The first part of this was published last week and both episodes have been culled from a recent interview I had with Dr. Mavis Owureku-Asare, a recipient of the OWSD Early Career Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship that awards up to $50,000 to women who have completed their doctorates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) on Breakfast Daily on Citi TV.
I learned about her very ambitious research that she hopes will help solve our dependence on imported tomato paste by proposing the use of a cost-effective method to produce tomato paste locally.
Her research focuses on finding a simple and convenient solution to the processing problems by leveraging technology to reduce post-harvest losses of tomato.
She is working on providing low cost processing technologies for farmers to better manage their harvests and improve their livelihood.
Through her research, she developed a solar dryer using available materials to process fresh tomato to high quality tomato powder.
The tomato powder can be reconstituted to tomato paste and used in the formulation of food. She says local processing of tomato paste from solar dried tomato powder has the potential to cut down on the huge tomato paste import. This dryer can be set up at the farm gate, household level or within the community to process tomato powder.
As I learned more about Dr. Mavis Owureku-Asare’s research, I began to be more curious about the woman behind the research. I wanted to know what drove her to the path she’s on, as well as the mentors who made it possible for her to get where she is.
When did decide that you were going to be a scientist? What influenced that decision and what mentors did you have along the way to help make your dream a reality?
My science teacher in primary school Ms Segbefia nurtured my interest in science. She made science so practical and interesting that I didn’t see science as a difficult subject but as a part of life. It was rare to see women teach science back in the day, but she excelled at it. She will take us for science exhibitions where we will create exhibits of what we had learnt in class. As the patron of the wildlife club, she would take us bird watching and we engaged in other activities which made science fun. Ms Segbefia, encouraged me to pursue science when I enrolled in Wesley Girls’ High School.
Why did you decide to specialize in food processing technologies with a focus on post-harvest management of agricultural produce?
Before going to the university, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in nutrition or something related to food and this desire propelled me to read nutrition and food science at the University of Ghana and subsequently go on to pursue a PhD in Food Science and Technology.
In the early years of my career as a food scientist, I was fortunate to be a mentee of Dr Mrs Charlotte Oduro-Yeboah through The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship program. I became a fellow of AWARD a year later and was formally mentored by Prof Firibu Saalia, a food scientist for another year under the same program.
How transformative were these mentors in your professional life?
The mentoring programs were a turning point in my career and both mentors helped me work toward the goals I set in my Purpose Road Map (PRM) which outlined a path for my career development.
As part of my PRM, I pursued a PhD program, attended numerous conferences to present my research work, served as a speaker on different panels and mentored junior scientists and girls in science.
I also restructured my research to be more gender responsive and I worked towards bridging the gap between research and industry. I gained new insight into how to motivate upcoming scientists to explore home grown solutions for challenges confronting food production in Ghana.
I am currently mentoring upcoming scientists like Ms Adjoa Agah under the AWARD program. The Ministry of Communications recently appointed me as a mentor for the Girls in ICT program which is exciting for me because I get to help mentor and nurture the next generation of innovators.
Clearly, you not only had access to mentors but female mentors. How important is it for scientists like yourself to pay it forward and mentor other young female scientists?
My lifetime mentor and coach is Hon. Prof Ruth Oniango, the first female nutrition professor Africa and former member of Parliament of Kenya. I own a lot of my personal and professional accomplishments to her.
It is my firm belief that grooming and mentoring young upcoming scientists to align their research to national goals will help project innovative research that will bring about change.
My wish is to see a more vibrant food industry that meets the nutritional needs of all Ghanaians.
There are so many hurdles women like myself have to overcome in a male dominated field and to be mentored by a female scientist who has similar challenges of being a woman, mother and wife, yet has been able to excel at what She does can leave a lasting impression well enough to propel the mentee on.
I take mentoring seriously because it has the power to transform, and I am a living example.
In the field of scientific research, there are not too many women to look up to and so I believe the few who are breaking the barriers and getting to the top have the responsibility to groom upcoming scientists to reach their full potential.
Author: Dziffa Akua Ametam
The writer, Dziffa Akua Ametam, is co-host of Citi TV’s Breakfast Daily program which airs every week day between 7:30 and 10am.