutions to the
region’s most pressing challenges.
“We’re delighted to partner with ICBA and the IsDB on a fellowship
program that will produce a
wave of skilled, empowered and well-connected female researchers. This first
cohort will play a key role in the success and
sustainability of the program, and we encourage all candidates from across the
focus countries to apply.”
Mr. Victor Kommerell, Program
Manager for the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, remarked: “We are excited
to work together with Awla. We have the same interest – building female science
power in the MENA region. Naturally, WHEAT’s focus is on social or natural
sciences research connected to wheat-based systems. Awla is the larger program
and WHEAT can fit right in. Together, we can build critical mass in a few
Empirical evidence indicates that a disproportionately low number
of women work in senior research and leadership positions in the region. The
average share of women researchers across the region stands at 17% – the lowest
in the world. This gap is most visible in the staffing of agricultural research
and extension organizations, despite women making up more than 40% of the labor
force in the sector. This means that policy and investment measures in
agriculture might not be as effective as they could be because they do not
fully reflect gender perspectives.
ICBA developed Awla in 2016 with
support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the IsDB. The program aims
to contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)
on gender equality and women’s empowerment by building and enhancing the
capacities of a new generation of Arab women researchers and leaders. By doing
so, Awla aspires to have a positive impact on the SDGs on Climate Action; Life
on Land; and Partnerships for the Goals.
About ICBA The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is a unique applied agricultural research center in the world with a focus on marginal areas where an estimated 1.7 billion people live. It identifies, tests and introduces resource-efficient, climate-smart crops and technologies that are best suited to different regions affected by salinity, water scarcity and drought. Through its work, ICBA helps to improve food security and livelihoods for some of the poorest rural communities around the world. www.biosaline.org
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy and productive lives. Through collaboration and partnership, the foundation helps fund research and programs to benefit those living in poverty all around the globe. The foundation works with partners in the Middle East to address the needs of the most vulnerable people through investments in disease eradication, emergency relief and agricultural research, as well as providing support to the philanthropic and development aid sectors. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/
About IsDB The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group is one of the world’s largest multilateral development banks that has been working for over 40 years to improve the lives of the communities that it serves by delivering impact at scale. The Bank brings together 57-member countries across four continents touching the lives of 1 in every 5 of the world’s population. Rated AAA by the three major rating agencies of the world, the IsDB Mission is to equip people to drive their own economic and social progress at scale, putting the infrastructure in place to enable them to fulfil their potential. The IsDB builds collaborative partnerships among communities and nations, and work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation and fostering ethical and sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest development challenges. Over the years, the Islamic Development Bank has evolved from a single entity into a group (IsDB Group) comprising five entities: Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), the Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC), and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC).www.isdb.org
About CGIAR Research Program on Wheat Joining advanced science with field-level research and extension in lower- and middle-income countries, the Agri-Food Systems CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) works with public and private organizations worldwide to raise the productivity, production and affordable availability of wheat for 2.5 billion resource-poor producers and consumers who depend on the crop as a staple food. WHEAT is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a primary research partner. Funding for WHEAT comes from CGIAR and national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies, in particular the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). www.wheat.org