Happy Makuru Daudi, Head of Groundnut Research Program at the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) based at Naliendele Research Center in Mtwara, is a plant breeder specializing in groundnut. For the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, she shares with us her passion for what she does and why more women should venture into plant breeding.
What inspired you to get into your career?
I was in love with science and my intention was to be a doctor but later I changed my mind. I loved biology a lot and that set my focus on my academic path. At university I had good mentors who influenced my career direction as well.
When I achieved my first degree, I was recruited by the Government of Tanzania as an agricultural officer. My then boss, Omar Mponda, inspired me to be a plant breeder. He encouraged me and I went ahead to study plant breeding for both my Masters and PhD. My first degree was in Agronomy, I then did a Masters in Crop Science, specializing in Plant Breeding, and eventually completed a PhD in Plant Breeding as well.
What did you love about plant breeding?
I realized breeders are very active people. Always trying to improve and change things. Always looking for ways to make a difference. This desire to make a change makes us active lifelong learners.
The other thing I learnt from breeders is that they can change the life of farmers. Most smallholder farmers are women. I love my crop (groundnut) because it is a ‘woman’s crop’. If the breeder develops a product such as groundnut with high impact, it means they have changed the life of women. I realized I work a lot with women in my field and even if I only change the smallest of things, it means I get to change their lives and boost them from one step to the next.
Please elaborate on why you refer to groundnut as a woman’s crop.
Groundnut is a nutritious crop and is used a lot in processing and preparing children’s food, hence most women value it and engage in farming the crop, even though in small plots of land, in order to have nutritious food for their families’ health.
Most women especially in Tanzania view groundnut as their ATM, in that when they need money for use at home, they only need to sell some of their harvested groundnut and get cash to meet their home’s needs, such as buying schoolbooks for their children.
Women are involved in the entire groundnut value chain, that is from farming the crop in the field up to the processing stages, unlike men who mostly only come in at the market stage to sell the produce. Therefore, groundnut is source of income for many women in Tanzania.
Has the International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR at large contributed in any way to your career growth?
Yes! They have contributed a lot. First in building my capacity and, as I work with them in the Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Systems in Africa (AVISA) project. My PhD was sponsored by the Tropical Legumes III Project. I remember when interacting with scientists from these organizations, I observed how they carried themselves with confidence, both the women and men; it motivated me and built my confidence.
What was the focus of your PhD?
My PhD was on breeding for groundnut resistance for rust and high yield in Tanzania.
What is your message for young women and girls interested in getting into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers?
First, they need to trust themselves. They can do anything in this world. They should not be fearful. For instance, those interested in breeding might observe that most breeders are men, and they may tell themselves that it is a difficult career and run away from it. But I would like them to tell themselves they can be and do even better than men. They only need to trust themselves and build their confidence.
Tell me about the formation of your team – are you intentional in working with women in your team?
Yes, I’m usually intentional about this. I always give equal chance to both genders but when I get an opportunity to hire for my team, it makes me happier if a woman lands the job. I realized women are good workers and ready to learn. Most of my casual laborers on my team are also women. They work meticulously. The main work for breeders entails crossing. The best people for crossing are women! I have observed that the success rate of the crosses is higher with women! Crossing is intensive work, physically as well, and needs utmost concentration. So, I trust them in this.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to encourage women not to run away from sciences, and especially agricultural sciences such as breeding. We want more women breeders. They can change this world and help more people put food on the table. The agricultural sector, especially the farms, are dominated by women, and it is easier for them when they interact with other women. When we go meet them in the fields, it is easier for us to understand their needs and change their lives. So, I call girls and women to come on board in this sector and change the lives of many.
Cover photo: Happy Makuru Daudi (center) discussing groundnut varieties with colleagues from TARI and CIMMYT in Mtwara, Tanzania, in 2022. (Photo: Susan Otieno/CIMMYT)