Researching indigenous plants to enhance productivity

Ms Nellie Amonsi working in the lab

As the next instalment on our profiling series of female scientists, we interviewed Ms Nellie Titani Amosi from Mzuzu University in Malawi. She holds a BSc degree in Forestry and is currently pursuing an MSc in Forestry and Environmental Management.

Before she started in her MSc programme, she was working with the World Agroforestry Centre, also known as International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) as a Technical Officer. Currently she is working on her master’s thesis, focussing on the Value chain analysis of baobab products in Malawi. Her research will develop knowledge for communities to enhance productivity of baobab trees. She believes that once productivity has improved, the scope for optimizing product development and incomes along the value chain will increase, eventually contributing to improved rural livelihoods: “If I was a tree, I’d be a baobab, because it is quite a wonder tree. Almost every part of the tree is useful and I would like to be useful at all times.”

She is also helping others achieve their dreams: “As I am an African Woman in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellow, I enjoy mentoring others. Before I joined AWARD I had no idea that mentoring exists and that is very important. For me to be where I am today, I know that I was assisted directly and indirectly and hence the need to assist others to shape their future.”

When she was working with ICRAF, she was involved in different projects, including their main project which is called Agroforestry Food Security Program (AFSP). “This is a program that is designed to increase food security and nutrition to smallholder farmers through agroforestry interventions. The main focus is to improve food security whereby farmers plant fertilizer trees in their farming fields together with other crops like maize. These fertilizer trees have the capacity to improve soil fertility through biomass incorporation,” she elaborates.

“Fuel energy sources form another scarce resource in Malawi which AFSP farmers have learnt to accumulate by planting fast growing trees that are good for fuel wood as well as timber. This acts as a source of income to farmers through the sales of the products.”

Nutrition for both humans and animals is another major challenge she came across working on the AFSP: “Fast-growing and improved fruit trees are becoming more profitable. Hence, the programme also provides various improved fruit tree cultivars to farmers leading to improved nutrition as well as increased income levels through sales. On the other hand, through cultivation of fodder trees, AFSP has been able to increase the amount of feed for livestock and, as a result, also to increase milk production and income levels of the farmers.”

On the topic of women in science, she believes that more women recently started to realize that they too can be scientists and their impact can be felt. “We have been reading stories about women being involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). I would be happy to see more women scientists than what we have now and I would encourage more women in this field so that our actions and voices should be seen and heard,” she continues.

As for advice for young female scientists, she goes straight to the point: “First off, you can do it! Accept your limitations and build on your strengths. Do not try to be somebody else, just try to push your own limits, but in a realistic and fair manner. There is no formula to success, just focus on what you want to be and be determined. Take yourself seriously and don’t reduce yourself to career. Seeing women holding higher positions, making decisions and policies inspires me to do more.”