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Ethiopia: Segenet Kelemu, a scientist who wants to transform African agriculture

Segenet Kelemu is an Ethiopian plant pathologist. She is the Director General of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya. In 2014, she won the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.

Segenet Kelemu is an Ethiopian scientist specialized in the study of plants and whose work has contributed to a better understanding of natural constraints in Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America. Very committed to a major transformation of African agriculture, she has led, among other things, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) of which she was vice-president.

Coming from a rural background, she grew up in an environment oriented towards agriculture. She then turned to studies in agriculture. In 1974, she joined the University of Addis Ababa. She was one of the first women from her region to study there. In 1979, she graduated with honors and flew to the United States in 1983 for a master’s degree in “plants and genetics” at the University of Montana. After graduation, she joined the University of Kansas in the United States where she completed her doctoral studies in plant pathology and molecular biology. From 1989 to 1992, she followed a postdoctoral program at Cornell University in the United States. Her work focused on the “molecular determinants of pathogenesis”. 

A life for agricultural research

From 1992 to 2004, she was senior scientist, molecular pathologist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia. Until 2007, she also directed the Crop and Agro-ecosystem Health Management Program at the same center. In 2007, she joined the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya where she headed the Biosciences Department for East and Central Africa. In 2012, she became Vice President of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a program whose goal is to put farmers at the heart of growing economies in Africa. After spending a year there, she joined in 2013 the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya as Executive Director. She works, in particular, to transform African agriculture. For her, « if the Millennium Development Goals and other related goals are to be met, African agriculture must undergo a major transformation ». « I have been and continue to be committed to moving this transformation forward through encouraging collaboration among international, regional and national organizations”, she says in her resume.

In 2014, she was awarded the L’Oreal-Unesco Prize for Women in Science for her research work. She also received the TWAS Award for Agricultural Sciences from the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in 2011 and the Yara Award for the Green Revolution in Africa in 2010.