Growing up in a family of seven children as the only girl Josephine Mukakigeri has been challenging stereotypes since primary school. Unlike her brothers, she enjoyed and performed well in science courses. Choosing science for a career came as easily and she was the only one in her family to do so.
That passion (and government gender policy supporting women and girls in science) drove Josephine to work hard and to prove that women could excel in science. “I guess, even if there was a prize to do anything other than science I would fail,” she says. “Of course I had to work hard, as assumptions were boys are more appropriate to do science than girls.”
Today, Josephine is a happy mother of two kids working as research assistant. After first getting involved in iron bean breeding at the Rwandan Agriculture Board, and she’s now promoting iron beans — sharing her expertise with farmers by training them on modern agronomic practices helping them to improve yield and, in turn, nutrition in Rwanda.
“Science sharpens your thinking and makes you creative and innovative. Who knew crops made to increase yield would be also be more nutritious?”
She has always been in research stations breeding, monitoring the progress of bean varieties until the release. But the most amazing moment for Josephine was to first work with farmers when she joined HarvestPlus.
“I chose the field of agriculture because over 80% of people of my country are farmers, they are the ones feeding the entire country and besides, agriculture is among the sectors that contribute to the economic growth and the development of the country in general. I have always wanted to help farmers acquire the right skills for improvement, and interacting with farmers is an amazing experience.”
Biofortified iron beans not only increase yields but also make iron-rich foods easily accessible to Rwandans, especially farmers in rural areas who produce for themselves and for markets in urban areas across the country.
“You cannot imagine the feeling when you help a farmer and you watch him progress from just subsistence to profitable agriculture, and the next time you see him he is driving his motorcycle when before he was struggling to even feed the family.”
More than a million farming households are now growing and eating biofortified iron beans across Rwanda. Research shows iron beans enhance the cognitive abilities iron-deficient women in Rwanda. The success of biofortified iron beans in Rwanda is supported by numerous organizations and government policy.
“If I could I would convince all women and girls to choose science as their career,” she says. “Science saves many lives and contribute to the development in so many ways. I would be happy to see a generation of Rwandan women and girl scientists, coming up with more innovations in agriculture such as biofortification.”