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Improving agricultural productivity decreases poverty
October 15, 2017, 5:14 pm

President Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim, who has headed the island nation of Mauritius since 2015, is part of an exclusive club of three women currently leading African nations. The other two in the triumvirate are Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila. 

The president, a biodiversity scientist with a doctorate in organic chemistry, who chairs the leadership group of the Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI), was recently in Washington D.C. to meet with the Gates Foundation about CARI's work.

The idea of CARI, she said, is to build up funding and infrastructure for African scientists "who are working in key areas of health, sustainable development, energy, water — you know, all the issues which will help the African continent to be successful on their sustainable development goals."

She recognizes that climate change and food insecurity are urgent problems in Africa, which is struggling with increasingly frequent droughts and other weather-related disasters. "What we are witnessing is the disruption of climate change, so food security will be impacted," she said. "It is also a given that if you improve agricultural productivity by 1 or 2 percent, you will remove 40 to 50 million people out of absolute poverty, so we need to relook this sector."

Mauritius already has one of the strongest economies in Africa, based on exports of sugar and textiles and a banking sector that draws in many foreign businesses attracted to the island's stable politics and favorable banking laws.
When President Sirleaf leaves office in January, Gurib-Fakim will be the only remaining female head of state on the continent.  "I am an endangered species," she quipped recently during a media interview. She added, “The need for more female leadership goes beyond just numbers; it is a matter of capitalizing on the talent of the entire population instead of just half of it.”

"You cannot win a football match, for example, if you leave 52 percent of the team on the bench," she said. "So, if we want to make a dent in many spheres, we need to take on board women's intuition. We need to take on board women's capacity, and we need to bring the women on board because we're bringing a different dimension to the thought process." Pointing out that many of Africa's herders and farmers are women, the president said, "We must not be coy about it, women feed Africa."

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