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To achieve gender equality in science, support young women who choose scientific careers

AfricaRice PhD student Laurence Dossou

Laurence Dossou, from Benin, is working on her doctoral thesis on the identification of new sources of resistance against the Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV) under the supervision of AfricaRice in collaboration with IRD-Montpellier. RYMV is an endemic disease in Africa responsible for yield losses in rice of up to 100% in farmers’ fields.

Recounting the reason for her decision to take up a career in agricultural science, Laurence said, “While growing up, when my father would take me to his farm during my school holidays, I couldn't understand why he was getting low yields despite all his hard work, and I used to feel quite sad. I decided then to commit myself to understanding the reasons. This is how my passion for research was born.”

Through her studies, Laurence understood that the agricultural sector plays a decisive role in poverty reduction and food security. Although her studies have been demanding, her passion for knowledge has kept her motivated to succeed in the tough scientific environment.

Laurence remembers a particular incident in this context, when she had completed some work in the lab and had got good results. “I ran to my supervisor at that time to show him the results in order to have his congratulations, because he was quite rigorous and a difficult person to please in terms of scientific work.”

Laurence has done important work on bacterial diseases that plague soybean cultivation in Benin and development of control measures. Several viruses and their insect vectors that destroy tomato and chili crops in northern Benin have been detected and biological control measures have been developed and popularized among producers.

Her research has also made it possible to establish the health map of the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) disease in South Benin, to raise awareness among producers on its emergence, and transmission in order to adopt best practices to reduce the losses associated with this disease.

Laurence is now on the path to bigger results and achievements; her latest publication focuses on the “identification of a new source of high resistance to Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV) in Côte d’Ivoire”.

As a woman, Laurence has faced the challenge of balancing scientific work and family life; she is immensely grateful for the support from her family for this. As a woman in science, she feels that the fact she could break the barriers of entering her chosen scientific field and complete her studies at the top among her peers, has been quite an achievement.

But, as indeed there is never one challenge in life: Laurence has greatly suffered for the lack of funding to conduct certain scientific activities. Fortunately, as one wise woman said, there are always people who come to help when we have a sincere need. For Laurence, her current supervisors came to her rescue, and financial resources were found. Laurence is again grateful for this support and is particularly thankful to AfricaRice’s Capacity Development Unit.

Dr Marie-Noelle Ndjiondjop, her current supervisor, confirms this support and the sense of pride that she has from working with Laurence. “Laurence is a dynamic young woman whose commitment will certainly lead her to become a top expert in rice pathology in Africa. She has contributed significantly to the identification of a third source of resistance to Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV) within Oryza sativa indica rice species,” she said.

Marie-Noelle is particularly proud that “Laurence’s work is focused on identifying a novel, resistant gene to RYMV. This will lead to the development of resistant rice varieties that would be eventually disseminated to African farmers, who are currently plagued by the disease.”

Marie-Noelle added that Laurence is conscientious and handles her PhD research project with seriousness and is rigorous in meeting deadlines for her deliverables; “When I am at the research station and looking for her, everyone there knows that she is either in the screenhouse, observing plants and recording data of RYMV disease symptoms on those plants, or in the pathology lab, carrying out her work on the identification of the pathogen.”

She observed that Laurence has an innate curiosity about the world around her, working with an open mind to understand the results of her research and the implications they hold as she is devoted to her activities on a daily basis.

As a young scientist, Laurence understood quickly what she had to do and the approach she had to take. She has developed positive and fruitful collaborations with her coworkers and is well-respected in the organization both professionally and socially. She also participates regularly in recreational activities organized by her friends and colleagues.

Laurence encourages young women to pursue scientific research careers while also urging governments and organizations to give more value to women in science. To allow others to learn from her experience, she is involved in an African association that encourages young girls to choose scientific studies in colleges.

“In the next 5 years, I will be either in a university to put my knowledge at the service of the younger generation, or in an institution for scientific research at the service of agricultural development and motivating other women to study science,” Laurence stated.

To achieve this, her supervisor, Marie-Noelle, encourage Laurence to be both persevering and professional with whatever problems she encounters in her life, to remain focused in her specific area of research in Africa and become a regional and international expert in that domain.

"As we celebrate this International Day of Women, we can only add to these words of encouragement, and wish good luck to Laurence to complete her studies and achieve her dreams, and at the same time, continue to be an inspiration for more girls and young women," stated AfricaRice Director General Dr Harold Roy-Macauley.


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