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FEATURE STORY July 15, 2021

"I would not have gotten to where I am without my family"


Photo: Howele

The African Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) program, launched in 2014, aims to meet the demands of the labor market for specialized skills. It has since become synonymous with success and has already provided support to more than 14,000 students working toward master’s and doctoral degrees in agriculture, health, and science, 30% of whom are women, such as Howélé, who reflects on the road she has traveled and the challenges she has had to overcome as a woman.

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, July 15, 2021—Climate change research seldom focuses on plant pathology. An agronomy enthusiast with a keen interest in this topic in particular, Howélé Michaëlle Toure wanted to change that.

“My determination, my perseverance, and that feeling of a job well done were my main motivators,” she says. “But I would not have gotten to where I am without my family’s belief in me, especially my father, who always told me that he wanted to see me rise to the top, and my research director who was also a role model, a mentor, and a second father to me.”

Developing cassava varieties that are tolerant to environmental conditions and resistant to disease

With a good head on her shoulders and clear goals in mind, Howélé enrolled at the Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in Abidjan in 2010 where she obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in genetics and species improvement.

And then? A PhD of course! She secured a scholarship and enrolled in a research program at the African Center of Excellence for Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Agriculture (CEA-CCBAD). Howélé decided to focus her research on cassava, a tuber that is widely consumed throughout West and Central Africa. Cassava, which is critical to the country’s food security, is also one of the priority crops listed in the National Agricultural Development Plan (PNDA).

“I conducted a case study on the reaction of cassava bacterial blight in Côte d’Ivoire to weather changes and discovered that changes in the climate have an unpredictable impact on the manifestation of the disease. If these pathogenic bacteria were to adapt to these new climate conditions, they would pose a constant threat to cassava crops.”

"I would not have gotten to where I am without my family"
Howélé Toure
A proud agronomist, she uses her talent to promote food security in Côte d’Ivoire

In order to develop cassava varieties that are tolerant to environmental conditions and resistant to disease, Howélé and her colleagues recommended further research. This will have a significant impact on food security in the country and the subregion as well.

Howélé has fond memories of her years spent conducting research at the CEA-CCBAD. “It was a wonderful and truly rewarding experience. We were able to overcome language barriers with students from other countries in the region.  This diversity and knowledge sharing helped us learn how research programs were run in the different countries and find out about various opportunities they offered. Networks that will allow us to continue collaborating were also established.”

Photo: Howele

“I had to prove my worth.”

Howélé is currently working with CEA-CCBAD on a program designed to promote research on plant diseases and climate conditions. She believes that skills like hers are sorely needed in the labor market, because research and development work is critical to finding solutions suited to the current environmental conditions.

But Howélé does not hide the fact that being a woman in a science field has its challenges. “I had to prove my worth, that I was capable of working hard to achieve my goals. We live in a society where women have to work twice as hard as men. We constantly have to prove that we can handle adversity, that we can work and obtain conclusive results, and that our status as a woman is in no way an obstacle to our development and does not impede our ability to think.”

But Howélé also remembers acts of kindness and goodwill. “I got pregnant when I was starting my thesis and I thought that would be problematic for me. On the contrary. My research director told me that if he had to put a crib and baby bottles in his office so that I could continue my work in the lab, he would do it!”

Howélé is pleased to see the positive impact of her work on the community and encourages young women to pursue careers in science.

“Women must stop self-censoring, because science is a field in which women can be as successful as men. You just have to have faith. Women have much to contribute to the scientific community and their country.”