Segenet Kelemu did her undergraduate degree in Ethiopia. Due to her excellent performance, she received a scholarship to pursue her Masters and PhD Degree in molecular biology with a focus on plant pathology in the U.S.
After her degree, she worked in the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Columbia for 15 years, where she was in charge of disease of forage plants (i.e. crop). She describes her work as solving problems for society, especially for developing countries. Because to put it in simple terms “plants get sick just like humans from infectious agents, and if they get sick, there is no food”.
During her years in Columbia, she educated many scientists who brought back their knowledge to their home countries, mainly developing countries. Among these scientists were many from China. In 2006, the Chinese government awarded her the "Friendship Award”, the highest award in China, because they attributed their agricultural and economic development partially to her teaching.
Segenet Kelemu describes the same year also as a turning point, because she felt that Africa needed her. She came from a poor village and knew how people lived and struggled to survive / make ends meet in rural Africa.
During the following 5 years, she established the Agricultural Technology Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, from scratch. She then moved on to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) - also in Nairobi - which she is directing today. The ICIPE solves agricultural constraints in Africa. The research on insects which is performed there is important for society in two ways:
1)To keep the planet liveable in the many years ahead and to manage food security. Thus, Segent Kelemu reasons that we have to learn and know about insects, both about the problems and benefits they bring. On the problem side: insects will start to influence other places than developing countries as the globe gets warmer. And African problems will become problems in developed countries, e.g. mosquito transmitted diseases. On the benefit side, insects harbour many valuable edible proteins and sources for pharmaceuticals like antibiotics. Unfortunately, people are not aware of the properties of insects. So she believes in research and education to solve this problem.
2)The products which are developed at ICIPE help farmers in Africa and beyond. The technologies are environmentally friendly and sustainable to maintain the natural equilibrium. For example, they generated bio pesticides now marketed in many countries.
Written by: Theresa Burkard.