Former CIAT Scientist Segenet Kelemu – Laureate of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award

8 April, 2014 by (comments)

Segenet Kelemu, former Leader of Crop Health Management at CIAT, is the Laureate of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for Africa and the Arab States region.

Kelemu was honored for her research on how improved forage grasses can enhance rural livelihoods while also delivering benefits related to the environment and climate change. Her work was recognized for the new alternatives it provides, especially for smallholder farmers, to achieve ecologically responsible food crop production.

Segenet Kelemu, 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards Laureate for Africa and the Arab States
Credit : Julian Dufort

Originally from a small village in Ethiopia and educated in the USA, Kelemu joined CIAT in 1992, where she conducted and led research on crop health management until 2007. She then returned to Africa to become Director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya. Kelemu is now the Director General of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), where CIATs regional Africa office is based in Nairobi.

A common thread running across Kelemu’s work over the last 2 decades is the tropical forage grass Brachiaria. While at CIAT, she devised a novel approach for using microorganisms living in Brachiaria to improve its resilience in the face of disease and drought.

CIAT recognized Kelemu’s numerous contributions to the Center and its mission with the Outstanding Senior Scientist Award in 2007.

Though Brachiaria originated in Africa, improved varieties of the grass are now widely grown across tropical America. These have transformed livestock production in the region, and CIAT researchers are working with Kelemu, other partners, and farmers to reintroduce these improved grasses into Africa’s livestock systems.

ICIPE has also been promoting Brachiaria in a push-pull technology where the grass is planted in between crops to draw insects, which is proving to be very successful in Kenya.

The timing of Brachiaria’s homecoming could not be better. Africa faces a serious shortage of animal feed, which constrains the intensification of livestock production in response to rapidly rising demand for milk and meat, especially in urban areas. Overcoming the feed shortage is essential both for meeting consumer demand and for boosting the income of rural families who depend on mixed crop-livestock systems for a livelihood.

Brachiaria also offers a climate-smart solution to Africa’s feed shortage. Inherently tolerant to drought, the grasses also capture huge amounts of carbon – on a scale similar to that of tropical forests – and therefore shows potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of livestock.


Every year since its foundation in 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science has identified, rewarded, encouraged, and spotlighted women from every continent, whose discoveries have contributed to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Final selection of the Laureates is made by an international jury of eminent members of the scientific community and chaired by Nobel Prize winners.

Read more on Segenet Kelemu and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science

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Filed Under: Africa @en, Crops @en, Gender, Latin America and the Caribbean